Social Work

No Guarantees: The Easiest MSWs To Get Into, And What Applicants Should Consider

No Guarantees: The Easiest MSWs To Get Into, And What Applicants Should Consider
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Nedda Gilbert July 17, 2018

Admissions decisions for Masters of Social Work (MSW) programs are not easy to predict.

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When it comes to earning a master’s degree in social work, it’s hard to categorize which degree programs are easy to get into and which are highly competitive. That’s because several very distinctive factors drive social work grad school admissions.

For example, only a small number of MSW programs require the GRE (often, when an applicant’s GPA is 3.0 or lower). With such variability, it can be tough to come up with a solid admissions plan.

Here’s what you need to know about finding the easiest social work program for your master’s degree. In this article we’ll cover:

  • The importance of strong essays and personal statements
  • Identifying the school that’s the best fit for you
  • Why you might want to consider more expensive programs

What really matters in getting in

All MSW programs value experience, maturity, and personal readiness This is best articulated through your essays and personal statement. Why do these “soft” character traits matter so much? Because getting an MSW is hard work. Managing coursework along with two back-to-back fieldwork experiences is challenging and requires a significant time commitment. Admissions committees want to admit students who are resilient, motivated, and, most importantly, likely to graduate.

MSW programs also want students who are appropriate for their particular school or institution. Because social work involves introspection, emotional insight, and the study of human behavior, it can attract those looking to learn more about themselves, or those hoping to solve some nagging problem of their own. This is not the right reason to head to graduate school. MSW admissions officers have become expert at sniffing out this type of applicant. If they sense that a student’s motivations are more selfish than selfless, they may ding that applicant no matter the grades or scores.

The bottom line is that while many individuals become drawn to social work after an experience of adversity – they have a moment of awakening, or experience a sudden calling – admissions committees favor those applicants who are emotionally stable and eager to become solid professionals in the field.


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Finding a (great) school that wants you

With this in mind, you will need to think about your own qualifications in order to shore up your candidacy. If your GPA from your bachelor’s degree is not what it could be, for example, you can use your personal statement to explain why that is, and how you have matured since undergrad. You could also attend evening classes at a local university, taking (or re-taking) related subjects such as psychology. Just make sure to receive an “A” to further support your MSW application. Another option would be to volunteer at a local agency and log some serious service hours. These extra efforts will all help your application and make it stronger.

With a weaker candidacy, the question also becomes: should you just shoot for the easiest MSW to get into? When your scores, grades, or prior experience are not at the levels you wish, is it best to simply hedge your bets? The answer may be less about your grades and scores and more about understanding where your application has the best chance of doing well. It’s also helpful to know how hard the schools themselves are working to fill their seats. Everyone worries about whether they will get into a program; remember, programs need students too.

The first thing to consider is the quality of the program. In the world of MSWs, reliability is fairly easy to guarantee. Because all accredited MSW programs share a foundational curriculum and core set of competencies and practice behaviors that must be mastered, you should be able to count on a consistent, high quality education no matter where you go. In fact, MSW accreditation actually dictates coursework and fieldwork learning. In many ways, this levels the playing field among all schools. There may be little or no curricular difference in the courses offered at a “tough” school and one that is “easy” to get into. Sometimes a school’s selectivity means that it is better, but this is not proof positive.

Second, you shouldn’t fully rely on published school rankings to develop your admissions strategy. If you review the methodology used by US News and World Report for creating graduate social work rankings, you’ll see that it differs dramatically from their ranking methods for other popular grad programs like the MBA. USNWR’s rankings for social work rely on just one metric — peer ratings— which barely scratches the surface on an MSW’s worth. These rankings in no way capture what really matters in a program, or the pedagogical signature experience of social work: the the field placement, which provides invaluable hands-on experience. So avoid giving the rankings too much weight as you try to determine where you might get in. Go straight to the school to determine where you stand.

The skinny on getting into easy admit schools

Anecdotally, many MSW students have reported that private universities, even those that boast more competitive admissions standards and cost more to attend, may be easier to get into. This may seem like twisted logic…a higher-ranked school that it easier to get into? Some believe that costly schools (i.e. private ones) are more liberal in accepting students with lower credentials because fewer applicants can afford to go there. While a program may be highly ranked and prestigious, their yield – the percentage of accepted students who ultimately enroll in the school – may be lower due to expensive tuition. By comparison, state and public MSW programs, where in-state tuition is much lower, are actually very popular destinations for students. This is largely because of their affordability. So to state the obvious, anything that is popular is going to be harder to get into, regardless of ranking.

If you have average credentials but can afford hefty tuition without scholarships or financial aid, you may have a strong chance of being admitted to a more academically competitive (but expensive) school. Conversely, less expensive programs, with less stringent acceptance criteria, may have so many more applicants that getting in will not be as easy as it seems.

What’s the best way to figure all of this out? Do your homework in researching programs. Prepare yourself to be the strongest applicant possible. Consider your financial situation. Apply to a range of schools, and see where you get in. Hopefully, you will have many options and will soon find yourself on the path to becoming a professional social worker.

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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