Social Work

Can I Obtain an Online MSW When I Don’t Plan To Take the GRE?

Can I Obtain an Online MSW When I Don’t Plan To Take the GRE?
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Noodle Staff February 22, 2018

Think you need to pass the GRE to obtain an MSW? Noodle shows you the nuts and bolts of getting your MSW online no GRE required!

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Obtaining an MSW Online With No GRE

Deciding to get your master’s degree in any field is a huge commitment. Deciding to get your master’s degree in social work, known as an MSW, is astronomical. A master’s degree is often what separates you from being merely informed on a field, to being an expert and practitioner in said field.

Thanks to the advancements of the modern age, students can capitalize on their time and investment by enrolling in online MSW programs with no GRE required. This is a fairly new development in the MSW world, and we’re here to fill you in on everything you need to know about MSW programs that do not require a GRE.

Before we jump exclusively into examining MSW programs that do not require a GRE, simply taking a look at the journey to pursue your graduate education with a MSW, and what all that entails, warrants some discussion. At this point in the journey, you’re likely an excited new undergrad, or perhaps you’ve been sitting on your bachelor’s degree for quite some time, and are simply looking to follow the next steps in your passion for helping others and meeting the social needs in our community. You’re looking forward to growing and equipping yourself to not only do your job, but to do it with a certain degree of professionalism and intellect that allows you to do it well.

Regardless of where you are in your walk of life and education, a MSW program is a pretty stellar step to take that’s incredibly beneficial in realizing the goals you’ve set for your social work skills practically, as well as granting the proper credentials to make real meaningful impacts in the lives of people around you.

Keep in mind, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, simply getting accepted into a MSW program is a fairly flexible endeavor. It doesn’t necessarily require a BA in social work, so those of us just now discovering our passion for the field won’t be at too big of a disadvantage if our undergrad was in something not related to social work.

The bad news is that, like most things worth pursuing, getting your MSW can be quite the investment both in terms of finances and time. However, new advances in the field of social work education mean more programs are turning to offering online MSW programs with no GRE. While this might not seem like much at first, this is a huge saver for you both in terms of time and money! These programs are savers because of two key components: 1) they are online, and 2) do not require a GRE placement exam.


“I Want to Be A Social Worker!”

There are a couple of significant practical considerations:

- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification

Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:

- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. (source)

A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. (source)

- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees

University and Program Name Learn More

An MSW with no GRE

The emergence of the online master’s in social work with no GRE is a pretty cool development, especially given the fact that it goes against a lot of the common trends we’ve seen in the educational field throughout much of the last century.

Traditionally, if you were to apply to complete your MSW, the process would have featured a painstaking research process to narrow down your options among a myriad of different programs and specialties. You’d have to work your way through tons of applications, potentially even interviews, campus visits, and not to mention the worst element of all: the incredibly stressful GRE exam.

What is the GRE?

Thankfully, the GRE is being done away with for many online MSW programs, and the fact that there are now online MSW programs with no GRE required is best celebrated in light of understanding what the GRE is and why it’s such a good thing that now you may not be required to take it.

The GRE stands for “Graduate Record Exam” and it’s basically the ACT or SAT of graduate school world. Yeah, remember those dreadful tests in High School that we rested all of our future hopes for college admission, scholarships, and careers on? Same concept, only more adult now.
(Check This Out: Noodle Debate Academy: The SAT and ACT)

The GRE basically tests to make sure you actually learned a thing or two in college by examining everything from quantitative reasoning to analytical writing. There isn’t necessarily a pass/fail mark, but colleges use this to assess whether or not you’d be smart enough to contribute to their graduate programs regardless if the said program is for Social Work, Business, or even Linguistics.

Not only is the GRE academically stressful to say the least, but it sucks up tons of time and money. On average, students spend anywhere from 2 to 10 hours a day for months on end studying for the GRE. If you’re hoping to do this on a full time work schedule good luck! After months of studying, you dish out over $200 to take the test, and most students will opt to take it multiple times.

At the end of the day, you are pouring time and money into an opportunity just to be compared to others that may or may not be beneficial to you even getting into your MSW program.

The decision to waive

Luckily for you, colleges and universities are starting to wave goodbye to the GRE through waiving the exam requirement altogether, and this is especially true in online MSW programs. The decision for universities to start waiving the GRE requirement is quite interesting considerations its been the go to assessment for some time, yet this sudden change of winds has come about for a variety of reasons.

Traditionally, pursuing a master’s degree, be it an MSW, an MBA, a master’s in engineering, or anything in between was a very high investment endeavor both on the student and the institution offering the program. Quality master’s programs demanded top notch professors to offer a vast array of theoretical knowledge coupled with opportunities for students to gain practical experience in their fields.

All of these things pile up in terms of cost, and then, on top of academic demands, there is still the cost associated with housing, feeding, and providing students all the resources they need for success. Needless to say, this made traditional graduate education opportunities quite the“high-status opportunity”, and institutions had to be sure that they were only admitting students who wouldn’t simply flunk out and be a waste of resources because they lacked the basic academic smarts to succeed in their programs.

The GRE was the assessment solution intended to set universities up with students who were likely to succeed in their programs.

However, we’re seeing that schools are starting to waive their GRE requirements for two reasons. The first is that online programs, like online MSW programs we’ll get into here shortly require far less resources per student and thus allow institutions to permit more students and rely less on standardized tests to guide their selectiveness. Secondly, many experts and institutions are taking second glances at the GRE and finding it actually does little to show how successful a student will, or will not be, in graduate school.

Opting for an online MSW program means that, as a student you don’t require the typical housing, food, and physical classroom resources traditional students usually demand. As previously mentioned, you’ve now become far more affordable for the institution to accommodate and they are willing to be a lot less fussy about your GRE score.

In addition to this, time is showing that the GRE test is just not a good indication for graduate students, and this is inspiring many universities and colleges to give it the boot. It turns out succeeding in graduate school and becoming a great scholar requires things like creativity, grit, and passion. These traits aren’t really well measured by a 3 hour multiple choice test on reasoning.

A final reason schools are waiving the GRE requirement is that, related to many of the factors previously listed, relying solely on the GRE is producing less diverse graduate school classes.

With all of these factors stacked against the GRE, it’s no wonder universities are doing away with it as a primary basis for admitting students. Choosing to pursue your MSW through an online program, as opposed to a traditional program, is just one more favoring factor that means you’re less likely to be bothering with a mandatory GRE.

What about quality?

Opting for an online MSW program with no GRE seems like a pretty intuitive win. You’ll save time, money, and won’t have to bother with troublesome essays. However, there is one hurdle we have to get over before assuming online MSW programs with no GRE are the way to go for you, and that is the hurdle of quality. If an MSW online program waives the GRE and thus lets in a wider range of students, can’t we then assume that the program quality takes a dramatic nosedive and actually ends up not being worth the investment in the long run?

Well, for starters, it warrants a look to see what exactly is at stake in a MSW program, and whether or not doing an online master’s in social work with no GRE somehow detracts from this. In other words, let’s see what makes a master’s in social work a quality endeavor in the first place, and then if these things are still present once opting for the online option without a GRE.

CSWE accreditation

The first distinction necessary for a master’s in social work is CSWE accreditation. CSWE stands for the Council on Social Work Education, and they’re basically the gatekeepers when it comes to social work programs. This means any social work program worth its weight, including online MSW programs with no GRE, will also come accompanied with a CSWE accreditation.

A CSWE accreditation means an outside source, in this case the Council on Social Work Education, has examined and evaluated the program and found that it meets the high standards necessary to be a worthy academic program for those pursuing social work. In particular, the CSWE judges based on four criteria: programs, explicit curriculum, implicit curriculum, and assessment. When these four elements check out, then you’ve got yourself a good program and the CSWE stamp of approval.


The second thing that definitely needs to be present in a quality social work program are concentrations, or subsets of subjects to further pin down the focus of your MSW program. At the broadest level, good social work programs offer two basic specializations in either clinical or nonclinical social work. The differences between these two specializations basically boil down to the fact that clinical social work emphasizes face-to-face and one on one interaction with clients, while non clinical social work tends to focus on a more holistic scale of social work by addressing community and policy needs as a whole.

It’s highly likely, if you’re pursuing a master’s degree in social work, that there will be more of a natural focus on the clinical side of social work, as this is the realm of social work that usually requires specialized higher education. However, many programs still offer specializations in nonclinical subjects, or at least include it as part of the basic curriculum.

To take matters a step further beyond just the clinical and nonclinical distinctions, a great MSW program, including online MSW programs, often offer a variety of even more specific concentrations or fields of practice to choose from. These specializations are things like youth and family, macro health care, community planning, working with geriatrics, international, and various other specific fields of social work. While having a CSWE accredited MSW speaks volumes on its own, your concentration selection will give you an advanced set of skills to speak into specific situations that at extra depth to your skill set. In other words, choose wisely!

Time frame

The final thing to keep in mind that you’ll encounter with a quality MSW program is time frame. Great things take time. Yes, you can expedite the process through certain options and making the most of online formats, but if you’re program is lacking CSWE accreditation and promises to have you your degree in 6 months, its likely a hoax, don’t buy it!

A MSW is a huge asset to your career, and will add a sizeable chunk of knowledge and skill to your repertoire; therefore, it’s only natural that it should take some time. Most programs worth their salt will take around 2 years, though getting one done within one year given the right circumstances isn’t unheard of. hen again, neither is drawing the program out to 3 years.

Do online MSW programs measure up?

So, now we know what makes a Master’s of Social Work program legitimate, the question begging our attention is: How does an online MSW program with no GRE compare? Should we opt for this route, or are we merely getting a shell of a program that our non-remote counterparts are getting? In other words, are we getting the real deal?

This is after all quite a heated debate. Many would argue just off the basis of online education alone that an online MSW program would lack in quality. But, if we use the same criteria we’ve listed above and apply it to online MSW programs that don’t require a GRE, we’ll find that there are plenty of programs out there that still offer a great MSW program!

First off, let’s backtrack to the all-important accreditation question. Just based off our preliminary research alone we were able to pin down somewhere around 40 different universities with no GRE online MSW programs that were CSWE accredited and certified. That means you have loads of options for quality online MSW programs that don’t require the GRE whose “CSWE accreditation is just as rigorous” as it is for campus-based programs.

So in short, yes, there are online MSW programs with no GRE required that live up to the toughest standards as set by the CSWE, but do they offer the flexibility and options in terms of specializations like we saw in traditional MSW programs?

Are there clinical and nonclinical distinctions?

What if you wanted to focus on family or international social work? The short answer is, yes!

Online MSW programs with no GRE also offer a wide range of specializations and concentrations to further tailor your Social Work education to fit your passions and interests.

For instance, Tulane University offers a full-length online MSW with all the rigor of an on campus program, including options to specialize in disaster mental health or family practice. Ther programs, like the one in Boston University, likewise offer a huge range of specializations while emphasizing the clinical approach to social work. Thus, there’s little reason to worry about the quality of your online MSW program taking a hit when it comes to having solid concentrations to choose from.

Finally, what about time commitment? We know that a traditional Master’s of Social Work can be expected to take up to two years, and rightfully should if it’s a top quality program. Most of the online MSW programs that don’t require a GRE that we’ve examined tend to fall along similar timelines of their on campus counterparts. Remember, these are CSWE accredited, so whether online or not, a substantial amount of time and effort is required to live up to the educational standards institutions expect their Master’s of Social Work students to meet.

A fair warning

In short, most CSWE accredited online MSW programs with no GRE requirement still contain comparable quality to their on campus counterparts. And while the programs we’ve examined and will list below seem to meet the standard, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some caution.

A lot of the fear about online education not being as high quality as on campus education rightfully stems from the amount of hoax schools that popped up at the advent of online education promising education for less when, in reality, they were anything but up to standard. Many online programs were also attached to for profit institutions which caused a fair amount of concern as well.

The MSW programs that do not require GRE testing that we will list all stem from reputable organizations, so much of this concern about hoax schools can be done away with. That’s not to say that there still aren’t terrible programs out there, so discretion is needed. Just because online education is more convenient for some and still mirrors the quality of traditional programs, that’s not to say there isn’t value in traditional programs, especially in terms of developing personal relationships with peers and professors, as well as being more intimately connected to hands on research and field work.

Online MSW with No GRE Requirements

Now that we’ve surveyed the ins and outs of what all goes into a quality online MSW with no GRE, we’ve compiled a list of universities that offer such programs along with the various details that go along with it. Keep reading for program names, tuition costs, visitation requirements, and specializations available.

Arizona State University

  • Tuition Cost: $12,087 per year

  • On campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Advanced Generalist Studies

  • Note: GRE may be required if applying with an undergraduate GPA lower than a 3.2.

    Boston University

  • Tuition Cost: $785 per credit hour

  • On Campus visit: Not Required

  • Specializations: Clinical or Macro Social Work

California State University

  • Tuition Cost: $39,186 for the program

  • On Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Generalist studies, with an emphasis on families in urban settings.

    Case Western Reserve University

  • Tuition Cost: $1,450 per credit hour

  • On Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Community Practice for Social Change or Direct Practice (with further concentrations in Children, Youth, and Families and Mental Health with Adults)

    Colorado State University

  • Tuition Cost: $4,958 per semester (9 or more hours)

  • On-Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Advanced generalist practice

    Columbia University

  • On Campus visit: Not required, though plenty of non-mandatory opportunities to visit are offered

  • Specializations: Advanced Clinical Practice or Social Enterprise Administration

  • Along with 2 fields of practice: Family, Youth, and Children Services, and Health, mental health, and Disabilities.

    Fordham University

  • Tuition Cost: $60,786 for the program (66 credit hours)

  • On Campus visit: Not required.

  • Specializations: Individiuals and Families, Organizations and Communities, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy.

    Loyola University Chicago’s School of Social Work

  • Tuition Cost: $60,420

  • On campus visit: Some courses in the program are likely to require campus visits

  • Specializations: Children and Families, Health, Leadership and Development in Social Services, Mental Health, and Schools

    Michigan State University

  • Tuition Cost: $41,382 for the program

  • On Campus visit: Blended, online and in person components, in state residency required

  • Specializations: Clinical Social Work and Organization/Community Leadership

    New Mexico State University

  • Tuition Cost: $3,133 per semester (can vary depending on residency)

  • On Campus Visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Advanced generalist studies

    Our Lady of the Lake University

  • Tuition Cost: $53,340 for the program

  • On Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Services to Hispanic Children and Family

    Rutgers University

  • Tuition Cost: $14,328 per semester for non-residents

  • On Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Clinical Social Work or Management and Policy

    St. Leo University

  • Tuition Cost: $17,280

  • On Campus visit: Not required, though there may be residency restrictions to enroll

  • Specializations: Advanced clinical practice

    Texas State University

  • Tuition Cost: $9,830 per semester (non-resident)

  • On Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Advanced Practice Leadership

    Tulane University

  • Tuition Cost: $61,080 for the year

  • On Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Clinical Practice, Disaster Mental Health, or Family Practice

    University of Alabama

  • Tuition Cost: $22,500 for the program

  • On Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Children, Adolescents and their Families or Adults and their Families

    University of Denver

  • Tuition Cost: $82,350 for the program

  • On campus visit: Not required

  • Specialization: Mental Health and Trauma

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  • Tuition Cost: $14,072 per year

  • On Campus visit: Hybrid blended option, or fully online option in Leadership and Social Change specialization

  • Specialization: Advanced Clinical or Leadership and Social Change

    University of Louisville

  • Tuition Cost: $42,840 for the program

  • On Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Psychosocial Oncology, Mental Health, Alcohol and Drug Counseling, Military Social Work, Gerontology

    University of Missouri

  • Tuition Cost: $25,817

  • On Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Advanced Clinical Practice or Policy, Planning, and Administration in Human Services

University of New Hampshire

  • Tuition Cost: $47,740-$52,390 for the program

  • On Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Advanced generalists studies, further fields of practice in Health and Mental Health, Addictions and Substance Abuse, Children Youth and Families, and Disabilities

    University of North Dakota

  • Tuition Cost: $33,420 for the program

  • On Campus visit: 2 required

  • Specializations: Advanced Generalist studies

University of Southern California

  • Tuition Cost: $103,848 for the program

  • On Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Adult Mental Health and Wellness; Children, Youth, and Families; or Department of Social Change and Innovation

    Virginia Commonwealth University

  • Tuition Cost: $7,263 per year (could vary depending on residency)

  • On Campus visit: 2 required

  • Specializations: Clinical Social Work or Social Work Administration, Planning, and Policy Practice

    West Texas A&M University

  • Tuition Cost: $6,642 per year (in state residency)

  • On Campus visit: Required, hybrid style classes

  • Specializations: Advanced Generalist studies

    Widener University

  • Tuition Cost: $52,864

  • On Campus visit: Not required

  • Specializations: Trauma

The list above isn’t exhaustive, but it is one of the most complete lists available of some of the top online Master’s of Social Work programs that you can complete online with no GRE requirement. It’s also handy to remember that individual tuition costs can change and fluctuate depending on your course load, the time it takes you to complete your degree, as well as your residency status.

Hopefully this list of MSW online programs with no GRE requirement begins to help you with the hard part: narrowing down your preferences among so many quality programs. But hey, you won’t have to take a GRE so you’ll have much more time for the important stuff!

As you can see from the list above, there is no shortage of options when it comes to landing yourself in a quality, online MSW program that doesn’t require the GRE. We’ve already outlined just how great it can be that you won’t be have to be stacked up against other students based on a fairly arbitrary exam, not to mention that giving the GRE the book saves you tons of time and resources for the season leading up to enrolling in a MSW program.

Not having to sit the GRE means you can channel more of your energy into fueling your passion for Social Work instead of cramming for an exam. After all, it’s your passion for the field and making a positive impact in others that will truly see you through an online MSW program.

If nothing else the list above should excite you in pursuing your Master’s of Social Work through an online MSW program that doesn’t require the GRE, because the list above really highlights the diversity and vibrancy that still accompanies MSW programs regardless as to whether or not they are online. Have a passion for serving Hispanic families? Want to work with people who have experienced trauma? What about pouring into the social needs of families?

You can be equipped to do all of these things with professional rigor, knowledge, and expertise through an online MSW program, all while not bothering with the GRE. The paths are laid out before you, all that’s left to do, is to take the first step. Regardless of where the journey leads, best of luck, and study with passion!

Which Career is Right for You – Clinical or Non-Clinical Social Work? (2016, May 26). Retrieved February 03, 2018, from

Brian Pivik 1/3/2018 11:59:38 AM. (n.d.). The GRE Test: What You Need to Know. Retrieved February 03, 2018, from

Clayton, V. (2016, March 01). The Problem With the GRE. Retrieved February 03, 2018, from

Sarikas, A. C. (2017, February 09). How Long to Study for the GRE: Step-by-Step Guide • PrepScholar GRE. Retrieved February 03, 2018, from

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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.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


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