Master’s in Social Work (MSW) Programs in California (CA) – Online & On-Campus

If you’re considering becoming a social worker, the first step is to acquire the relevant education and training. Depending on the role you’re aiming for and the license you wish to secure, a Master of Social Work (MSW) may be necessary. In California, there are two types of social work licenses available and both require an MSW. For that reason, there are a number of California schools offering MSW programs. But before you pick one, there are some basic things to know about MSW programs in California—from education requirements to projected salaries post-graduation.

University of Southern California

USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The MSW@USC is the online Master of Social Work from top-ranked USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. The Advanced Standing track can be completed in as little as 1 year. USC offers virtual and in-person field education, and students focus on adults, youth or social change.

  •  Minimum completion time: 12 months with a BSW 
  • Online classes taught by USC faculty 
  • Virtual field training to build skills and confidence

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Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs in California

Various California MSW programs offer one- to four-year plans for obtaining an MSW degree. Many MSW degree programs in California are offered both on-campus and online for distance learning.

In an MSW program, students can expect to learn how to practice social work with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities. Students learn about ethical and professional social work behavior, how to engage in research-informed practice and how to assess, intervene and evaluate the clients and populations they work with. The following is a list of Council on Social Work (CSWE)-accredited programs in California. 

Online MSW Programs in California

Many schools in California that offer MSW programs also have online MSW programs. Students can access coursework from their devices when it’s convenient for them.

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs

Howard University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The online Master of Social Work program from Howard University School of Social Work prepares students for advanced direct or macro practice in culturally diverse communities. Two concentrations available: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice. No GRE. Complete in as few as 12 months.

  • Concentrations: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice
  • Complete at least 777-1,000 hours of agency-based field education
  • Earn your degree in as few as 12 months

University of Denver

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The University of Denver’s Online MSW Program is delivered by its top-ranked school of social work and offers two programs. Students can earn their degree in as few as 12 months for the Online Advanced-Standing MSW or 27 months for the Online MSW.

  • Complete the Online Advanced-Standing MSW in as few as 12 months if you have a BSW; if you do not have a BSW, the Online MSW Program may be completed in as few as 27 months.
  • No GRE Required
  • Mental Health and Trauma or Health, Equity and Wellness concentrations

Fordham University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Fordham’s skills-based, online MSW program integrates advanced relevant social work competencies, preparing students to serve individuals and communities while moving the profession forward. This program includes advanced standing and traditional MSW options.

  •  Traditional and advanced standing online MSW options are available.
  • There are four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy.
  • Pursue the degree on a full-time or part-time track.

Simmons University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Aspiring direct practitioners can earn their MSW online from Simmons University in as few as 16 months. GRE scores are not required, and the program offers full-time, part-time, accelerated, and advanced standing tracks.

  • Prepares students to pursue licensure, including LCSW 
  • Full-time, part-time, and accelerated tracks 
  • Minimum completion time: 16 months

University of Southern California

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The MSW@USC is the online Master of Social Work from top-ranked USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. The Advanced Standing track can be completed in as little as 1 year. USC offers virtual and in-person field education, and students focus on adults, youth or social change.

  •  Minimum completion time: 12 months with a BSW 
  • Online classes taught by USC faculty 
  • Virtual field training to build skills and confidence

Syracuse University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Syracuse University’s online Master of Social Work program does not require GRE scores to apply and is focused on preparing social workers who embrace technology as an important part of the future of the profession. Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks are available. 

  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks
  • No GRE required
  • Concentrate your degree in integrated practice or clinical practice

Baylor University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Complete the Master of Social Work online program at Baylor University in as few as 12 months. Serve populations in Texas and around the world while ethically integrating faith and social work practice. No GRE required.

  • Address injustice from a strengths-based perspective
  • Ethically integrates faith and social work practice
  • Serve as a trusted resource for clients, no matter their personal background
  • Complete the MSW online program in as few as 12 months

Case Western Reserve University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

In as few as a year and a half, you can prepare for social work leadership by earning your Master of Social Work online from Case Western Reserve University’s school of social work.

  • CSWE-accredited
  • No GRE requirement
  • Complete in as few as one and a half years

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Learn more about MSW Programs:

  • Advanced Standing MSW Programs Online – Advanced standing online MSW programs are for students who have earned a CSWE-accredited Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. These programs may be completed in less than two years.
  • Clinical MSW Online Programs – Clinical online MSW programs may help prepare you for licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). These programs focus on clinical approaches to social work and working with communities.
  • Online MSW Programs No GRE – There are some online MSW programs that do not require a GRE score for admission.

Social Work Degree Programs in California

There are plenty of opportunities to study social work and earn a social work degree in California. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits 48 bachelor’s and master’s social work programs in the state. According to a 2018 CSWE report [PDF, 1.7 MB], California schools produced 5.9% of social work bachelor’s degrees and 10.5% of MSW degrees  for the 2017-2018 academic year. California came in second to New York in the number of social work master’s degrees conferred. 

View our page on social work licensure or our state-specific page to learn about what it takes to become a social worker in California.

Education Requirements

While admissions requirements vary by school, quite a few MSW programs in California require you to have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA of 2.5 or higher. Some programs also require you to pass the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). 

Other MSW programs may have additional requirements to help determine your readiness for the course of study. Some require you to have taken an undergraduate statistics course and spent a certain number of hours volunteering, interning, or working with a diverse, vulnerable population. 

Most MSW programs last two years, with a minimum of 900 hours of supervised field work. Of course, each MSW program has slightly different degree requirements. 

Curriculum

Curriculum for many MSW programs in California includes coursework in counseling, social work intervention, social welfare, social justice and diversity. 

Alongside these core courses, some universities offer specialized courses and electives. These may include courses on micro-theory and human development, diversity and social justice, and organizing for community change. Other MSW programs offer classes on human behavior and the social environment, marginalized populations and social work with survivors of human trafficking.

In addition, MSW programs include field work with community organizations, school districts, inmate services, and foster care agencies and more. By teaching social work skills, practices, ethics and communication methods, MSW curricula can help to prepare you to work in a variety of settings.

What Can I Do with an MSW Degree in CA?

An MSW is required to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in California, and that license allows you to provide clinical services or psychotherapy.  But the field of social work is vast one, which means your day-to-day duties may not be limited to the clinical sphere. In fact in 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that California had the highest level of employment of social workers of all 50 states.  

If you have a master’s degree, two years of post-degree experience and a license to practice in California, you may be able to pursue a career in social work.  As you set out on the path to become a social worker, you may want to give some thought to where it is that you want to work as well as who you want to work with.  An MSW degree may prepare you for a social work position at a welfare or adoption agency, hospital, drug clinic or prison, among other number of places. 

  • Some social workers end up in educational services as a school social worker, supporting children, families and school staff. 
  • Others work in health care or with members of the military and their families as a military social worker—teaching them how to navigate the complex life challenges that come with the work they do. Still, others may work for federal or state governments as a social work administrator
  • A typical day in the life of a child and family social worker may include helping families find housing or apply for food stamps, intervening to protect children from abuse or helping to find a foster or adoption family. If you work at a school, you may be tasked with supporting teachers and administrators to deal with issues like bullying, aggression or repeated absences.
  • For health care social workers, a typical day may include helping patients transition from the hospital to their home, providing information about support groups or home health care and advising doctors on how a disease may affect a patients’ mental health.
  • Other social workers help clients overcome addictions or balance their mental health through 12-step programs, or related health care services.

Social work salaries generally depend on your specialization, location and level of education. In California, social workers across various specialties earn an average of about $60,000 to $80,000 per year, according to 2019 data from BLS.

FAQs

How much does an MSW program cost? How long does it take to become a social worker? Is it worth it? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about MSW programs in California.

Which school has the best MSW program in California (CA)?

The best MSW program in CA for you will vary based on your educational and career goals. For example, if you want to work in mental health social services, you may want to look for an MSW program with a specialty in mental health. Or, if you want to work in a school setting, try to find a program that offers a concentration in school social work.

What is the typical cost of an MSW program in CA?

The cost of MSW programs in California varies, so it’s advisable to check your school’s website for tuition information. If you’re looking for financial assistance, our list of social work scholarships might be helpful to you.

Is a career in social work worth it?

Getting an MSW degree may be beneficial to you. For one thing, you’ll be prepared to start pursuing a career in a rapidly expanding field. The BLS expects social work jobs to grow 13% from 2019 to 2029. Another reason to pursue an MSW and career in the field could be the various opportunities you’ll get to improve peoples’ lives. Although the work can sometimes be stressful, a number of social workers enjoy their jobs because they like helping people and solving problems.

How long does it take to become a social worker in California?

To get a clinical social work license in California, you’ll need a master’s degree, and several hours of supervised experience during your program and after graduation. Since most master’s programs take two years to complete, it generally takes about four years to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Of course, that doesn’t include the time it takes to earn your bachelor’s degree, which is usually a requirement for admission to an MSW program and lasts four years.

For more information about becoming a clinical social worker in California, you may check out the Board of Behavioral Sciences’ table of LCSW licensure requirements [PDF, 307 KB]

Information last updated in November 2020.