Looking to apply for a Master’s of Social Work (MSW), but not sure where to start? Here’s a guide to the best MSW programs.

When you start your search for the right MSW program (SEE INFOGRAPHIC “CHOOSING AN MSW PROGRAM”), the number of options can be daunting. As well as location and costs, you’ll also want to consider each school’s specializations, research and teaching reputation, online programs and partnerships with other organizations.

To help you narrow your options, we look at some of the best MSW programs currently available.

Best MSW Program Specialties

Many other schools also offer high-quality MSW programs that are notable for their use of the latest teaching methods and technologies. They also offer curricula that incorporate the latest clinical advancements and address the growing needs of at-risk demographics such as minorities and refugees. They include the following:

1. Flexible and Online Teaching

All online programs offer flexibility for working adults who want to further their social work education while remaining in their local communities. Two online social work MSWs stand out in this area:

  • Our Lady of The Lake – 100% Online
    The Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) won the Presidential Award for Excellence from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) in 2009. Their curriculum is specifically designed to address emerging needs and trends in the social work community while building a time-tested foundation of skills and philosophies.
  • Boston University
    Boston University, whose MSW program ranks 12th in the nation in U.S. News, offers traditional, macro and clinical tracks as well as an advanced standing option. For in-state students who have time or travel-related barriers, the university also offers off-campus, part-time programs in various locations around Massachusetts.

2. Serving Minorities and Refugees

Latinos are currently the second-fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S. – creating many opportunities for social workers who want to specialize in serving this population. Two programs uniquely stand out in preparing graduates to excel with this community:

  • The Worden School at OLLU is one of only three online MSW programs in the country with an emphasis on service to Latino families and children.
  • Boston University’s advanced standing MSW curriculum offers advanced methods courses in racial justice and cultural oppression. Boston University students can also choose electives related to working with vulnerable populations, including immigrants and refugees.

3. Focus on Clinical Social Work

An MSW is required for clinical social work licensure, making it the most common reason for pursuing this degree. Two schools that offer an exceptional clinical MSW social work program are:

  • Widener University’s Center for Social Work Education, which offers an integrated MSW teaching model where faculty and field instructors work closely to support students in applying their knowledge in the community. The school maintains two social work clinic partnerships: one aimed at improving quality of life for local residents and the other serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These partnerships provide students with the hands-on experience needed to develop the critical thinking skills required to help improve the lives of disadvantaged populations and communities.
  • The National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS) at The Catholic University of America offers a foundation curriculum which covers explanatory theories for micro, mezzo and macro social work. Also covered are the “bio-psycho-social-spiritual” dimensions of human behavior and methods for building on people’s inner strength and resilience. The school emphasizes a commitment to social justice and professional ethics and is currently ranked in the top 50 social work programs in the country by U.S. News.

It should be noted that both of these schools offer an advanced standing option to students who already hold an accredited bachelor of social work (BSW) degree.

Top-ranked MSW Programs

The U.S. News and World Report website, known for its popular Best Colleges list, also ranks the nation’s graduate school social work programs. The current top three rated MSW programs are:

1. University of Michigan Ann Arbor – School of Social Work

The country’s top-rated MSW offers multiple specializations, including mental health, aging, children and youth, community organization and social policy. Students also have the opportunity to complete a spring/summer field placement in a global location. The school offers an Advanced Standing program that cuts credit hours from 60 to 45 for students who maintained a 3.5 GPA or above in their last two years of their undergraduate social work degree.

2. Washington University in St. Louis – George Warren Brown School of Social Work

The George Warren Brown School of Social Work combines a personalized curriculum with foundation courses in statistical analysis that teach an evidence-based approach to problem-solving. Its six social work research centers allow students to explore their own research interests in areas such as social science, family and community well-being, and violence and injury prevention. Students can also choose from 300 affiliated MSW practicum sites located in the U.S. and overseas.

3. University of California Berkeley – School of Social Welfare

The Berkeley School of Social Welfare’s MSW program focuses on leadership, advancing social justice and addressing the changing needs of local and global communities. It offers five concentrations: child and family services, health, community mental health, aging and management planning. All MSW students follow a full-time program preparing them for both generalist and specialized practice. Currently, Berkeley does not provide part-time study options or offer advanced standing as part of its degree requirements for social workers.

Social workers help people deal with life’s greatest challenges and promote positive social change. Find an MSW program that’s in line with your passions.

Infographic: Choosing the Right MSW Program





Article Name
A Guide to the Best MSW Programs in the U.S.
Discover the best MSW programs on offer around the country with our handy guide.