Home Blog Master's in Social Work Salary: Exploring Key Differences

Master's in Social Work Salary: Exploring Key Differences

September 11, 2022
masters in social work salary - woman at computer
masters in social work salary

A master of social work (MSW) is the key to maximizing your earning potential as you develop your career. In fact, the demand for social worker jobs is expected to rise between 17 percent and 18 percent by 2028,1 so the difference in a social worker’s salary for candidates with an MSW compared to those with only a bachelor’s degree in social work is likely to be significant, especially considering the roles that will open up beyond entry level positions. According to experts, the median pay for master of social work graduates may increase by as much as $9,000 per year2 with those at the top of their profession enjoying annual salaries as high as $82,540.3

The master’s degree is one key to a higher salary, although there are several factors to consider when exploring social work salary. The specialty in which a worker is trained can influence starting salary, as can location, industry, management level and the economic climate.4 However, the experience and skills from a master of social work creates valuable opportunities to advance in the field.

How Does a Master's Degree in Social Work Impact Your Salary?

The biggest influencing factor in the remuneration offered within the field of social work is the level of specialty and expertise an individual can demonstrate.4 Higher levels of expertise and specialty are in greater demand, and a master’s degree can enhance your chances in landing social worker jobs. In some states, an MSW is also required for advancement. In many cases a master’s degree is the prerequisite for becoming a licensed master social worker (LMSW), licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) or other certifications.5

Obtaining a master's degree in social work is a way to develop a higher level of knowledge and skills. Many master’s degree programs offer tracks in specialties such as medical social work, mental health social work and social work in education.6

MSW students also undertake greater levels of training in theory and research, as well as undergoing extensive fieldwork.7 This latter experience is especially important as it prepares graduates for future advancement to the higher paying management-level and leadership roles.

Social Work Salary by Specialty

There are different social work specializations practitioners can pursue. Social workers can choose specialties based on demographics (e.g. children and family services, elderly, veterans), essential functions (e.g. substance abuse disorders, community organization, school counseling) and the type of setting they will work in (eg. private practice, national, state or local government, hospitals). Within these specialties, there is an opportunity to make an impact in administration, healthcare, child welfare and many others.8

The experience you gain from an MSW helps you earn a higher paying position with more responsibilities to advance in your career. The following are a few examples of social work specializations with widely varying salaries.

School Social Workers

School social workers help children work through the social and emotional issues that might prevent them from thriving in school. They also provide various family services, helping parents access necessary programs and resources. Median salaries for school social workers fall in an average salary range of $32,080 to $62,200, varying according to both state and school district.2

Clinical Social Workers

Clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental illness, in addition to helping clients prevent and address the psychological, behavioral, emotional and social contributors to mental illness. Clinical social workers are usually required both to hold an MSW and to complete other licensing requirements to be considered clinical licensed social workers. Depending on the clients they work with, they can demand higher salaries in the range of $44,840–$63,140.4

Medical or Healthcare Social Workers

Medical social workers work in hospitals or clinical settings assisting patients and their family members with the mental, emotional, family and financial stressors that accompany medical treatment. Healthcare social workers provide individual and family services through various illnesses, including chronic, acute, or terminal. The average salary for MSW-qualified healthcare social workers is $56,810.4

Mental Health Social Workers

Mental health social workers work with patients experiencing mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression. Some choose to specialize as substance abuse social workers (see below) as well, a type of practice that benefits from also earning an addictions credential. They play a key role in creating an effective strategy and plan to treat mental disorders. Mental health social workers earn an annual average salary of $49,630.4

Substance Abuse Social Workers

Social workers who specialize in substance abuse work with clients who have addiction issues. They may provide individual and family services, and work with wider communities that are affected by substance abuse. Substances can include alcohol, drugs, or tobacco. Some addictive behaviors can also fall under the purview of substance abuse social workers, including gambling and overeating.

Substance abuse social workers assess their patients in order to develop strategies and plans for intervention and treatment. The median annual salary for a substance abuse social worker is $ 49,130.9

Gerontology and Palliative Care Social Worker

Certified hospice and palliative care social workers offer counseling and emotional support to terminally ill people and their families, helping them through the grieving process. This type of social worker requires advanced certification as well as an MSW, so they can command a average salary in the range of $40,740 and $70,600, depending on both location and employer.2

Other Factors Influencing a Social Worker Salary

In addition to location and specialty, a number of other factors can influence the social worker salary ranges for MSW holders. The salary for a typical MSW graduate can vary by location. In the United States, salaries can vary from state to state as well as according to specialty.6 According to research published in 2020, for example, the annual average salary for a healthcare social worker is $46,310 in Arkansas but as high as $72,640 in Connecticut.6

Social work candidates with more experience and credentials have more opportunities to earn higher salaries. For example, MSW graduates with 1-2 years of experience can expect an average salary of $63,231 annually, while those with a BSW and 5-6 years of experience can expect an average salary of $67,163 annually—nearly $4,000 more per year.10

Social Work Career Progression

Finally, it is worth noting that earning an MSW provides an opportunity to advance in your career, become a licensed social worker, achieve your professional goals and attain higher roles, opening a path to macro-level leadership and management positions. An advanced degree allows you to obtain credentials that give you the ability to provide better support and services to improve the lives of those you serve and to open up new and exciting employment opportunities.

A graduate degree is not just a significant influence on the positions and salary range you can expect to earn. It’s a path to a rewarding and fulfilling career as a social worker.

Earn Your Master’s in Social Work Online

As you move along in your social worker career, consider how an Online Master of Social Work (MSW) from Yeshiva University can help you define and refine your counseling skills and expertise. With advanced training in methodologies and specialized practice for communities, group work and individuals, you’re sure to find the style of social work that matches your unique preferences and professional strengths.

No matter what type of social worker you’re looking to become, our flexible, 100% Online MSW prepares you for real-life challenges with our methods-based curriculum. In our acclaimed virtual learning environment, The Heights, you’ll learn best practices for a variety of important specializations. This is where purpose and passion intersect, offering the greatest opportunity to achieve your highest aspirations.

Embrace this unique opportunity and contact us today.

  1. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from socialworkguide.org/salaries/
  2. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from humanservicesedu.org/msw-salary/
  3. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-5
  4. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from socialworklicensemap.com/social-work-careers/social-work-salary/
  5. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from socialworklicensemap.com/become-a-social-worker/lmsw-vs-lcsw/
  6. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from socialworkguide.org/degrees/masters/
  7. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from wurzweiler-online.yu.edu/academics/msw-field-work
  8. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from salary.com/tools/salary-calculator/social-worker-msw?yrs=5.5
  9. Retrieved August 26, 2022, from www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211023.htm
  10. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from salary.com/tools/salary-calculator/social-worker-msw?yrs=5.5