Smith College School For Social Work Admissions Essay

If you have the passion, ambition, and endurance to confront the broken systems that oppress and target vulnerable populations, then you have what it takes to earn an intensive but rewarding Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from one of these top universities.

From the prison industrial complex to immigration reform, child welfare, or veteran services, people from all walks of life and under diverse circumstances operate under the demands of untenable structures and policies. You can be the one to make a change.

Do you see yourself working one on one with a client, trying to collaboratively improve their situation in a limited system of justice?

Or do you see yourself going straight for the tenuous system itself, seeking to enact organizational change to promote the economic and social justice of large populations?

Whether micro or macro social work calls to you, the programs below offer advanced training in both (and our Best Online Masters’s in Social Work do too!). As a MSW student you will combine theory with practice by engaging in coursework research and participating in extensive fieldwork practicums. Many schools provide additional opportunities to study abroad, to partner with faculty and field leaders in innovative research endeavors, to gain advanced certification, and much more.

If you already hold a Bachelors of Social Work (BSW) degree then you can enroll in an accelerated masters program (each of the schools below offer one) to earn the MSW degree in just one year. But even if you did not study social work as an undergraduate, the programs below will provide a solid foundation of social work skills and knowledge as well as specialization. And the investment is clearly worthwhile. Those who earn a MSW, according to PayScale, can earn up to twice as much as they do with only an undergraduate degree.

What are the Best Masters of Social Work Programs in the Country?

The fifty programs below all share one thing in common despite the difference of name and emphasis: they are the best at preparing students for successful, fulfilling careers in social work. Here at College Choice we’ve collated and compared the academic reputation, student satisfaction, affordability, and average annual salary of graduates from MSW programs across the country to create a definitive ranking of the nation’s fifty best.

We first chose programs with the most renowned academic reputation and from those pared the list down to those with high retention rates—a reflection of student satisfaction—added those with the most economical accessibility, and finally we included the averages of early career salaries (care of PayScale) to arrive at a list marked by thorough research and extensive data aggregation. Our figures come from the university and colleges’ websites as well as nationally recognized U.S. News & World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics.


University of California–Los Angeles

CC Score: 100

Average Annual Tuition: $7,480

Program Website

A U.S. News & World Report top-ranked program, UCLA’s Masters of Social Work program is offered through the highly reputable Luskin School of Public Affairs and it blends several topics—adolescent issues, aging, child welfare, immigration, mental health, and poverty—to best train the future leaders of social welfare. Students are immersed in theory, research, and social policy while learning how to enact serious change and reform in the communities they will serve.

UCLA’s program takes two years to complete and includes a substantive field work requirement—first year students engage in two full (eight-hour) days per week and in their second year they do three days of fieldwork a week. This work includes not only direct service work, but community outreach, advocacy, staff meetings, consultations, research activity, and staff development. Additionally, all students must choose between between two provided tracks: macro or micro. The former is for those interested in working on the administrative level or in policy while the latter is for those who specifically wish to serve individuals, families, or small communities.

Not only is UCLA a great school, but it is affordable with a reputation for graduating students who go on to earn over 50k annually in the first years of their career. This MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


Washington University in St. Louis

CC Score: 99.5

Average Annual Tuition: $19,984

Program Website

Through the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis provides one of the best MSW programs in the entire country (it is ranked second by U.S. News & World Report). This two-year degree emphasizes leadership and team building through a curriculum that covers research methods, human behavior, social justice and human diversity, social welfare policies and services, practice with individuals and groups, and social work practice with organizations and communities.

Supplementing this core, students can uniquely design their academic experience and specialization through a range of offered concentrations. Social policy, practice methods, evaluation, leadership and management, and theory, problems, and issues are the five available areas of concentration. Further, Washington University provides the opportunity to earn certification in either affordable housing and mixed-income community management or in violence and injury prevention. Thus, this is not only one of the best MSW programs in the country, but one of the most flexible in terms of curricular focus.

Washington University’s MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, and the Brown School is home to a social work library, a communications lab, the Clark-Fox Policy Institute, and more.


University of Maryland - Baltimore

CC Score: 96

Average Annual Tuition: $10,625

Program Website

For those passionate about clinical social work, human services management, or community organizing, this Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Maryland – Baltimore emphasizes hands-on learning through field practicum by placing first-year and second-year students in foundation and advanced field placements respectively. Students work with local Baltimore social services agencies two to three days a week (depending on how far along they are in the program), integrating theory with research to become prepared for professional practice. The university even allows students to find employment-based field practicums.

In conjunction with the practicum, students take twenty-four core courses covering individual, group, and community services. They can then choose to concentrate in one of five areas: aging, behavioral health, community action and social policy, families and children, or health. And for those students seeking further specialization, the University of Maryland – Baltimore’s MSW offers two sub-areas of focus: employee assistance and child, adolescent, and family health.

Maryland’s low tuition cost and its history of graduates who earn above 55k annually in the first years of their career make this program a high return on investment. The University of Maryland – Baltimore’s MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


University of North Carolina

CC Score: 96

Average Annual Tuition: $19,422

Program Website

Based in Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina offers a MSW degree that is ranked among the top five in the country by U.S. News & World Report. A blend of foundational courses that cover social welfare policy and services, human behavior in the social environment, social research, and social work practice, plus an advanced curriculum that allows students to opt between two concentrations—direct practice or community, management, and policy practice—this MSW program is a traditional, solid place to earn your degree.

The University of North Carolina’s MSW program stresses, both through its curriculum and practicum, not only equal access to services, but respect for individual worth and human dignity, the right to self-determination, the importance of diversity, and a high standard for ethical conduct. Also unique to North Carolina’s program is the number of opportunities made available to students. For example, MSW students can study abroad in the summer, with trips to Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, South Africa, Mexico, England, or Ireland. If you don’t desire to study abroad but still want to pad your resume and gain extra experience, the University of North Carolina has five certificate programs that pair with the MSW. You can gain certification in global transmigration, non-profit leadership, substance abuse and addictions, international development and social change, or international peace and conflict resolution.

UNC’s MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


University of Pennsylvania

CC Score: 96

Average Annual Tuition: $23,211

Program Website

Ivy League University of Pennsylvania offers a Master of Social Work program taught by a nationally renowned faculty in a small-classroom setting (on average, there are only twenty students to a class). Penn’s curriculum, which is rooted in social justice and change, is interdisciplinary in scope. In fact, students take classes from among Penn’s twelve graduate schools, they have international coursework and study abroad opportunities, there are eleven dual-degree programs, and even more certificate and specialization programs.

There are several ways to complete your MSW through Penn. Students are allowed to study full-time and complete the degree within two years. They may study for three years, or part-time, or they may enroll in the advanced study program or the employed practitioners program. For those with a Bachelors in Social Work, the advanced study program allows them to complete the MSW in ten months. And the practitioners program is a three-year degree for working adults who study part-time and earn their field credit through their work experience. Whichever track you take, you can be assured that you will graduate fully prepared to enter a variety of systems and settings, to work with diverse client populations, and to be a leader for social change and development.

This MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


University of Washington

CC Score: 95.75

Average Annual Tuition: $23,976

Program Website

With three distinct tracks of study, students of all backgrounds, experiences, and responsibilities can earn a Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Washington. Foremost, the traditional program, referred to as the “Day Program,” takes two years of full-time study to complete. A combination of classroom learning and fieldwork, students learn social work history, professional identity, policy, and social justice. The “Extended Degree” program is similar in content, but takes three years of part-time study to complete. Finally, the “Advanced Studies” program is for those holding an undergraduate degree in social work. This program requires only ten months of study and features specialization.

Though each track is differently structured, they each train students to become leaders for social development, to implement effective social interventions, and to cultivate a relationship with a diverse society. UW’s program allows for concentration and specialization within the curriculum as well as offering three certifications, in gerontology, guardianship, and nonprofit management.  

The University of Washington’s MSW degree, ranked third best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


University of California–Berkeley

CC Score: 94.75

Average Annual Tuition: $28,348

Program Website

UC Berkeley is a globally recognized leader in education, in a number of disciplines, its social work department included. They offer a Master of Social Welfare degree that is highly flexible, meaning students are free to focus on their areas of interest and passion. Students can choose among four areas of formal concentration: aging, child and family services, community mental health, health, and management and planning. Students may also earn certification in Social Work with Latinos or School Social Work. Finally, if those options weren’t enough, Berkeley has two concurrent degree programs that pair with the MSW, one in public health (MSW plus a MPH) and one in public policy (MSW plus a MPP).

With an emphasis on the importance of leadership, Berkeley’s goals for its MSW program include leadership in service, leadership for social justice and change, and leadership for evidence-informed and competency-based practice. Students learn professional responsibility, how to advance social justice, how to use tested knowledge, and effective implementation of intervention method.

Also considered the third best MSW program in the country (tied with Washington) by U.S. News & World Report,Berkeley’s Social Welfare MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


University of Texas–Austin

CC Score: 93.75

Average Annual Tuition: $6,606

Program Website

One of the most affordable MSW programs on our list, the University of Texas in Austin makes going back to school for advanced study (and thus advanced vocational placement) an option for most. This MSW program is flexibly structured, allowing students to finish between one year and three-and-a-half years (depending on past education experience). There are two concentrations available, clinical social work and administration and policy practice, and UT Austin requires over one thousand hours of field practicum.

Like some of the other programs on our list, UT Austin seeks to provide its students with a number of diverse learning experiences. However, unlike a majority of programs on this list, UT Austin offers an international internship opportunity. Students integrate theory and practice, earn practicum hours, and learn how to navigate a different culture and its associated systems. International placement spans the globe, from South Africa to India to Costa Rica. At UT Austin you can also enroll in dual degrees, some of which are mostly unavailable elsewhere, such as the combined Master of Divinity and MSW program. Other dual degree options include MSW degrees paired with a Master of Public Health, Master of Public Affairs, a Doctor of Jurisprudence, or a Master of Arts in Latin American Studies degree.

UT Austin is a great place to earn your Council on Social Work Education accredited MSW degree. World-renowned, affordable, and with graduates earning (on average) 53k annually in the early years of their career, you can expect a successful experience post UT Austin.


University of Illinois–Urbana Champaign

CC Score: 93.5

Average Annual Tuition: $21,655

Program Website

The Master of Social Work degree at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign explicitly expresses the significance the program places on options, both academic and vocational. Thus, students first choose among three enrollment tracks: the traditional full-time or part-time program on campus, the outreach program (which is a hybrid of online and on-campus coursework), or the dual MSW/MBA program. The latter is for those who wish to supplement their social work study with one academic year of concentrated MBA classes. Furthermore, at UI Urbana Champaign MSW students choose among two concentrations: leadership and social change or advanced clinical. The latter includes four more specialization areas: mental health, health care, schools, and children, youth, and family services.  

Whichever enrollment track or concentration speaks to you and your situation, studying social work at UI Urbana Champaign guarantees you will be fully prepared to perform erudite research, effectively apply human behavior knowledge to real-world scenarios, engage diversity in practice, and overall advance human rights and social justice. Payscale also informs us that graduates from UI earn, on average, nearly 58k annually in the early years of their career.

The University of Illinois’ School of Social Work is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


University of Southern California

CC Score: 92.75

Average Annual Tuition: $25,721

Program Website

At the University of Southern California you will take classes that explore unique issues, diverse populations, and innovative ideas such as social work in the military, enacting social change, the dimensions of spirituality, juvenile justice, mental health, school social work, and leadership. As a MSW student you will pair this distinctive course load with international study opportunities and field internships. This MSW program is comprised of three departments: adults and healthy aging; children, youth, and families; and community, organization, and business innovation.

USC sets itself apart in a number of ways, by offering online classes in addition to on-campus coursework, so you can earn your degree in a flexible and efficient manner. They also provide classes on their Irvine (Orange County) campus. Summer and weekend classes are also made available so students who are working can still earn their degrees at the traditional two-year pace. Finally, USC, similar to some other schools on our list, offers dual degree programs. But unlike the other schools, USC offers eight different degrees! So, in addition to earning the MSW, you can earn a MBA, law degree, or masters in planning, public administration, public health, and much more.

The University of Southern California’s MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


University of Wisconsin–Madison

CC Score: 92.5

Average Annual Tuition: $18,605

Program Website

Social work with ethnic and racial groups, human behavior and the environment, policy and services, psychopathology, individual and family practice, and social policy are just some of the classes MSW students take at the renowned University of Wisconsin–Madison. This two-year program is divided into one generalist practice year and an advanced practice specialization year. While the former provides students with foundational social work skills and knowledge, gained through the above classes, the latter offers specialization in one of four areas: aging, health, mental health, or child, youth, and family welfare.

Whether you’re interested in working with groups or individuals or in community leadership, UW Madison ensures its students graduate ready to demonstrate an ethical and effective approach to social change. MSW graduates have indeed gone on to advance human rights, enact social, economic, and environmental justice, and dramatically change policy to better protect and serve communities. Many UW Madison MSW students choose to dual-enroll, concurrently earning an additional masters degree—in law, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, or medicine and public health.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison’s MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


University of Buffalo SUNY

CC Score: 91.75

Average Annual Tuition: $10,870

Program Website

The University of Buffalo SUNY offers a highly ranked Master of Social Work program that integrates trauma-informed and human rights perspectives into the curriculum to give students the ability to transform lives and systems. In addition to the traditional full-time and part-time enrollment tracks, students can also earn this MSW fully online. It is still accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and it delivers the same content, just through a part-time, distance learning model. For those of you eager to earn a dual-degree, Buffalo allows students to add a law, business, or public health degree too.

Buffalo MSW students take foundational courses on everything from scientific methods in social work to diversity and oppressions, social welfare history and policy, intervention, and theories of both human and organizational behavior. Electives span an even wider spectrum, with classes covering addiction, gender issues, forensic social work, refugee and immigrant work, sexual abuse, grant writing, international social work, and much more. Students are also required to complete two field placements, each a little over four-hundreds hours, and they have the option of working with a local, regional, national, or global agency.

The University of Buffalo SUNY’s MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

CC Score: 91.5

Average Annual Tuition: $8,578

Program Website

At the University of Georgia, MSW students graduate with the knowledge of social work’s biological, psychological, social, spiritual, and cultural dimensions. Students are further trained on evidence-based research and evaluation as well as how to influence social policies that meet the standards set by the profession. As advocates for those in poverty, the vulnerable, and the oppressed, University of Georgia grads are noted for their dedication to social and economic justice.

This program allows for full or part-time study and provides two areas of specialization: clinical practice, wherein students take courses that prepare them to work directly with clients, and the community empowerment and program development track, through which students are prepared to work with community programs and in community advocacy and administrative positions. Georgia also makes a number of dual-degree and certification programs available, giving MSW students the opportunity to earn either a law, public health, or divinity degree concurrently or to become certified in disability studies, gerontology, global health, management of nonprofit organizations, or marriage and family therapy.

The University of Georgia’s MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Out of the hundreds of advanced social work degree programs in the country, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Georgia’s as thirty-eighth.

CC Score: 91.5

Average Annual Tuition: $43,432

Program Website

Not only ranked among the best universities in the nation, Columbia University’s School of Social Work is ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Located in the heart of New York City, this MSW program will connect you with hundreds of organizations that are striving to advance programs and policies that promote human rights, well-being, and justice at local, national, and global levels. But even if you do not desire to live and study in the city, you can still attend Columbia and earn a MSW through their online degree program.

However you choose to attain your MSW through Columbia, you can anticipate classes on human behavior and the social environment, social welfare policy and services, research, social work practice, and a field practicum that will introduce you to real-world scenarios. The field education requires 1,200 hours of completed work at two different placement sites. Columbia students are notably well-served by the university. Career development counselors, advisors, field education support, and the social work library are just some of the resources made available to the MSW population.

Columbia University’s MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


University of Illinois–Chicago

CC Score: 91.25

Average Annual Tuition: $11,734

Program Website

With an affordable tuition and a high average salary for graduates (over 51k annually), the University of Illinois–Chicago is a great return on investment. Their Master of Social Work program prepares its students to become advocates for social, economic, and racial justice within, specifically, urban at-risk populations. UIC blends practice with theory in a curriculum containing coursework on human behavior and the social environment, research methodology, and social welfare policy and services, plus a substantive field education requirement.

Like many traditional MSW programs, UIC offers the following four areas of specialization: child and family, community health and urban development, mental health, and school social work. This program can also be paired with a certificate in evidence-based mental health practice with children or a child welfare traineeship project. Whatever your focus and drive, UIC makes taking classes convenient to your schedule. In addition to their traditional, full-time MSW program, students can opt to extend their studies by a year and only take classes in the evenings, making this ideal for working students.

UIC’s Jane Addams College of Social Work is home to a number of prestigious research centers and institutes, including the Center for Social Policy and Research, the Great Lakes Addiction Technology Transfer Center, the Midwest Latino Health Research, Training, and Policy Center, and more. The University of Illinois–Chicago’s MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

CC Score: 91.25

Average Annual Tuition: $33,514

Program Website

Ranked the top program Master of Social Work program in the country by U.S. News & World Report, the University of Michigan’s program is hard to beat with its wide range of specializations, its utilization of the newest research, its new learning innovations, and its interdisciplinary focus. Michigan MSW students first select a practice method concentration from among four options—interpersonal practice, community organization, management of human services, and social policy and evaluation—and they are then encouraged to further specialize through a minor practice method. These minors include aging in families and societies, children and youth in families and societies, community and social systems, health, and mental health.

Furthermore, the University of Michigan provides innumerable social, academic, and field work opportunities for its students. MSW students can gain international field education and research experience; they can enroll in one of seven dual-degree programs, including those in business administration, law, public policy, urban planning, and more; students can even incorporate Peace Corps service into their MSW program. So, that to say, the University of Michigan goes to great lengths to ensure its students have both a depth and a range of knowledge, skill, and practice.

The University of Michigan’s MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


University of Pittsburgh

CC Score: 90.5

Average Annual Tuition: $29,456

Program Website

While earning a Master of Social Work degree at the University of Pittsburgh students often take advantage of the many supplemental programs and opportunities proffered by the university, such as earning additional certification (in integrated healthcare, gerontology, school social work, youth and families, mental health, or human services management). Students can also take part in the Child Welfare Education for Leadership project or the Aging Initiatives program.

The University of Pittsburgh also offers a number of fellowship and dual-degree opportunities. In fact, it offers some of the most dual enrollment options of all the schools on our list, with nine distinct degree pairings, including masters degrees in international affairs, international development, business administration, law, secondary education, and more. There are many ways to design and earn your MSW through Pittsburgh, all of which will fully prepare you work either directly with individuals or families or as a community organizer and leader.

This program is consistently ranked among the top ten MSW programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report and is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

CC Score: 90.25

Average Annual Tuition: $45,963

Program Website

Through their School of Social Service Administration (SSA), the University of Chicago provides a Masters of Arts (AM) degree that is equivalent to the standard MSW. This AM degree leads to a greater vocational flexibility for graduates and it stems from a curriculum marked by interdisciplinary research, experiential foundations in social work, and direct social work practice with policy development. Meaning, students take core classes on social intervention and human behavior and the social environment, then a cluster of electives that correspond with their specialization (either clinical studies or social administration).

Classes are not just limited to the SSA. Students can take electives from departments university wide, thereby allocating their focus to their career aspirations and passions. Students are also urged to study abroad, to gain both field work experience and diversity training. And for those students interested in the University of Chicago’s interdisciplinary model, they can combine the AM degree with a Master of Public Policy, an MBA, or a Master of Divinity. Chicago’s program is consistently ranked among the top three best MSW programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

The University of Chicago’s AM degree and their School of Social Service Administration are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

CC Score: 90

Average Annual Tuition: $34,140

Program Website

Located in Chestnut Hill, Boston College is a top-ranked university with a top-ranked Master of Social Work program. Like many traditional MSWs, Boston College has students choose between either a clinical social work track or its macro (administration and leadership) track. From there, students opt into one of five specializations: individualized care, older adults and family services, health and mental health, global practice, or children, youth, and families.

Boston’s MSW is also home to the Latino Leadership Initiative, a program designed to promote Latino/a communities in both the United States and abroad. A set of the foundation and method courses under this program are subsequently taught in Spanish, and students who pursue this program can attain certification in Latino/a leadership while simultaneously earning their MSW. Other unique certifications include those in neuroscience and social work, refugee and immigrant services, trauma, and veterans and military family care. If you’re eager to supplement your degree with additional certification or a dual-degree, or if you just want to attain the MSW at a part-time pace, Boston allows students to enroll in the three and four year programs, giving them ample flexibility and convenience.

Boston College’s MSW degree and their School of Social Service Administration are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


University of Minnesota–Twin Cities

CC Score: 90

Average Annual Tuition: $20,680

Program Website

At the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities MSW students are introduced to a curriculum that is unabashedly and ardently grounded in social justice. The program, founded by the belief that all citizens and persons should have equal access to society’s social, political, and economic goods, has designed a curriculum that models this principle. Students take classes on working with immigrant populations, global social work and development, substance abuse, conflict management, ethical decision making, and policies in American social welfare.

Minnesota MSW students specialize in clinical mental health, community practice, families and children, or health, disability, and aging. They also engage in the University of Minnesota’s vibrant field education experience, partnering with social work agencies in and around the Twin Cities, even in neighboring states, to put theory and learning into practice. And if you’re interested in public policy, public health, or urban and regional planning, you can enroll in the dual-degree programs to earn both concomitantly. Graduates from this program have gone on to become case managers, policy analysts, clinicians, and community organizers.

The University of Minnesota–Twin Cities’ MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

CC Score: 88.75

Average Annual Tuition: $23,320

Program Website

This top-ranked MSW degree from Ohio State University fully trains its students to become leaders in regional, national, and global communities. With such a focus on community advocacy, OSU sets itself apart. This is further proved through a curriculum comprised of foundation courses covering social and economic justice, diversity and cultural competence, social development and behavior across the lifespan, organizational and community systems, and engaging evidence.

Once OSU MSW students complete the core, they then decide their specialization—choosing from among aging and health, mental health and substance abuse, child and youth services, and community and social justice focuses—and they take integrative seminars with field practicums to further solidify both theory and real-world applications. It’s also worth noting that OSU’s field education program partners students with over 700 agencies throughout Ohio. And that 60 percent of graduates who are employed at the time of graduation are hired by one of their field placement agencies.  

Ohio State University’s MSW program—which can be completed in two, three, or four years, and in even some cases, just in one year—is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

CC Score: 88.75

Average Annual Tuition: $32,000

Program Website

Interested in practicing social work in China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, Israel, Puerto Rico, or Mali? Then this Master of Social Work program through Boston University is maybe for you. MSW students take language learning classes while focusing on the social, economic, and political issues of their respective country. Even if you don’t desire international study experience, BU has a lot to offer. Their MSW program is one of only a handful on our list that offers the program online too. They also provide dual-degree opportunities for those who want to pursue a masters in public health, education, or theology simultaneously with their MSW.

Specializations in Boston’s MSW program include trauma and violence, health and behavioral health, aging, children and families, and leadership in groups, organizations, and communities. And for online students, they can concentrate specifically in human services. Boston University’s MSW is consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top ten in the country. They are nationally recognized for their leading faculty, research contributions, and their commitment to student formation.

Finally, for those thinking of doing doctoral work after completing the MSW, Boston University has a PhD program that allows students to pursue a highly individualized plan of study. Both the MSW and PhD program from Boston University are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


Virginia Commonwealth University

CC Score: 87.5

Average Annual Tuition: $9,603

Program Website

At Virginia Commonwealth University you can earn, concomitantly with the MSW, certification in aging studies, gender violence intervention, or non-profit management, or you can dual enroll and also earn a degree in divinity, public health, or law. Of course, at VCU you can also attain the traditional MSW, earning the degree on-campus at a full-time pace, or online at a part-time pace, or a combination of. Regardless of your program structure, as a VCU student you can expect small classes led by faculty who are experts and leaders in their respective fields.

Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about M.S.W. admission. If you do not find what you are looking for, please e-mail us at the Office of Admission or call us at 413-585-7960 and we will be happy to to respond.

General Admission


Non-Binding Early Admission


Field Internships


Advanced Standing Status


Social Work

General Admission

When is your application deadline?

While the deadline for filing applications is February 21, early application is strongly encouraged. Non-binding early admission and early review of field placement and financial aid requests will be given to those who submit a complete application on or before the non-binding early admission deadline of January 5. In addition, those applying for non-binding early admission will receive notification of their admission decision, geographic location of their field placement, and the preliminary financial aid (award from Smith) by early February.

How long after completing my application will I hear about your decision?

Once all materials are received, it normally takes four to six weeks to review and decide on an application.

What is the average length of the essay questions required in the application?

The length of this assignment varies by individual. The average essays, however, range from six to ten pages in total (double spaced).

I have a B.S.W. Will I receive advanced standing?

Advanced standing is designed for students who have completed their B.S.W. from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Advanced standing allows students to complete their M.S.W. in 15 months. Those with advanced standing will enter as a second-year student, beginning with second year courses in June, and then move directly into an advanced clinical field internship in September. Students with advanced standing will return for a final summer of classes the following summer and graduate in August.

Is an interview required?

Interviews are not required. On occasion, the Admission Committee may request an interview if they feel one would be helpful to them in the assessment of your application.

What is the size of your entering class?

Our entering class varies from year to year but tends to range from 110 to 130 students.

What is the average age of your students?

Last year’s entering class included students ranging in age from 22 to 63, with the average being 30.

I am currently an undergraduate student and will not be graduating until May; can I still apply for this year?

Yes. You may apply for either deadline but must supply us with a transcript listing all completed and in-progress courses. The Office of Admissions must receive a final, official copy of your transcript listing the degree earned by May 31. Offers of admission are contingent upon successful completion of your undergraduate degree.

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Non-Binding Early Admission

Is non-binding early admission at the SSW the same as it is at undergraduate schools?

No. We developed non-binding early admission to help students for whom the geography of their field placement or financial aid are deciding factors in their application to Smith. The goal of the program is to provide students with all of the information they need to make an informed decision. Those who apply by January 5 will receive an admission decision by the first week in February. Those accepted will also receive notification about the geographic location of their field placement and a preliminary financial aid award letter (funds from Smith only, not external resources).

Are there any reasons why I shouldn't apply non-binding early admission?

Yes. If Smith is your first choice, you should apply for non-binding early admission. If, however, Smith is one of several schools you are considering, it is not to your advantage to apply during non-binding early admission. Because of our calendar, non-binding early admission candidates will receive their admission decision well before they hear decisions from other schools for social work. Once you receive our acceptance, you will be asked to accept or decline our offer within two weeks; you will not have heard from most other schools during this time period.

If I get accepted non-binding early admission, can I defer my decision to the regular decision deadline?

No, you must accept or decline your offer of admission within two weeks.

Are there limited slots in non-binding early admission?

Yes, we reserve a limited number of slots for early admission. You could receive one of three decisions through non-binding early admission: accept, decline, or defer to regular decision. In the latter, your application is moved to the regular decision pool and re-reviewed after the final application deadline.

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Field Internships

How are field assignments made?

The school maintains a national system of approximately 150 agency affiliations in 20 states and Canada and is able to place students in some of the finest training agencies across the country. The process of assigning field placements is a careful and thoughtful one designed to match each student’s educational needs with a specific agency, while considering the student’s geographic preferences and the agencies’ specific requirements. In general, first year internships are designed to introduce students to the foundational aspects of the social work profession and begin to introduce the clinical specialization. The field committee strives to assign first year internships that build on a student’s existing skills without replicating work the student may have already done. The second year internship and related elective coursework offer the opportunity to develop a more specific area of clinical specialization.

Can I be placed close to home?

Students are asked to identify their top four choices from a list of the geographic areas in which the school is affiliated. The field committee then works to assign students to a placement, very often within one of their top choices, taking into account the personal circumstances of students as well as their educational needs and professional goals.

How likely is it that I will be placed in my first geographic choice?

The vast majority of students (80–85 percent) receive either their first or second choice of field placement. Students who apply by the non-binding early admission application deadline are given early consideration of their field assignment and are more likely to receive their first choice of geographic area. While it can be a wonderful experience to move to different geographic areas, the Field Committee is very aware that many students have personal circumstances and responsibilities that require them to be in a particular area and we work very hard to accommodate those realities whenever possible.

When will I hear about my field placement assignment?

If you applied by the non-binding early application deadline (January 5), you will receive your geographic assignment with your acceptance materials in early February. If you applied by the final application deadline (February 21), you will be notified of your acceptance in late March. Regular decision applicants must accept the offer of admission before plans can move forward around field placement.

How far will I need to commute to my placement?

The school makes every attempt to limit students’ commute time to 60 minutes or less each way. Students who live in high traffic, urban areas (NYC, LA, Bay Area) or very rural areas, may find that their commutes are a bit longer.

Will I have to interview at my agency before I can begin my field placement?

The school has a well established system of matching students to specific agencies, most often without prerequisite interviews, based on our long-standing and successful relationships with our affiliated agencies. However, agencies have increasingly complex requirements and occasionally require students to interview prior to being accepted into placement. The school also recognizes an agency’s request to interview for some second year field placements that offer particularly competitive and distinguished training opportunities. Students are notified ahead of time if an interview is required and are offered interview preparation resources and support.

Are there additional agency requirements before I start my field placement?

The school begins to notify students in the spring if their agency has any specific requirements that must be completed prior to beginning placement. These requirements are the responsibility of the student to complete and can include fingerprinting and criminal offender record information (CORI) checks, new employee/intern paperwork, and specific immunization and health screenings, etc.

In addition to my classes, what preparation will I receive prior to beginning my field placement?

Field preparation articles are available to students and we strongly recommend reading them before coming to campus. The field faculty meets with students during the summer in both large group orientation events and small group field trainings. The Annual Conference on Field Education in July offers students the opportunity to meet with representatives from their placement agencies as well as with the faculty field advisers with whom they will work over the course of the internship year.

Can I stay in the same area for my second year?

In preparation for the second year field internship, students are again asked to provide the field committee with information about their top geographic preferences as well as the specific areas of interest, fields of practice, or population preferences they may have for the second year. Many students who are able to move find that the opportunity to work in two different geographic areas is an asset. Those whose personal circumstances make a move to a different area difficult should be assured that the school has a good mix of agencies in each area, so it is often possible to stay in one area across the two internship years.

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Advanced Standing Status

I am currently an undergraduate B.S.W. student and will not be graduating until May; can I still apply for this year?

Yes. You may apply for either deadline but must supply us with a transcript listing all completed and in-process courses. The Office of Admissions must receive a final, official copy of your transcript listing the degree earned by May 31. Offers of admission are contingent upon successful completion of your undergraduate degree.

What if I graduated from my B.S.W. program a long time ago; do I still l need to answer the question about the nature of my B.S.W. practicum?

Yes. Please try to describe your practicum to the best of your recollection. Obviously, we will be more interested in the work you have been doing since you graduated, but we would like to know a little about the training you received in your B.S.W. program.

I completed my B.S.W. but have also had experience with clients before (or after) my B.S.W. From which setting should I draw for my case summary?

We recommend you use the setting that provided you with the most direct contact experience with client populations. Your goal will be to provide as rich a description of your interaction with clients as possible so that we can better assess your experience and skill level; in some cases, this experience is more applicable before or after the B.S.W. program.

What letters of recommendation would serve an application seeking advanced standing best?

If you are currently in or have recently graduated from your B.S.W. program (in the past three years), we would strongly recommend a letter of recommendation from your internship supervisor and at least one from a B.S.W. faculty member. The other two letters would vary depending on the opportunities you’ve had working or volunteering in human service settings either on campus or in your community. The Associate Dean of Graduate Enrollment is happy to help you assess options that would best serve your personal circumstances.

If you have been away from your B.S.W. program for more than three years, we encourage you to include a letter from your current supervisor. Other possible letters include those from a co-worker, a contact from a community/volunteer endeavor in which you might be involved, allied professionals with whom you have collaborated, etc.

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Social Work

What can social workers do?

Not only is social work cited as one of the best jobs for saving the world, it is also one of the jobs with the highest rates of satisfaction (2011, Money Magazine). Graduates from the School for Social Work take on varying roles in different settings including, but certainly not limited to, schools, private practice with children, adults or families, hospitals, street work with gangs, oncology units, prisons, campus mental health offices, mental health agencies, adoption agencies, battered women’s shelters, eating disorders programs and juvenile detention support programs.

Do you have a career placement office?

We have an excellent field placement program that offers a wide variety of services dedicated to helping students find a job after graduation. Experienced staff members provide resume and cover letter review, on-campus workshops during the summer academic sessions, and individual career counseling both on and off campus. The office also houses individual reference files, a career resource library, and the Smith College Career Advisery Service, a computerized network of 15,000 college and social work alumni who have volunteered to advise other Smith students and alumni about their work and post-Smith studies. Services are free to students and to graduates for two years following graduation.

What is the starting salary of your graduates?

In 2010, the average starting salary for graduates who responded to our inquiry was $40,095. The vast majority was able to secure a job in three months or less.

Where can I find information about social work licensing in my state?

For information on licensing by state, visit the Association of Social Work Boards Web site.

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