Salary Outlook for PhD in Social Work Grads

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Social work is a fantastic career opportunity that allows you to make a true difference in the lives of the people in your community. It is a very diverse career and most social workers experience high levels of job satisfaction, because of the fact that they can see the positive impact of their work. Social workers are really caring individuals, and their passion for improving their community enables them to work so hard.

What Is Social Work?

Social work is a profession that is dedicated to helping people who are experiencing different forms of suffering, thus assisting them in improving their overall quality of life. They do this through a range of different tactics. These include:

• Providing services directly to community members
• Working together with organizations that focus on community improvement

There are many professions that are focused on helping the community, but social work sets itself apart by working on the philosophy of “in their environment”. What this means is that a social worker will help people to define their situation, and what they would like their situation to look like instead, after which they are signposted to services and assistance that are out there. This could be something as simple as liaising with an employer to get more flexible working hours, to something as complex as helping a woman escape a domestic violence situation and start again.

Social workers want to bring about positive social change. To do this, they must be very highly educated. Social work degrees exist at bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degree levels. In order to become a licensed social worker, most states will require these professionals to have at least a master’s degree. So is there any reason to complete the Ph.D. in social work, if a master’s is all that is required?

Social Work Education and Training

Social work education and training follows a number of guiding rules and principles:

• That the program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
• That social workers meet their state licensing requirements
• That social workers have a set body of knowledge
• That social workers follow a code of ethics
• That social workers follow specific practice standards

The profession is incredibly varied, not in the least because there is a demand for social workers in almost every element of society, including courts, rehabilitation facilities, prisons, nursing homes, hospitals, clinics, schools, private businesses, public agencies, and so on. What sets the Ph.D. in social work apart, however, is that it is the only degree that also allows you to work in schools as an educator of the next generation of social workers. Additionally, if you choose to go down this route, you will ensure that the CSWE ranks the school at which you teach higher, as they base their rankings on the number of faculty members educated to doctorate degree level.

Licensing Requirements

Only social workers who have completed a CSWE-accredited program can work as a social worker. Only with the Master of Social Work (MSW) can they become licensed. Those who hold the Ph.D. or Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) have the greatest body of knowledge. They are the ones who cannot only educate tomorrow’s social workers, but also make new social work discoveries. Those who complete the DSW also have to focus their education on a certain element of social work, for which they have to write and defend a thesis. In no state is the DSW required to practice as a social worker, however. The American Association of State Social Work Boards (AASSWB) lists what the individual requirements for each state are.

Salary Outlook for a Ph.D. in Social Work Degree Holder

Very few people have completed a DSW degree. As a result, it can be difficult to determine exactly what the salary outlook is as well. What is known, according to data made available by, is that:

• The average salary for a Ph.D. in social work holder who works as a professor is $86,073 per year.
• The top 10% of social work professors earn $152,622 per year.

Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that there will be a 12% increase in demand for social workers from 2014 to 2024. This means that there is also an increased demand for DSW holders, as they are the ones who will be able to train tomorrow’s workforce. However, it is important to note that there are significant budget constraints, including cuts to budgets, which means it is unlikely that demand will be met by 2024.

So is the DSW worth it? The simple answer is that obtaining the most advanced degree is always a good idea, even if it is only for one’s personal satisfaction. Certain new opportunities will become available to you with a Ph.D. in social work, and becomes the job market is so competitive, you will set yourself apart from other applicants at the same time.

Throughout, the terms “DSW” and “Ph.D.” have been used interchangeably. However, as the field of social work is changing, the two are also becoming more clearly defined. As such, the DSW is the more practical degree, which focuses on developing social worker skills. The Ph.D., meanwhile, is more focused on research and on advancing the profession as a whole. This is an important distinction to make if you are considering a doctorate degree in social work: do you want to teach and research (get the Ph.D.), or do you want to remain involved in the front line (get the DSW)?

As it stands, obtaining a Ph.D. in social work is optional. There are few careers in which it is a requirement. However, the field is changing dramatically, and there is an increased need for people with the most advanced skills. As stated, social workers are all about making the world a better place, and this means building on knowledge and experience in terms of how to actually achieve that. As such, although little is known about the exact outlook for Ph.D. in social work grads, it is likely that demand will only increase over time. And where demand increases, salary increases alongside with it, which is a welcome bonus.