Social Work

Best MSW Career Paths: What Are the Highest-Paying MSW Jobs in 2022?

Best MSW Career Paths: What Are the Highest-Paying MSW Jobs in 2022?
As service and mental health experts adapt to societal trends and meet the evolving needs of people in their communities, the field will continue to offer a host of rewarding career options. Image from Pexels
Lucy Davies profile
Lucy Davies January 28, 2022

You’ll need an MSW to be eligible for the highest-paying clinical social work jobs in the mental health, healthcare, and social work administration fields.

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One of the few things that a majority of Americans agree on is that their local library is an essential and trusted community resource. As trusted providers of free information and services (libraries even help arrange public health services like vaccinations and health insurance enrollment), libraries enjoy a respected position in their communities.

They’re not places one traditionally associates with social work—but that’s beginning to change. In the National Public Radio (NPR) story “Why your local library might be hiring a social worker,” Beth Wahler (director of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte) explains that librarians are “the first ones to know what gaps in social services exist, because those are the issues that are coming in the door.” To take advantage of this, some public libraries are hiring social workers to provide the services that librarians can’t offer (such as advocacy and case management).

Wahler surveyed 5,000 Midwestern public library users and found that 10 percent were looking for employment, 6 percent needed mental health services, and 4 percent needed help with housing. Human services delivered by government agencies, community organizations, and other providers can be difficult to access—so why not add social workers to libraries, where many who need these services congregate? As Wahler observes, social workers are “trained to assess and intervene with mental health, substance use, basic needs, poverty related needs” and other matters (such as domestic violence).

This sort of creative application of social work points to an intriguing trend: social work professionals are popping up in new and unexpected places, and in novel roles. As these service and mental health experts adapt to societal trends and meet the evolving needs of people in their communities, the field will continue to offer a host of rewarding career options.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that over the next eight years there will be a 12 percent growth in overall social worker employment, a 13 percent growth in child welfare, family services jobs for school social workers, a 13 percent growth in healthcare and medical social work employment, and 15 percent growth in mental health and substance abuse positions. Which is to say, there should be plenty of career opportunities in the field.

The challenge may be to find social work jobs that pay enough to cover the bills. While the social work field is known for its high job satisfaction, it also typically offers modest salaries. This article can help on that front. It discusses what are the highest-paying MSW jobs in 2022, by examining the following questions:

  • Which MSW jobs pay the most
  • Who needs a master’s in social work?
  • What are the top schools that offer a social work master’s?

Which MSW jobs pay the most?

With regional pay differences in mind, some of the best-paying jobs in the field of social work include:

  • Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) and therapists in private practice: These roles are among the most lucrative social work career choices, but they require credentials—a Master in Social Work (MSW) and full state licensure. The median annual salary for LCSW’s in New York and Boston is $134,000; the national average is closer to $78,000.
  • Medical social workers and substance abuse social workers in health services: These roles focus on treating clients’ mental health issues and addiction in healthcare settings like nursing homes and hospitals and managing resources and care for patients and their families. These jobs require the same clinical social work credentials as those in private practice. The average medical social worker salary in New York is $80,000; the national ranges from $65,000 to $95,000. Substance abuse social workers in the private sector can be paid up to $87,000 in certain states, depending on seniority and work experience.
  • Other roles in academia and the corporate world: In academia, social science researchers earn around $90,000, while social work professors’ salaries range from $81,000 to $143,000, depending on experience. Roles in corporate social work administration that focus on macro-level of care earn around $95,404 annually.


University and Program Name Learn More

Who needs a master’s in social work?

While a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) qualify you for entry-level (and lower-salaried) jobs in social work, most advanced positions (like the ones above) require an MSW degree or even a doctorate (DSW) from a social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

What is a social work master’s?

A master’s in social work is a graduate-level degree that prepares MSW students to pursue licensure to practice social work in their state. These MSW programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which oversees standards for licensure and ethics and is the sole social work accreditation body in the US. Also, an MSW is required if you intend to practice as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

How long does it take to earn a master’s in social work degree?

Typically, it takes MSW students two years of full-time study to complete their degree. Some schools offer accelerated programs that allow you to move through your coursework quickly, sometimes in under 18 months.

If you already have a Bachelor in Social Work (BSW), advanced standing MSW programs allow you to apply credits from your BSW toward your master’s degree—and save you some time and money in the process.

Admission requirements/prerequisites

MSW programs typically require undergraduate transcripts with a minimum GPA of 3.0, letters of recommendation, a resume/CV, and a personal statement demonstrating how their course of study will help you meet your career goals. Some programs also require Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test scores.


Curricula vary from one social work master’s program to another. Students in most programs can expect to begin coursework with foundational studies in the history of social work and social welfare, systems theory, human behavior and development, race and gender in social work practice, ethics and social justice, as well as introductory work on group, individual, and family practice.


Advanced coursework includes mental health diagnostics, research, and the opportunity to move into a specialized area of study. This focus will allow students to begin fieldwork and determine an area of specialization.

Specialization is another program element specific to each school and may include areas like direct clinical practice, community practice, crisis and intervention, forensic studies, and social work administration. Professional specialization credentials are regulated by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

What are the top schools that offer a social work master’s?

In both its online and in-person programs, Tulane University offers a curriculum based on culturally relevant social work practice (CRSWP) “that prioritizes the field’s responsiveness to cultural contexts and enables us to engage in and train students to engage in competent, ethical, community-led assessments and interventions.”

Boston University offers three dual-degree options and four specializations as well as advanced standing opportunities and partnerships with over 800 agencies and nonprofits.

Other high-ranking programs include:

  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Howard University
  • University of California – Berkeley
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
  • Virginia Commonwealth University

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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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Categorized as: Social WorkSocial Work & Counseling & Psychology