The Best Social Work Degrees in California


California social workers earn higher salaries compared to their peers in other states. When you enroll in an online master of social work (MSW) program in California, you meet the minimum qualification to become a social worker. Social workers in California enjoy in-demand careers with better pay than the national average.

Explore this page for more about the best social work graduate programs in California and what your earning potential could be after graduation.

Featured Online Programs in Social Work

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Becoming a Social Worker in California

California offers two pathways to become a social worker, both requiring at least an MSW degree. According to the Board of Behavioral Sciences, which regulates social work licensing in the state, you can become an associate clinical social worker (ASW) after completing an MSW program. Getting registered as an ASW serves as a stepping stone toward social work licensure.

California only offers one license for social workers. To become a licensed clinical social worker, you need an MSW degree and at least 3,000 supervised work experience hours. You also need to pass the Association of Social Work Boards clinical exam.

The Best Social Work Programs in California

California boasts of over 40 bachelor and master of social work programs accredited by the Council on Social Work. If you’re looking to jumpstart your social work career in California, check out our comprehensive ranking of the top social work programs in the state.

Our Methodology: We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best social work schools in California, making it easier for you to find a program that works for you. Our methodology is based on metrics that we believe matter most to students, including academic quality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings.

How Much Will it Cost to Get My Degree in Social Work?

Your classification as a student and the type of college you attend determines your tuition rate. For instance, online MSW programs in California may offer a flat rate tuition regardless of your residency status. Otherwise, as an out-of-state resident, you often pay more for tuition.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average graduate student at a public college paid $12,394 in 2020-2021. Private school students at nonprofit and for-profit schools paid $14,301-$28,445.

California schools charge between $442 and $1,928 per credit for an MSW degree. This does not include additional fees that you may incur as a college student, such as books, supplies, transportation, and housing. Many colleges offer social work scholarships and other financial aid packages that can reduce the total cost.

How Much Will I Make as a Social Worker in California?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers in California earned the following wages as of May 2022:

Social Work Jobs & Salaries
OccupationAverage Hourly Wage (CA)Average Annual Wage (CA)
Child, Family, and School Social Workers$31.90$66,340
Healthcare Social Workers$42.49$88,380
Mental Health and Substance Misuse Social Workers$39.29$81,720
Social Workers, All Other$33.43$69,530

Source: BLS, 2023

Social workers in California earn wages based on their specialties and location in the state. California’s cities of San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara pay the most for child, family, and school social workers who earn an annual mean wage of $80,390. Healthcare workers in San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara also earn the highest wage in this occupation, with an annual mean salary of $109,530.

Earnings for social workers in California exceed national averages. As of May 2021, healthcare social workers earned a median annual wage of $60,840. Child, family, and school social workers made an annual median salary of $49,150. Overall, California has the fourth highest cost of living.

Job Outlook with a Social Work Degree

Job growth for social workers should outpace all other professions. While employment growth rates in California will not exceed the national projections, social workers are in demand in the Golden State.

In California, specialities like child, family, and schools social workers; healthcare social workers; and mental health and substance abuse social workers could see increased job openings from 2020-2030, according to Projections Central,

There are roughly 84,000 social workers in California, and employers expect to add another 8,900 social work positions each year from 2020-2030. Demand for child, family, and school social workers is fueled in part by a growing need to prevent child abuse. Employers need more mental health and substance abuse social workers to meet the demand of people seeking treatment and resources.

That said, certain occupations, such as child, family, and school social workers, will be limited in growth because of budget cuts at the state and federal level, according to the BLS.

Social Work Job Outlook
Occupation2020-2030 Growth Projections (US)2020-2030 Growth Projections (CA)
Child, Family, and School Social Workers12.6%9.7%
Healthcare Social Workers13.2%12.2%
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers14.9%10.1%
Social Workers, All Others5.7%7.2%

Source: Projections Central, 2023

Frequently Asked Questions About California Social Work

What is the salary range for social workers in California?

Social work salaries in California vary by occupation and years of experience. Across all social work occupations in California, average annual salaries range from $66,340-$88,380, or $31.90-$42.49 per hour. While social workers in the 10th percentile make $39,700-$50,870, those in the 90th percentile can make as much as $103,180-$126,120 per year.

What is the highest paid social worker in California?

Healthcare social workers make the most in California, where they earn $50,870-$133,100, depending on their experience. California has the second highest employment level of healthcare workers after New York. The state also compensates healthcare workers the most in the U.S., with an annual mean wage of $88,380, according to the BLS.

What education is required to become a social worker in California?

A master’s in social work degree is the minimum requirement to become a social worker in California. If you want to register as an ASW or LCSW, you need at least an MSW degree.

Is becoming a social worker in California worth it?

Yes. Social workers have tough jobs that can be physically and emotionally demanding. However, social work can be incredibly rewarding, as the career focuses on improving others’ lives. Social workers can also receive advancement opportunities and higher salary potential with additional experience and education.