Most Affordable Online MSW Programs

Discover budget-friendly online master’s degrees in social work that fit your busy schedule and don’t skimp on quality.

Last Updated: 05/11/2022

Anytime there’s a crisis, it’s likely that a social worker will play a role in the resolution. Social workers are employed in schools, government agencies, hospitals, and clinics to help those who are vulnerable cope with challenges of all kinds.

Jobs for social workers are projected to grow by 12% in the coming decade, leading to nearly 90,000 new positions by 2030. If you have a bachelor’s degree and are already working in the field—or if you’re considering changing careers and entering the social work field—now is the time.

Finding an affordable online MSW program can make the difference in whether a busy, cost-conscious student decides to go down this path. Learn about the top accredited MSW programs with the most affordable price tags.

50 Most Affordable Online MSW Programs in 2022

With so many online MSW programs now available, finding an affordable option is easy with a little research. And while affordability represents only one of many considerations when picking a program, price can be a deciding factor.

To create our list of the most affordable MSW programs, we ranked schools based on factors such as affordability and quality. The data comes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). If you want to learn more about how this year’s rankings were calculated, click our “About the ranking” button below.

Keep reading to learn about our picks for the most affordable online MSW programs for this year.

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About the ranking

Methodology for STEPS Most Affordable College Rankings

Step #1: Create Universe of Eligible Colleges

To be eligible for this ranking, colleges were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Program(s) in subject area offered at least partially online.

Step #2: Assign Weightings and Rank Colleges Based on Scores in Key Areas

After creating the list of eligible colleges, STEPS’ data science team assigned weightings and ranked colleges based on a combination of affordability, online learning availability, and student support performance metrics. Affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

Affordability

  • Cost:Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid:Percentage of students who receive financial aid directly from the school.

Online Program Availability

  • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education.

Student Support Services

  • Academic Counseling:Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement:Existence of this service on campus or online.

About Our College Rankings Data

Each ranking on STEPS utilizes the latest data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which colleges and universities across the country self-report via surveys from the U.S. Department of Education.

Accreditation Glossary

ABHE: Association for Biblical Higher Education, Commission on Accreditation

ATS: Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools

DEAC: Distance Education Accrediting Commission

HLC: Higher Learning Commission

MSCHE: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

NECHE: New England Commission of Higher Education

NWCCU: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

SACSCOC: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

TRACS: Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission

WSCUC: WASC Senior College and University Commission

1
Type: Public
Cost: $$

New Mexico State University provides a fully online MSW offered as an advanced generalist program. Those with a BSW can graduate in one year, while students with an unrelated undergraduate degree need two years. The program also has part-time options. Professors use the Canvas learning management system to deliver a mix of synchronous and asynchronous coursework.

In addition to generalist studies, the School of Social Work also is home to the Center on Immigration and Child Welfare for learners interested in targeted research opportunities. Some of the topics covered in the curriculum include policy analysis and change, practice with organizations and communities, and applied research methods. Learners spend six credits completing a field experience.

Required application materials include a bachelor’s degree, official transcripts demonstrating a 3.0 or higher GPA, current resume, two letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

Program Highlights:

Master’s in Social Work Online

  • Credits: 30-60
  • Length: 1-2 years
  • Cost: $411.50/credit
  • Format: Fully online
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC) (school); Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
65%
AccreditationHLC
2
Type: Public
Cost: $$

The Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work at The University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus provides two options for its online MSW program: a 36-credit advanced standing degree for BSW graduates and a 60-credit program for those with unrelated undergraduate educations.

Using a mix of both synchronous and asynchronous courses, UO students get the rare opportunity to participate in simulations with trained actors playing social work clients. Topics covered in this program include human diversity and societal oppression, client-centered direct practice, social work research methods, and human lifespan development.

In addition to an online application, prospective students must provide a resume, copy of transcripts from previous institutions, three letters of recommendation, answers to essay questions, and a statement of purpose. They must also pay a nonrefundable $50 application fee.

Program Highlights:

Master’s in Social Work Online

  • Credits: 36-60
  • Length: 1-2 years
  • Cost: $625/credit
  • Format: Fully online
  • Accreditation: HLC (school); CSWE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
86%
AccreditationHLC
3
Type: Public
Cost: $$

Missouri State University’s Springfield campus provides a fully online MSW for both regular and advanced-standing learners. Ranging from 34-62 credits, students can undertake these programs full time or part time. While all coursework can be completed online, all learners must participate in a mandatory new student orientation.

Classes taken in the first year of studies include social welfare policy and services, foundations in social work practice with families and groups, and a social work field practicum. Advanced classes taken in the second year focus on research, assessment, and practice. Learners complete their time at MSUS by participating in a 525-hour field work practicum and seminar.

Admission requirements include a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree, 3.0 or higher GPA, prerequisite courses, recommendation letters, statement of goals, and updated resume.

Program Highlights:

Online Master of Social Work

  • Credits: 34-62
  • Length: 1-3 years
  • Cost: $6,250/year (residents); $11,524/year (nonresidents)
  • Format: Fully-online except for new student orientation
  • Accreditation: HLC (school); CSWE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationDEAC
4
Type: Public
Cost: $$

The University of Southern Maine in Portland provides a part-time, low-residency online MSW program that takes three years to complete. Students enter the program as a cohort, completing assignments and projects with the same group until graduation. While most courses take place online, degree seekers must visit the campus for two or three Friday meetings each semester.

Classes required for this program include multicultural social work, advanced biopsychosocial assessment, and social work practice with individuals and families. Learners begin taking part in social work practice, as well as fieldwork and seminars, during the fall of their second year.

Admission requirements include an online application, resume, three letters of recommendation, transcripts from all institutions previously attended, and a personal statement. Students must also submit a 750-word essay answering four questions outlined by the admissions committee.

Program Highlights:

Low-Residency Online MSW

  • Credits: 61
  • Length: 3 years
  • Cost: $432/credit (resident); $1,186/credit (nonresident)
  • Format: Partially-online
  • Accreditation: NECHE (school); CSWE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
85%
AccreditationHLC
5
Type: Public
Cost: $$

The Arizona State University Skysong (ASUS) campus provides a fully online MSW consisting of 20 classes lasting 7.5 weeks each. Learners select from multiple start dates per year. Once enrolled, classes take place on an asynchronous basis to allow for maximum flexibility.

Some of the classes students take include macro human behavior in the social environment, social policy and services, diversity and oppression in a social work context, and assessment of mental disorders. Learners must also participate in an applied project and a field internship/practicum to qualify for graduation.

Students who apply to ASUS’s program must supply an online application, transcripts demonstrating a 3.0 or higher GPA and completed prerequisites, a statement of education and career goals, updated resume, three letters of recommendation, and proof of completing at least 240 hours in a volunteer or professional social services role during a six-month period in the previous five years.

Program Highlights:

Online Master of Social Work

  • Credits: 60
  • Length: 2 years
  • Cost: $6,791/semester
  • Format: Fully-online
  • Accreditation: HLC (school); CSWE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
53%
AccreditationMSCHE
6
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
61%
AccreditationHLC
7
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
99%
AccreditationHLC
8
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
54%
AccreditationDEAC
9
Angelo State University San Angelo, TX
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
60%
AccreditationHLC
10
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
51%
AccreditationSACSCOC
11
Saint Leo University Saint Leo, FL
Type: Private, Not-for-Profit
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
99%
AccreditationSACSCOC
12
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
76%
AccreditationSACSCOC
13
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
44%
AccreditationNWCCU
14
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
58%
AccreditationWSCUC
15
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
67%
AccreditationHLC
16
Salisbury University Salisbury, MD
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
61%
AccreditationSACSCOC
17
Washburn University Topeka, KS
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
62%
AccreditationNWCCU
18
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
45%
AccreditationSACSCOC
19
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
45%
AccreditationSACSCOC
20
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
65%
AccreditationHLC
21
Troy University Troy, AL
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
49%
AccreditationNWCCU
22
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationHLC
23
Aurora University Aurora, IL
Type: Private, Not-for-Profit
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
100%
AccreditationSACSCOC
24
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
54%
AccreditationWSCUC
25
University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationSACSCOC
26
Concord University Athens, WV
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
49%
AccreditationSACSCOC
27
Texas State University San Marcos, TX
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
12%
AccreditationSACSCOC
28
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
41%
AccreditationSACSCOC
29
University of Houston Houston, TX
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
48%
AccreditationWSCUC
30
University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
41%
AccreditationSACSCOC
31
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
62%
AccreditationHLC
32
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
57%
AccreditationSACSCOC
33
Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
66%
AccreditationHLC
34
University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
63%
AccreditationHLC
35
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
41%
AccreditationHLC
36
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
51%
AccreditationHLC
37
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
53%
AccreditationTRACS
38
Morgan State University Baltimore, MD
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
47%
AccreditationNECHE
39
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
70%
AccreditationHLC
40
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
19%
AccreditationSACSCOC
41
The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
57%
AccreditationHLC
42
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
57%
AccreditationHLC
43
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
30%
AccreditationSACSCOC
44
Campbellsville University Campbellsville, KY
Type: Private, Not-for-Profit
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
89%
AccreditationSACSCOC
45
University of Louisville Louisville, KY
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
61%
AccreditationSACSCOC
46
Capella University Minneapolis, MN
Type: Private, For-Profit
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
50%
AccreditationSACSCOC
47
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
63%
AccreditationNECHE
48
University of Memphis Memphis, TN
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
39%
AccreditationSACSCOC
49
Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, KY
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
46%
AccreditationSACSCOC
50
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
48%
AccreditationSACSCOC

5 Ways to Make Your Online MSW Degree More Affordable

If you want to earn your online MSW degree without taking on substantial debt, consider these options to reduce costs, have your loans forgiven, or receive a discounted tuition rate.

1

Apply to scholarships, grants, and fellowships created for MSW students

Plenty of scholarships, grants, and fellowships support students working toward an MSW. Some may award funds based on merit, while others base decisions on financial need. These awards can be quite competitive, so it’s best to start looking for options early. Not sure where to start? Check out our STEPS financial aid guide and scholarships and resources guide for social work students. CSWE also offers examples of funding opportunities.

2

See if you qualify for work-study

Students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) may qualify for a federal work-study job based on their earnings. These part-time positions can be virtual or in-person at the school campus and pay at least the federal hourly minimum wage. You’ll need to make sure your prospective college offers this type of funding. Asbury University provides an example of what to look for.

3

Apply for a research or teaching assistantship

Assistantships are offered by colleges and universities as a way for students to assist professors with research and/or teaching responsibilities, gain experience, and help cover their educational costs. Some assistantships provide a stipend while others may qualify students for free or reduced tuition. These roles are both virtual and in person. Check out the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s School of Social Work to see a real-world example.

4

Ask your employer about tuition reimbursement plans

If you’re already employed as a BSW-educated social worker, it’s worth checking in with your employer to see if they provide any type of tuition reimbursement plan. Under federal law, employers can provide up to $5,250 tax free each academic year. These funds may be used to cover tuition, textbooks, supplies, or any other school-related costs. Some employers provide more than $5,250 each year, but any amount over this will be taxable.

5

Apply for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program

Social workers employed by a government agency or a nonprofit can qualify for the U.S. Department of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. Students who make 120 qualifying monthly payments toward their Direct Loans over a 10-year period can have the remainder of their loan forgiven if they work full-time for an approved employer.

What Affects the Affordability of an Online MSW Program?

Many factors can affect the bottom line in terms of how much you pay for your online MSW degree. Understanding these factors prior to enrolling in a program can help you mitigate unexpected expenses and look for the best rates without sacrificing the quality of your education. Check out a few common factors below.

Public vs. Private Institution

Private colleges and universities almost always cost more than state-subsidized public institutions. Data from CollegeBoard shows that students completing a master’s at a public university paid an average of $8,950 for the 2020-2021 academic year. Those at a private institution paid an average of $29,670.

Out-of-State vs. In-state Status

If attending a public university, it matters whether you’re considered a resident or nonresident student. While in-state students paid an average of $10,560 during the 2020-2021 school year, out-of-state students paid an average of $27,020.

Online Learner Special Rate

To attract more online learners, some schools provide special rates for distance education. Public colleges may allow online students to pay in-state tuition regardless of their state of residence, while private schools may drop the rates for students who want to complete their degree virtually.

Fees

Many students see tuition rates for an MSW program and fail to pay attention to the fees. While distance learners avoid many campus-based costs, they still need to factor in charges associated with technology fees, exam proctoring, and fieldwork travel costs.

Transfer Credits Accepted

If you decide to transfer to a different MSW program, make sure your existing credits will come with you. At the University of Southern Maine, for instance, the online MSW program takes place in a sequenced cohort style. Because of this, the program generally doesn’t allow for any transfer credits.