You’re about to entrust your professional development and the trajectory of your career to the staff of a MSW program. You want to be sure the school you select will instill you with the skills and knowledge to be the best advocate and helper possible for the clients you will serve for the rest of your career.
This process starts with ensuring that the program you attend is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), but that still leaves you with over one hundred options. You’re looking for an all-star school of social work, one that will make you globally competitive and help you stand out in the job application slushpile.
So how do you know the programs you’re considering will help you attain your professional goals? Here are some factors to consider:
- How is this MSW program ranked by objective experts? U.S. News and World Report regularly ranks collegiate programs so potential students can easily identify the best of the best.
- How long has this MSW Program been accredited? The longer a program has been accredited by CSWE, the longer they’ve demonstrated that their faculty are experts in social work, that their program follows the highest levels of ethics and maintains a consistent program of academic rigor.
- Does this top ranked MSW program offer advanced standing? It’s silly for people who have already earned their bachelor’s degrees in social work to have to retake generalist level coursework to earn their master’s. Regardless of whether you’re personally eligible, having an advanced standing program demonstrates the school of social work is focused on fostering students’ professional growth, not filling classrooms.
- How many students does this MSW program graduate each year? The key word here is “graduate.” This means they are producing competent social workers, not just enrolling students in the program.
- What percentage of the faculty is full-time? Adjunct professors are a great resource because they are active in the field. But that also means that educating emerging social workers is not their first priority. Additionally, for many of these professors it also means they have fewer credentials than full time university faculty. You want to be sure your MSW program has professional social workers who are also trained as graduate-level educators.
Answering all these questions on your own can be a daunting and time-consuming task. That’s why we’ve created a quantitative method of objectively identifying and Ranking Schools of Social Work that are true all-stars. Programs that do the best job of providing the aforementioned attributes, along with having a unique role in their individual communities. Here’s a list of the Top Twenty-Five All-Star MSW Programs and a little about what makes them stand out.
1. Loyola University Chicago
Located in the heart of Chicago, Loyola University’s School of Social Work allows students a diverse array of academic opportunities including two concentration tracks: acute Clinical Social Work and Leadership & Development in Social Services. They also have a unique sub-specialization in migration and international practice including a possible Field Experience in China, Italy, or Mexico, and which may appeal to students interested in immigration issues. Loyola boasts one of the only student published academic journals of social work in the nation, called Praxis.
2. Simmons College
Simmons’ MSW program boasts an emphasis on hands-on learning, including field experience internship work 3 days per week for the entire program. They partner with several national organizations to assist students with Loan Forgiveness after graduation including National Health Service Corps and Public Service Loan Forgiveness Programs. Simmons’ MSW Program is strictly clinical with four specializations: Child & Family, Trauma & Interpersonal Violence, Mental Health & Addictions, and Health & Aging. They also offer a Graduate Certificate in Urban Leadership for MSW students who would like to pursue leadership roles in the communities they serve.
3. Adelphi University
Adelphi University’s unique opportunities for students include the Institute for Adolescent Trauma Treatment & Training, the Center for Nonprofit Leadership, and the Adelphi New York Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline and Support Program. Because Adelphi is a “Yellow Ribbon Program” school, qualified military veterans can attend at little or no cost. Graduate assistantships, Title IV Refunds for qualified applicants and other financial support are available. Between four campuses, full-time, part-time, advanced standing, and a one year accelerated residency option for working students there are a variety of ways to earn your MSW at Adelphi. Specializations include a certificate in Bilingual Social Work.
4. Case Western Reserve University
Established in 1915, Case Western Reserve is the longest running School of Social Work in the United States. A NASW survey ranked Case Western Reserve University as the #3 MSW program in the nation. Their MSW program was the only online program in U.S. News & World Report’s Top Ten. Case Western Reserve University has both a clinical direct practice program and a social work administration program, both of which have a variety of specializations on which students can focus their learning.
5. Fordham University
Fordham MSW students can select between a clinical, macro, or research focused master’s program at any of four campuses. Each student is assigned a personal faculty advisor to mentor them through the MSW program and classes average 25 students, so there’s no getting lost in the shuffle. Distinguished alumni of Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service include Dennis Walcott, chancellor of the NYC Department of Education; John Damonti, president of the Bristol-Meyers Squibb Foundation; Ruth Sanchez-Way, Ph.D., former director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Substance Abuse and Services for Mental Health Administration (SAMSHA); and the Honorable Richard Berman, federal district judge in the Southern District of New York.
6. University of California, Berkeley
MSW students at UC Berkeley have the option to co-enroll in a Master of Public Health or Master of Public Policy degree program as well as a combined PhD program through the School of Social Welfare. A variety of options are available for students looking for financial assistance including traditional financial aid, fellowships and grants, and academic student employment (i.e. graduate student researcher). Over 350 field education options are available for students in the MSW program. University of California-Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare faculty rank highest in the nation in scholarly productivity.
7. Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr’s School of Social Work balances rich Quaker roots with 21st Century thinking. The School partners with nearly 100 Field Placement agencies with competitive opportunities for hands-on learning. In addition to the MSS degree, Bryn Mawr offers Certificate Programs in Social Work and Law, Organizational Behavior & Management, Home and School Visitor Program, and Child and Family Well-Being Junior Fellowship. Their School of Social Work will celebrate its 100th Birthday in 2015.
8. Tulane University
As the first school of social work in the deep south, Tulane boasts a faculty that includes award winning authors, a job bank for graduates, and a brand new state-of-the-art School facility in 2014. At Tulane, you can complete your MSW in less than two years as a full-time student, including 6 specializations and several global programs. A wide variety of MSW scholarships are available through the school itself, in addition to other opportunities the university provides. Tulane’s location in New Orleans continues to provide a unique social welfare training experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
9. University of Tennessee
University of Tennessee is considered a “Yellow Ribbon University,” not only because they provide programs that assist returning soldiers through the process of recovering from combat, but because several of the university’s educational programs, including the College of Social Work, specialize in career training programs that cater to returning veterans’ unique skills. The College of Social Work offers both clinical and macro MSW tracks. Additionally, Tennessee boasts several certificate programs, including certificates in geriatric, school, trauma (including a special focus in military and veteran services), and veterinary social work. A variety of international learning opportunities are available, including direct exchange programs and faculty-led international experiences.
10. University of South Carolina – Columbia
Located in South Carolina’s state capital, University of South Carolina-Columbia provides a unique environment to study both clinical and macro social work. Because the College of Social Work is part of the broader Division of Health Sciences, MSW students have the opportunity to collaborate with other helping professionals, including nursing, pharmacy and family medicine faculty and students. International opportunities are diverse, including a MSW sister program in Seoul, Korea. University of South Carolina-Columbia boasts over 500 field experience opportunities for MSW students and seven unique fellowships for outstanding potential students who demonstrate financial need.
11. CUNY Hunter College
CUNY Hunter College is the oldest operating school of social work in New York City and was selected as one of three nationally recognized Centers of Excellence in Geriatric Social Work. They demonstrate their commitment to diverse educational access through the offering of a variety of financial aid and assistance packages for students. In addition to a traditional full-time MSW program, CUNY Hunter College offers a One-Year Residence (OYR) program, where experienced social workers who cannot commit to a two-year academic program are sponsored by their employers via a detailed agreement with the university.
12. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Ranked by US New and World Report as one of the top 5 schools of social work in the country, UNC Chapel Hill partners with over 250 field experience sites and a variety of scholarship and financial aid opportunities based on merit and financial need. They also partner with the National Health Service Corps and a Loan Repayment Program for student loan forgiveness opportunities. UNC Chapel Hill has partnered with Children’s Home Society of America to establish a child-welfare research network to improve child welfare policies on the local, state, and national level.
13. Indiana University – Purdue University – Indianapolis
There are six ways to earn your MSW from Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). In addition to traditional full-time and part-time programs of study, IUPUI offers evening, Saturday, and advanced standing opportunities. There are also joint Law (J.D.) and Public Health (M.P.H.) dual degree programs. A variety of financial aid opportunities are available through the university’s graduate school. For students who are also considering pursuing doctoral degrees, IUPUI offers a Pre-Doc Exploratory Option where prospective doctoral students can enroll in PhD level courses to test the waters.
14. University of Illinois at Chicago
Named for the founder of social work, the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago hosts an Oscar nominated visiting media specialist and a recent $900,000 grant to address homelessness among QUILTBAG youth. In addition to concentrations in Child & Family, Community Health & Urban Development, Mental Health, or School Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago offers certificates in Evidence-Based Mental Health Practice with Children and a Child Welfare Trainee Project. Stipends, fellowships, graduate assistantships, and tuition/fee waivers are available to some full-time students.
15. University of Utah
University of Utah’s MSW program has been continuously accredited by CSWE since 1951. The College of Social Work offers graduate certificates in Women’s Health and Disability Studies. Partnerships with over 300 community agencies yield a diverse variety of field experience opportunities for MSW students and international study experiences are provided in Thailand, Mongolia, and Costa Rica. University of Utah offers an impressive list of possible need and merit based scholarships to MSW students every year and the university partners with the Utah Department of Human Services, Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to provide a fully-funded 3-year MSW program to DCFS staff via Title IV-E funds.
16. University of Texas at Arlington
The MSW program at the University of Texas at Arlington is student-focused, including options for prospective students who wish to maintain their full time jobs while attending graduate school. There are numerous scholarships available through the school and university, in addition to traditional financial aid. Joint degrees and partnerships are offered in both public health and nursing. In 2014, UT Arlington received $122,000 from Chase to fund education programs for US Military Veterans as part of the School of Social Work’s research related to the Student Veteran Project, which supports returning veterans in their efforts to complete a degree program in a timely manner.
17. University of Kansas
At the University of Kansas, MSW students elect between clinical and macro concentrations, and each student has an individual academic advisor to guide him or her through the graduate school process. Scholarships and other financial assistance are available through the School of Social Work, as well as opportunities for loan reimbursement via the National Health Service Corps. In addition to study abroad opportunities in Costa Rica, India, Italy, Korea, and Ireland, MSW students have over 200 partner agencies in both Kansas and Missouri to choose from when selecting their field experience sites.
18. University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
In addition to advanced standing and full and part time study programs, the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities offers MSW students the opportunity to concurrently earn dual degrees in Public Policy, Urban & Regional Planning, or Public Health. Research being conduct by social work faculty has received impressive funding to advance both their individual projects and student learning. Fellowships, assistantships, stipends and other grant-funded aid are available to eligible students directly through the School of Social Work. Founded in 1917, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities boasts the oldest School of Social Work from a land-grant university in the country.
19. University of Connecticut
The MSW Program at the University of Connecticut utilizes a methods-based curriculum, meaning that your area of concentration leads the coursework throughout your degree program. Even while participating in a clinical program, students are encouraged to participate in policy advocacy, international learning opportunities, interdisciplinary law coursework, or a divinity dual degree enrollment with Yale University. U Conn also has a non-degree program for students testing the waters, but not ready to commit to a full time graduate education program. In terms of financial aid, grants are available for students based on financial need.
20. Rutgers University New Brunswick
Rutgers boasts the fourth largest School of Social Work in the nation. ACT, their Addiction Counselor Training program allows MSW students to simultaneously meet the requirements for addictions licensure in New Jersey. Online, traditional, blended, and intensive weekend MSW programs are available. Scholarships, fellowships, and graduate assistantships are available in addition to traditional financial aid. Dual degrees are available in both law (J.D./MSW) and Divinity (MSW/MDiv) as well as a combined PhD program. The School of Social Work has several specialized centers that provide community resources, including the Center for Gambling Studies, the Huamin Research Center and the Center on Violence Against Women and Children. While earning the MSW, students can participate in international study opportunities in Romania, Israel, or China.
21. University of Michigan
The School of Social Work at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI is one of the most respected schools in the nation. Students choose between a broad range of specializations, including Health, Community Organization, Interpersonal Practice, Aging in Families and Society, and more. Michigan also conducts groundbreaking research at the Vivian A. and James L. Curtis School of Social Work Research, where their mission is to eliminate mental health and health care access disparities.
22. Columbia University
The Columbia University School of Social Work, located in New York, NY, follows the motto “Make waves. Move mountains. Change lives.” Students are educated by top-notch faculty who are often tapped by policymakers, foundation executives, and service organizations for their expertise. Upon entering the program, students choose one of four concentrations: Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice, Advanced Generalist Practice and Programming, Policy Practice, and Social Enterprise Administration. The University also offers numerous field education specialties, including Aging, Mental Health and Disabilities, International Social Welfare, and more.
23. Ohio State University
Earning an MSW at Ohio State University prepares students to address regional, national, and global social issues. The College of Social Work partners with over 700 agencies throughout Ohio in order to provide excellent field education options to their students, and over 60% of students employed at the time of graduation are hired by their field practicum agencies. With flexible delivery options, including advanced standing and part-time programs, Ohio State is an excellent university for aspiring social work professionals.
24. Virginia Commonwealth University
If you crave strong leadership then the MSW program at Virginia Commonwealth University is for you! The School of Social Work offers renowned faculty and a Peer Mentor program in which upper level social work students assist prospective and current students throughout their development as professional social workers. The school also offers scholarships and stipends for students, such as graduate research assistantships and the Jessie Hibbs Scholarship. And, if you’re interested in additional schooling beyond an MSW, VCU offers a highly-regarded Doctor Of Philosophy in Social Work.
25. Arizona State University
The School of Social Work at Arizona State University offers the only CSWE-accredited program in the state and serves over 1,200 students. They offer numerous specializations such as Children, Youth, and Family, Behavioral Health, and Public Child Welfare, and place a special emphasis on Southwest populations. Students interested in a career in law can pursue a concurrent JD/MSW degree, which allows students to earn both degrees in four years rather than five.