Top MSW Programs in California for 2023: Online & On-Campus

Launch or advance your social work career by earning an accredited Master of Social Work degree online or on-campus from one of the top MSW programs in California.

Last Updated: 05/04/2023

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If you have a bachelor’s degree in social work, social science, or a liberal arts major and are considering pursuing or advancing a social work career in California, this guide is for you. It includes a list of the top on-campus and online MSW programs in California that can assist you in achieving your goals. Additionally, you will learn why factors such as flexibility, affordability, and accreditation are crucial considerations to weigh when selecting your program.

Keep reading to find the right program for you, get details on the different types of MSW programs available (and schools that offer them), learn how to get help paying for your degree, and much more.

Best MSW Programs in California for 2023: CSWE Accredited

We selected the following outstanding California MSW programs based on critical factors such as accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education, affordability, program options and study flexibility, curriculum comprehensiveness, and access to student support services. When it comes to MSW programs in California, these three programs distinguish themselves from the others in 2023.


California State University Northridge

CSUN’s Master of Social Work degree program takes a generalist academic approach that prepares graduates to work in any urban environment with individuals, families, groups, and communities.. The degree program is currently offered both on-campus and online in two-year full-time and three-year part-time formats. All courses in the on-campus programs are attended on the school’s main campus in Northridge, while all coursework in the online programs is accessed and completed 100% online. All online classes are asynchronous with the exception of one live (synchronous) weeknight session each week. In addition to these classes, all MSW students complete substantial field practicum experiences with social welfare agencies typically located within a short distance of the student’s local area. Concurrent enrollment in both classes and field placements is required, and students must be available during regular business hours Monday through Friday to participate in their field placements.

CSUN’s MSW program is a “traditional” program, meaning that students must complete approximately 60 credit hours of coursework to graduate. Admission into the program requires completion of a baccalaureate degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA. The program is competitive, with the most competitive applicants having earned their undergraduate degree in a social sciences-related field with a 3.0 or better GPA and possessing some social work-related experience.


  • Online
  • On-Campus


  • Generalist

Program Options:

  • Traditional
  • Full-Time
  • Part-Time
  • No-GRE


San Diego State University

San Diego State University’s Master of Social Work degree program is among the most flexible MSW programs in California. SDSU offers one-, two-, three-, and four-year MSW study plans. The one-year option is a 38-credit hour, full-time advanced standing program that requires a one year, full-time commitment. The course of study begins with three bridge classes in the summer session and continues into the fall with students completing a full course load that includes a 20 hour per week advanced field practicum. The two-, three-, and four-year options are traditional MSW programs requiring completion of 60 credit hours and include substantial field practicum experiences as well. All four program options feature curriculums organized around the two concentrations of direct practice or administration and community development. The three focus areas of the program are mental health, children, youth, and families, and health and aging.

Additionally, SDSU offers both MSW/MPH and MSW/JD dual-degree options, an MSWupilpersonal services credential, an MSW early childhood transdisciplinary education and mental health certificate, and a certificate in social work administration.

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree with a liberal arts foundation or social work major for the advanced standing program, a minimum 2.85 GPA overall, and 3.0 GPA on the last 60 credit hours completed. Applicants must additionally have a minimum of 500 hours of work experience in human services, social services, or relevant research experience.


  • On-Campus


  • Direct Practice/Clinical (concentration)
  • Administration and Community Development (concentration)

Program Options:

  • Advanced Standing
  • Traditional
  • Full-Time
  • Part-Time
  • No-GRE (LSAT or GRE required for MSW/JD program)


University of California Berkeley

Students at prestigious Cal Berkeley can choose from among three MSW format options, beginning with a full-time, traditional master’s of social welfare program that prepares graduates for both generalist and specialized social work practice. The program consists of 54 credit hours of coursework in generalist practice, specialized practice, and research subjects, along with relevant elective courses and 25 units offield education that include two years of field practicum internship and concurrent field integration seminars.

In addition to the two-year traditional program, Cal offers a one-year, full-time Flex MSW advanced standing program for students with a previously-earned BSW or BASW degree, and a three-year, part-time Flex MSW extended program. Both Flex MSW programs require completion of the same 54 credit hours as the traditional program. MSW/MPH and MSW/MPP concurrent degree programs are also available.

Minimum admissions requirements include a bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent, satisfactory academic record including GPA, and sufficient undergraduate training and post-baccalaureate experience related to human services or social welfare. Admission into the program is extremely competitive and meeting minimum requirements does not guarantee acceptance.


  • On-Campus


  • Advancing Health and Well-being Across the Adult Lifespan
  • Strengthening Children, Youth, and Families
  • Strengthening Organizations and Communities

Program Options:

  • Advanced Standing (Full-time)
  • Traditional (Full-time)
  • Part-Time
  • No-GRE (GRE required for MSW/MPH and MSW/MPP programs)

Types of MSW Programs in California

Traditional MSW Programs in California

Traditional MSW programs are intended for students who hold a previously-earned bachelor’s degree in a non-social work major, usually in a social sciences or related liberal arts field. The curriculum includes both foundational and advanced social work courses, as well as extensive in-person field practicum experiences at social work agencies and facilities located within the school campus’s local or regional area. Courses can be offered in fully online, fully on-campus, or hybrid formats. Both full-time and part-time options are typically available, with full-time options taking around two years to complete and part-time options taking three to four years.

Accredited Traditional MSW Programs in California Worth a Look

Brandman University (Online and Campus)

California State University Chico (Online and Campus)

No-GRE MSW Programs in California

Many MSW programs in California no longer require applicants to submit General Record Examinations test scores as a requirement for admission, although GRE scores are typically required for students enrolling in MSW dual-degree programs (MSW/MPH, MSW/MPP, MSW/JD, etc.) Programs not requiring GRE test scores will likely not be considered as any less prestigious than those requiring GRE scores, as evidenced by the fact that GRE scores are not required for admission into Cal Berkeley’s MSW programs.

Accredited No-GRE MSW Programs in California Worth a Look

Fresno State University (Campus)

California State University Long Beach (Campus)

Advanced Standing MSW Programs in California

Advanced standing MSW programs provide students who hold a previously-earned social work bachelor’s degree with the quickest route to obtaining their social work master’s degree by eliminating the foundational coursework that typically makes up the first-year curriculum of traditional MSW programs. As a result, advanced standing programs can typically be completed in as little as one year of full-time study or two years of part-time study. Similar to students in traditional MSW programs, advanced standing students must complete extensive in-person field practicum experiences. Courses may be presented in online, on-campus, or hybrid formats.

Accredited Advanced Standing MSW Programs in California Worth a Look

California Baptist University (Online and Campus)

California State University Los Angeles (Campus)

Part-Time MSW Programs in California

Part-time study formats are quite common for both traditional and advanced standing MSW programs in California. They’re an excellent choice for students with full-time or part-time jobs or other time-consuming obligations. Degree requirements are typically spread out over an additional academic year for a total of two years for advanced standing programs and three to four years for traditional programs. As with their full-time counterparts, part-time programs may feature coursework presented in an online, on-campus, or hybrid format.

Accredited Part-Time MSW Programs in California Worth a Look

California State University Sacramento (Campus)

California State University San Bernardino (Online and Campus)

A Closer Look at Online MSW Programs in California

As with lots of other majors, distance learning has become a common component of MSW programs in California and around the nation. In fact, many California colleges and universities now offer their MSW programs with academic coursework that can be accessed and completed entirely online. These two exemplary online MSW programs in California are spotlighted to give you an idea of what to expect from the online programs you discover during your program search. You’ll also find answers to a number of the most common questions students ask about online MSW programs in California. For more information about earning an MSW degree online, be sure to check out our guide to online MSW programs.

California Online MSW Program Spotlights


University of Southern California

USC offers one of the most comprehensive online MSW programs in California. Both traditional and advanced standing program options are available that feature fully online coursework. Traditional MSW students complete 60 credit hours of foundational and specialization coursework. Both full-time, four-semester and part-time, six-semester study options are available. In addition to their fully online coursework, traditional MSW students complete 1000 hours of comprehensive field training consisting of a 210-hour virtual field practicum followed by 790 hours in a community-based field placement.

Students with a previously earned BSW degree can opt for the 37-credit hour advanced standing MSW that allows them to bypass the first-year foundational requirements of the traditional program and start with their second-year specialized courses of study. Three-semester, full-time and five-semester, part-time study options are available. Students in the advanced standing program complete the 790-hour field placement in addition to their online coursework.

All MSW students at USC follow a specialized course of study based on their choice of one of three specialized areas of interest: adult mental health and wellness; children, youth, and families; or social change and innovation. Students may further focus their studies on the needs of a particular population by selecting a program track in military social work or school social work.


  • Generalist
  • Adult Mental Health and Wellness
  • Children, Youth, and Families
  • Social Change and Innovation
  • Military Social Work (optional track)
  • School Social Work (optional track)

Program Options:

  • Traditional
  • Advanced Standing
  • Traditional
  • Full-Time
  • Part-Time
  • No-GRE


Humboldt State University

Located in the heart of Northern California’s redwood country, Humboldt State University is home to a surprisingly affordable MSW program with two part-time online options. Students with a social work bachelor’s degree will opt for the two-year advanced standing program, while students with a previously earned bachelor’s degree in non-social work majors will complete the 3 1/2year traditional program. The majority of coursework is presented in a fully online asynchronous format; however, students are required to participate in live webinar sessions every Thursday evening. Students are additionally required to come to HSU’s Arcata campus for an orientation meeting at the beginning of their programs, which is January for the traditional program and June for the advanced standing program, and once each year for a three-day January intensive.

Students in either online MSW program must reside in California during the duration of their time in the program. HSU maintains partnerships for field placement sites throughout several counties in the Superior Region of Northern California. As a result, online MSW students may need to move to the region to complete their field placement requirements.

The current tuition rate for Humboldt State’s online MSW programs is $510 per unit, making the program among the most affordable online MSW programs in California. Over half of HSU’s MSW students receive stipends or scholarships to help pay for their studies. Admission requires a bachelor’s degree earned with a 3.0 or higher GPA or a BSW earned with minimum 3.5 GPA for the advancedstanding program, and completion of prerequisite courses in Native American studies and elementary statistics.


  • Generalist only, with an emphasis on working in indigenous communities and rural areas.

Program Options:

  • Traditional
  • Advanced Standing
  • Traditional
  • Part-Time

Frequently Asked Questions About Online MSW Programs in California

Can I complete my MSW program in California completely online?

Many MSW programs in California today feature coursework that can be completed partially or entirely online. However, all of these programs also include field training requirements that, although they may contain virtual components, are completed primarily in-person at community-based social work agencies and facilities.

How do fieldwork requirements work for online MSW programs in California?

Pretty much the same way that they do for on-campus MSW programs. In most cases, online MSW students are required to be available to complete their field training in-person during regular weekday business hours, although some programs may be able to provide evening and/or weekend field training opportunities to their working students.

Will earning my MSW online in California be cheaper and faster than a traditional program?

Probably not, at least in terms of time. Program lengths for online MSW programs in California offered by a particular college or university are usually the same as for their on-campus counterparts. As for cost, tuition rates are typically the same for online and on-campus programs as well. However, the total program cost for online students will likely be less after factoring in savings from not having to pay for travel to and from campus for classes

Can I enroll in an online MSW program in California if I live out-of-state? Will it fulfill licensing requirements in my state?

In most cases, out-of-state students can enroll in a California online MSW program. Some schools, however, like Humboldt State University, require their MSW students to reside in the state for theduration of their programs. And remember that all online MSW programs in California require completion of in-person field training with social work agencies typically in the school’s local or regional area. So, be sure to confirm your ability to complete your field training at a location in your home area before enrolling in any California MSW program.

In regard to licensing, all states have their own unique licensing requirements. Whether a particular California online MSW program will qualify you for licensing in your state will depend on the specific licensure rules in that state. Nevertheless, it’s likely that the online program you’re considering will fulfill the licensing requirements in your state as long as the program qualifies you to sit for the board exam for the specific area of social work in which you intend to practice.

Social Work Licensing Requirements in California

With the exception of individuals practicing clinical social work and psychotherapy, California does not require a state license to be employed as a social worker in the state. Information on clinical social worker licensure in California can be found at the state Board of Behavioral Sciences website. Learn more about social worker licensing in California and throughout the U.S.

Job Demand for MSW Grads in California

Job security and demand are always important factors when considering any career choice, including social worker. The good news for social work professionals in California and across the U.S. is that, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Projections Central, job demand is strong and expected to remain so for many years to come. The degree of that strength depends on the specific area of social work in which you practice, as indicated by the Projections Central employment and job growth figures for California social workers provided in the following table:

Employment in 2018Projected Employment in 2028Growth RateAverage Annual Openings
Child, Family, and School Social Workers33,80035,8005.9%3,600
Healthcare Social Workers20,80024,40017.3%2,570
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers15,90018,20014.5%1,890
Social Workers, All Other12,50013,4007.2%1,350

Source: Projections Central

Salaries for Social Workers in California

Another important consideration for current and prospective social workers in California is pay. According to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median wages for social workers in the U.S. are substantially higher than those for all occupations combined. As indicated by the BLS figures in the table below, median wages for California social workers are substantially higher than they are for the rest of the nation. Additionally, current figures from indicate that salaries for MSW degree holders far outpace wages for social workers with only a BSW degree.

Median Hourly WageMean Hourly WageAnnual Mean Wage
Child, Family, and School Social Workers$25.21$28.10$58,450
Healthcare Social Workers$37.34$39.91$83,000
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers$32.96$35.17$73,150
Social Workers, All Other$35.15$35.39$73,620

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020

Social Work Student and Professional Resources in California

California Association of Black Social Workers (CABSW)

The California affiliate of the National Association of Black Social Workers, the CABSW is a professional association of social workers dedicated to the promotion of positive family preservation within the African American community. There are seven chapters located throughout the state.

California Association of School Social Workers (CASSW)

Association of active and retired California social workers, social work graduate students, and other school professionals. Its mission is to promote professional development of school social workers to enhance the education experiences for California students and their families. Student memberships are available for a reduced fee.

California Society for Clinical Social Work (CSCSW)

Professional organization specifically focused on advancing and promoting the practice of clinical social work in California as well as advocating for the interests of clinical social workers and their clients. Membership benefits include free continuing education units, networking and workshop events, free ethical consultations, and more.

National Association of Social Workers (NASW) – California Chapter

The NASW is a professional association of social workers whose mission is to enhance member professional growth and development, create and maintain professional social work standards, and to advance sound social policies. Each member is part of one of nine regional groups within the state, some of which have additional smaller city-based or county-based units.

State of California Employment Development Department (EDD)

The EDD’s website is a great resource connecting employers and job seekers in all career fields throughout the state. Use the search engine on its California Occupational Guides webpage to find tons of helpful information on social work careers in a variety of specialized practice areas.