Salary Outlook for DSW Degree

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In most fields, the pinnacle of formal academic training is a doctoral degree. It’s no different for the field of social work, and a common option for students who want to max out their educational experience is a Doctor of Social Work, or DSW.

These types of degrees are less common than lower-level educational pursuits in social work, including a Bachelor of Social Work degree and a Master of Social Work degree, but a DSW may be the best option, depending on the type of job an individual is interested in taking.

Let’s explore what potential DSW students should know about educational options and possible highest paying careers, as well as what some jobs in the field might do for their bank accounts.

Social Work Doctorates

Doctor of Social Work degrees are only one possible option for doctoral education in the field of social work. The other type is a Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy, in Social Work. While both represent the highest possible academic achievement in the field, they have some key differences.

SEE ALSO: DSW vs PsyD Degree Differences

Mainly, which program is right for which students comes down to the program focus the student desires, often based on what career they’re hoping to pursue. If a prospective DSW student is interested in the practical applications of social work education, they are probably better-suited for DSW programs. For those who have a more academic and research-based desire to advance the practice of social work through rigorous study, a social work Ph.D. is likely the better option.

SEE ALSO: Accredited Online DSW Programs

However, Ph.D. degrees are more common, and students may have a challenge finding a DSW program near them, so even for students who want to become clinical social workers, a Ph.D. in Social Work could help them in that pursuit even though it will be more research-focused.

DSW Degree Career Options

While social worker is the most obvious possible job title that a person could get after earning their DSW degree, it’s far from the only one. Not only does doctoral education tend to come with higher wages, but it usually affords a broader range of job options that expand far beyond social worker roles.

Here’s a look at just a few of the possible career options that become possible after completing a DSW:

  • College Professor
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker
  • School Counselor
  • Special Education Teacher
  • Therapist
  • Addiction Counselor
  • Public Policy Analyst
  • Social Services Manager

Depending on the job and employer, professional psychologist licensure may be necessary, but this varies by state. In most states, a doctoral degree is required, though certain DSW programs may not satisfy the specific coursework requirements, so for students who want to become licensed psychologists, they should be sure to examine the requirements in their state before making big decisions.

DSW Degree Salary Overview

Advanced education really opens doors, at least when it comes to earning potential. According to recent publications released by the U.S. Census Bureau, a person with a professional degree, including a DSW, earns about double the annual income of a typical high school graduate and about one-third more than someone with only a bachelor’s degree.

But not all social work jobs are created equal, and some are better-paying than others. To figure out what DSW graduates can expect to make, we used U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data to calculate average annual wages across a select group of jobs that are commonly the next step after a DSW. They are:

  • Child, Family and School Social Workers
  • Health Social Workers
  • Social and Community Service Managers
  • Social Work Professors

DSW salaries are their highest on average for the four select jobs in D.C., where the average social work doctoral graduate earns more than $83,000 per year. Not far behind are New York, California and New Jersey. At the bottom end of the scale is Oklahoma, where the four-job average salary is just over $50,000.

Average annual DSW salary by state

District of Columbia $83,420.00
New York $76,065.00
California $74,815.00
New Jersey $74,667.50
Maryland $73,135.00
Rhode Island $73,040.00
Connecticut $72,537.50
Washington $69,157.50
Nevada $68,086.67
Minnesota $67,345.00
Oregon $67,327.50
Colorado $67,207.50
Hawaii $66,606.67
Alaska $65,630.00
Virginia $65,446.67
North Dakota $65,085.00
Massachusetts $64,222.50
Michigan $64,127.50
Utah $63,952.50
Texas $63,235.00
New Hampshire $63,030.00
Ohio $62,425.00
Louisiana $62,255.00
Kansas $62,105.00
Delaware $61,972.50
Illinois $61,750.00
North Carolina $61,010.00
Arizona $60,945.00
Florida $60,385.00
Maine $60,062.50
Pennsylvania $59,832.50
Tennessee $58,472.50
Wisconsin $58,077.50
South Dakota $57,540.00
Iowa $57,350.00
Vermont $57,203.33
Nebraska $57,152.50
Indiana $57,132.50
Wyoming $56,863.33
New Mexico $56,516.67
Georgia $55,600.00
Alabama $55,077.50
Kentucky $54,650.00
South Carolina $54,546.67
Idaho $54,280.00
Missouri $53,710.00
Arkansas $53,000.00
Mississippi $51,910.00
West Virginia $51,115.00
Montana $50,513.33
Oklahoma $50,305.00

Professors of social work have the highest average salary of the four DSW jobs we studied, with a typical social work college teacher earning more than $75,000.

Average annual U.S. salary, selected  DSW jobs

Postsecondary Social Work Teachers $73,510.00
Social and Community Service Managers $70,425.69
Healthcare Social Workers $57,704.12
Child, Family and School Social Workers $49,448.04
All $62,771.96

The selected DSW jobs we studied are all expected to see rapid growth on average throughout the United States over the next several years. In fact, only a couple of negative growth rates for certain jobs are expected in a limited number of states. Data on employment growth was unavailable for six states — Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington.

Utah should see the four jobs grow by an average of nearly 30%, followed by New York, where the four jobs are expected to expand by nearly one-quarter over their present-day volume. Maine is projected to see modest growth on average, with a rate of just under 2%.

Average projected growth in DSW job openings by state, 2018-2028

Utah 28.93%
New York 25.65%
Colorado 24.43%
Maryland 19.03%
Nevada 18.90%
Florida 16.00%
Iowa 15.15%
New Mexico 14.35%
Georgia 13.57%
Wyoming 13.07%
Arkansas 12.88%
South Carolina 12.77%
Delaware 12.55%
Idaho 12.53%
Oregon 12.45%
Tennessee 11.85%
North Carolina 11.53%
Indiana 11.48%
West Virginia 10.67%
New Hampshire 10.45%
Nebraska 10.43%
District of Columbia 10.27%
Virginia 10.05%
South Dakota 10.03%
Missouri 9.98%
Pennsylvania 9.88%
New Jersey 9.63%
Montana 9.48%
Ohio 9.13%
Hawaii 9.00%
Vermont 8.90%
Oklahoma 8.80%
Louisiana 8.68%
Connecticut 8.55%
California 7.73%
Alaska 7.73%
Minnesota 7.68%
Kansas 7.03%
North Dakota 7.00%
Wisconsin 6.70%
Mississippi 6.50%
Michigan 5.70%
Rhode Island 4.08%
Illinois 2.98%
Maine 1.55%

Each of the four jobs is expected to see job openings expand across the U.S., with Healthcare Social Workers expected to see the most robust growth rate on average. Social Work Professor jobs are projected to expand by an average of nearly 8%, the slowest rate.

Average U.S. projected growth in DSW job openings, 2018-2028

Healthcare Social Workers 16.45
Social and Community Service Managers 12.76
All 14.61
Child, Family, and School Social Workers 8.23
Postsecondary Social Work Teachers 7.88


Social work is generally a challenging field, and jobs are notoriously taxing on a person’s emotions. But for those with a passion and drive to help other people, earning a DSW degree can help improve skills, build knowledge and expand earning power.