What Are the Highest Paying Specialties in the Field of Social Work? | SocialWorkDegreeGuide.com (2023)

Social workers play an essential role in our society, providing guidance and services to people who need it. Social workers help people who face challenges, including veterans, the homeless, people with substance abuse issues, and children facing neglect or abuse.

As a whole, the number of social workers could increase by 13% from 2019-29, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS projects 14% growth for healthcare social workers and 12% growth for child, family, and school social workers. Plus, the growth rate for mental health and substance abuse social workers could reach 17%, BLS figures show.

This guide takes an in-depth look at social worker salaries and explores how factors like degree level, speciality, and location can affect earnings. You'll also learn about the highest paying social work jobs.

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Highest Paying States and Industries for Social Workers

Social work salaries vary depending on several factors, including location and industry. Washington, D.C., offers some of highest-paying social work jobs, with healthcare social workers earning an annual mean wage of $74,160; child, family, and school social workers earning $71,590; and mental health and substance abuse workers bringing home $66,080, according to the BLS.

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Healthcare social workers also make high annual mean salaries in California ($79,620), Oregon ($74,050), Connecticut ($72,980), and Nevada ($72,640). Child, family, and school social workers earn annual mean salaries ranging from about $62,000-$69,000 in New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maryland.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers earn the highest salaries in New Jersey, where the annual mean wage reaches $83,050. Other top-paying states include California, Connecticut, and New York, where these professionals make mean salaries ranging from about $63,500-$65,000.

In Hawaii, social workers in other specializations earn an annual mean wage of $81,520. These social workers make average wages ranging from about $73,830-$74,520 in the other top-paying states of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Georgia.

In terms of industry, healthcare social workers can find high-paying jobs working for computer systems design, religious organizations, junior colleges, general medical and surgical hospitals, and other ambulatory healthcare services. Mean income for these industries ranges from about $65,000-$74,800.

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Child, family, and school social workers can also land a well-paying job at junior colleges, where they earn an annual mean wage of $64,110. They can also earn higher-than-average salaries at elementary and middle schools, home healthcare services, technical and trade schools, and employment services.

Finally, mental health and substance abuse social workers earn the highest wages while working at insurance carriers, specialty hospitals, other ambulatory and healthcare services, healthcare practitioners offices, and higher education institutions. Mean salaries for these industries range from $61,250-$68,650.

How Education Affects Social Worker's Salary

Colleges and universities offer several types of degrees for social workers. Those include a bachelor of social work (BSW), master of social work (MSW), doctor of social work (DSW), or a Ph.D. in social work.

Social workers often start with a BSW, which can help graduates land entry-level social work jobs like case managers or behavioral management aids. Licensed social workers almost always need to obtain an MSW degree. Clinical social work — which typically comes with higher salaries — also requires an MSW and additional supervised work experience, licensure, and sometimes certification.

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Generally speaking, higher-level degrees lead to higher social worker salaries. A community outreach officer — a job that only requires a BSW — earns a median salary of about $43,640. Case managers, who also need a BSW, bring home median wages of about $39,212.

In contrast, clinical social work requires an MSW and comes with a median salary of $56,200. Someone who earns a terminal degree like a DSW or Ph.D. in social work may become a professor of social work and can earn a median annual wage of $68,300.

What Are the Highest Paying Jobs in Social Work?

The following list includes information about social worker salaries, work responsibilities, and educational requirements. You can find a more in-depth exploration of these jobs with this social work careers resource.

Social Work Teacher

Social work teachers work as faculty members and professors at colleges or universities. They can teach at community college, undergraduate, or graduate levels. These professionals lead classes and lectures about social work and may also carry out social science research, testing hypotheses about the effectiveness of various social work methods or programs. Professors take on additional responsibilities as student advisors, including hosting office hours and writing recommendation letters. Teachers need a doctoral degree in order to work at the postsecondary level. You can find more information about social work professors here.

Salary: $68,300 median annual wage

Healthcare Administrator

Healthcare administrators oversee operations at various health service or public health facilities. They supervise workers, set goals to improve the quality of healthcare services, and develop strategies to meet those goals. These professionals might come from health, medical, or social services backgrounds and typically possess at least a bachelor's degree, but often a master's degree in health administration or management, as well.

Salary: $68,954 median annual salary

Social and Community Service Manager

These professionals work in leadership or management positions at various social and community organizations, including nonprofits and local government agencies. Some of these managers work in roles supervising social workers. Generally speaking, these managers can find employment with a bachelor's degree in an area like social work or business administration. Some employers prefer job candidates with a master's degree. For more information about social and community service managers, read this guide.

Salary: $67,150 median annual salary

Healthcare Social Worker

Healthcare social workers work with patients undergoing certain illnesses and medical conditions. These social workers are not medical professionals; they provide resources to help patients deal with their disease or illness. They might connect patients to support groups, or they could help patients adjust to a new living situation like hospice care. Like other social workers, those who specialize in healthcare need both a BSW and an MSW. They also need state licensure to legally practice. Read more about healthcare social worker jobs with this resource.

Salary: $56,750 median annual salary

School Counselor

School counselors guide students in elementary, middle, and high schools. They might help children who experience difficult home lives affecting their ability to succeed with their schoolwork; many of these responsibilities are similar to child and family social workers' duties. This guide provides more details about the job. You can become a school counselor with a master's degree in school counseling or a related field. Some students use an undergraduate degree in social work to prepare for this master's degree. School counselors also need state licensure to practice.

Salary: $56,310 median annual wage

Clinical Social Worker

Unlike other social workers, clinical social workers can actually diagnose mental and behavioral disorders. They can also treat clients through therapy, and they may consult with doctors or other healthcare professionals. The position requires excellent communication, interpersonal, and analytical skills; you can read more about that here. After clinical social workers earn a bachelor's and master's degree, they must obtain a special type of clinical social work license.

Salary: $56,200 median annual salary

Health Educator

Health educators teach people in their communities about public health concerns. They also use their platform to promote wellness to better a community's health. Health educators play an essential role during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. These professionals can usually find employment with a bachelor's degree in health education or health promotion. Some positions also require a master's degree in areas like epidemiology or social work with a health specialization.

Salary: $54,220 median annual wage

School Social Worker

School social workers take on roles similar to school counselors. However, these professionals work specifically with at-risk children, usually in elementary and middle schools. They help students overcome social and psychological factors that might hinder the students' educational progress, working in conjugation with teachers and parents. This school social worker guide explores the job in more depth. School social workers often need an undergraduate and graduate degree in social work or psychology with a concentration in education.

Salary: $47,390 median annual wage

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

The U.S. criminal justice system is increasingly turning to drug and alcohol treatment systems instead of sentencing people with addictions or substance abuse issues to jail. This is where mental health and substance abuse social workers come in. They provide treatment to individuals dealing with these issues along with other debilitating mental issues like major depression. These social workers need a BSW, MSW, and social work licensure. Additionally, if they wish to provide therapeutic treatments, they need clinical licensure.

Salary: $46,650 median annual salary

Child and Family Social Worker

These professionals provide services to families who need help in some way. For instance, these social workers might connect families to food stamps or housing services. They also assist children experiencing abuse or neglect. They may place these children in foster homes or help them through the adoption process. You can read more details about this job here. The road to becoming a child and family social worker involves earning both a bachelor's and master's degree in social work. These professionals often need state licensure, as well.

Salary: $46,270 median annual wage

FAQs

What field of social work gets paid the most? ›

What Field of Social Work Pays the Most? Social workers tend to earn the most working for the federal government. Federal social workers help guide research and develop social services, healthcare, and education policies. They earn median annual salaries of $82,490, as of May 2020, according to the BLS.

Where do MSW make the most money? ›

Top-Paying Areas for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
LocationEmploymentAverage Annual Salary
District of Columbia630$66,080
California14,970$65,020
Connecticut1,920$64,590
New York11,540$63,520
1 more row
17 Aug 2020

Which specialization in social work is best? ›

Top 5 Social Work Specializations
  • Social Work Administration. ...
  • Disaster, Crisis, and Intervention. ...
  • Medical Social Work. ...
  • Children, Families, and Couples. ...
  • Forensic Populations and Settings.

How can I make a lot of money as a social worker? ›

Practice clinical social work

Typically, the highest paying social work roles are clinical. This means you'll find yourself working for hospitals, insurance companies, or doing therapy. You should also prioritize licensure if you want to practice social work, even if you don't want to be a therapist.

What are the top 3 industries that employ social workers? ›

The highest paying industries for Social workers, by average wage, are Drugs, sundries, & chemical & allied products merchant wholesalers , Pharmaceutical & medicine manufacturing, and Architectural, engineering & related services.

Is a MSW worth the money? ›

MSW Careers and Salaries

Getting an MSW is worth it if you want to assume higher-level roles, such as that of a social work supervisor, and if you want opportunities to increase your earnings enough to offset the cost of a degree.

Can social workers live comfortably? ›

You can make a pretty good living.

As a social worker, you can expect to earn a comfortable income, which will increase as you gain experience and succeed in your career. According to the Bureau of labor statistics, the median annual earnings of social workers are $51,760 per year.

What can you Specialise in as a social worker? ›

Social workers work with adults, children and families and often specialise in a specific field of work – such as support for children and families, or working with adults with physical disability or mental health related needs.

Why are people leaving social work? ›

'Unmanageable caseloads' prompt many to consider quitting

“Our member surveys over the past two years have shown over half of social workers are seriously considering leaving due to unmanageable caseloads, rising pressures and a lack of resources.

Can you make six figures as a social worker? ›

Social workers have the potential to make nearly six figures in some segments of the career field. But they also have the potential for building up six figures of student loan debt.

Is a social work PhD worth it? ›

Grow Your Career Opportunities

A PhD in Social Work is a highly respected credential that can help you shine in the job market and rise to the top of your field. The doctoral program can open high-level professional opportunities in social work administration, policymaking, and agency leadership.

What kind of clients are the most difficult to work with social work? ›

"A client who has given up is the most difficult for me. I have found this often comes from being confused and frustrated by the system and feeling abandoned by others in their life. The challenge for a social worker is to remain positive and find concrete ways to help."

What is the easiest social work job? ›

Most of these jobs are highly flexible as well and can be used as stepping stones to better-paying positions in the field.
  1. Group Home Workers. Some of the most popular entry-level jobs in social work are positions in group homes. ...
  2. Substance Abuse Counselors. ...
  3. Community Social Workers. ...
  4. Healthcare Social Workers. ...
  5. Case Managers.

What is a good GPA for MSW? ›

Most schools will require a minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Some may require a 3.5 GPA for all social work classes taken (if the applicant has earned a Bachelor of Social Work). A few will accept students with GPAs of 2.5.

Is being a Lcsw worth it? ›

It will lead to increased earning potential. It allows you to practice independently. Your license is very easy to maintain (36 units of continuing education and renewal fees) once you've earned it. It is definitely an investment in yourself and your career that will benefit you for the rest of your professional life.

How hard is a masters in social work? ›

Earning a Master of Social Work (MSW) poses unique challenges, however. The curriculum is not only academically challenging but also emotionally draining. Finances can present a problem because unlike, say, a JD or MBA student, you're not likely to start earning a fortune the moment you receive your degree.

What is the life expectancy of a social worker? ›

(2010) refer to an average eight-year lifespan of social workers compared to the longevity in other professions to demonstrate this point. ... ...

What are the drawbacks of being a social worker? ›

List of cons of being a social worker
  • Long / Irregular Hours. Social workers typically do not have a 9-5 schedule. ...
  • Risk of Compassion Fatigue. ...
  • High Workload. ...
  • You Might Be Seen As “The Enemy” ...
  • You will need to be your own Therapist more often than not. ...
  • The Learning Never Ends. ...
  • Corporate Changes.
9 Feb 2021

What are the three fields of social work? ›

Social work has three main fields, each a bit different: with families, children and schools; in the medical and public health fields; or in the mental health and substance abuse areas.

What can you do after MSW? ›

After completion of the course they can work as Assistant Director, District Consultant, National Secretary Community Development Professor, Programme Coordinator, Project Coordinator, Senior Manager - Human Resource and Sub Regional Training Coordinator, Documentation and Communication Officer, Humanitarian Values and ...

Can you be a teacher with a social work degree? ›

Can you be a teacher with an MSW? Yes. Candidates with a master's in social work can typically find jobs teaching. Community colleges may hire a social work teacher who holds a master's in social work.

Can you make six figures in social work? ›

Social workers have the potential to make nearly six figures in some segments of the career field. But they also have the potential for building up six figures of student loan debt.

Is Getting an MSW worth it? ›

Getting an MSW is worth it if you want to assume higher-level roles, such as that of a social work supervisor, and if you want opportunities to increase your earnings enough to offset the cost of a degree. In general, the social work industry is growing quickly.

Is it worth it to get a PhD in social work? ›

A PhD in Social Work is a highly respected credential that can help you shine in the job market and rise to the top of your field. The doctoral program can open high-level professional opportunities in social work administration, policymaking, and agency leadership.

What is the average age of a social worker? ›

44 years old

Is there a lot of writing in MSW? ›

Writing is a key part of the job; social workers frequently write documents such as assessment reports, case notes, letters, emails, and support plans. Often, social workers are responsible for procuring and providing services for clients, and their writing skills must be strong to enable the best support possible.

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