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Social Worker Salary: Requirements, Education, and More 2021

Social Worker Salary: Requirements, Education, and More

If social work is your calling, it’s probably not the salary that draws you to the profession. If a social worker salary doesn't attract you to the job, what does? Most pursue social work as a profession because they want a job where they can be a part of people’s lives and contribute to their local community. But for any social worker, salary should be a factor, too.

Many people don’t realize that the rewards for social workers aren’t just emotional, there are financial rewards too. There are many factors which determine how much a social worker can expect to earn. The work you do and the city where you work play a role in deciding how much you earn as a social worker.

Your level of education matters, too. Like all professions, employers look at training, and the level of formal education achieved when making hiring decisions. Those with advanced degrees earn more on average.

If you want to provide benefit to people and change their lives for the better, you may ask yourself what is the best area of social work to channel those energies. You may find that there are opportunities for social work you didn’t even know about, and those jobs provide salaries higher than what you might expect.

To understand how to you can enter the workforce with the knowledge you need to command a high social worker salary, here’s information you can use. It will help you in your search for a career that fulfills your financial needs and that you can take pride in doing, too.

What is a Social Worker?

social worker salary - WHAT IS A SOCIAL WORKER?

Social work encompasses a number of broad fields, but the common denominator is working with people and the community at large. This might involve working directly and indirectly to improve people’s quality of living.

Since social work is intensely personal, many who choose to be social workers have been helped by social workers themselves in their lives. If you’ve struggled with drug abuse or grew up in a household without assured stability, maybe you want to give back and help people through social work because of the positive impact you’ve enjoyed from it.

Others simple see the daily struggle that people with mental illness or poverty face and want to do work that helps the most at-risk people find a way to better themselves and their circumstances.

Drug rehabilitation or working with needy families are just a couple areas that social workers are drawn to. They might enjoy working with children or teenagers and want to provide them with support.

Reformed convicts are always in need of positive role models who are sympathetic to their situation whether they’ve personally experienced similar struggles or not. These people often lack job skills, face discrimination in hiring, and generally have a hard time breaking patterns and ways of thinking that don’t help them prosper in a civilian setting.

Social workers can show all sorts of people new perspectives and help them meet challenges. They can also gain some new perspectives of their own. A lot of social workers choose to work with the elderly because they want to gain insight into people who have lived long and rich lives.

Where Social Workers Work

Social workers sometimes work one-on-one with individuals or in a group setting. They might work as counselors in schools or other institutional facilities or perform work in clinics for education or drug rehabilitation.

Since environment plays a huge role in behavior, part of a social worker’s job involves either providing a safe, structured environment for people to come to or develop a positive environment in their homes.

Some social workers primarily focus on the power of institutions to provide social good. These people are often administrators who oversee the development, daily maintenance, and expansion of hospitals, senior care facilities, drug rehabilitation clinics, prisoner rehabilitation and retraining programs and more. These administrators often command a higher social worker salary.

Education & Certification

social worker salary - EDUCATION & CERTIFICATION

Education is the gateway to better employment. It’s something that social workers understand, and often it’s a lesson that they hope to share with the people they work with. Qualification requirements for social workers depend on the social worker’s area of interest and the regulations for the state where they work.

Typically, a social worker will need at least a Bachelor’s degree to secure full-time employment. However, there are some starting opportunities available to those who have at least an associate’s degree. Licensed clinical social workers, or LCSWs, often work in schools or hands-on with children and families who are deemed at-risk. School counselors are often LCSWs.

Social workers with a Bachelor’s degree are qualified to work as rehabilitation caseworkers, parole officers, behavioral management workers and a lot more. The advantage is that these jobs involve a lot of hands-on work with people, but these won't command the highest social worker salary available.

With a Master’s degree in social work, opportunities as directors, administrators, and managers open up. These types of jobs pay well and involve solving problems and handling logistical issues that large institutions encounter every day. Besides an MSW, Masters in Social Work, areas of study conducive to social work include psychology, sociology, human services, and counseling.

Career Path

social worker salary - CAREER PATH

Embarking on a career as a social worker means deciding where you want to focus your attention. Social work is broken down into three levels. Micro, mezzo, and macro. Each level has different benefits and downsides.

On the micro level, you have social work that impacts people directly. Think of these jobs as being on the front lines. Social work involves rebuilding lives, and the social workers on this level to get to enjoy that level of direct involvement as psychiatric workers, counselors, etc. While a social worker salary for this work is lower, there are more jobs available, and many seek the work for its own sake.

Macro-level social workers look to affect larger communities of cities and counties. Some look to discover the root causes of social problems through research and present their finding to administrators, government officials, or the public at large. These jobs are usually high-paying but also involve more education, are more competitive, and often mean working less directly with the public.

Mezzo-level social work is somewhere in between. Some work with groups inside larger organizations. They might lead group therapy sessions or train workers to communicate better. Some need licenses or Master’s degrees for employment eligibility, and some don’t. Mezzo level social work typically involves working with groups more often than individuals or families.

If you’re not sure where you want to work, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the jobs in each level and decide which one makes the most sense for you. Some start their careers at the micro-level and then go on to do work at the macro-level, but there isn’t a chain of succession. Rather, some social workers make the decision to change their focus as they gain experience.

Average Social Worker Salary

social worker salary - AVERAGE SOCIAL WORKER SALARY

Assuming you have a Bachelor’s degree or better, the social worker salary is generally around $40,000 annually. Administrators can expect to earn much more. For instance, a top administrator at a hospital might earn more than $96,000 a year.

Some top-level social workers go beyond working with individuals and seek to influence public policy on behalf of the people they represent. This work involves working with both government and nongovernment agencies. These workers can command highly competitive salaries.

For an Environmental Health Administrator the salary can be roughly $70,000 a year. These people promote public health and welfare. They might oversee safety standards for food and healthcare. Some advocate for regulations to maintain high quality and safety standards.

Many social workers perform more hours than they’re paid for. They may choose to extend the hours they work to see more people each day or they might have to meet administrative deadlines when they can, sometimes taking their work home with them after they’ve left the office. A social worker working 45 hours a week might only be paid for the equivalent of 37 hours.


To be a social worker means to offer some positive benefits to the people around you. Your personality, your goals, and your skill set will lead you to a vocation in social work that’s right for you. Many jobs that pay a social worker salary are in the average range, but there are also a lot of opportunities for a social worker to earn an impressive salary that rivals those of the for-profit sector.

Eager, skilled people who want to make a positive impact don’t need to feel that they need make do with lower-paying positions to do good in the world. You can make a comfortable living and also feel proud of the work you do every day.

If you want to become a social worker but don’t know where to begin, you might start by looking for volunteer opportunities near you. There are bound to be lots of social programs around where you can meet social workers, learn about their lives, and build a resume that will help you in college applications as well as job interviews.

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