Social Work

Exploring Master’s in Social Work Salary Ranges in 2023

Exploring Master’s in Social Work Salary Ranges in 2023
Earning your MSW degree is an investment in your future. Image from Unsplash
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Noodle Staff April 16, 2018

If you're thinking about getting your master's in social work, you're probably wondering how much you'll earn with your degree. Here's how the average social work salary varies—between MSW jobs, the licenses required, years of experience, and where in the country you'll practice.

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If you’re applying to master’s in social work programs, you’re probably wondering about the average master’s in social work salary. Getting your MSW degree is time consuming—and expensive—so before taking the plunge it’s important to know how much you’ll earn when you graduate.

What impacts a master’s in social work salary range?

There are many different MSW jobs to choose from—all of which are dedicated to helping those in need. Whether you become a clinical social worker, a medical social worker, a mental health counselor, or decide to work in child welfare, you must be competent, empathetic, and above all well-educated.

Because of the lengthy amount of schooling and licensing required to begin your career, it is natural to want to know what to expect in master’s in social work salary. Earning your MSW degree is an investment in your future, and the time spent building your knowledge base will increase your earning potential.


“I Want to Be A Social Worker!”

There are a couple of significant practical considerations:

- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification

Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:

- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. (source)

A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. (source)

- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees

University and Program Name Learn More

Why you need an MSW degree to become a licensed social worker

While salary is a major factor in deciding to go back to school, the main reason to earn an MSW degree is to become licensed. With a bachelor’s degree in social work, you’ll only be able to work under the supervision of a licensed social worker. To become a licensed social worker in the United States, you must first earn an MSW and then earn a social work license in the state where you want to practice. Only then will you hold a licensed master social work license (LMSW).

If you want to work in clinical practice or counseling, you will need a clinical social work license (LCSW)—which also requires a master’s in social work, plus several years of supervised experience. An LCSW is different from an MSW degree, and while you may not need an LCSW in your chosen career path, anyone who plans to practice non-clinical social work is still required to have an MSW degree.

Graduate degrees and licenses don’t just improve your social work resume—they also lead to better job opportunities and higher salaries. With your master’s in social work, your salary will be significantly higher than the salary you’d earn with only a bachelor’s in social work. This salary bump is, in major part, due to licensing. For the amount of effort you will be required to put into your job 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 discuss the ranges you can expect in a social worker salary 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 need to pass the required social work licensing exam administered by the Association of Social Work Board (ASWB). However, in order to take this exam, you must have obtained an MSW degree from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited MSW program.

By this point, you should recognize that an MSW degree is extremely important to work as a licensed social worker. Fortunately, there are many accredited MSW programs, several of which allow those with a bachelor’s of social work to get their MSW in a year (in comparison to how long it takes to earn a regular MSW). There are also several options for accredited online MSW programs.

A master’s in social work is designed so that individuals with a bachelor’s of social work do not need to repeat courses that they already took in their undergraduate studies. These advanced standing MSW programs are competitive, and only the students who excel in their undergraduate courses are admitted into these fast-track programs.

Earning your master’s in social work from an accredited MSW program will stand out on your resume, and will also lead to better job opportunities with more competitive salaries.

Which MSW jobs are the most 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 MSW jobs quite easily. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the demand for social workers, is growing fastest in these areas: child, family, and school social workers; healthcare social workers; and mental health and substance abuse social workers. Through 2026, the job market for social workers is expected to grow much faster than average, increasing by 16 percent.

What ranges you can expect to find in an average social work salary

According to the latest data (released in February 2023 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), the median annual pay for social workers is $55,350 per year—and with a master’s in social work, the average MSW salary is 25 percent higher than a bachelor’s in social work salary. Total compensation depends on years of experience, education level, and your specific occupation, but the top 10 percent of social work salaries reach $87,300 per year.

Job sites like Indeed, Monster, and, break social work salary ranges out into slightly more more detail. On, the average salary of licensed clinical social workers ranges from $66,879 to $95,761 per year. Based on 16,000 MSW salary reports collected, Indeed reported the average salary for social workers at $74,225 per year in 2023.

Licensed MSW salary ranges across the country

As with most careers, an MSW salary varies greatly depending on where you live and what you do. For instance, healthcare social workers earn over $10,000 more per year, on average, than child, family, and school social workers.

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, the majority of social workers are employed as child, family, and school social workers. These social workers have an average salary of $50,820. Healthcare social workers earn an average salary of $60,280. The average salary of mental health and substance abuse social workers is $51,240 per year. All the other social work jobs fall into another category, with an average salary of $61,420 per year.

Social workers in hospitals earn median annual wages of $66,300; social workers in local government earn median annual wages of $62,390; social workers in ambulatory healthcare services earn median annual wages of $58,690; state government social workers earn median annual wages of $52,640; and social workers in individual and family services earn median annual wages of $46,670. These statistics reveal that social workers in the healthcare industry make more than their peers in other industries.

Again, the MSW salary ranges vary significantly based on location. Below, we will discuss the average social work salary (MSW) across the country. It is important to keep in mind the cost of living variables when comparing these salaries.

How the average master’s in social work salary varies across the country

When looking at social work salaries across the country, MSW jobs in Rhode Island paid $84,430 on average, making it the state with the highest average social work salary in the country.

In narrowing MSW salary ranges down even further, by city, Santa Rosa, CA reports the highest average social work salary at $88,680 per year

Social work salaries in the Midwest states, and especially rural areas, are the lowest in terms of median salaries. Social workers in Montana, Missouri, Colorado, Arkansas, and Tennessee earn between $51,000 and $55,000 on average.

In metropolitan areas, the average salary of social workers varies widely. On Glassdoor, for example, the average MSW salary in Chicago is reported at $70,856 per year—but on Indeed, the average social work salary is listed at $57,974 per year. In Boston, MSW salaries also varied widely by source: $77,000 (Glassdoor) and $68,446 (Indeed).

The above discrepancies are related to a number of factors, including specialization, how strong the job market is, years of experience and more. For instance, BLS explains that while the average median wage for social workers in 2022 was $55,350, “The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,600, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,300.”

What can you expect to earn with a master’s in social work?

With an MSW, you should expect to make between $50,000 to $75,000 annually. According to Indeed, those with 10+ years experience can earn a median salary of $76,938.

However, many social work jobs—especially in the public sector—pays a little more. The Department of Defense lists social work jobs between $66,000 to $80,000 per year, and social work jobs with the U.S. Army can go as high as $90,000 per year.

For the amount of work and intensity of the average social work job, many believe social workers are underpaid. Of course, most who earn their master’s in social work do so 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, like Dr. Brene Brown and Suze Orman, who used their experience to write books and deliver talks that inspire others. This, in turn, made them both quite wealthy.

Is a master’s in social work is right for you?

Ultimately, social work is a field where earning a master’s degree is necessary for success. In this demanding career, you will want to earn what you are worth. You’re the only one who can decide if a master’s in social work is right for you—but, now that you understand what degrees and licenses you need, and what you can expect to earn, you’re one step further to finding your dream job in social work.

(Updated on January 10, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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