MSW Scholarships and Grants: Finding Funding and Application Tips

Written by Sam Medley

scholarships and grants

Earning a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) can be life-changing. In California, an MSW can broaden your career horizons, sharpen your skills, and put you on the path to becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with your own private practice. But if you’re like millions of other graduate students in the US, earning an advanced degree likely means tightening your budget. In today’s economy, that’s easier said than done.

However, as a California social work student, you have a whole world of MSW scholarships and grants to help. Before you start writing essays and filling out paperwork, learn how they work, how to apply, and what types of funding MSW students often qualify for.

Differences Between Scholarships and Grants

Unlike loans, scholarships and grants don’t typically have to be paid back. Outside of that, though, these two types of funding are pretty different.

First, scholarships are often merit-based. This means they’re awarded based on things like GPA, extracurriculars, or other performance-based criteria. On the other hand, grants are usually awarded based on financial need.

Second, grants typically come from the state or federal government. However, some colleges and private organizations have their own grant programs. MSW scholarships can come from any number of organizations.

Finally, grants can be paid to students directly, to the school they’re attending, or both. This is because grants can generally be used for anything related to your education (including housing and supplies). While this can also be true for scholarships, the organizations that offer them can dictate their own terms.


With about 690,000 professionals employed nationwide (and more than 85,000 employed in California alone), social workers have built a massive, influential workforce. But members of the social service community aren’t just dedicated to empowering others. They’re committed to improving their own field and bringing new talent into the fold.

For that reason, plenty of social service organizations and employers offer BSW and MSW scholarships:

How much these BSW and MSW scholarships are worth varies greatly. Some may be for a few hundred dollars while others might total thousands. But together, they can put a big dent in the cost of your degree.

Types of BSW and MSW Scholarships

There are many types of scholarships out there (athletic scholarships for undergrads, scholarships for students from specific communities, etc.), but as a social work student, you might be a great candidate for certain ones.

Types of BSW and MSW scholarships you should investigate include:

To apply for most of these scholarships, you’ll likely have to provide academic and personal background information. If you’re applying for a service or leadership scholarship, you may also have to provide proof. However, BSW and MSW scholarships often ask for a little more than the basics.

Scholarship Application Tips

Organizations that award BSW and MSW scholarships are looking for students who embody their principles and can forward their goals. To find them, they often ask for letters of recommendation and personal essays.

Letters of recommendation can come from past social work professors, fieldwork supervisors, and supervisors at agencies you’ve worked at or volunteered for. But no matter who you ask, try to find people that can speak to both your passion for service and abilities. Remember to read application instructions carefully, though — organizations often ask for recommendations from specific sources.

Writing a personal essay can be even more intimidating than asking for a letter of recommendation. If you don’t know where to begin, here are a few tips to get you started:

If you’re still unsure about what to write about, reach out to your peers, professors, mentors, or anyone that might be able to provide insights into the application process. Chances are someone around you has already gone through it.


Applying for scholarships often involves filling out different applications for each one. However, applying for grants is typically simpler. In most cases, you only need to fill out one form — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

fafsa written in notebook

To determine how much financial aid you need, the FAFSA form asks about:

Before filling out a FAFSA form, you may want to gather all tax documents, bank statements, and other types of financial records. If you’re a US citizen, you’ll need to provide your social security number. If you’re an immigrant or refugee, you may still be eligible, but you’ll likely have to provide paperwork regarding your status.

Federal Grants

Every year, the US Department of Education provides $112 billion in financial aid. Through their Pell Grant program, students can receive over $7,000 to put towards school-related costs. Students with great financial need can receive more aid by applying for Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG).

While these grants are typically restricted to bachelor’s students, they can help you reduce the overall cost of earning your MSW.

California State Government Grants

Cal Grant is one of the most well-funded and accessible state-based grant programs in the country. In addition to the general Cal Grant program, there are also programs designed specifically for current and former foster youth, students who would like to start their college education at a community college, and high-performing students from low-income homes. Through the California Dream Act, undocumented students can also apply for funding.

But like federal grants, Cal Grants are typically only open to bachelor’s students. However, MSW students can apply for a State University Grant (SUG) — a need-based award that can cover state university fees.

School-specific Grants

Though government agencies provide the most widely-available grants, many colleges and universities have their own grants for MSW students. Generally, schools use FAFSA information to determine eligibility, but some schools have a separate application process.

Find Ways to Fund Your MSW in California

As the need for social service professionals surges, so do funding opportunities for social work students. Explore the dozens of need-based financial aid, MSW scholarship, and fellowship programs available to California students and fund your calling today.