You have always been told you are empathic, caring, passionate, and a good listener and communicator, all of which are some of the most important qualities of a social worker. There is no denying that you fit the bill, but you may be wondering if social work is a good and lucrative career choice.
Although it’s true that social work is one of the noblest professions a degree-seeking student can pursue, unfortunately, it’s one of the most poorly paid callings out there. As a matter of fact, social workers in the US make 6% less than what’s considered the median annual salary for all occupations.
My goal is not to prevent you from pursuing your passion for helping people. In fact, I admire people like you.
However, money is an important consideration when choosing a future major, especially if you or your parents are planning to borrow to pay for college. In this post, I will discuss some pros and cons of the profession and possible career choices you can make without sacrificing your financial stability.
Common Myths About Social Workers
If there’s something about majoring in social work that many degree-seeking students find off-putting, it’s none other than the fact that social workers do not make a lot of money.
However, many other things being associated with or said about working as a social worker are nothing more than misconceptions.
Most people know that social workers are paid poorly — it’s saddening, but it’s the truth.
As a matter of fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for social workers, as of this writing, is $50,390. That’s 6% lower than the median annual salary for all occupations in the country ($53,490).
While it’s true that social workers are not the most handsomely paid professionals on the planet, so many myths are being said about social workers, some of which may be keeping you on the fence as to whether or not you should enroll in a social work program. The following are some of the most popular ones:
Social workers take kids away
Social workers carry out many things, and taking children away from their parents is just one of them — but only if it’s really necessary, such as if the kids are being harmed or at risk of being harmed.
Social workers meddle with people’s lives
It’s only when people have trouble leading their everyday lives because of unresolved problems that social workers spring into action. And if there are problems that they can’t help with, they make referrals instead.
Social workers are all women
Since up to 84% of social workers in the US are females, this claim is not a myth. Still, males are very much welcome to work as social workers, too. As a matter of fact, some social work programs for men, such as fathers, are best spearheaded by males.
Social workers can be just about anyone who cares
In some states, those with a bachelor’s in social work have to be licensed in order to be able to work as a social worker. Someone who doesn’t have a license may have a restricted scope of practice.
Social workers do not get promoted
Being a social work major means you have a generic work qualification, which allows you to work across various areas. You may be promoted to senior social worker or manager status after a few years of working or earning a master’s.
Social workers work for the government only
If truth be told, only about one-third of all social workers are employed by the federal, state or local government. The rest are working elsewhere, such as at private medical facilities or non-profit organizations.
Social Work License
Unfortunately, for individuals who would like to partake in social work in the future, earning a bachelor’s in social work is, in many instances, not enough — chances are that they will need to pursue certification in order to become licensed social workers (LSWs), especially if they live in states where social workers are required to have a license.
Enrolling in a social work program is the first step toward a career in social work.
But don’t just go for any social work program — opt for one that’s accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Otherwise, you may not be eligible to become an LSW.
After earning a bachelor’s in social work by successfully completing a CSWE-accredited social work program, it’s time to take an Association of Social Work Board (ASWB) exam, which will turn you from a social work major to an LSW. You may take the ASWB exam another time after earning a master’s in social work.
More traditional social work programs that allow you to earn a master’s degree can take up to four years to complete. But there are also those that can take around only two years to complete, which usually includes a minimum of 900 hours of supervised field instruction.
With a master’s in social work, you are eligible to become one of the following:
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW)
Social Work Degree Careers and Salaries
As mentioned earlier, the median annual salary for social workers is about 6% lower than the median annual salary for all occupations in the land. BLS also states that the lowest 10% of all social workers make less than $36,520 per year, while the highest 10% of all social workers percent earn more than $82,840 per year.
Needless to say, you can make more or less than the median annual salary for social workers, depending on factors such as your job position, location, work experience and type of license.
In any case, here are some of the things that you can do with a bachelor’s in social work:
- Median annual salary: $60,470
- Job outlook in 10 years: 31%
Sometimes referred to as welfare workers, caseworkers are primarily tasked with helping individuals — from children, adults to families — obtain all kinds of government resources available for them. Some of them include healthcare services, financial aid and counseling.
It’s also not unlikely for caseworkers to lend a hand to:
- The mentally ill
- People with developmental disabilities
- Individuals with substance abuse issues
Because of the scope and nature of the work of caseworkers, it’s a definite must for them to be caring and compassionate while at the same time know how to set boundaries for their clients. They also have to be committed, passionate and hardworking because of their many duties and responsibilities.
While many caseworkers are social workers, including especially social work majors, they can also be teachers, therapists, counselors, nurses and many others.
Family service worker
- Median annual salary: $37,610
- Job outlook in 10 years: 17%
Family service workers, first and foremost, help make sure that children live in safe homes. They do so by assisting parents to obtain necessary resources for their kids, including childcare and food stamps.
So, in other words, helping clients to identify and obtain benefits and services available to them is a part of family service workers’ job.
Most family service workers can be found working with individual families. However, there are also those that can be found elsewhere such as in nursing and residential care facilities and community and vocational rehabilitation agencies.
Because an associate degree and, in some instances, a high school diploma or an equivalent is usually the minimum requirement for family service workers, those with a bachelor’s in social work may find themselves overqualified for the job. However, it’s not unlikely for them, including those with a master’s degree to hold higher positions.
Per year for the next 10 years, it is estimated that around 59,100 jobs are available for family service workers.
Mental health technician
- Median annual salary: $36,230
- Job outlook in 10 years: 11%
Also sometimes known as psychiatric technicians, mental health technicians provide care for individuals who are suffering from mental illness. In many instances, they also lend a hand to those with developmental disabilities.
Working as a part of a medical team, mental health technicians work under the direction of medical doctors, including most especially psychiatrists, usually alongside other team members such as psychiatric nurses, psychologists, therapists, counselors and aides.
So, in other words, mental health technicians need to have good team playing skills.
While the vast majority of mental health technicians work at state, local and public psychiatric facilities and substance abuse hospitals, some of them are also employed by governmental agencies.
Some of the duties and responsibilities of mental health technicians include:
- Administering medications and other treatments to patients (as instructed by medical professionals)
- Monitoring the vital signs of patients, such as their blood pressure and heart rate
- Observing patients’ behavior and recording their condition
- Restraining patients who may become or are exhibiting physical violence
- Providing assistance with admitting and discharging patients
- Median annual salary: $48,860
- Job outlook in 10 years: 17%
Simply put, health educators with a bachelor’s in social work are tasked with developing programs to educate individuals about health-related matters that impact their well-being.
They also promote health and wellness by providing guidelines on adopting healthy lifestyles and behaviors.
Health educators can be found in a wide variety of settings, ranging from governmental agencies, non-profit organizations to hospitals and other health facilities. While most health educators must have at least a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, some may be required to have certification or any other additional training.
In 2020, around 61,100 jobs were held by health educators. Of those, approximately 24% were working at governmental agencies and 21% were working at hospitals — state, local and private.
Some of the highest-paid health educators are employed in the following:
- Outpatient care centers
- Governmental agencies
- Civic groups
- Median annual salary: $60,250
- Job outlook in 10 years: 4%
Probation officers provide assistance in the rehabilitation of law offenders who are either in custody or on parole or probation.
Because they can be assigned to high-risk areas or facilities, the work of probation officers can be stressful and nerve-racking and comes with a certain level of danger.
As a result of this, probation officer candidates must first pass psychological exams.
While it’s true that the projected growth of employment for probation officers is slower than what’s considered average, around 8,100 job openings for probation officers are available per year.
For career advancements to supervisory positions, bachelor’s degree holders may sometimes be required to get their hands on a master’s in social work, criminal justice or a related discipline. However, in some instances, experience and performance may also lead to a promotion.
Substance abuse counselor
- Median annual salary: $48,520
- Job outlook in 10 years: 23%
The provision of advice to individuals who are suffering from drug addiction, alcoholism or any other behavioral problems is what substance abuse counselors primarily do. They can be found working in a variety of settings and environments, ranging from community health centers, mental health facilities, prisons to private practices.
Most substance abuse counseling positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, such as in social work. However, some may require a minimum of a high school diploma or a certification only, while others may require a master’s degree.
Some of the largest employers of substance abuse counselors include:
- Outpatient mental health facilities
- Substance abuse centers
- Governmental agencies
In a span of 10 years, the projected growth of employment for substance abuse counselors is faster than average. In 2020 alone, around 327,500 were held by substance abuse counselors.
Child welfare specialist
- Median annual salary: $51,070
- Job outlook in 10 years: 11%
As the job title suggests, child welfare specialists provide children as well as their respective families counseling, case management, protective services and others. So, in a nutshell, their primary duty and responsibility involve making sure that youngsters are out of harm’s way.
A part of child welfare specialists’ day-to-day work involves visiting homes as well as other residential facilities.
The goal: investigate the living conditions of children. In many instances, child welfare specialists tend to work independently. However, it’s also possible for them to have to work as a part of a team of caseworkers.
Some other tasks that child welfare specialists usually carry out include:
- Writing reports
- Maintaining records
- Consulting with professionals such as physicians and teachers
It’s not uncommon for some child welfare specialists to concentrate on one area. For instance, some of them may work in adoption services, while others may work in child abuse investigations. There are also some child welfare specialists who focus on public policy and advocacy.
Correctional treatment specialist
- Median annual salary: $60,250
- Job outlook in 10 years: 4%
Also sometimes referred to as correctional counselors, correctional treatment specialists are responsible for providing advice to probationers and parolees. They are also tasked with developing rehabilitation plans for them to follow. In some instances, correctional treatment specialists may administer psychological tests.
Besides probationers and parolees, it’s not uncommon for correctional treatment specialists to also work with parole officers and the inmates themselves. Providing counseling to probationers and parolees and their families is quite possible, too. Some also work with staff members of other agencies.
In 2020, about 92,700 jobs were held by correctional treatment specialists. While the projected growth of employment for them is only 4%, which is slower than average, it is estimated that 8,100 jobs for them are available per year.
The majority of correctional treatment specialists (54%) are employed at state-level governmental agencies.
Best Schools for Social Work Majors
In order for holders of a bachelor’s in social work to be able to take the ASWB exam and become LSWs, it’s very important that they enroll in the right social work program. Many colleges and universities suited for degree-seeking students planning on becoming social workers are highly ranked by college ranking sites.
Since your goal is to become a good social worker one day, you should go for a good social work program.
The good news is that it’s being offered by many academic institutions that graduating high schoolers would be more than happy to add to their college list — many of them are the most prestigious in the land.
Without further ado, these are some of the top schools for social work majors, says US News:
|INSTITUTION||US NEWS RANKING|
|University of Michigan – Ann Arbor||#1 in Social Work|
|University of Chicago||#2 in Social Work|
|University of Washington||#2 in Social Work|
|Washington University in St. Louis||#2 in Social Work|
|Columbia University||#5 in Social Work|
|University of California – Berkeley||#5 in Social Work|
|University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill||#7 in Social Work|
|University of Texas – Austin||#7 in Social Work|
|Case Western Reserve University||#9 in Social Work|
|University of California – Los Angeles||#9 in Social Work|
|Boston College||#11 in Social Work|
|Boston University||#11 in Social Work|
|Ohio State University||#11 in Social Work|
|University of Denver||#11 in Social Work|
|University of Pennsylvania||#11 in Social Work|
|Howard University||#16 in Social Work|
|New York University||#16 in Social Work|
|Rutgers University – New Brunswick||#16 in Social Work|
|Smith College||#16 in Social Work|
|University of Wisconsin – Madison||#16 in Social Work|
|CUNY – Hunter College||#21 in Social Work|
Planning on attending graduate school after majoring in social work in order to obtain a master’s degree and enjoy more career opportunities that pay more? US News recommends the following (in descending order):
- University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
- Washington University in St. Louis
- University of Washington
- University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
- University of Chicago
- University of California – Berkeley
- Columbia University
- University of Texas – Austin
- Case Western Reserve University
- University of Pennsylvania
- Boston University
- Boston College
Just Before You Enroll in a Social Work Program
By now, it’s very clear that social workers do not make a lot of money. Despite this, it remains one of the most rewarding and satisfying careers for those who consider helping other people a top priority.
Still considering completing an undergraduate social work program?
Then feel free to work on a bachelor’s in social work — there are plenty of jobs, directly and closely related to the field alike, waiting for you after graduation. Obtaining a master’s in social work can give you the opportunity to earn more while having a noble profession.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.