School Social Worker: Career and Salary Overview

School social workers help students with emotional, social, and academic challenges, whether they originate at school or at home. They collaborate with families, school staff, and teachers and advise on how to assist in resolving these issues. As providers of school-based mental health services, school social workers assess and counsel students and may refer them to other resources. Helping strategies may include prevention, intervention, and postvention.

Most states require a master’s degree in social work to become a licensed school social worker. Some may accept degrees in a related field, such as psychology or counseling, while others require teaching experience or credentials. Educational and licensing requirements vary widely by state.

The median annual salary for school social workers totals $47,390. This page provides additional information on specific industry and geographic salary data along with the steps needed to become a licensed school social worker.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a school social worker make an hour?

Nationally, school social workers earn a mean hourly wage of $24.53, with the top 90% making $37.61 per hour and the bottom 10% at $14.84 an hour. Elementary and secondary schools pay a mean hourly wage of $30.68. School social workers in Washington, D.C., earn the most at $34.42.

Where do school social workers work?

A 2019 survey conducted by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) found the highest percentage of school social workers were employed at elementary or pre-K schools (51% of respondents), followed by secondary schools (37%). The remainder worked at residential schools and counseling and health centers at colleges and universities.

How long does it take to become a school social worker?

The typical timeline for becoming a school social worker comprises earning a four-year bachelor’s degree and completing a CSWE-accredited master of social work program, concentrating on school social work or child studies. Master’s programs generally span two years, but students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) may be able to graduate in one year.

Is a school social worker a mandated reporter?

Yes. State laws require school social workers to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities. As mandated reporters, school social workers should not investigate their suspicions or ask students questions; they only need to make the reports. Some states may require them to notify students’ families of their reports.

Top Paying Industries for School Social Workers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in 2019 school social workers earned the highest salaries at junior colleges, bringing in a mean annual wage of $64,110. Those working at elementary and secondary schools, which employ the largest number of school social workers, earned $63,810. Technical and trade schools paid their social workers $58,320. In some states, school social workers make even higher salaries, as discussed below.

Top Paying States for School Social Workers

The BLS lists the five top-paying states as Washington, D.C. with an annual mean wage of $71,590, New Jersey at $68,830, Connecticut at $68,360, Rhode Island at $63,310, and Maryland at $61,910.

California leads off as the state with the highest employment level with 32,630 child, family, and school social workers, earning $59,990 per year. New York takes the second spot with 29,880 earning $60,380. Pennsylvania follows with 21,180 who make $44,870, then Texas with 21,120 at a salary of $49,060, and finally Illinois, which tallies 14,720 making $55,390.

Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for School Social Workers

The metro areas who pay their child, family, and school social workers the highest annual mean wage include Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut ($74,130); Trenton, New Jersey ($70,890); Hartford, Connecticut ($70,610); Bismarck, North Dakota ($68,200); and Salinas, California ($68,040).

Areas with the highest employment levels include New York-Newark-Jersey City with 24,950 child, family, and school social workers making $63,590 a year; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California (15,160 earning $63,810); the Chicago area (10,600 paid $55,660); the Philadelphia area (8,700 bringing in $49,700); and the Washington, D.C. area (6,490 earning $67,370).

Salary and Job Growth for School Social Workers

The BLS projects employment of child, family, and school social workers to increase by 7% from 2018-28, which exceeds the growth rate of all occupations. This translates to an estimated increase of 2,480 average annual job openings over the next eight years. The BLS projects the largest upward change at the elementary and secondary school levels.

The BLS cites rising school enrollment along with the necessity of assisting families with parenting skills, preventing child abuse, and helping find alternative homes for students in crisis as the main reasons for the projected increase in job openings. However, the agency cautions that employment may be impacted by governmental budget constraints.

How to Become a School Social Worker

According to CSWE’s workforce survey, only 59% of social workers with a BSW find employment post-graduation. Of these, less than half secure jobs in social work. The CSWE recommends a master of social work (MSW) as the minimum entry-level degree for school social workers. In addition, earning the credential of certified school social work specialist from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) requires an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program.

That said, students must earn a bachelor’s degree prior to entering an MSW program. In fact, 95% of BSW-holders enroll or plan to enroll in an MSW program.

The recommended path to completing school social worker education requirements encompasses earning a BSW, which introduces students to the field of social work and the knowledge and skills required on the job. The next step comprises pursuing an MSW, which takes 1-2 years, and concentrating in or taking coursework covering school social work topics.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

State requirements for social worker licensure vary but typically require an MSW, supervised clinical work, and a passing score on the Association of Social Work Boards examination.

The NASW offers credentialing as a certified school social work specialist, which signifies that a social worker possesses the expertise, knowledge, and skills to succeed on the job. Eligibility requirements include an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program; 2,160 hours of paid, supervised, post-MSW school social work; and current MSW-level state licensure.