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Ultimate Guide to Social Work Degrees

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Most students choose careers in social work because they have career aspirations to help others and enhance the well-being of others on a professional basis. Most career paths in social work include working with individuals who are members of some of the most vulnerable populations in society. As such, many find the importance of social work to be a part of their calling.

Why Go Into Social Work?

Careers in social work focus on both the client and the client’s environment. Professionals who are vying for rewarding careers in social work can choose direct care paths or become involved with patient evaluations or research endeavors. The careers in social work rely on the social work professional to not only provide direct services but to advocate for social change to help large groups of underserved populations.

consensus social work career outlook

There are many career paths in social work from which social which students can choose. Social workers tend to receive extensive clinical training to help others overcome or recover from –

  • Chronic Illnesses.
  • Acute diseases.
  • Traumatic events.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Incarceration.
  • Falls and accidents, to name a few.

Accreditation of Social Work Schools & Programs

The accreditation process is a standardized procedure where universities, schools, and colleges open their schools and programs for evaluation by a neutral accrediting agency sanctioned to perform accreditation duties. There are two primary levels of accreditation in the United States. At the regional level, accreditation is managed by six regional agencies – with approval by CHEA and the United States Department of Education. These are the regional agencies managed by the United States federal government –

Awarding accreditation to a school is very often considered as a stamp of approval issued by a third-party accreditation agency with the authority to do so. Additionally, many academic degree programs seek accreditation at the specialized level – which is a voluntary process. 

In the world of academic, accreditation for social work programs are typically awarded specialized accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education. 

Specialized Accreditation

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) – established in 1952, The Council on Social Work Education has provided social work program accreditation for more than 800 baccalaureate & graduate degree programs dedicated to social work. The Council on Social Work Education offers social work accreditation in an effort to advance social work education quality across the board.

CSWE’s accreditation for social work programs is also devoted to enhancing practitioner levels and is recognized as the gold standard regarding social work program accreditation. In addition to the Council on Social Work Education’s social work program accreditation, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) offers social work accreditation for continuing education courses.

consensus social work jobs

Associate Degrees in Social Work Programs

Students who are interested in reaching for a career in social work often begin with the completion of an associate’s degree in social work online or on-campus, which can generally be completed in about two years.

An online associates degree in social work will include a basic college level general education plus coursework required to meet the on-campus or online social work associates degree. Students enrolled in an on-campus or online social work associates degree program will also take introductory classes in social work core classes that include sociology and psychology, among others. An associates degree in social work online is a smart way to lay the foundation for a baccalaureate degree, as most accredited social work associates degree coursework can be applied toward a bachelor’s degree requirements. Additionally, an on-campus or online associates degree in social work allows graduates to work as social work assistants or case management aides but not typically eligible for state licensure with only a two-year degree.

Associate Degrees in Social Work Jobs & Salary Data

When you have finished your 60-credit social work associate degree, the next logical question is – What can I do with a social work associate degree?

Graduates of Associate of Social Worker degree (ASW) will often find a variety of entry-level social work associate degree jobs from which to choose. Although certain states may permit licensure for associate degree social work jobs (Consider the Massachusetts’ bachelor’s exam option), most social work associate jobs are career starting points. It is noted that many employed in associates in social work jobs often choose to pursue their baccalaureate degree in social work, sometimes online and only part-time. Fortunately, there are a number of entry-level social work associate degree jobs from which to choose. Let’s review a few examples of the available associate degree jobs in social work.

  • A Home Health Aide – many social work associate jobs are available to those who wish to help those with chronic illnesses, disabilities, or cognitive issues, in their quest to manage everyday life.
  • A Social Service Assistant – associates in social work jobs often include human service support positions, assisting families and others through challenging circumstances.
  • A Community Outreach Assistant – these social work positions help in the coordination of community service programs.

The social work associate degree salary for the above noted social work positions is shown in the table below. Note that these associate degree in social work salary include the median income for 2019.

Social Work Associate Degree Salary PositionAssociates Degree in 
Social Work Salary
Home Health Aide or Assistant$ 25,280 per year
Social Service Assistant$ 35,060 per year
Community Outreach & Service Managers$ 67,150 per year
BLS, 2021

It is interesting to note that the associate’s degree in social work salary position with the largest anticipated job growth over the next decade (2019 – 2029) is the Home Health Aide job. This is projected to grow at 34% over the next ten years – nearly ten times the national average!

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work Programs

Most students with an interest in working as a social service provider typically choose to enroll in an on-campus or an online bachelor of social work degree program. On-campus and online bachelor degrees in social work open up a significant amount of career options. Most bachelor in social work online degree programs prepare students for further education or a career as a geriatric social worker, a program coordinator, or a residential counselor, to name a few.

The BSW – the  Bachelor of Social Work degree online program is a smart choice for working professionals who have a social justice passion and career aspirations in social services. A Bachelor of Social Work degree online program offers convenience, which is often key to working learners. However, it is important that each bachelor degree in social work online program you consider to be certain that the bachelor of social work degree online program is accredited by the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE).

Many online bachelors of social work degree programs are divided into two fundamental types of social work programs. Certain online bachelors of social work degree programs focus on a more clinical approach, training online bachelor degrees in social work graduates to work with a variety of needs, often behavioral and emotionally related.

Other online bachelor degrees in social work programs focus their programs regarding the provision of direct care through community and governmental services. These bachelor in social work online degree programs help with removing children from abusive homes, coordinating the delivery of home meal services to the elderly. If you are ready to jump into a program to earn your bachelor’s degree in social work online or on-campus, remember to research whether or not the bachelor degree in social work online program has received appropriate accreditation.

consensus social work gender

Bachelors in Social Work Jobs & Salary Data

Earning a baccalaureate degree in social work will open significantly more career options than available with just an associate degree. While licensure varies by state – with some states offering licenses and jobs with a bachelor of social work degree, most states require clinical social workers to hold a master’s degree. However, there are a variety of rewarding careers and jobs for a bachelors in social work degree holder.

These social work bachelors jobs vary but typically fall within a service-oriented business. The bachelors of social work salary for these jobs with a bachelors in social work are the following – 

Related Jobs for a Bachelors in Social WorkBachelor Degree in Social Work Salary
Community Service Managers & Specialists$ 67,150 per year
Mental Health or Substance Abuse Treatment Counselors$ 46,240 per year
Correctional Treatment Specialists$ 54,290 per year
BLS, 2021

Jobs with a bachelors in social workdegree can be further categorized as mental health, healthcare social workers or child, school/family social workers. However, the state and area information provided below includes all jobs with a bachelor of social work, including a bachelor degree in social work salary.

The top-paying states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for jobs with a bachelors in social work are as follows –

Bachelors in Social Work Jobs – Top Paying StateBachelors of Social Work Salary Median 2019
Hawaii$ 81,520 per year
Rhode Island$ 74,520 per year
Massachusetts$ 74,390 per year
New Hampshire$ 74,160 per year
Georgia$ 73,830 per year
BLS, 2021

Overall, the statisticians at the BLS notes that the anticipated growth for social work bachelors jobs over the next decade to be about 13%, about three times the national average of all occupations combined.

Master’s Degree in Social Work Programs

Earning a master’s in social work online or on-campus is a great way to open up career opportunities with better paying positions. Possessing a master of social work online or campus degree allows for most social services professionals to earn their clinical license.

Most master of social work online or campus degree programs offer students the option of completing the program in about 24 months;  however, there are masters in social work online programs that offer the flexibility to working learners to complete the programs in the time their schedules allow.

Additionally, for students interested in completing a masters in social work online, there are also accelerated program options offering students the chance to complete the master of social work online or campus degree program in less than two years.

Master’s Degree – Jobs & Salary Data

Before you enroll in a masters of social work online or campus program, it is important to ask yourself these essential questions –

  • What jobs can I get with a master’s in social work if I earn the degree online? On-campus?
  • What jobs can you get with a masters in social work if you are interested in working in academia?
  • Which masters in social work jobs opportunities offer the best salary and compensation packages?
  • Where can I find a quality and dependable master’s in social work job description?
  • What are the jobs you can get with a master’s in social work that allow you to work with the youth populations?

There are many opportunities and jobs for a masters in social degree holder. Those applying for jobs with a masters in social work often choose to specialize at this graduate level. Specialties for those masters in social work jobs include death/dying, mental health, social systems, and behavioral health, among others. Other micro specialties for those individuals who wish to apply for jobs with a masters in social work include – social justice, clinical practices, social welfare, or group work, to name a few.

According to the statisticians at the federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, there were more than 710,000 professionals filling the many jobs with a masters in social work degree. Additionally, these same statisticians anticipate a healthy growth rate for masters in social work jobs – through 2029, jobs for a masters in social work degree holders are anticipated to grow at 13%. This 13% predicted job growth for jobs for a masters in social work is about three times as fast as all other jobs combined in the same time frame.

The jobs and salary for a masters in social degree holder are discussed next. These various social work jobs noted below include the information and social work salary with masters degree data.

Master in Social Work JobsSocial Work Masters Salary
Marriage & Family Therapists$ 46,910 per year
Rehabilitation Counselors$ 35,950 per year
School and Career Counselors$ 57,040 per year
BLS, 2021

It is also important to review the percentile range of social work masters salary options as follows.

  • Master of Social Work Salary Percentile Data – Child, Family and School Social Work

Master of Social Work Salary Percentile Wage Estimates — Child, Family and School Social Work
10 %$ 30,870 per year
25 %$ 37,320 per year
50 %$ 47,390 per year
75 %$ 60,600 per year
90 %$ 78,230 per year
BLS, 2021

In May 2019, there more than 325,000 social services professionals working in the US serving children, schools, and families and receiving a social work salary with a masters degree.

  • Master of Social Work Salary – Healthcare Workers
Salary with a Masters in Social Work Percentile Wage Estimates — Healthcare and Social Workers
10 %$ 35,000 per year
25 %$ 44,000 per year
50 %$ 56,750 per year
75 %$ 71,000 per year
90 %$ 86,130 per year
BLS, 2021

In May 2019, there more than170,000 social services professionals working in the US serving as health care workers and receiving a salary for a masters in social work degree holder. 

  • Social Work Masters Salaries – Mental Health & Substance Abuse – Social Work Salary with Masters data
Salary with a Masters in Social Work Percentile Wage Estimates — Mental Health & Substance Abuse Counselors
10 %$ 29,540 per year
25 %$ 35,790 per year
50 %$ 46,650 per year
75 %$ 61,930 per year
90 %$ 80,900 per year
BLS, 2021
consensus social work best cities

Doctoral Degree in Social Work Programs

The education community offers two fundamental types of on-campus or online PhD in social work degrees. The Doctor of Social Work is a practical online social work PhD, whereas a student can opt for a social work PhD online focused on research rather than clinical activities.

Most doctoral programs are highly customizable to allow doctoral degree candidates to delve deep into their areas of interest, under the supervision and tutelage of faculty, advisors, and practicum mentors, if applicable. Concentrations at the doctorate level include addictions, clinical work, disasters and intervention, medical social work, criminal justice, family studies, and administration, to name a few.

Although many online PhD in social work programs vary, the majority of social work PhD online or on-campus programs typically require about three to five years to complete. Note, however, that there are available options for online social work PhD accelerated programs.

Doctoral Degree – Jobs & Salary Data

If you are seriously considered investing in earning a doctoral-level degree in social work, it is important to find the answers to these relevant questions –

  • What is the current state of the social work PhD job market?
  • What jobs can you get with a PhD in social work if the degree was earned online?
  • How do PhD in social work salaries compare?
  • What are PhD social work job opportunities available in your vicinity?
  • Are there social work PhD jobs that would meet your career and salary aspirations?
  • Which of the PhD in social work salaries is the highest?

Many individuals who wish to work in one of the rewarding PhD in social work jobs will often choose to work in academia as a post-secondary teacher or professor.

The top-paying states for those working as PhD’s in social work include the following – 


The top Paying States for PhD in Social Work
Number of Current Jobs (2019)Social Work PhD Salary
New York2,750$ 95,080 per year
Maryland260$ 94,170 per year
Washington170$ 86,510 per year
Kansas150$ 85,310 per year
California480$ 84,230 per year
BLS, 2021

The top-paying metropolitan areas for those working as PhD’s in social work includes the following – 

The top Paying Metropolitan Areas for PhD in Social WorkNumber of Current Jobs (2019)Social Work PhD Salary
NY – NJ – PA2,500$ 97,040 per year
Charlotte NC – SC60$ 95,470 per year
DC – VA – MD – WV190$ 92,920 per year
Albany – Troy NY80$ 92,750 per year
Rochester NY260$ 89,590 per year
BLS, 2021

College Professorship Teaching Positions Options

Those individuals who hold a PhD in social work who choose to teach at the college or university level typically enjoy working with students and helping them complete their capstone and dissertations towards earning their own social services degree. Additionally, PhD in social work degree holders also conduct their own research at the institution of higher education with or without the help of graduate or doctoral students.

Administrative Leadership PhD Positions Options

Many doctoral degree holders in the social work realm are qualified to take the leadership reigns of social service agencies. Earning a doctoral-level degree in social work is often the competitive edge a social work professional needs when vying for administrative leadership roles in –

  • Mental Health Facilities/Centers.
  • Welfare & Betterment Public Agencies.
  • Hospitals, Outpatient, and Medical Facilities.
  • Family Service & Community Centers.
  • Employee Assistance Programs, among others.

Social Policy Research Positions Options

PhD degree holders are also generally interested in working in the research realm of the social services industry. Social work, doctoral degree holders are often employed by think tanks – like the Brookings Institute – professional organizations with the research and funding to investigate, identify and implement social and criminal justice change to benefit all of humankind.

Related Rankings:

Best Online Associate’s in Social Work

Best Online Bachelor’s in Social Work

Best Online Master’s in Social Work

Best Online Social Work Doctorates

Best Social Work Scholarships