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MSW Salary in North Carolina

Written by Jack Levinson

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Are you motivated to enter the field of social work but daunted by the fear of earning an insufficient income to suit your goals? You’re not alone. However, there are many ways that individuals can make the salary of a social worker with a master’s degree work for them.

There are few who enter the field of social work hoping to rake in their fortunes, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your quality of life in order to start a career doing good for others.

By planning carefully and setting realistic, responsible goals, social workers can pursue honorable career paths making a positive impact on others while supporting themselves thoroughly. In fact, if you’re planning on establishing your social work career in North Carolina, you’re already one step ahead, as the state is an excellent place to make the most of an MSW social worker salary (read below to learn why).

It’s important to do your homework before making long-term career plans so that your expectations are founded on substantive information. This means taking stock of the average social work master’s degree salary in North Carolina as well as the ways that your educational and professional decisions can lead you to become a high-earning social worker in the field.

This article provides extensive information for those interested in becoming social workers in North Carolina. It includes details about the average salary of a social worker with a master’s degree in North Carolina, the highest social worker salary range nationwide, and how you can plot your career to earn the most and take your money the farthest.

Why North Carolina is a Great State to Live on a Social Worker Salary

North Carolina stands out as a remarkable state for aspiring social workers from a financial perspective, primarily due to its affordable cost of living. Indeed, the state is frequently singled out as one of the best states to live due to its low costs and, equally significant, its high quality of life. This is a state where those who wish to settle in the long term and become homeowners are able to see this become a reality. Compared to more expensive places like New York City or San Francisco, where the cost of housing and everyday expenses can be exorbitant, this is a boon for social workers in the state.

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North Carolina’s affordability provides social workers with financial stability, enabling them to allocate their resources toward their education, professional development, and meaningful community initiatives.

The moral of the story is this: at the same time that you are looking into Master’s in Social Work salary ranges to help determine your long-term plans, it’s worth giving serious attention to costs of living, which are arguably as critical to your financial planning.

Salary of a Social Worker in North Carolina

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers in the state of North Carolina earn the following on average (numbers reflecting mean annual income):

For those interested in hourly wages, here are the numbers broken down into social worker salary per hour in North Carolina:

These numbers are more or less in keeping with the national averages for social worker salaries, which you will find below. In light of the state’s lower cost of living, however, your salary here is likely to go further than it would in many other parts of the country.

It’s worth noting that these statistics group up professionals by general category. This means it is more difficult to look up specific professions, such as hospice social worker salary, elderly social worker salary, criminal social worker salary, etc. If you are interested in learning the exact numbers for your area of specialization, you can learn a great deal by looking up real job listings in the city you’d like to live – using search terms such as “medical social worker salary Raleigh” – to get the most accurate picture you can.

Similarly, the BLS data does not distinguish the credentialing or license level of survey participants. This means they do not provide numbers for, for example, Licensed Clinical Social Worker salaries in North Carolina or Licensed Master of Social Work salaries in North Carolina. However, one can assume that these credentials will improve one’s income prospects – read on to learn more about how your licensing can make you more money.

Average MSW Salary – Nationwide

The average salary for a Master’s in Social Work in North Carolina is comparable with the national average, which the BLS reports as follows:

These numbers for the most part are within one thousand dollars annually of North Carolina numbers, meaning the rates are quite similar. In light of the much higher costs of living in other places, one can see why North Carolina is an especially attractive place for aspiring social workers to move.

Highest Paid Social Worker Salaries in the US

If you are hoping to make more money as a social worker than the figures listed above, there’s reason to have hope. Those in the 90th percentile of social workers earn significantly higher incomes, which you can have in mind as you plot your career.

The BLS reports the following salaries for those earning in the top 90th percentile in each branch of social work:

Since averages between North Carolina and the country overall are so similar, one can estimate that the highest-earning North Carolina-based social workers net similar pay.

So how does one aim to maximize their income as a social worker? Read on to learn the best approach to earn a good living while committing your career to the cause of helping others.

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How to Earn a Top Social Worker Salary with a Master’s

The best way to earn a top salary in the field of social work is by amassing experience and certifications that will make you eligible for leadership positions. This goes beyond simply your MSW degree, which is essentially a prerequisite to take on any full-fledged social worker position in the field.

By developing deep expertise, you will become a competitive candidate for the highest-ranking roles in social work organizations, which will also earn you the highest pay.

Below are a few of the best investments you can make to boost your long-term career earnings.

Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) are the only social workers authorized to perform clinical services such as therapy and counseling. These require more work than an MSW – typically, clinical licensing requires around two additional years of supervised work experience – but the expertise pays off, as you will immediately be eligible for higher-ranking social work opportunities, with higher salaries to match.

If you are not interested in having a clinical practice but also wish to improve your standing as a social worker, a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) has the credentials to take on advanced administrative and leadership roles within a social work organization. In fact, if you aren’t pursuing becoming an LCSW, it is highly recommended that you obtain your LMSW license, as this is a prerequisite for many social work jobs. (If you are pursuing your LCSW, you do not need to hold both licenses.)

Develop an Area of Specialization

One of the best ways to set yourself apart as a social work professional is by diving deep into a particular area of focus so that you can become a trusted expert on it. If you become a forensic social work expert, for example, you will have significantly less competition in the field and will be uniquely suited to high-ranking roles in the organizations devoted to this work. Chances are the forensic social worker salary averages outpace those for generalists.

Many social workers begin to find their area of specialty while in their MSW programs, but it takes years of work experience to find the specific causes in which one would like to gain expertise. Beyond finding professional opportunities that match these interests, pursuing additional certification can enrich your knowledge and add credentials that make you a uniquely qualified candidate for the leadership roles you want. 

Expand the Scope of Your Job Description

While most social workers begin by working in formal social work organizations, those with experience can also expand into other frontiers, such as private practices and consulting. Establishing a private practice allows social workers to set their rates and expand their client base, potentially leading to a substantial increase in income. Similarly, offering consulting services to organizations, government agencies, or private businesses in areas such as program development, training, or policy analysis can be financially rewarding.

Oftentimes social workers choose to do these alongside their day-to-day jobs to increase their income stream, as well as to reach more people with their services. The advent of telehealth in recent years has made it easier than ever for social workers – especially those with clinical practices – to expand into autonomous work that can bring in more money to support their career and life goals.

These are just a few of the ways that social workers can maximize their earnings so that they are able to continue doing the work they love and creating a difference in the lives of others.

All data included in this article is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2022 reports, accessed October 2023.


How can one earn more than the average salary of a social worker with a master’s degree?

The best way to set yourself up for top-paying social work jobs is by gaining expertise that makes you a candidate for high-ranking roles. One can do this by becoming an LCSW as well as by gaining targeted expertise in a particular subject, making you a go-to expert within your field. Having a concentrated area of specialization can also be an excellent way to earn consulting positions that you can hold in addition to your day-to-day social work responsibilities.

Does where you work as a social worker determine your pay?

It certainly can. Unfortunately, BLS data does not include particularly specific information, which makes it hard to know, for example, the foster care social worker salary in North Carolina. However, where you work as a social worker – be it at a hospital, school, inpatient center, or private practice – can certainly affect your income as well as the benefits your employer provides.

Why is North Carolina a good state to become a social worker?

North Carolina stands out as a remarkable state for aspiring social workers from a financial perspective, primarily due to its affordable cost of living. In particular, the low cost of housing is quite unlike many other places in the country, and should be an attractive reason for social workers to consider living in the state. This affordability provides social workers with financial stability, enabling them to allocate their resources toward their education, professional development, and meaningful community initiatives.