Why Obtaining a Master’s in Social Work Makes All the Difference for Salary and Licensing

Are you preparing for the future by obtaining a master’s in social work and curious about the MSW salary? Noodle has all the information you need to see why an MSW is the degree you need in this field.

Social workers are critically important people in the United States. Social workers are tasked with helping people cope with problems, and hopefully, overcome them. Those in this career field have the privilege of working with those in need, which means they must be highly competent and sensitive to various situations. While this job is rewarding, it is also demanding.

On top of the challenges of the job itself, one must consider the lengthy amount of schooling and licensing requirements. It is natural for those interested in social work careers to be curious about a master’s in social work salary. As with other careers, obtaining a master's degree is an investment in your future. The extra time spent increasing your knowledge base and should increase your salary.

If you are considering continuing your education and pursuing a graduate degree, here you will find some basic master’s of social work salary and professional benefit details, as well as licensing information.

Want to be a licensed social worker? You need an MSW

Yes, the social work master’s salary is a major factor in deciding to go back to school. However, the main reason to earn an MSW is so you can be licensed. If you only hold a bachelor’s of social work, you will only be allowed to work under the supervision of a licensed social worker. In order to be a licensed social worker in the United States, you must earn an MSW. Those who hold an MSW and are licensed in their state will hold a licensed master social work license (LMSW).

Those hoping to move into clinical practice or counseling will need to hold a clinical social work license (LCSW). To obtain this license, you must have an MSW, as well as years of supervised experience. Depending on your career goals, you may not be required to hold an LCSW. But, even those who plan to practice non-clinical social work are required to have an MSW to be licensed.

As with most careers, graduate degrees and licenses make not only your resume look heftier, but they also lead to a heftier wallet. A social work master’s salary is significantly more than individuals who only hold a bachelor’s of social work. This salary bump is, in major part, due to licensing. For the amount of work you will be required to do as a social worker, it makes sense to be licensed and earn the extra money.

Don’t forget the social work licensing exams!

Before we move on to discuss the salary for a social worker with a master’s degree, there is one other major factor to discuss. In order to be licensed as an LMSW or an LCSW, you will need to pass the required social work licensing ASWB Association of Social Work Board exam. However, in order to take this exam, you must have obtained an MSW degree from a CSWE Council on Social Work Education accredited social work program. To put it simply, you need an MSW.

At this point, you should recognize that holding an MSW is extremely important for those hoping to work as licensed social workers. Fortunately, there are many available CSWE accredited programs. For example, there are graduate programs for those who have earned a Bachelor’s of Social Work where individuals can earn an MSW in a year (in comparison to two years for a regular MSW program), as well as several accredited online MSW programs. A graduate program is designed with the idea that individuals who hold a Bachelor’s of Social Work do not need to take courses that repeat information they already learned in their undergraduate studies. However, advanced standing MSW programs are competitive and only the students who excel in their undergraduate courses are admitted into these fast track programs.

With the understanding that earning an MSW from a CSWE accredited school will stand out on your resume, you should also anticipate that it will lead to more job opportunities with higher salaries.

Social workers with an MSW are in demand

There is a continuous need for licensed social workers in the United States, so those who earn the degree and obtain their LMSW should find job placements easily. According to Monster.com, the demand for social workers is growing in these five areas: aging, human resources, schools, healthcare, and institutional giving. Plus, giving the ongoing need for social workers, this career is always in demand. BLS explains, “Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 16 percent from 2016 to 2026".

What you can expect to earn starting out with a MSW

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Those just starting out with a BSW can expect an annual salary ranging up to $30,000 depending on type of work, experience, and geographic factors.” In comparison, the average starting salary for MSW graduates is closer to $40,000. Their reports found that an entry-level MSW salary (or those with less than five years experience) was $43,700. Additionally, the study found the salary increased $419 each year. With a MSW, you should anticipate your salary steadily increasing yearly. For example, Salary.com reports that the median annual MSW salary is $61,817, ranging from $55,664-$68,477. As you can see, you can expect your salary to raise steadily as you gain more years of experience.

Salaries of licensed MSW social workers across the country

As with most careers, the salary for a social worker with a master’s degree varies greatly depending on location and field. A social work salary (MSW) will change depending on where the individual is living and what type of social work he is involved in. For instance, social workers may work in schools, hospitals, clinical settings, or private practices.

To give you a better idea, here are some quick comparisons of different types of social work occupations and the average pay for a social worker with a master’s degree.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most social workers are employed as child, family, and school social workers. These social workers have an average salary of $48,430. Healthcare social workers have an average salary of $56,810. Mental health and substance abuse social workers have an average salary of $47,830. Additionally, all the other social work occupations that do not fall into these categories have a combined average salary of $60,900.

These reports suggest that social workers in the healthcare industry make the highest salaries on average, whereas those who deal with mental health and substance abuse make the lowest salaries.

Additionally, BLS provided information about the top industries for social workers. Social workers in hospitals had a median annual wage of $57,650; social workers in local government had a median annual wage of $52,370; social workers in ambulatory healthcare services had a median annual wage of $47,130; state government social workers had a median annual wage of $44,320; and social workers in individual and family services had a median annual wage of $39,260. Again, these statistics reveal that social workers in the healthcare industry make more than their peers in other industries.

So, how much do MSW's make? Overall, the national average salary for a social worker with a master’s is approximately $45,000. BLS reports the 2016 median pay as $46,890, while Glassdoor reports $49,587 and Indeed reports $43,497.

Again, the salary varies significantly also according to location. Below, we will discuss the average social worker salary (MSW) across the country. Keep in mind it is important to keep in mind cost of living variables when comparing salaries.

Master’s in social work salary averages across the country

When looking at various social worker salaries across the country, Los Angeles, California social workers hold some of the highest average salaries for social workers in the US coming in at $57,391 (Glassdoor), $62,974 (Indeed), and $66,300 (BLS).

Social work salaries in the southern states, and especially rural areas, decrease significantly. Social workers in Texas are paid less with Glassdoor reporting an annual average MSW salary of $48,300 for Austin. In Florida, Glassdoor reports an annual average MSW salary of $46,124 for Miami. Some of the lowest salary wages are located in New Orleans, with Glassdoor reporting an annual average MSW salary of $41,199.

In metropolitan cities where the industries are more varied, salary reports are widely varied. For example, Chicago, Illinois MSW salaries varied widely coming in at $48,345 (Glassdoor), $42,377 (Indeed), and $65, 890 (BLS). In comparison, Boston, Massachusetts MSW salaries also varied widely depending on the source: $51,349 (Glassdoor) and $73,940 (BLS), and New York MSW salaries range from $50,625 (Indeed) to $55,018 (Glassdoor) to $64,530 (BLS).

As shown above, salaries vary depending on location. The discrepancies between source information are also related to a number of factors including years of experience and the particular field. For instance, BLS explains that while the average median wage for social workers in 2016 was $46,890, “The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,800, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $78,510.” Remember, there are a number of variables that will affect your salary, such as years of experience and the industry you work in.

What you can make with an MSW?

With an MSW, you should expect to make between $40,000 to $60,000 annually. According to Indeed, “those with 10-19 years experience earn a median salary of $52,000; and those with 20-29 years experience earn a median annual salary of $60,000.” Additionally, they report that there are some in private practice who earn $100,000 on average annually. It is also noted that those in private practice have the highest average salaries. Interestingly, the size of the social worker's caseload is also a good indicator of salary. Those without caseloads have higher salaries than those with several caseloads or clients.

For the amount of work and intensity of the job, many believe social workers are underpaid. However, most individuals go into this career not for the salary but for the belief that they are making the world a better place. With that in mind, it is important to point out that there are some famous licensed social workers who have used their social work skills and background to turn quite a profit, such as Dr. Brene Brown and Suze Orman. Both of these famous social workers have used their education to write books and deliver talks that inspire and help others and have made them both quite wealthy.

Weigh the benefits of a masters in social work

Ultimately, the field of social work is one where earning a master’s degree is necessary for success. In this demanding career, you will want to earn what you are worth. In order to do so, you must be licensed to practice as a social worker in your state. To be licensed, you must have an MSW. Therefore, you should plan on attending graduate school to improve your chances of becoming a licensed (and higher paid) social worker. To earn an even higher salary, you should consider obtaining an LCSW or pursuing a doctorate in social work.

Works Cited

Association of Social Work Boards. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://www.aswb.org/

Council of Social Work Education. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://www.cswe.org/Home.aspx

Forde, E. (2014, June 14). 3 Really Wealthy Social Workers and 10 Lessons on How They Got Rich ( Action Steps for You). Retrieved April 6, 2018, from http://evaforde.com/3-really-wealthy-social-workers-and-10-lessons-on-how-they-got-rich/

MSW vs LCSW - What is the Difference? | Noodle. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://socialwork.noodle.com/msw-vs-lcsw-what-is-the-difference

Salaries. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://www.indeed.com/salaries/Social-Worker-Salaries

Salary: Social Worker MSW. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/social-worker-msw-salary-SRCH_KO0,17.htm

Summary. (2018, January 30). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm

The Truth About Social Work. (n.d.). Retrieved April 06, 2018, from https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/social-work-careers

Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.