Social Worker Salary: Is It Worth the Student Debt? | Student Loan Planner

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Today’s job market is more competitive than ever. In many fields, the pool of qualified applicants is larger than the number of jobs available. Because of this, job seekers are often willing to accept low salaries in exchange for the experience and connections that can help them get a better job later on. Social work is no different. While the starting salary is on par with more traditional careers, many entry level social workers struggle to find jobs with salaries that allow them to pay off their student loans and still save for the future. Social Worker Salary: Is it worth the student debt?

Having a degree in social work is a great way to open doors to a career helping those in need. But is getting your social work degree worth the cost—and the debt you will almost certainly accrue? If you want to work directly with clients, social work has a lot of rewarding and important roles to fill. But if you’d rather work on an administrative level or with policy, it may not be for you. The good news is if you have a social work degree, you can work in other areas, such as business, education, and government. If you choose to work in the private sector, the amount of student debt you will incur will depend on which state you decide to live in and how much your starting salary is

Social workers advocate for clients with a variety of problems, including abuse, addiction, mental illness, terminal illness, etc.

Their services are in high demand today as more workers are needed to meet the growing needs of children, families, schools, health care systems and other sectors of society.

But being in demand doesn’t always mean a salary worth your time, energy and training. Social workers can earn nearly six figures in some segments of the profession. You can also accumulate six-figure student loan debt.

Here is a more detailed overview of the current salaries of social workers, including a breakdown by job title and level of education.

Conditions for pursuing the profession of social worker

You must have at least a BSW to work as a junior social worker. However, degrees in related fields, such as psychology or sociology, may also be sufficient.

A Master of Social Work (MSW) degree is required for a clinical social worker position. In general, an MSW degree requires two additional years of study, including an internship or practicum.

Non-clinical social workers often must meet the same licensing requirements as licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs). Generally, at least two years of supervised clinical experience and the successful completion of a clinical examination are required to obtain a license.

Salary social worker

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for all social workers in May 2020 was $57,760. This is almost identical to the median income for all occupations, which was $51,168 in the first quarter of 2021.

However, median annual salaries vary according to the social worker’s specialization, as indicated below.

  • Social worker in health care: $57,630
  • Mental Health and Addiction Social Worker: $48,720
  • Social workers for children, families and schools: $48,430

Within these broad categories, the top four sectors for social workers and their median salaries in May 2020 are as follows:

  • Local autonomy: $57,660
  • Ambulatory medical services : 52,850
  • Public Administration: $49,860
  • Individual and family services : $43,820

Student Loan Planner has worked with social sector clients with salaries ranging from $25,000 to $90,000.

Salary by location

The average salaries listed above apply to all states and the District of Columbia. However, it is important to note that a social worker’s salary may be higher or lower depending on where you live and work.

Wages are higher in some parts of the country, probably due to the higher cost of living. These are the five highest paid states for social workers, according to the latest BLS data:

  • Hawaii: $85,740
  • Massachusetts: $85,540
  • Nevada: $82,410
  • Rhode Island: $79,720
  • Virginia: $77,060

As you can see, average salaries vary significantly even with the same job title, MSW degree and clinical license. And even in those states, you probably earn more in the big cities than you do in rural areas.

Social workers’ salaries by level of education

There are also salary differences in the field of social work depending on the degree. A 2017 survey of social work graduates commissioned by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) found that MSW graduates earn $13,000 more per year than their BSW counterparts. These figures are even higher if we include social workers with a PhD or post-doc.

Wages of social workers after graduation

bachelor of social work
Master in Social Work

While there are opportunities in the social work field for those with only a BSW, your chances of earning a higher salary increase dramatically if you earn an MSW or higher.

Credit debt for social workers

Graduating with a social work degree often results in significant student loan debt. The 2019 Annual Review of Social Work Programs from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) shows that the average student loan debt for bachelor’s degree graduates was $29,323. And graduate students have an average of $46,591 in loan debt. Here are the current tuition rates for residents in the three most popular MSW programs:

Obviously, tuition fees can vary significantly from school to school. And remember, these examples only take into account one year’s tuition. They do not include the second year of training required for MSW programs. In addition, the comparison does not take into account all the other costs associated with pursuing higher education, including:

  • Books and consumables
  • Accommodation and meals (or rental)
  • Power supply
  • Transport costs
  • Personal expenses

And don’t forget to add the debt you accumulated during your studies. Depending on the college or university you graduate from, you could leave school with six-figure loan debt.

Loan repayment strategies for social workers

Social workers have several options for paying off their student debt. Options include student loan forgiveness programs, income-contingent installment plans, and refinancing.

Social worker and student loan forgiveness

Many social workers with federal student loans are eligible for PSLF (Public Employee Loan Benefits). If you choose this route, the balance of your debt will be forgiven after 10 years if you meet the requirements. In addition, your payments will be lower in the future because you have to participate in an income-based repayment plan.

However, to qualify for the PSLF, borrowers must make 120 eligible monthly payments while working full time for a qualified employer. Eligible employers include government and certain non-profit organizations. Another advantage of the PSLF is that the forgiven debt is not tax deductible.

There are other preferential loan programs for social workers. Each program has its own requirements. Options include:

  • National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program
  • Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program
  • Cancellation and Refund of Perkins Loans
  • Student loan waiver programs

For more information on each program, see our 2020 Social Work Loan Guide.

Social workers with private student loans

Private student loans are a great way to fill in the gaps when government financial aid doesn’t cover all the costs of your education. If you have private loans, you can choose to refinance social worker loans if you can get a lower interest rate. A lower interest rate can reduce costs by thousands of dollars because you pay less interest over the life of the loan.

Private loan rates are credit-based, meaning you must meet certain credit requirements to qualify for refinancing and be approved for a lower interest rate. And if you don’t have a good credit history, most private lenders offer you the option of using a co-borrower to get a loan. If you decide to refinance your loans, we work with lenders who offer repayment bonuses of up to $1,275.

Average salary social worker in relation to student debt

Social workers should not be saddled with student loan debt. If you have a solid repayment plan, you can manage the burden and relieve the stress of debt. But if you don’t know which student loan repayment strategy is best for social workers, let us help you.

Sign up to speak with one of our student loan experts. We work with you to develop the best strategy to save money, reduce financial turmoil and make room for your other life goals.

A plan for a student loan

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This source has been very much helpful in doing our research. Read more about highest paying social work states and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do social workers qualify for student loan forgiveness?

Do social workers qualify for student loan forgiveness? The answer is, it depends. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, or PSLF, is a federal program that forgives your federal student loans after you make 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full-time for a qualifying employer. Social workers who work for nonprofit organizations, local, state and tribal governments, or other qualifying employers can apply for loan forgiveness through PSLF. In the United States, it is expected that social workers will graduate with an average of $28,400 in student loan debt.

This is an unfortunate reality for many social workers, who choose to pursue a career that helps people, rather than following a more lucrative career path. But, is there hope for these individuals, in the form of student loan forgiveness? Fortunately, there are two options available to social workers who want to get rid of their student debt.

What profession has the highest student loan debt?

With student loans being one of the largest topics of conversation for students and recent graduates, it’s no surprise that the student loan debt crisis is a hot topic for professionals in the education industry. The statistics and stories are staggering. Last year, the national student loan debt passed the $1.5 trillion mark and was at $1.4 trillion as of the first quarter of 2018. With the average student borrower now leaving college with $37,172 in student loan debt, it’s no wonder that student loan debt is a hot topic for educators.

College grads from all over the country are struggling to pay back their student loans, but which among them has it the hardest? According to a recent report from The Institute For College Access and Success, the answer is: social workers. The report found that the average social work student graduates with $53,000 in student loan debt, which is about $5,000 more than the average college graduate.

How much debt is needed for MSW?

How much debt is needed for MSW? The MSW program is offered at many different schools, which offer a variety of specializations, and are in a variety of regions, so there is no one answer for how much debt you will need. In general, if you plan on living in a major metropolitan region, you will need more debt that if you plan on living in a rural location. The cost of living will also vary from area to area, so the difference here will depend on where you live. While the average student loan debt for social workers can be as high as $29,000, it’s also possible to enter this field with as little debt as possible.

It’s easy to rack up student loan debt, especially if you take on a hefty amount to earn your masters degree, but there are also ways to minimize how much you spend on education. Fortunately, there are still ways to earn your MSW degree without going into debt, and even if you do have student loans, there are plenty of low-cost options for paying them back.


About the Author: Prateek

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