FAQ: What are the highest-paying social work jobs?

Social workers help others overcome their hardships and live promising lives. Social work brings challenges, but it also can be a dream job because you know you are helping people every day. It’s a real way to make a difference. But how much can you earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual pay for social workers in 2018 was $49,470—but this may vary and depends on your specialty, location and employer.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Social workers help people work through challenging situations in their lives. They work in different environments including human service agencies, schools, hospitals and mental health clinics. Social workers will often have to do what’s best for the client while working a case, including:

  • Helping people apply for food stamps.
  • Finding shelter for those experiencing homelessness.
  • Locate counseling for people affected by domestic violence.
  • Counseling hospital patients who have chronic or acute illnesses.
  • Helping students who have special challenges at school.
  • Assisting social services in applying for grants.

Social workers are often the primary connections between people with a need and the government departments or local services that offer help. Social workers should consider themselves as advocates for their clients.

A typical job description for a social worker includes:

  • Interviewing clients to assess their needs.
  • Making judgment decisions about proper options and community resources.
  • Obtaining and organizing the needed assistance.
  • Helping clients set goals.
  • Monitoring and documenting the client and situation over time.
  • Being knowledgeable about and complying with federal, state and local rules and guidelines.
  • Maintaining client confidentiality.
  • Helping the client apply for grants or other funds.
  • Compiling data into reports for analysis.

Many social workers are employed by nonprofit agencies. Some work primarily in an office, while others are out in the field. An example would be a social worker who makes home visits as a child or family services worker.

How Do I Become a Social Worker?

Earning a bachelor’s degree is the first step to becoming a social worker. Typically you will need a bachelor’s degree in any subject from an accredited school, but some students pursue a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, in which the study focus has been such topics as human behavior, cultural diversity and social welfare policy. A psychology or sociology degree is helpful for many employers, too.

A bachelor’s degree is enough for some entry-level social work jobs, such as behavioral management aides, case managers and court liaisons. For clinical work, however, the BLS notes that a master’s degree (MSW) is required, along with two years of post-master’s work in a supervised clinical situation; you must also have a state license.

Social workers must pass an examination from the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), which are given in five categories (though not all categories are available in every jurisdiction): associate, bachelor’s, master’s, advanced generalist and clinical. Some states require additional hours of supervised training in clinical practice before social workers earn their licenses.

Sponsored CSWE-Accredited Online Master’s in Social Work Degree Programs

OMSWP Competitive Table: Sponsored Programs
University Name Live Classes Offline Mobile App Field Placement
Services
No Campus Visit Required Learn More
University of Denver
Master of Social Work
yes yes yes yes MSW@Denver
Fordham University
Master of Social Work
yes yes yes yes OnlineMSW@Fordham
Simmons University
Master of Social Work
yes yes yes yes SocialWork@Simmons
Case Western Reserve University
Master of Science in Social Administration
yes yes yes yes Online Social Work at CWRU
University of Southern California (USC)
Master of Social Work
yes yes yes yes MSW@USC
Baylor University
Master of Social Work
yes yes yes yes MSW@Baylor

Sponsored

How Much Do Different Kinds of Social Workers Earn?

That $49,470 median salary number from the BLS is a general number for workers whom the BLS describes this way: “Social workers work in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, schools, child welfare and human service agencies, hospitals, settlement houses, community development corporations and private practices. They generally work full time and may need to work evenings, weekends and holidays.”

The median is the middle; it means that half of the salaries paid are higher (as much as $81,400 in this case) and half are lower (as low as $30,750).

While it seems that social workers all do the same tasks, once you get out of the general and into specifics, it’s easy to understand why there’s a wide range of salaries for social workers. According to 2018 data from the BLS:

  • Mental health and substance-abuse social workers had a median salary of $44,840.
  • Child, family and school social workers had a median salary of $46,270.
  • Health care social workers had a median salary of $56,200.
  • All other social workers (some are in private practice) had a median salary of $63,140.

Clearly, the “all other” category includes some employers who bring the median up. These higher-paying jobs are primarily in government with these respective median salaries:

  • Social workers in local government, excluding education and hospitals, earned a median salary of $66,230.
  • Social workers in state government, excluding education and hospitals, earned a median salary of $52,840.

Here are the industries that employ the most social workers, along with their median salaries:

  • Individual and family services: $41,810
  • State government, excluding education and hospitals: $52,840
  • Ambulatory health care services: $49,840
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals: $54,430
  • Hospitals (state, local and private): $60,100

The BLS lists further breakdowns within health care, child/family/school, community/social service, mental health/substance abuse and human services workers:

Health care social workers, mean wage in 2018

  • Skilled nursing care facilities: $53,930
  • Individual and family services: $52,480
  • Grantmaking and giving services: $55,260
  • Outpatient care centers: $59,880.
  • Home health care services: $60,850
  • General medical and surgical hospitals: $64,910
  • Management of scientific and technical consulting services: $66,130
  • Professional, scientific and technical services: $66,760
  • Religious organizations: $68,960
  • Junior colleges: $70,810

Child,family and school social workers, mean wage in 2018:

  • Residential care facilities: $39,950
  • Community food/housing, emergency and other relief services: $40,110
  • Individual and family services: $42,970
  • Social advocacy organizations: $43,520
  • State government, excluding schools and hospitals: $49,650
  • Local government, excluding schools and hospitals: $55,860
  • Elementary and secondary schools: $63,000

Community and social services workers, median wage in 2018

  • Social and human services assistants: $33,750
  • Rehabilitation counselors: $35,630
  • Substance abuse/mental health: $44,630
  • Health educators and community health workers: $46,080
  • Marriage and family therapists: $50,090
  • Probation officers and corrections specialists: $53,020
  • School and career counselors: $56,310

Mental health and substance abuse social workers, mean wage in 2018:

  • Residential mental health and substance-abuse facilities: $39,510
  • Individual and family services: $47,250
  • Outpatient care centers: $47,430
  • Psychiatric and substance-abuse hospitals: $53,360
  • Local government, excluding schools and hospitals: $54,590
  • Health practitioner offices: $56,990
  • General medical and surgical hospitals: $58,390
  • Specialty hospitals: $59,000
  • Universities and professional schools: $59,670
  • Insurance carriers: $65,830

Human services social workers, mean wage in 2018:

  • Community food/housing, emergency and other relief services: $39,060
  • Individual and family services: $47,380
  • Other residential care facilities: $50,970
  • State government, excluding schools and hospitals: $53,670
  • Local government, excluding schools and hospitals: $61,270
  • General medical and surgical hospitals: $64,900
  • Insurance carriers: $67,800
  • Other insurance-related industries: $72,450

What Is the Economic Outlook for Social Worker Jobs?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growth (or reduction) in all occupations and classifies any growth (or reduction) in those occupations as slower than average, about average, faster than average and much faster than average when compared to all other occupations.

According to the BLS, the social work industry overall is expected to grow 11% from 2018 to 2028, which is classified as much faster than average. For social workers in the health care industry, the projected growth is 17%; for those in the mental health/substance-abuse arena, the projected growth is 18%.

Here are the projections for all social work occupations, including the number of new jobs and the average increase compared to all other occupations:

Occupation New jobs 2018–2028 Percent increase
All social workers 81,200 11%
Child, family, school 24,800 7%
Health care 30,600 17%
Mental health/substance abuse 22,300 18%
Others 3,500 6%

Learn More About a Career in Social Work

The career of a social worker is fulfilling, challenging and ever-changing. If you are currently a social worker and you want to earn more pay or are looking to change fields, consider the many different environments social workers get to work in and compare it with the pay you want to find a suitable job for you.

Sponsored Online Social Work Degrees - Accredited by the CSWE

Fordham University

The Bronx, New York

Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service logo

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Master of Social Work

Advanced Standing:
33 credits
Full-time: 8 months
Part-time: 16 months

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

You may be eligible for advanced standing if within the past five years you have either:

  • Earned a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Or completed one year of coursework through another CSWE-accredited MSW program.

START DATES

Advanced Standing:
Fall, Spring, and Summer

Sponsored

CSWE Accredited

No Campus Visit Required

No GRE Required

OnlineMSW@Fordham features an integrated, forward-facing curriculum that prepares aspiring practitioners to deliver responsive services to both individuals and communities.

Delivered by the top-ranked Graduate School of Social Service, the program has an intuitive online campus with multiple interactive features that create an engaging learning environment with interaction between students and faculty.

Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree.

Ranked in the top 10 percent in the nation by U.S. News & World Report1.

Learn more from OnlineMSW@Fordham

Baylor University

Waco, Texas

Baylor University logo

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Master of Social Work

Advanced Standing:
32 credits
Full-time: as few as 12 months
Part-time: 20 months

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

Advanced standing:
Applicants must hold a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work Education-accredited program at a regionally accredited college or university within the past five years.

START DATES

Advanced Standing:
August

Sponsored

CSWE Accredited

No Campus Visit Required

No GRE Required

The Master of Social Work (MSW) online program from Baylor University enables aspiring social work professionals to serve and empower vulnerable populations worldwide.

Students will learn the skills and theories necessary to make meaningful, informed change and be challenged to think about the ethical integration of faith and social work practice.

The MSW online program can be completed in as few as 12 months. Baylor is now accepting applications, and GRE scores are not required to apply.

Ethically integrates faith and social work practice.

Learn more from MSW@Baylor

University of Denver

Denver, Colorado

DenverUniversity Graduate School of Social Service logo

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Master of Social Work

Full-time Advanced Standing:
54-credit program

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

  • Hold a BSW from a regionally accredited college or university at any point in time.
  • Have an undergraduate GPA of 2.5 or higher.

START DATES

Advanced Standing:
Fall, Spring and Summer

Sponsored

CSWE Accredited

No Campus Visit Required

No GRE Required

The University of Denver’s top-ranked school of social work offers two online program tracks: traditional MSW and advanced standing MSW. No GRE Required.

The program prepares aspiring social workers to advocate for social change and provide trauma-informed services to individuals, families and groups impacted by oppression..

Earn a master’s from a top-ranked2 Graduation School of Social Work at DU.

Learn more from MSW@Denver

Simmons University

Boston, Massachusetts

Simmons University logo

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Master of Social Work

Advanced Standing:
37 credits
Full-time: 16 months

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

To apply applicants must have:

  • Earned a BSW within the past five years from a regionally accredited institution.
  • A grade of B or better in each BSW course, or a 3.3 GPA for all social work coursework.
  • An undergraduate cumulative GPA of at least 3.0.

START DATES

Advanced Standing:
January, March, May, September and November

Sponsored

CSWE Accredited

No Campus Visit Required

No GRE Required

SocialWork@Simmons is the clinically focused online Master of Social Work (MSW) program from the nation’s oldest school of social work.

Students can choose to customize their own Individualized Course of Study or follow one of four Specialized Courses of Study: Child and Family, Trauma and Interpersonal Violence, Mental Health and Addictions, and Health and Aging.

Simmons prepares you for success after graduation: 91%3 of MSW students passed their boards in 2018.

Learn more from SocialWork@Simmons
3Based on 2018 first-time ASWB Masters Exam test takers as reported by the Association for Social Work Boards, including graduates of Simmons' online and on-campus programs.

Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland, Ohio

CWRU University Graduate School of Social Service logo

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Online Social Work at CWRU

Advanced Standing:
24 credits
Complete in as few as two years

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

BSW Requirement: BSW must have been earned within the last seven years from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited institution with grades of B or better in all social work related courses.
GPA: Minimum GPA of 2.7
GRE Information: Not required

START DATES

Advanced Standing:
Fall, Spring and Summer

Sponsored

CSWE Accredited

No Campus Visit Required

No GRE Required

At Case Western Reserve University’s CSWE-accredited Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences—ranked No. 9 for social work in 2020 by U.S. News & World Report—students can earn their Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA) online.

The degree is equivalent to an MSW, and can be completed in two or two and a half years, depending on the track. GRE scores are not required to apply.

Lead lasting change in your community. Prepare by earning your master’s in social work online at Ohio's #1 school.

Learn more about Online Social Work at CWRU

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, California

USC University Graduate School of Social Service logo

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Name:
Master of Social Work (MSW)

Advanced Standing:
37 credits
Full-time: 3 semesters
Part-time: 5 semesters

ADMISSIONS REQUIREMENTS

Students must have completed a BSW from an accredited program within 5 years of the date of application.
Minimum cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0.
No GRE Required.

START DATES

Advanced Standing:
Fall, Spring and Summer

Sponsored

CSWE Accredited

No Campus Visit Required

No GRE Required

The MSW@USC is the online Master of Social Work program from the top-ranked USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work4.

Designed for those who want to lead social change in their communities, the program prepares students to pursue professional licensure and work directly with people of all ages.

Online MSW classes taught by USC's award-winning faculty.

Learn more from MSW@USC