While social workers go into the field for love — not money — there are several high-paying jobs within the industry. An advanced degree can help graduates obtain them.

There are many reasons people choose to pursue a social work career. Chief among them are the desire to help vulnerable individuals and communities, the wish to better society and the pursuit of personally meaningful and satisfying work. Most social workers want, above all else, to make a difference.

There is a common misperception that a social work salary equates to a lower-income career outlook for social workers but this is not necessarily the case.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the median income in 2015 for social workers as $45,900 per year (compared to a median income across all occupations in the U.S. of $36,200) but some sectors and jobs skew quite a bit higher. In particular, jobs within the industries of health care and government tend to have higher median wages.

An advanced social work degree enables social workers to pursue more prominent positions within the field that offer higher compensation. A Master’s of Social Work (MSW) allows students to specialize in areas such as clinical social work or health care to pursue these coveted career paths.

So what are some of the top paying social work jobs?

Healthcare Social Workers

Our aging population means there are growing opportunities for healthcare social workers. According to the BLS, this sector is expected to grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Healthcare social workers are in high demand to help aging populations and their families adjust to new treatments, medications, and lifestyles. While only a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree is required to become a healthcare social worker, earning an MSW offers better career and salary prospects. Healthcare social workers can find jobs in hospitals, government, and private facilities. The BLS currently puts the median salary of healthcare social workers at $52,380.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • Providing education about health care and treatment options
  • Liaising with social services to provide ongoing patient support
  • Advocating for patients’ needs and offering referrals to support services
  • Helping patients and their families navigate the healthcare system

Medical Social Workers

Medical social work is different than health care social work. Medical social workers typically work in hospital environments — often emergency departments and discharge wards — coordinating psychosocial services for patients and their families.

They may also work in outpatient clinics, nursing facilities, community health agencies or hospices. The mean income of medical social workers was $59,650 in 2015. Although some entry-level jobs in this area are available to social workers that only have a BSW, an MSW is usually required.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • Providing assessments of patients’ psychosocial needs
  • Keeping patients’ health care teams informed about their specific needs and circumstances
  • Developing an ongoing health care plan for patients
  • Offering education and support in regards to treatment options
  • Working with families and social services to develop an ongoing health care plan

Clinical Social Workers

Clinical social workers help people struggling with mental, behavioral and emotional issues, such as mental health diagnoses and substance abuse disorders. They work in settings including rehabilitation facilities, government agencies, and hospitals.

The BLS projects a 19 percent growth in employment for mental health and substance abuse social workers by 2024, as more people seek treatment for mental illness and substance abuse and as drug offenders are increasingly being sent to treatment programs, which are staffed by clinical social workers, rather than being sent to jail.

Clinical social workers are required to have an MSW, as well as a license to practice in their state and two years of post-graduate practice in a supervised clinical setting. However, this higher level of education and training correspondingly attracts higher salaries, with the best-paid clinical social workers earning upwards of $75,000 per year.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • Providing assessments of clients’ psychosocial needs and making care-plan recommendations
  • Offering individual counseling to clients dealing with a wide range of psychological and social issues, including substance abuse or domestic violence
  • Working with disadvantaged children and families to help them improve their circumstances
  • Offering grief counseling and support

School Counselors

School counselors work with children across the educational system to ensure the well-being of students. They often work with at-risk children having difficulties within their home environment — frequently connecting families with social services that can help — as well as children with special needs.

While salaries for school counselors vary considerably depending on the geographic region, the mean annual wage is currently $56,490, with the salaries of the top-earning 25 percent averaging from $69,680 up to $87,640. Social workers wishing to pursue this path will need an MSW.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • Helping students deal with issues such as bullying, learning disabilities, behavioral problems or problems at home
  • Identifying and pursuing cases where abuse is suspected
  • Advocating for students’ needs within the school and the community
  • Liaising with social service agencies to get more support for students and families when needed

Social Work Academics

As a teacher of social work at a university, you can attract one of the highest salaries in the field — as high as a median income of $89,534 per year working as a professor of Social Work or $49,631–$77,077 as an assistant professor.

To get to this level, social workers will need to hold an MSW as well as a doctorate degree, generally a Ph.D. in social work.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • Tutoring or lecturing in an academic environment
  • Doing ongoing academic research and field work
  • Publishing papers within a specialty academic area
  • Marking and assessing student assignments
  • Overseeing student research or thesis projects

Explore our guide to the best MSW programs and find the MSW program that’s right for you.

Article Name
Top Paying Social Work Jobs
Discover the top paying jobs in social work, and how an advanced degree can help graduates obtain these popular roles.