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