25 Best Master's in Social Work (MSW) Programs 2020
We ranked the top 25 colleges that offer a Master's Degree in Social Work based on the median salary of this program's students one year after graduation. San Jose State University is ranked #1 with a salary of $69,900. California State University-Fresno offers the lowest median debt on the list, at $21,342. Students who graduated with a Master's Degree in Social Work from one of the top 25 schools had median starting salaries between $50,200 and $69,900.
2020 Best Master's Program Highlights
Students can pursue a Master of Social Work through three different methods at San Jose State University: a full-time on-campus program, a three-year on-campus program, and an online/hybrid program. Originally designed to train social workers to work with California’s Spanish-speaking populations, the program’s curriculum prepares students to work with oppressed or marginalized populations.
Enrollment is cohort-based, meaning students take foundation year classes with the same group of students. The full-time, two-year program involves four classes per semester, 16 hours of field internship per week, and field seminars during the first year. For students in the three-year program, the foundation year requirements are spread out over two years, with two classes per semester, primarily in the evenings, and no internship the first year. Through the online/hybrid program, students take academic courses that are fully online in combination with in-person field education experiences. Enrollment for online students involves a continuous part-time schedule over two years. The online program is open only to California residents with the ability to study and complete internships within the state.
There are stipends available through the school’s Title IV-E Child Welfare program for eligible MSW students who are interested in pursuing full-time work in county public child welfare services after graduation. There are also training and stipend programs for those interested in subjects such as Integrative Behavioral Health, Adult Protective Services, and Opioid Use Disorder.
San Francisco State University’s School of Social Work offers CSWE-accredited programs that promote professional leadership, cultural sensitivity, and social justice. The MSW program seeks to teach graduates the necessary skills in both the cognitive and affective domains for becoming effective, sensitive, and culturally knowledgeable social workers. Primary goals for the program and its students encompass education, application, collaboration and participation, ethical foundations and leadership, progressive development, equity and social justice, cultural humility, professional versatility, and more.
There is one concentration available to MSW students, which is a specialized emphasis on Individuals, Families, and Groups. However, SFSU also offers a Pupil Personnel Services Credential to students who are interested in working in a public school setting, and is connected to the Title IV-E Child Welfare Training Project for those interested in working in public child welfare. All MSW courses are held exclusively on Mondays and Tuesdays, and all semesters involve fieldwork instruction and a graduate field seminar. The School of Social Work has intern agreements with more than 300 public and private non-profit social and human service agencies, with MSW students focusing on urban generalist practice during their first year and focusing on their area of specialization in their second.
With a multicultural focus, the Master of Social Work program through California State University – East Bay prepares students for work in both public and non-profit agencies, and for leadership and direct practice positions in the field. The program seeks for graduates to be culturally responsive urban social workers that are skilled in working in urban communities with diverse populations, particularly in the areas of children, youth, families, and community mental health.
The core of the MSW is built around advocacy and social change with regards to injustices and inequalities related to race, ethnicity, gender, age, ability, sexual orientation, and others. Completion of the program requires 88-89 quarter units across core courses, concentration courses, and elective courses. Students also have three choices for a mandatory capstone experience. There is an integrative seminar in which students work with faculty and agency supervisors to complete an agency focused project or research, as well as departmental or thesis options, both of which require an oral defense. Students are also required to meet the University Writing Skills Requirement, as well as complete courses in biology or anatomy & physiology in order to receive “Classified Graduate” status. MSW program graduates are also primed to meet the demand for social work leaders in California, especially for those working with individuals with serious mental illness, those involved in the child welfare system, and families living in poverty.
Dominguez Hills’ Master of Social Work program is notable for its explicit focus on Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. Its close proximity to the South Bay Area of Los Angeles County allows students focus on the diverse social service needs and problems of a large metropolitan area made up of a wide range of socially and culturally diverse people, and to examine the effects of culture, ethnicity, race, class, gender, socioeconomic status, and religion. This results in graduates who practice social work in relation to racial and social justice.
An MSW can be pursued through either a two-year full-time path or a three-year part-time Extended Education program. The first 30 credit hours are devoted to the foundation for social work practice, and the following 30 credit hours delve into a concentration or advanced study. Though the program’s single concentration is in Community Practice, full-time students may choose from specializations in Children, Youth & Families, Community Mental Health, or Community Capacity Building. Part-time Extended Education students specialize in Community Mental Health. Twelve credit hours are devoted to fieldwork that focuses on direct service during the foundation year and on specialization-aligned placements in the concentration year. This fieldwork runs parallel with the academic year and concurrent course work, amounting to 16-20 hours each week. The program is accredited by the CSWE, and also has an alumni association specifically dedicated to creating a community of CSUDH social workers.
The Master of Social Work program at California State University – Bakersfield is built on a core curriculum focused on the model of advanced generalist practice, and is separated into two levels of competency: Foundation and Concentration. Foundation courses include Professional Social Work Identity, Foundation Policy in Social Work, Diagnostic Process in Social Work, focuses on Micro, Macro, and Mezzo Social Work Practice, and a Field Practicum. Concentration Courses feature such topics as Advanced Policy in Social Work, Advanced Social Work Practice, and several Projects and Practicums. Students also complete at least six units of elective courses and a community project in conjunction with a Field Practicum. With the help of the Director of Field Education, students are assigned to a different field placement agency each year, providing them with a diverse educational experience and multiple opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills outside the classroom.
Within the curriculum, there are several emphasis options to choose from, including Child and Family Services, Mental Health, and Gerontology/Health Social Work, and students can pursue a full-time, part-time, or advanced standing plan of study. In order to receive initiation in the final concentration year of course work, full and part-time students must be advanced to candidacy through a formal review and recommendation by faculty, as well as approval by the AVP of Academic Programs/Dean for Graduate Studies and Research. The MSW program at CSU Bakersfield is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.