Social work will always be an in-demand career field, as there are many diverse populations facing unique macro- and micro-level challenges within their communities.
Social workers dedicated their time, compassion, and resources to confronting issues like domestic violence, poverty, and environmental injustice. A social worker ultimately wants to create a more just, equal, and safer society for all humans.
To become a social worker, you will need to obtain a BSW – or bachelor’s degree in social work. From there, most graduates obtain an MSW or equivalent degree, which often involves a specialty area (li.e., geriatric populations, incarcerated populations, women and children).
Regardless of which concentration you pursue, you will be required to complete a significant amount of field experience, often upwards of 1,000 hours or more, in various settings.
Finally, aspiring social workers must pass the ASWB – Association of Social Work Boards – Examination before they can apply for licensure in their chosen state.
From there, they may pursue careers like policy analysts, social science researchers, mental health counselors, and school social workers, though this list is hardly exhaustive.
Employment of social workers is predicted to grow 11% by 2028, which is more rapid than other major occupations.
An education at one of the best social work graduate schools will undoubtedly give you a competitive edge over other endeavoring social workers. Here are 10 of the best social work schools in the U.S.
These schools were chosen as they are regularly ranked among the top schools in major publications, such as U.S. News.
University of Chicago Crown School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice (Chicago, IL)
Heralded as one of the best social work schools in the world, the Crown School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice prioritizes field experience as a cornerstone of its degree programs. Students elect to pursue a clinical practice or social administration concentration in the second quarter of their initial year of study. Either option can be completed on a part- or full-time basis.
More than 95% of approximately 400 enrolled MA candidates receive full or partial scholarships, making education in social work accessible – without compromising exceptional quality – for those facing financial barriers.
Classes may be as intimate as six students and are generally capped at 30, maintaining conditions for an intimate learning environment.
One unique program – the MA in social sector leadership and nonprofit management – progresses early-to-mid-career social workers through a 12-course program in which they work to become more impactful leaders who apply a critical social justice lens through the various organizations they will go on to lead.
University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work (Denver, CO)
Graduate students at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work have the opportunity to collaborate with a roster of more than 750 community, national, and international partners.
UD’s online MSW for social justice changemakers offers concentrations in mental health and trauma or health, equity, and wellness.
Graduates of this program will be well-equipped to make substantial contributions to nonprofit organizations, public schools, healthcare systems, and corporate environments – this is just one of 11 concentrations from which graduate degree candidates can choose!
Faculty regularly innovate new courses to meet the modern demands of people and communities needing social services.
In SOWK 4641 Creating New Anchors: An Introduction to Prison-Industrial Complex Abolition, students spend ten weeks learning about the school-to-prison pipeline and systems of inequality that maintain problems for certain populations within the legal system in order to create policies for dismantling them.
Boston College School of Social Work (Newton, MA)
Of the 650+ graduate students pursuing an MSW at the Boston College School of Social Work, 99% will obtain employment within a year of graduation, with 76% earning entry-level salaries above $50,000 per year.
MSW cohorts log over 300,000 hours of fieldwork annually in contexts like nonprofit organizations, public schools, hospitals, and government entities.
Specialty programs like the Latinx Leadership Initiative prepare degree-seekers to collaborate with Latinx organizations in developing long-term solutions for problems that persistently plague their communities.
In choosing a specialty, students first determine if they wish to work on a macro or micro level – the former focusing on expansive community entities and the latter honing on a specific issue.
Washington University in St. Louis George Warren Brown School of Social Work (City, State)
Degree candidates at Washington University in St. Louis’ George Warren Brown School of Social Work first select a concentration, then add a specialization, providing for one of the most customizable social work degree programs on this list.
The American Indian and Alaska Native concentration seeks to ground scholars in the contemporary issues unique to indigenous populations from a policy perspective.
Within the concentration, students can pursue trauma-informed direct practice course sequences, specialize in behavioral health direct practice for communities experiencing substance use conditions, or elect for the community track, wherein they’ll forge community-building careers within certain tribes.
Regardless of which concentration or specialization a graduate student chooses, they will complete a 360-hour foundation practicum followed by a 600-hour concentration practicum at locations like Jobs With Justice, the United Way, and Family Forward Therapeutic Preschool Program.
University of Illinois School of Social Work (Urbana, IL)
Undergraduate BSW candidates can apply for a “fast app.” If they have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and meet other academic requirements, they can transition to the one-year advanced standing MSW program (rather than the traditional two-year option).
Advanced standing and traditional MSW students choose from two main concentrations: advanced clinical or leadership and social change.
Those who pursue the former category will provide direct services to diverse populations via community health agencies, income assistance programs, and criminal justice organizations, to name a few.
The latter program prepares candidates to hold top-level positions like executive directors, political strategists, and consultants.
Study abroad field placement opportunities in Cape Town, South Africa, provide experiential learning immersions where students can practice developing and implementing programs, advocating for services, resolving disparities within the healthcare system, and addressing child welfare.
Case Western Reserve University Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences (Cleveland, OH)
There are three paths to attain a social work degree at Case Western: on-campus, intensive weekend, or online. All programs utilize a competency-based curriculum, which was the first of its kind to be developed in the United States back in 1915.
The on-campus option requires 60 credits completed over two years, beginning with a weeklong Change Agent Intensive (CHAI) course.
In a substance use disorder and recovery concentration – one of several options MSW candidates can pursue – course offerings include immersions in program evaluation, social welfare policy, and motivational interviewing.
Those who choose the intensive weekend option will commute to Case Western’s campus for one weekend out of each month to attend classes on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 AM to 6 PM. Asynchronous assignments take place over the workweek, and students have more flexibility to complete tasks on their own time.
University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice (Philadelphia, PA)
Master’s degree candidates at the School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) are highly encouraged (and supported) to pursue dual degrees at one of U Penn’s 11 other graduate schools, giving them greater range and a competitive edge over other MSW graduates in the job search process.
An average program takes two years to complete, with students enrolling in four courses per semester.
SP2 offers a range of unique program opportunities based on support for interdisciplinary collaboration. Via the MSW, degree candidates can also earn an MS in nonprofit leadership on an accelerated track.
Like many social work schools, Penn devotes considerable weight to fieldwork. MSW candidates complete two internships in social service, and there are nearly 1,000 agencies to choose from as host sites. Staff reports that almost 35 agencies are added to this list each year.
University of Wisconsin Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work (Madison, WI)
In year one of the full-time MSW at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, students develop foundational knowledge in critical analysis and social work theory, which is designed to prepare them for choosing a specialization in year two.
Year one classes may include Human Behavior in the Environment and Psychopathology for Generalist Social Work, for example.
Aging is one focus area in which MSW candidates may specialize. In this track, students gain practical skills in case management, end-of-life care, and advocacy for people living with developmental disabilities.
The Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work stands out from competitors via its cutting-edge Practice Skills Lab. At this facility, students can engage in simulation exercises to practice social work skills in low-stakes, supportive environments.
University of Michigan School of Social Work (Ann Arbor, MI)
High-achieving students accepted to the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work devote their first semester to foundational coursework and consultation with an advisor who can help them choose a specialty.
If a full-time option is not best suited for a particular candidate, they can pursue part-time opportunities on evenings/weekends or via online learning.
Michigan’s online MSW is currently rated #1 in the nation and prepares students for practice in integrated health, mental health, and substance use, with a full-time option launching in the fall of 2023.
There are many pathways to choose from, with the Global Activities Scholars Program (GASP) being one of the most enthralling. Up to 12 students are nominated each year to complete a spring or summer field placement in locations like Zambia, Australia, and Israel.
Columbia University School of Social Work (New York, NY)
At #1 on our list, Columbia University’s School of Social Work was the first school of social work in the nation, established in 1898.
Columbia stipulates a well-rounded education emphasizing social and economic justice for at-risk populations, interdisciplinary research, and ample field education. In fact, 18 of the 60 required credits must consist of fieldwork (amounting to 1,200+ hours).
At no other social work school will you find more degree options than Columbia. There are seven fields of practice, such as contemporary social issues and the world of work.
In the former, future social workers innovate ways to solve persisting issues like homelessness and substance use within the U.S. criminal justice system.
In a typical week, MSW candidates travel to a placement site three times weekly for seven-hour stints. Locations include courts, schools, and prisons, to name a few.
In year two of study, students declare a concentration and field of practice, then complete 1,200 hours at two placement sites. Students emerge from the MSW program feeling highly prepared to embrace entry-level and top leadership positions at a range of social institutions.