Social work is rewarding, but it has its challenges. It can be emotionally and physically taxing, extremely busy and even stressful. Nonetheless, most social workers will tell you that they love what they do. They feel privileged to contribute toward helping others. They are connected to the communities they work in, helping uplift them and improve their standard of living.
You may wonder whether it will be worth your time and effort to pursue a career in social work. Not everyone can, indeed, be a good social worker.
It takes a certain type of personality to do this kind of work. One needs to be empathetic, patient and attentive. They also need to be hard workers who do not give up until the job is done.
Before you enroll in a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work, it is important to understand the benefits and drawbacks so that you can make an informed decision.
Below are some reasons why social work is a good career choice:
It is a growing field
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of social work jobs in America is expected to grow by 9% in the next 10 years. This is faster than most other careers.
If you become a licensed social worker in the next few years, you can expect to get meaningful employment as soon as you finish your degree.
Although social workers are not paid a lot of money, they make enough to support a reasonably good lifestyle. You will be able to pay your bills, save some money and retire comfortably.
You can do an online degree
More and more students are taking online degrees. According to a recent report, more than 50% of students took at least one online course between 2019 and 2020.
Online degrees have introduced convenience to learning. You can study at your own pace, and you have the option to fast-track courses.
Learning online has also eliminated the need to relocate to attend university. So long as you have a computer and an internet connection, you can access learning material from wherever you are.
You should, however, understand that these degrees are not easy. They require effort and discipline, so if you lack these two qualities you might prefer in-person classes.
You qualify to have your student loans forgiven
Student loans are a liability that many American graduates must contend with. If you become a social worker, you can have yours forgiven after 10 years. You will be paying your loan during those 10 years, but whatever is left is written off after a decade of service in social work.
This may not be an obvious reason to become a social worker, but for some, the savings are enough to make it an appealing career choice.
You can work in different settings
As a licensed social worker you can work with different employers. The common assumption is that social workers are employed by the government in the Department of Social Services and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
While that is true, they also work in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, private clinics, city governments, schools, universities and even adoption agencies. Some social workers have set up online counseling websites.
If you become a clinical social worker, you can set up a practice and have clients come to you.
So long as you are licensed, you can work in different places. If you try one job and you do not like it, you can look for work in a different setting.
Social work offers room for career growth
Getting a bachelor’s degree in social work is just a stepping stone. With additional education, you can steadily rise through the ranks and work in a managerial position.
With a master’s in social work, for example, you can become a clinical social worker or a senior manager in a social work institution.
You can also become an advocate for underprivileged and minority groups. Social workers who do a law degree, for example, can get jobs advising on social welfare policy.
No two days are the same
If you are the kind of person who enjoys a dynamic work environment, social work is perfect for you. On a given day, you start by reviewing your caseload and then visiting clients. Each person you meet is different, and although your clients may face similar challenges, their circumstances are varied.
You can get a job anywhere in America
A degree in social work allows you to work anywhere you want. Different states have different licensing requirements so you will need to take an exam if you relocate to another state. These exams are not difficult and most social workers pass them with ease.
You can work anywhere in the world
Your job prospects are not limited to America. Social workers are like nurses — their services are required in every country. Organizations like the Red Cross regularly hire social workers. Do not limit yourself to a job in the US when you can travel and do social work in other countries.
Social work gives you a sense of pride
Imagine helping a disadvantaged family until they can cope on their own. Or helping an at-risk child and seeing them grow up to become a mature, responsible and productive adult.
Many social workers will tell you that they feel a strong sense of pride in the work they do. When they get a positive result, it motivates them to work even harder.
Are there drawbacks to becoming a social worker?
Every job has pros and cons, and it would not be prudent to enroll for a degree in social work without knowing the drawbacks, such as:
- Social work is not for everyone. It can be very demanding, and it does not revolve around official working hours. Many social workers find themselves called to help in the middle of the night or on weekends when they should be resting.
- As a social worker, you may sometimes find yourself working in dangerous situations. Most people who need social services live in poor neighborhoods, and you may find yourself in risky situations from time to time.
- The other drawback of becoming a social worker is that it requires a degree and licensing. For some, four years to get an undergraduate degree is a long time. If you want to get a master’s degree, it takes even longer.
- Prepare yourself for the paperwork that comes with being a social worker. Each of your clients has a file, and you must update notes after each visit.
How do I become a social worker?
Now that you know the pros and cons of social work as a career you may be wondering about the next steps. Here is what you should do:
- Choose a degree that allows you to do social work. A bachelor’s degree in social work is a good place to start. Later, you can do a master’s and become a clinical social worker.
- Do you want to enroll in online classes, or would you like to learn in a real classroom? This is a significant decision, and you should think carefully before you choose. In-person classes have some advantages over online classes. You have the benefit of meeting your peers and instructors face to face and exchanging ideas. Having a teacher present motivates you to get your work done. If you choose online classes, you can study when it is convenient, but you may find it difficult to stay focused, and you need to be self-disciplined to succeed. However, online classes tend to be cheaper and they also take a shorter amount of time.
- After you choose a course and a mode of learning it is time to choose a university. Make sure that it is accredited and has the resources you need to complete your degree successfully. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the accrediting body for universities that offer social work courses in the United States.
- Check the course requirements and make sure you meet all of them. Requirements for professionals are different than for non-professionals. If you have credits, find out whether you can transfer them.
- What is needed for you to complete the course? Do you need to do hours of fieldwork? Do you need to do a project to graduate? Curriculums differ depending on where you are enrolled. Knowing what is expected means there are no surprises along the way.
- As you do your undergraduate degree in social work you can look into graduate education. Find out what additional degree you can pursue to get the best jobs in social work.
There are many reasons to become a licensed social worker. You help the less fortunate, and for many, this brings great satisfaction. The job pays well, and you can work in a variety of settings. If you like to travel, there are opportunities with international agencies for social workers.
Those who undertake social work degrees today have a lot to look forward to. Projections show that social worker demand is increasing every year, so you will secure a job relatively easily. Make sure to get your degree from an accredited institution.