Social Work Psychology Salary Outlook for Masters & Graduate Students

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Choosing to obtain a Master’s in Social Work will allow you to work in a setting that really lets you make a difference in the lives of people. The degree opens many different career doors to you. Although you can work in the field of social work with a bachelor’s degree, holding a master’s will show that you have the skills and knowledge to do the work. As a social worker, you must be compassionate and dedicated, as you will work directly with people who’s safety may be at risk.

Salary Feature

The median salary for a social worker in this country is $44,200. However, there are great variations in this, depending on the exact field of social work you are involved in and where in the country you live. Furthermore, the median salary means that half of all social workers earn less than that amount, and the other half earn more.

About Social Work

Many people enter the world of social work by earning a bachelor’s degree (BSW). However, this only allows you access to entry level positions. For these positions, you can generally hold any other type of bachelor’s degree (such as sociology or psychology) as well. The BSW is a preparation degree that allows you to work as a mental health assistant or a caseworker. You will learn about human behavior, diverse populations, social welfare and more. You will also have to complete an internship during this program.

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Most positions, however, prefer social workers to hold a master’s degree (MSW). It generally takes two years to complete this degree, although accelerated programs also exist for those who already hold their BSW. The program will prepare you for a specialty and teach you to do clinical assessments. Furthermore, you will be able to take on supervisory roles on completion of your degree, which will include a practicum or internship. You do not have to hold a BSW in order to take part in the MSW program, although a bachelor’s degree in a related field is generally required.

What Jobs Does This Lead To?

There are many different roles that you can take on once you hold a masters in social work. The most popular include:

  •         Medical and public health – This is a high demand position that allows you to work in any kind of care environment, such as emergency rooms, hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and so on. You will work directly with patients to ensure their care is handled properly and help ensure the lines of communication between the patients and the care staff remain open. You will be an advocate for the rights of your patients.
  •         Substance abuse – Here, you can work in prisons, rehab facilities, non-profit organizations, private practices, juvenile detention and more. It is a very emotionally demanding role, due to the fact that addiction affects many facets of a person’s life. Very often, those who are addicted may seem like lost causes and your role as a social worker is to deal with their mood swings, support them when they relapse, cope with their anger and more. This means you must be fully dedicated and highly compassionate as well.
  •         Mental health – Mental health is one of the only areas of social work where holding a master’s degree is a requirement. This is because you will be involved directly in clinical practice. You will provide therapy to patients, which means you must become licensed as a clinical social worker (LCSW) first. There are many different job opportunities for an LCSW, including schools, hospitals, mental health services and more. Your role will be to assess the mental health of your patients, diagnose any mental disorders they may have, design a treatment plan for them and help them with their daily living needs.
  •         Child welfare – This is a highly sensitive area of work that requires you to be truly compassionate and love children. You will work with children who have been neglected and abused by their parents. Very often, these are low income families who struggle to meet their own needs. You will need to investigate child neglect and report on it and, at times, remove children from the care of their parents if their situation is unsafe.
  •         School social work – This is one of the most commonly chosen areas of social work and there are many different sub-roles within it. You will liaise between students, their families and the educators, creating a bridge between their educational life and their personal life. You will likely work closely with children with special educational needs and help them to integrate into mainstream classes as much as possible. You will also be at the forefront of designing and implementing intervention programs, focusing on things such as behavior, bullying, truancy, sexual health, crisis intervention and more.

Salary Prospects

In May 2012, the median annual salary for a social worker stood at $44,200. The bottom 10% of social workers earn less than $27,450. The top 10%, on the other hand, earn $72,980 or above. There are also great variations depending on the field of work you choose, as well as your geographical location. In general, however, salary is as follows:

  •         $39,980 for substance abuse and mental health social workers
  •         $41,530 for family, child and school social workers
  •         $49,830 for healthcare social workers
  •         $54,560 for all other social workers

The industry in which you work is also of great influence and these factors influence each type of social worker differently. For a family, child or school social worker, the top 4 industries to work in are:

  •         Educational services – $54,590
  •         State and local government – $44,370
  •         Healthcare – $36,130
  •         Religious and non-profit – $35,910

For healthcare social workers, the top 4 industries are as follows:

  •         Hospitals – $56,290
  •         Ambulatory services – $51,580
  •         Nursing facilities – $43,330
  •         Social assistance – $38,920

For mental health social workers and substance abuse social workers, the top 4 industries are as follows:

  •         Hospitals – $47,880
  •         Ambulatory services – $39,840
  •         Social assistance – $37,170
  •         Nursing facilities – $34,950

Generally speaking, social workers are employed on a full-time basis. They also often have to be available to work evenings, weekends and holidays. This is particularly common in hospitals, but also for family work where who can get called out if there is a crisis.

Job Outlook

The expected overall job growth by 2022 for social workers is 19%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is well above the national average. It is believed that the increase in demand for social services and health care will be the main driver behind this increase. However, the different specialties will see different growth.

Those who work in family, child and school social work are expected to see a 15% growth by 2022. Their role will be to strengthen the parenting skills in certain families, stop child abuse from occurring, lift children out of neglect and place them in alternative homes and work on the rise in student enrollments in schools. Unfortunately, these areas of work have significant budget constraints, as government agencies no longer have available funds. This is why there may be an increased need for these types of social workers, but whether the jobs will be made available remains to be seen.

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Health care social work is projected to see the greatest growth, being 27% by 2022. This is well above the national average. It is believed that this is due to the fact that the baby boomers are getting older and they will require specialized health. As there is a drive to ensure people can remain in their own home for as long as possible, the need for health care social workers will also continue to rise.

Finally, substance abuse and mental health social workers can expect to see a growth of 23% by 2022. More and more people are becoming aware of the need for better mental health treatment, as the stigma is being lifted. Furthermore, substance abuse is being seen as a disease rather than a criminal act, which also increases the need for specialized treatment.


About the Author: Ann Steele

This website is co-authored by Ann Steele, a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego with extensive experience with children and adolescents. Ann Steele attended American School Of Psychology & Argosy University Online. She especially enjoys using music therapy for mental and emotional well-being.

About This Site

We are an open forum for articles, manuscripts, unpublished thesis, and letters as well as a guide for job, career and program advice from like-minded Graduates. We are seeking submissions that will be of interest to the community.