Those who choose social work as a career often do so to have the opportunity to help people to solve and cope with problems in their daily lives. It is the ability to help people live better and happier lives that makes these professionals choose social work. Helping people motivates them above all else.
However, being able to earn a good salary to provide for one’s self and family is also a critical factor in social work. In the social work field overall, you can earn a median salary nationally of $45,900 per year, and the top 10% in the field will earn a wage of $76,800 per year.
Those who earn the highest salaries in the field can usually attribute it to several factors. One of them is having a higher level of education, usually a master’s degree in social work (MSW); some statistics state that a MSW holder will earn up to $15,000 per year more than a bachelor’s holder. There are other factors that can lead to the best MSW salary as well that we will detail below.
Why Earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work?
If you have earned your bachelor’s degree in social work or human services, you may wonder if it is worth earning your master’s degree in social work. If you like what you are doing in social work, why would you want to continue your education?
Earning an MSW can make a big difference in your career direction and salary. A bachelor’s program in social work helps you to get your foot in the door in a social work position. You are prepared to be a generalist in the field. A master’s degree will prepare you for a variety of more advanced social work roles.
Many states have a rather narrow scope of practice for those with a bachelor’s in social work. To work in private practice and to and to work in the various social work specialties to earn more money, you need to have your master’s degree.
Specifically, the National Association of Social Workers or NASW notes that having a MSW is required to work in advanced social work positions in healthcare. Healthcare social workers work usually in hospitals and can specialize in everything from oncology to pediatrics.
The caseload for social workers in healthcare settings often involves working with people who are chronically ill, or whose relatives have a serious illness. These advanced practice social workers help families to locate resources and to deal with difficult issues and decisions pertaining to healthcare.
Another major type of advanced social work that you need a master’s degree for is clinical social work. These are licensed mental health professionals who treat and diagnose mental, behavioral and emotional problems, such as anxiety and depression.
Clinical social workers provide group, family and individual mental health therapy, and often work in private practice. Only master’s and doctoral degree holders in social work may work as clinical social workers.
As noted earlier, the top 10% in this field earn over $76,000 per year. Nearly all of those social workers have at least their master’s degree.
It is clear that holding an MSW is a major factor in earning a higher salary in this field. Below is more information about other factors that will influence your MSW salary.
Approximately 55% of social workers in the US only have a bachelor’s degree. As with most careers, earning a master’s degree will result in a higher salary. By earning a master’s degree and becoming a clinical, health care or school social worker, you will have the chance to earn a salary at the top of the payscale.
According to a recent national study of licensed social workers, we learn the following economic information regarding degree:
Those with a BSW earned in 2000 or later:
- 1% earned less than $20,000
- 82% earned between $20,000 -$39,000
- 12% earned between $40,000 -$59,000
- 3% earned between $60,000-$79,000
Of the respondents who graduated with a MSW in 2000 or later,
- 1% earned less than $20,000
- 48% earned between $20,000 -$39,000
- 45% earned between $40,000 -$59,000
- 5% earned between $60,000-$79,000
The National Association of Social Work states that entry level salaries in social work with a bachelor’s degree are approximately $30,000 per year, depending upon the speciality.
A social worker with several years of experience and a master’s degree can earn between $40,000 and $60,000 per year.
The NASW also reports that each year of experience in social work will increase your salary by $419.
Best Places for a MSW
Where you work as a social worker with a master’s degree will affect your salary. Every state in the US needs social workers, but some will pay more than others. Experts say that the following states tend to pay more for social workers overall:
- Connecticut: Social workers who are employed to help children, schools and families in this state make the highest salaries in the country, averaging $61,600 per year.
- New Jersey: Social workers in this state make an average of $59,000 per year. New Jersey is not as attractive as living in New York City, but the cost of living here is lower. If you want to live in New York City, you may want to consider actually living in New Jersey.
- Rhode Island: The median salary for all social workers here is $56,900. Note that Rhode Island requires all social workers to have a master’s degree.
- Maryland: Social workers here earn a median salary of $58,000 per year, and you can start your career with a bachelor’s degree.
- California: The median wage for social workers here is $57,800, but you need to have a master’s degree to be licensed.
Some cities also pay more to social workers with a MSW than others. These cities have the reputation of paying more to healthcare social workers:
- Waterbury, Connecticut
- Cumberland, Maryland
- Taunton, Massachusetts
- Carson City, Nevada
When you earn your master’s degree in social work and choose to earn your certification administered by the NASW, you can enjoy a higher salary. For example, by taking courses through the NASW, you can earn the following certifications to enhance your skills and salary:
- Academy of Certified Social Workers – ACSW
- Diplomate in Clinical Social Work – DCSW
- Clinical Social Worker in Gerontology – CSW-G
- Social Worker in Gerontology – (SW-G)
- Advanced, Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker – ACHP-SW
- Certified Social Worker in Healthcare – C-SWHC
- Certified Advanced Social Work Case Manager – C-ASWCM
Job demand for social workers as a whole will increase by 12% by 2024, which is faster than average. However, if you have a MSW and work as a healthcare or clinical social worker, you will see an increase of job demand of 19% or more. People who have an advanced education in social work will have ample opportunities to help our mentally ill and aging population to deal with new treatments, lifestyles and medications.
If you earn your MSW degree and you follow the guidelines listed above, you should be able to earn the highest possible salary in a rapidly growing field.