Social work is a fulfilling and challenging field that’s not for the faint of heart. Despite the stressful situations that can sometimes arise working in this field, many social workers love their work so much that they can’t imagine devoting their professional lives to any other occupation. The benefits of an education and career in social work include a highly positive job outlook, the potential to earn above the median wage in the United States, the variety of specializations and job duties that keeps the job interesting and the high rate of job satisfaction.

What Are the Benefits of Pursuing a Degree in Social Work?

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A Better Than Average Job Outlook

No student wants to invest their time and money into earning a college degree only to struggle to find a job. Fortunately, opportunities for social workers are growing at more than twice the average rate. While the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects jobs across industries to grow by just seven percent, the federal bureau expects jobs in social work to grow by 14 percent.

The different fields of social work are growing at different rates, but all of the largest social work fields are thriving. Opportunities for healthcare social workers could improve by 20 percent over a decade. For social workers in the areas of mental health and substance abuse, the BLS anticipates a 19 percent increase in job roles. A 14 percent rate of growth is likely for the largest field of social work, the one that includes child, family and school social workers.

Already, social workers in all fields hold 682,100 jobs in the United States. The 16 percent growth rate expected for this profession should add 109,700 new jobs, the BLS reported.

Above-Average Earning Potential

Social work has a reputation for being a poorly paid field, and it’s certainly not a career you would choose solely based on salary. However, if fears that you won’t be able to make a living in this job role are keeping you from pursuing your passion, you should know that the income potential for a social worker might not be as bleak as it seems. With a median wage of $49,470, social workers make considerably more than the $38,640 median salary the BLS reports for all occupations.

A lot of factors affect how much you will earn as a social worker. The social work specialty in which you work can change your median salary expectations by as much as $20,000 annually. The lowest-paid social workers, in the field of mental health and substance abuse social work, make a median wage of just $44,840, followed closely by a $46,270 median salary for child, family and school social workers. Healthcare social workers earn more satisfactory salaries, with a median of $56,200. Social workers in fields other than these specialties earn the most, with a combined median salary of $63,140.

Pay rates also vary a lot based on your industry and work environment. Unfortunately, the industry of individual and family services, the largest employer of social work, also pays the lowest salaries. Social workers in this industry earn a median wage of just $41,810. State government roles pay a bit more, with a median salary of $48,590, and ambulatory healthcare services pay $49,840. Local government roles pay more than state government roles, with a median wage of $54,430. Hospitals pay the best wages among the top employing industries, with a median salary of $60,100.

Where you live also influences how much money you can make as a social worker. In the top-paying states in the U.S., social workers can earn a solid living doing what they love. Substance abuse and mental health social workers in New Jersey enjoy a $79,130 average salary, the BLS reported. The highest-paying state for healthcare social workers, Nevada, awards a mean wage of $82,820. For child, family and school social workers, Washington, D.C., pays a $70,270 average salary, with Connecticut’s $69,520 mean wage not far behind. Certainly, social workers across the U.S. earn every dollar they make as they help the people and communities most in need of support and social services, but choosing this career path doesn’t have to mean a life of poverty.

Advancing your education can improve your salary. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) reported that social workers with a master’s degree earn $13,000 more than those without. Social workers who establish private practices earn the highest salaries.

Variety in Your Career Path

One fact that makes social work at once exciting and difficult is that the field poses a great deal of variety. Between subfields of social work and even within a single day of an individual social worker’s life, there are diverse specializations and client populations, unique problems to solve and a lot of unexpected events.

Social work offers opportunities to help youth populations and the elderly, those with mental illnesses and those with physical illnesses. You may work with underserved, and largely ignored or ostracized, populations that can include the homeless, clients with substance abuse disorders and sex workers, or you may work with school children or hospital patients. Many social workers find that they have a calling to work in a certain specialized area or serve a particular client population.

Once you choose a field of social work, it doesn’t mean that your days are predictable. As social workers are inclined to say, there’s no such thing as a “typical” day in the field. While you may have had routine client visits and paperwork planned, don’t be surprised if you find yourself needing to handle crisis intervention, conducting an unplanned home visit or meeting with a client in a clinical capacity due to an urgent mental health situation.

Flexibility is an important quality for social workers to have, but so are interpersonal skills, emotional skills, communication skills, organizational skills and problem-solving skills, the BLS reported.

Meaningful Work Makes for Job Satisfaction

Job growth, income potential and variety are all potential benefits of this career, but the reason people choose social work is because of how fulfilling the work itself is. The people who make the best social workers, and who avoid burnout due to job stress, are the ones who truly want to help others. As difficult as the job may be and as many times as your efforts may not end in the success story you are hoping for, each time you make a meaningful difference in someone’s life will remind you why you love this work.

Both child and family social worker and clinical social worker make U.S. News & World Report’s list of the best social services jobs.

Additional Resources

What Are the Benefits of Pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work?

Is Social Work a Growing Industry?

What Is the Salary Potential for Someone With a Social Work Degree?