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Social Work Programs with Financial Aid: Find Top Online Degrees

Is your goal to become a social worker? Discover the online program that meets your academic goals and aligns with your financial realities.

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A group of five people, including a child, stand outdoors at a table filled with food items. They are engaged in unpacking and organizing the food. Everyone is smiling and dressed in green and casual clothing, suggesting a community or volunteer activity.

Before COVID, if you wanted to work in a direct-service field like social work, you probably didn’t have many — if any — online classes to choose from. Now things are different: MSW programs have moved toward online content delivery and supporting students in identifying hands-on practicums in their communities. Not only do online classes make education more convenient, but they also make it more accessible to students who otherwise might not be able to fit classwork into their daily lives.

Accredited social work programs participate in federal student aid programs. You may be curious about what other options exist to offset your overall cost of attendance. From scholarships to loans to grants, financial aid-friendly online MSW programs are out there. Read on to learn about some of the standouts.

A Look at Financial Aid-Friendly Social Work Programs

Check out our favorite programs that, in addition to accepting financial aid, offer opportunities for scholarships or grants to defray the cost of tuition.

The most affordable program for you may be one in your state, especially if you’re looking at public colleges and universities. You might want to look at options in nearby states as well: Some regions in the U.S. are creating tuition compacts to honor in-state tuition rates for residents of neighboring states.

Columbia University Online Master of Social Work (MSW)

Consistently a top-ranked program, Columbia’s online MSW is one of the most financial aid-friendly programs and is committed to increasing access to students from an array of lived experiences. Financial aid options include federal financial aid, need-based scholarships for incoming students, merit-based scholarship and fellowships, graduate student funding, outside scholarships, and service benefits for military veterans or Peace Corps and AmeriCorps alumni.

Columbia boasts need-based scholarships from $5,000 to $20,000, as well as competitive scholarships and fellowships for students entering their final year of study. Students can also pursue options for university-sponsored funding. With a strong reputation in the field and generous support from alumni, Columbia works to make education accessible for the next generation of social workers.

Temple University Online Master of Social Work

Temple University logo featuring a red square with a white "T" on the left and the text "Temple University" in black on the right. The text is displayed in two lines, with "Temple" above "University.

Available on campus or fully online, Temple’s MSW program offers two MSW concentrations, Clinical Practice with Individuals and Families or Macro Practice in Organizations, Communities, and Policy Arenas. Temple also prioritizes affordability for its students; tuition for online students is the same for in-state and out-of-state residents.

Temple offers scholarships, work-study, and recommendations for external scholarships and fellowships to help prospective students finance their education. Temple accepts both federal and private student loans to cover tuition and other costs of attendance. Online students will save money because they may not need to relocate or change jobs to pursue their degree.

Albany State University Online Master of Social Work

Located in Georgia, not New York, Albany State University offers an online MSW and participates in a very interesting statewide scholarship initiative. For prospective social workers in Georgia committed to careers in child welfare services, Georgia’s Division of Family & Children Services (DFCS) offers a full tuition scholarship to selected students at seven schools in Georgia, including Albany State.

Scholarship recipients must complete an internship at DFCS and work for the department for one calendar year for each academic year that they received scholarship funding. This scholarship opportunity is great for students who are interested in families, systems, and advocating for vulnerable parties. This program is available in other states as well and can make a big difference in defraying the cost of earning a master’s degree.

University of Denver Online Master of Social Work

With several campus locations and an online option, the University of Denver online MSW takes a social justice focus in its curriculum and boasts alumni who are catalysts for social change. Each location carries a different specialty area – the Four Corners MSW program focuses on rural and tribal communities in mental health, Western Colorado focuses on integrated health and ecological health and sustainability, and the Denver campus has several dual-degree options and a variety of pathways and certificates, including Human-Animal-Environment Interactions and Latinx Social Work.

The University of Denver offers several major scholarship opportunities, including institutional scholarships, volunteer scholarships, Yellow Ribbon scholarships for post-9/11 veterans, and scholarships for Native American students in a southwest tribe.

Boise State University Online Master of Social Work

Available on-campus or online, Boise State University’s MSW focuses on educating the next generation of social workers in a full-time, part-time, or advanced standing format. In addition to accepting student loans, Boise State offers students various scholarship opportunities, including institutional scholarships and state initiatives such as Idaho LAUNCH, a training grant program for select in-demand careers, and the Idaho Opportunity for Adult Learners scholarship. Plus, as a public institution in Idaho, Boise State participates in other statewide programs, scholarships for Native American students, honors scholarships, and other private scholarships.

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Types of Financial Aid Sources for Social Work Students

Many students pull together a combination of personal funds, scholarships, grants, and loans to finance their education. Wherever you are in the application cycle for your online MSW, from considering programs to preparing to accept offers, take a minute to learn more about specific funding opportunities and resources and how they’ll affect you both short and long term. If you want to earn a terminal degree, check to see which schools offer a doctor of social work or PhD in social work.

Scholarships

Scholarships are an excellent funding source as they do not typically require repayment. Some may be related to your past experiences, such as military service, or require future commitments, such as the Title IV-E scholarship. Look closely at offerings on the institutional, local, state, or national level for funding opportunities and apply widely. Even a small scholarship makes a difference in how much you ultimately take out in loans, which yields interest savings long-term.

Grants

You may see “grants” and “scholarships” used interchangeably because they’re ultimately very similar. Grants are sources of funding that also don’t require repayment. They’re most often needs-based, so you’ll have to provide financial information and statements during the application process. However, the purpose of grants is to make higher education achievable for students who otherwise may not be able to afford to attend.

Loans

Many students don’t have the cash on hand to invest in their education. Knowing that earning a degree will increase your lifelong income potential, students use loans to finance their education. Federal student loans are among the most common; you can also explore private student loans from other borrowers. However, keep in mind that private loans set their own terms, including higher interest rates or potentially predatory practices. Make sure you thoroughly research any prospective institution using the Better Business Bureau or a similar service.

Keep in mind that, when you are taking out federal student loans as a prospective social worker, you’ll likely be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness if you work for a qualifying employer for ten cumulative years (which do not have to be consecutive). Make sure you research the program to see if it fits into your career goals.

Financial Aid Checklist for Social Work Students

When you reach the financial portion of your application, follow these steps to ensure that you’re being thorough and completing each stage of the financial aid application process. You may feel overwhelmed and anxious when addressing topics related to money; it’s important to keep a cool head and remind yourself that managing the financial aspects of your schooling is part of preparing to succeed in your social work program. Every institution has its own requirements. These checklist items provide a good foundation for managing your financial aid applications.

Complete the FAFSA Early

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) provides institutions with a picture of your current financial landscape to determine how much assistance you may require to attend your desired institution. Complete the FAFSA as early as you can; it opens on October 1 and closes on June 30 annually, although your school may set an earlier deadline. If you have all the necessary documentation, completing it should take you 30 minutes to one hour each year that you seek funding.

Thoroughly Review Eligibility Criteria & Requirements

In addition to completing your FAFSA carefully, review instructions for applications to other institutional or external scholarships or grants that might help finance your education. Read each description, criteria, and requirement carefully. Make a financial aid spreadsheet to keep yourself organized, with requirements, due dates, and links to relevant URLs so you can access them again easily.

Check Deadlines and Apply Early

Once you’ve made your financial aid spreadsheet, go through the due date section very carefully. Check back each month for upcoming deadlines and mark that cell in bold or change the text color so that you are reminded of its urgency. This method helps you prioritize the imminent deadlines, knowing that you’ll get to the others on your spreadsheet in time. Set aside a few hours on a weekly basis to chip away at applications, and mark the cell complete once you’ve finished that school’s application.

Gather all of the Necessary Documents

Prepare your necessary documents, including your Social Security number, federal income tax returns, W-2s, bank statements, and any other documentation related to investments or earnings, when you sit down to complete the FAFSA or other applications for scholarships or grants. You’ll often need to reference this information as you provide income or financial verifications. Keep your documents in a safe place all together so that you can locate them quickly each time you sit down to work on applications.

Receive Feedback on Supplemental Materials

Your statements of purpose and supplemental essays will communicate your goals and values to the admissions committee. Have a trusted mentor, advisor, or friend read what you’ve written and provide feedback. You want to tell a compelling story about your experiences, what you offer as a student, and how you’ll make the best use of prospective financial aid, scholarships, or grants.

Review Award Letters

Once you’ve received admissions decisions, typically your award letters for financial aid are close behind. Review your award letters carefully; compare them to one another to determine the junction point between the best program for you academically and financially. Once your decision is made, accept that offer of admission and begin your journey to becoming a social worker.