The top 10 US colleges for a major in social work


A social work degree can take you deep into people’s lives, and position you to be the beacon of hope they often need. Many people face struggles and are in desperate need of help. Will you extend a helping hand?

Social work degrees equip you to be a life-changing force and meet a variety of obstacles and challenges head-on. It is essential to your social work career longevity that you learn how local and federal policies work (making the job at hand manageable), and that you develop systems for understanding and coping with the trials you will face. Social work demands grit and compassion, alongside appropriate training, but the rewards are priceless.

Job outlook for social work degree graduates:

(Human Services Assistants)
(Child & Family Social Workers)
(Community Service Managers)
Pay Range, 2012: $19k–$46k $26.7k–$71k $36k–$99k
Median Pay, 2012: $28,800 $44, 200 $60,000
U.S. Jobs in 2012: 372,700 607,300 132,900
Projected U.S. Jobs, 2022: 454,694 722,687 160,809
Job growth forecast 2012-22: 22% 19% 21%

Job opportunities for social work degree graduates:

Associate’s Bachelor’s Master’s
Case manager aides Case managers Community service mgr.
Outreach workers Group home workers Clinical social workers
Life skills instructors Community organizers Child welfare social workers
Social worker assistants Substance abuse counselors Public health social workers
Gerontology aides Mental health assistants Rehabilitation directors
Mental health technicians Child & Family counselors School social workers

The master’s degree in social work:

The Master of Social Work degree continues to trend toward becoming the standard degree for social work. In many cases a MSW meets minimum job requirements, and it better equips you to handle all aspects of the job. A MSW is required for work in schools, healthcare settings, and clinical social work.

MSW students face a major decision regarding their specializations, including whether they prefer micro or macro level positions. Micro level social workers work more hands-on in one-on-one services, whereas macro level social workers focus more on administrative, managerial, and community organizational work.

Different kinds of social work:

  • Direct-services social workers guide individuals by assessing their situations and developing plans to meet their needs. To do this, become a CSW (Clinical Social Worker) or an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker). CSWs and LCSWs work with healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders as well as physical disabilities. CSWs must have a Master of Social Work degree and must receive licensing according to the state in which they practice.
  • Social workers in administration and community organizing focus on macro level issues in policy and organizational development. Social workers who excel in administration find themselves as lobbyists, managers in organizations, or executive directors of non-profit organizations.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) mandates that all accredited programs include clinical practice. Online MSW programs have various ways of assisting students in finding placement to meet this requirement.

The State Board of Education requirements and state licensing requirements for social workers differ from state to state. Be sure to research your state’s Board of Education and social work licensing requirements.

Social work programs at these top universities are highly ranked due to their excellent student outcomes. These colleges have low student-to-faculty ratios, high graduation rates and low student loan default rates, showing that students are actually able to find jobs after graduation. Many of these universities also have graduate programs available, allowing undergraduate students unique research opportunities.

Note: This is a ranking for undergraduate programs only. Many students choose to continue their education to receive a master’s in social work or a related field to further expand their career opportunities. Read more about the methodology behind the ranking here. Salary data is provided by Payscale.

1. University of California-Berkeley

Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus with the Campanile in the background in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Founded in 1868, the University of California – Berkeley is a premier public university that provides students with a top education in various fields. The school employs a strong faculty that is dedicated to teaching students the necessary skills to become helpful and effective social workers.

Students take classes in policy, social work practice, social problems, current topics and more as they work towards their Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Welfare. The social work program at Berkeley is quite popular, and graduates are often successful in the field, earning average starting salaries of $41,000.

2. New York University

New York University is a highly diverse school located in the middle of New York City. The Silver School of Social Work offers undergraduate and graduate programs that focus on developing human relations skills, while teaching students about healthcare, human rights, law and human services that are applicable to the social work field.

Along with its strong curriculum, the location of NYU provides students with numerous opportunities for internships and real life experience in social work. The preparation students receive from NYU often leads to successful careers, earning an average mid-career salary of $60,000.

3. Rutgers University

Rutgers University is a large school that offers many undergraduate and graduate degrees. The undergraduate social work program maintains very high standards, requiring students to maintain a 3.0 GPA. Students in the program take core classes in healthcare and social welfare to introduce them to policies within the field, while also acquiring the skills to work effectively and respectfully with individuals, families and groups.

The social work major at Rutgers is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, giving graduates an advantage in the job market. The average starting salary for a Rutgers graduate is $37,000, reaching an average of $59,000 at the mid-career level.

4. Adelphi Univeristy 

Adelphi University has a long tradition of providing students with an excellent education. The school employs faculty that are knowledgeable and have experience in the social work field, helping students to digest information while allowing them to develop empathy and the necessary people skills to be successful in this field.

Social work majors take classes in case management, psychology, social issues, social welfare and human behavior in order to understand policies and issues that may affect people the students will be working with. Many students choose to pursue the master’s degree in social work offered at Adelphi, while others join the job force immediately after obtaining their undergraduate degrees. The average starting salary of a graduate with a bachelor’s in social work from Adelphi is $36,000.

5. Fordham University

Fordham University offers bachelors and master’s degrees in social work. Both of these programs are highly acclaimed and prepare students for a career that helps to change and improve other people’s lives. The undergraduate program focuses initially on introducing students to the field and the policies within it.

Students take classes in human rights, social justice, human behavior and social welfare policy and services to gain an understanding of social work. These classes also help to enhance communication skills and give students the opportunity to practice working with others. Fordham’s program successfully prepares students for the challenges of social work, and graduates earn an average mid-career salary of $57,000.

6. University of Texas-Austin 

The University of Texas at Austin provides students with an excellent undergraduate and graduate education. The school focuses on offering interdisciplinary and interrelated areas of study to give students a well-rounded understanding of their given field.

The School of Social Work is dedicated to developing leaders that will assist others in improving their lives. The classes focus on social well-being and alleviating racial, economic and domestic issues that may arise. A social work degree from UT is influential and leads to an average mid-career salary of $55,000.

7. University of Wisconsin-Madison

The University of Wisconsin – Madison is a large university known for its dedication to academic excellence. The School of Social Work teaches students about well-being, while working to promote human rights and social justice. Faculty members have developed an innovative curriculum that incorporates theory, research and practice to teach students about the field and prepare them to actually work in it.

Classes on topics, such as social welfare policy, human behavior and the social environment and statistics and research often lead to careers earning around $52,000 at the mid-career level.

8. University of New Hampshire 

Established in 1866, the University of New Hampshire is a public research university with a strong reputation for offering an excellent education at a reasonable price. In addition to social work, popular majors at the school include business administration, psychology and communication.

The social work program at UNH blends coursework and practical experience in the form of a senior internship to prepare students for a variety of careers in the field. Graduates of the program go on to earn an average starting salary of $41,000.

9. Loyola University

Loyola University Chicago is a private Catholic University that was founded in 1870.

The school’s social work program includes an innovative curriculum with a strong liberal arts base and opportunities for majors to gain real-world experience.

Loyola is one of the few schools in the United States to offer a combined BSW/MSW program to allow full-time students to complete both degrees in just five years. Those who graduate with their BSW find positions in various public service settings with an average starting salary of $34,000.

10. University of Georgia

Founded in 1785, the University of Georgia is the state’s oldest university. The school has worked to maintain a tradition of educating students with useful knowledge and skills that will help them develop into leaders in their respective fields.

The Council on Social Work Education accredited program sets students up for general social work careers. Liberal arts classes help to improve critical thinking and writing skills, while classes in social policy and social sciences give students the foundation to practice social work. Graduates of this program earn an average starting salary of $36,000 and an average mid-career salary of $48,000.



Social Work Degrees and 25 Notable Online Programs

The top 10 U.S. colleges for a major in social work


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