Social Worker Careers and Salary with an Online MSW: Professionals with an online MSW typically may pursue a number of social work career options. MSW program concentrations offer students an opportunity to specialize their degree and their post-graduate career.
Depending on your career goals, becoming a social worker may not require an MSW degree. Some entry-level positions may require a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. Each state requires different levels of education, experience and examination for licensure. To learn more on social work licensure, visit your state’s board of social work or the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) directory of licensing boardsExternal link:open_in_new.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for social workers is expected to increase 12% between 2020 and 2030, faster than average. Social workers earned a median pay of $50,390 a year. Salaries for social workers, however, may be dependent on role, industry, location and education level. Here is an overview of median annual wages for social workers:
|Social Work Occupation||Median Annual Wage, May 2021|
Social workers, overall
Healthcare social workers
Mental health and substance abuse social workers
Child, family and school social workers
Social Work Careers Available
Social workers enjoy a variety of employment opportunities and career specializations. For instance, degree-holders can pursue careers in school social work, geriatric social work, or substance abuse social work. Although salaries vary by location, social workers earn around $48,000 per year. The field also boasts a large opportunity for growth.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that positions in social work will grow by 16% between 2016 and 2026, nearly 10% more than the projected growth for all occupations. This growth is partly due to a growing population in need of social services, including aging Baby Boomers and individuals suffering from addiction.
Social Work Careers Available by Degree Level
|BACHELOR’S DEGREE IN SOCIAL WORK||MASTER’S DEGREE IN SOCIAL WORK||PH.D. IN SOCIAL WORK|
What Do Social Workers Do?
Social workers help individuals, families, and communities combat difficult or stressful life situations. They work in rehabilitation centers, schools, hospitals, hospices, and correctional facilities, and often cooperate with professionals in other social service programs. They may help children with behavioral disorders, families in poverty, or victims of domestic abuse. No matter which community they serve, social workers provide care and advocate for their clients.
Although some of their roles overlap, social workers provide different services than counselors. Counselors help individuals manage a specific issue such as alcoholism, divorce, or depression. Social workers provide a wider spectrum of services to a larger and more diverse clientele. In addition to one-on-one counseling, social workers help their clients access social services like hospice care, 12 step programs, or financial assistance. Social workers do not work as private therapists, although some social workers may perform individual counseling as part of their services.
Why Pursue a Career in Social Work?
Individuals interested in a meaningful, people-centered profession should consider a career in social work. In the most basic sense, social workers help others for a living. They serve at-risk or underserved individuals, communities, and organizations. Social workers help those in need achieve their goals, access social services, and identify treatment options. Many of their clients cope with mental health issues, behavioral disorders, addiction, eating disorders, and terminal illnesses. Social workers also serve couples going through a divorce, families trying to adopt children, and students struggling in school. The career paths for social workers are as diverse as they are rewarding. In addition to a growing number of job openings, the field also boasts a competitive salary higher than the average wage for all occupations in the U.S.
Because social workers must complete continuing education credits in order to renew their state social work license, the career requires a commitment to a lifetime of learning. Many states require social workers to fulfill continuing education requirements in specific subjects like ethics, domestic violence, and suicide prevention. In this way, social workers remain up-to-date on current developments in the field.
Where Can I Work as a Social Worker?
Because social workers serve a diverse variety of populations, they work in many different settings and locations. Each social worker’s place of employment depends on the industry in which they work and the population they serve. For instance, a mental health social worker may work in a psychiatric hospital or rehabilitation center, while a geriatric social worker may work in a senior living center, hospital, or community center.
Duties, requirements, and benefits for social workers vary slightly in each state. Each state creates its own licensure requirements. Social workers also experience different salary potential and quality of life depending on the state or area in which they work. For instance, social workers living in small towns and rural communities tend to earn less than those living in cities, but they also face a lower cost of living. Social workers may also serve different communities depending on their location. States like Alaska, for example, serve a high number of rural and isolated communities, while other states serve a larger-than-average population of individuals suffering from narcotics addiction or alcohol abuse.
|Counseling Services||$45,419||Social work counselors listen to and offer support for their clients, typically in a private practice setting. They use tools like psychotherapy to assess their client’s mental health. They also help clients access other other social services.|
|Child Welfare Services||$46,755||Child welfare social workers advocate for children suffering from abuse, neglect, or disability. Those working for adoption agencies also help families with adoptions and foster care services. They work in schools, government agencies, and family service agencies.|
|Community Mental Health Center||$46,874||This social work career path focuses on clients who suffer from mental illness. They usually work as part of a team of psychologists, therapists, and counselors. These social workers help clients find employment, housing, jobs, and other services. They also help clients with day-to-day living.|
|Social Services||$47,212||Social services workers provide community services such as food subsidies, homeless shelters, job training, and medical care. They also help people connect to and properly use these services.|
|Nursing Home||$49,790||Social workers in nursing homes advocate for their clients’ general wellbeing. They protect elderly patients against abuse and support clients and their families through medical, financial, and emotional decisions.|
|Hospital||$54,086||Social workers in hospitals help patients navigate the financial, emotional, and social implications of an illness or medical condition. They support patients’ families and serve as a point of communication between patients, their families, and doctors.|
|Health Care||$56,875||Health care social workers work in hospitals, clinics, outpatient health centers, and hospice centers. They help patients understand the financial, emotional, and social repercussions of their condition. Sometimes they help clients navigate medical options or create end-of-life plans.|
Employer Types for Social Workers
|EMPLOYER TYPE||AVERAGE SALARY||DESCRIPTION|
|Fellowship||$46,000||Fellowships usually support recent graduates just entering professional social work. They may also assist current graduate students in a social work program. Fellowships typically come with an annual salary, but may also provide funds for education, professional development, or travel. Fellowships often require recipients to work in a specific field, serve a particular employer, or conduct specific research.|
|Franchise||$46,690||A franchise consists of several private healthcare facilities that agree to operate under a single brand name. Social franchises typically operate in developing countries where private clinics and healthcare facilities may not receive sufficient funding. Social workers who work for a franchise typically specialize in healthcare social work.|
|Non-Profit Organization||$47,070||Many social workers work for nonprofit organizations such as hospitals, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and mental health clinics. Social workers in the nonprofit sector typically earn less than those working at a private clinic or agency. However, many find nonprofit work more fulfilling.|
|School / School District||$48,504||School social workers collaborate with teachers and administrators to help students succeed. They usually work with students who exhibit emotional, behavioral, or physical disorders that affect their academic success. They may also work with students’ families to address issues at home.|
|Contract||$51,481||Rather than working for an annual salary or for a specific company, contract social workers work on an individual contract basis. They complete specific assignments with concrete timelines. Contracts allow social workers to pursue a more flexible career. However, contract work does not typically come with the benefits or security of a salaried position.|
|Other Organization||$51,513||Social workers may find themselves working for organizations unrelated to social services. These organizations can include companies or agencies. Social workers may take on administrative, policymaking, or public outreach roles that relate to the field of social work, but do not directly involve working with at-risk clients.|
|Government – State & Local||$51,861||Many social workers work for state and local government agencies to provide social services to their local community. A few examples include child welfare social workers, school social workers, and probation officers. These professionals may also work in healthcare settings like clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes.|
|College / University||$51,876||Social workers who work for colleges or universities often provide emotional counseling, therapy, or career counseling. They may also teach social work principles to college students. Some clinical social workers develop large-scale programs for college students to promote mental and physical wellbeing.|
|Private Practice / Firm||$52,110||Social workers who work in a private practice or firm typically specialize in a particular population (i.e. children, marriage, substance abuse). They serve as clinical social workers, using psychotherapy to assess their clients’ mental wellbeing. Independent clinical social workers require a special license and must first acquire significant supervised clinical experience.|
|Company||$54,083||Social workers at for-profit, corporate companies serve a variety of functions. They provide counseling services to employees, assist with professional training, and help build stronger relationships between the business and the outside community. They may address issues like substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. They can also help employers establish a more positive work environment.|
|Foundation / Trust||$54,832||Foundations and trusts address social needs in a given community. They typically receive funding from grants and established outside funds. Social workers who work for a foundation or trust may directly assist clients or may take on administrative roles.|
|Team||$55,000||Team social workers collaborate with other professionals who support the same client population. For instance, geriatric social workers may work in a team alongside physical therapists, nurses, doctors, and psychiatrists to provide a comprehensive circle of care. They may also work in concert with other social workers.|
|Hospital||$55,455||Hospital social workers help patients navigate the emotional and financial aspects of their medical condition. They work alongside doctors and nurses to make sure patients understand their condition. They also oversee the patient’s discharge and post-hospital care. Hospitals offer a challenging, fast-paced work environment.|
|Self-Employed||$58,073||Self-employed social workers do not affiliate with a pre-existing agency. They might work one-on-one with their clients, under an umbrella company, or create their own limited company. They make their own schedules and seek out their own clientele. However, they do not receive the same security and benefits as those working for an agency or organization.|
|Military||$63,918||Military social workers work with military personnel, retirees, military families, and veterans. They address issues like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. They also help their clients re-enter civilian life. These social workers work for military bases, hospitals, military-related agencies, and private practices.|
|Government – Federal||$67,263||Some social workers work with federal departments like the Department of Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, and the Social Security Administration. Federal government social workers provide therapy, manage cases, develop policies, and provide administrative support.|
Hospital Setting for Social Workers
|Community / Home Health||$56,473|
|Travelling or Agency||$61,129|
|Physician’s Office / Private Practice||$64,297|
|Ambulatory Care / Surgery Center||$69,722|
|Health Insurance Company||$74,027|
|Extended Care / Nursing Home||$77,731|
* The above two tables show average salaries for those with a master’s degree in social work.
How to Become a Social Worker
Although the process of becoming a social worker varies from state to state, all social workers must complete a few fundamental steps. The first step to becoming a social worker is earning a social work degree. Jobs for social work graduates may include clinical social work or nonclinical social work. While some states allow social workers to earn a licence with only a bachelor’s in social work (BSW), most states require social workers to hold a master’s in social work (MSW). All clinical social workers in the U.S. must hold an MSW. A BSW typically requires four years of school, and an MSW requires an additional two years. Most MSW programs require an internship, fellowship, or fieldwork component, allowing candidates to acquire hands-on experience before applying for licensure in their state.
In order to legally practice within each state, all social workers must first earn a social work license. The licensure process varies depending on the state, as do the types of licenses available. Social workers should research and understand the licensure requirements for the state where they hope to work. To earn a license, social workers typically complete an application, pay a fee, and pass an Association of Social Work Boards exam. The exams consist of 170 multiple choice questions and cost between $230 and $260. Clinical and independent practice licenses typically require two or more years of supervised professional experience.
How Much Do Social Workers Make?
Average Salary for Popular Social Work Careers
|Child and family social worker||$40,064|
|Child welfare worker||$42,442|
|Mental health and substance abuse social worker||$47,830|
|School social worker||$48,287|
|Medical social worker||$51,306|
|Social work supervisor||$53,555|
|Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)||$55,521|
|Healthcare social worker||$56,810|
Source: PayScale and BLS
Average Salary for Social Workers by Experience
|EXPERIENCE LEVEL||AVERAGE SALARY|
|Entry-Level, 0-5 yrs||$40,000|
|Mid-Career, 5-10 yrs||$46,000|
|Experienced, 10-20 yrs||$51,000|
|Late-Career, &mt;20 yrs||$55,000|
Online MSW Program FAQ
How long does it take to get an online MSW?
Full-time MSW programs typically take two years to complete online, while part-time MSW programs may take two and a half to four years to complete, depending on the number of classes taken. Students with a BSW degree may complete an advanced standing MSW in as few as 12 months.
Which online MSW program is the best?
While searching for the best program for you, you may be considering a few factors, such as your personal interests, online options and admissions requirements. We’ve listed some factors that might help you narrow down which program might be best for you. Check the list of online MSW programs to compare.
Which MSW programs don’t require GRE?
While there are some MSW programs that do not require the GRE, admissions requirements vary depending on the university. Some traditional and advanced standing online MSW require students to provide GRE test scores if a student’s GPA is low. Be sure to check with your ideal MSW program’s admission requirements for more information.
What are the GPA requirements for MSW programs?
It depends. GPA requirements for MSW programs may vary depending on the school. Universities may require a GPA of 3.0 or higher for most programs. However, some programs may require at least a 2.5, and if the student’s GPA is lower, the university may request a GRE score. Check with your preferred MSW program’s admission requirements for more information.
Is financing available for online MSW programs?
An MSW online program doesn’t have to be a huge financial burden, and there are some financing options available. Some employers may provide prospective students with tuition assistance, and many universities offer scholarships. When you complete your financial aid application, you may also be eligible for loans. It is important to research as many options as possible and choose a program with a cost you are comfortable paying.
Can you study for an MSW without a BSW?
Students without a BSW may apply for a traditional MSW if they meet the university’s requirements. Typically, traditional MSW admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school along with any applicable prerequisite courses, a minimum GPA and required application documents such as a personal statement, undergraduate transcript and letters of recommendation.