13 Pros and Cons of Being a Social Worker
Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Do you enjoy helping people? Do you want to make a difference in your community? Are you looking for an exciting career that will allow you to work with diverse populations and all age groups? If so, then a career as a social worker might be the perfect fit for you, but do you know what are the pros and cons of being a social worker? The social work profession is a noble one. It can be difficult, but it's also rewarding. Social workers are dedicated to improving the lives of people with mental health issues, substance abuse problems, and other challenges that affect their quality of life, which in return will enhance society as a whole. Below you will find the top 13 pros and cons of being a social worker to help you decide if this is the right career path for you.
What is a Social Worker?
A Social worker is a person who works with people and communities to help them function better in everyday life. They sometimes work directly with individuals, but more commonly, they work within organizations such as health care or social service facilities, schools, universities, police departments, correctional facilities, community centers, and other settings. Their aim is usually to improve the quality of life for their clients by working to change the social conditions which affect their clients' ability to function in society. Social workers develop social welfare policies and create, implement, and evaluate various programs related to the delivery of social work. They are responsible for administering client services on behalf of their organization while also managing the administrative aspects of these services (e.g., budgets, personnel issues). They may offer counseling or psychotherapy to individuals or groups in need.
You will find social workers working in all kinds of settings. For example, children are provided with social workers in schools, the elderly are helped by home care social workers, and mental health patients may receive counseling from psychiatric social workers. Other places you may find them working are in the inpatient units of the hospitals and in the outpatient units. Social workers can also volunteer to work for organizations such as Planned Parenthood
and Volunteers of America
TOP CONS OF BEING A SOCIAL WORKER
(The following are the top 13 disadvantages of being a Social Worker.)
1. You will need to have a formal education
In order to become a social worker, you will first have to earn a four-year college degree known as a bachelor’s degree. Most people who embark on this path of going to college for four years will receive a bachelor's degree in social work or something related such as psychology, sociology, public administration, or child development. You will need to ensure that the Bachelor’s in social work program you choose to attend is accredited by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB
). Four years of your life is a long time to dedicate to any endeavor in your life. That is also four years that you potentially may not be earning an income. This sounds a bit risky to me. If you choose to further your education, you will then need to earn a Master’s
degree in social work. This will require an additional two years of education. It will also require an additional amount of your time and money.
2. You will have to pay for your formal education.
Becoming a social worker will require that you earn a bachelor's degree as we have discussed, but do you have any idea how much that is going to cost you? If you're like most people, then probably not. One of the top disadvantages of being a social worker is how much the degree will cost you to earn when all is said and done. The average tuition cost of attending a program to earn your bachelor’s degree to become a social worker will run anywhere between $40,000 to $150,000. Let’s also not forget your cost of living and other additional expenses. That is pretty pricey, in my opinion. So, if you do not have a disposable income, it seems like you may land yourself in some debt.
3. You may need a license to practice as a social worker.
In order to work as a social worker, you will need a license
from the state. Although some states do not require licensure, it is still a good idea to have a social worker license, as it shows that you have the right degree and education for the job. The process of getting your social worker license can take a reasonable amount of time. Most states require you to get a bachelor's degree in social work or a related field, such as sociology or psychology first. Many states also require at least two years of social work experience under the supervision of a licensed social worker. This means that you will need time to complete college and get clinical practice before you can be licensed. One of the disadvantages of being a social worker is that some licenses require you to pass two tests: the first is for the Licensed Master Social Worker Exam (LMSW
) and the second for your specialty areas, such as school social worker or clinical social worker.
4. You may have a heavy workload.
It's no secret that being a social worker is a tough job. Heavy workloads are to be expected for social workers because there is so much going on all at once. There's no end to the heavy workload that social workers often face because cases are constantly changing and piling up. Even though you're working hard, there will always be more work coming your way.
5. You may have long hours.
When weighing the pros and cons of being a social worker you will need to decide if you will have the stamina for the long hours that may come along with the job. As a social worker, your workday and caseload
may require long hours of your time each day. You will have a busy day with little breaks. These extended hours of your day will be spent meeting with clients, attending meetings, conducting research on issues in the community, or completing forms and reports to keep up with necessary documentation. All of the time you will need to dedicate to these tasks means spending less time with family and friends. You may end up missing some pretty important events due to work.
6. You may need to be on call.
One of the disadvantages of being a social worker is that you may be expected to be on call. "On-call" means that you are required to be available by phone at any time of the day or night. Often, this is expected even if you are on vacation or out for an evening together with friends and family. On-call is seen by many social workers as a requirement that does not really give you any extra pay. You may even feel it takes away from your personal life and time to do more fun things.
7. You may be in dangerous situations at times.
One of the biggest disadvantages of being a social worker is that you may find yourself in some pretty dangerous
situations from time to time. Not only are you exposed to the most vulnerable members of our society, but you also have to deal with some pretty difficult people. Some clients may be so upset that they can become pretty violent, even threatening your life if you don't do exactly what they want. There is a real danger that the person you are trying to help might harm you instead.
8. You will be faced with the worst of humanity.
One of the biggest cons of being a social worker is that you will be working with some of the worst that humanity has to offer. You will struggle to find any kind of enjoyment when every day is another round of dealing with the mentally ill or criminals. You will face people who have little-to-no regard for your well-being, and you will likely develop a few less than savory coping mechanisms to get by. The job may change you as a person.
9. You may suffer from compassion fatigue.
As a social worker, you may end up suffering from compassion fatigue
. This is often the case if you have been practicing for a long time or have worked with exceptional circumstances. It may be draining and very frustrating. Compassion fatigue is often described as a state of physical, emotional, and also mental exhaustion. It can lead to the person not wanting to deal with any more cases or people suffering; they may find it very difficult to continue their work. The most common cause of compassion fatigue is long-term exposure to traumatic events like violence. So, all of your hard work and money spent will be down the drain.
10. You may be unable to intervene in certain situations.
In certain situations that you may find yourself in, you may not intervene for various reasons. Being unable to intervene may be a stressful and sometimes sad reality for some social workers. In certain situations, you may find that the legal system may prevent you from interfering the way you feel you should. There is a more serious side to this too, and that's the idea of not being able to help someone who really needs it. In certain situations where laws may be broken and harm may be done, you will not be able to intervene as a social worker. This can lead you to feel pretty horrible.
11. You will have a ton of paperwork to complete
As a social worker, you will be required to complete an extensive amount of paperwork. All of these pieces of paper are extremely important to the success of your work. The paperwork is required by law since you are entering people's lives and changing their welfare status in some way. This paperwork will need a reasonable amount of time and energy on your part. Do you think you will have enough time in the day to accomplish all of your personal and work tasks?
12. You may find it difficult to unplug from your work
Social workers may find it hard to unplug from work. Your day may repeat in your head over and over again. Social workers leave their workplace with their work, and sometimes they may bring it home to unload or think about it more. They also have to ensure service users receive the help they need during the day, so checking up on their clients is a big part of their job. This might mean checking phone calls and texts from other team members, other workers, and work emails or online chat. As a social worker, you may be used to being available at all hours.
13. You may have to work with difficult people
As a social worker, you may find that you have to deal with some challenging people. This can make your work very difficult. Some of these problematic people may include clients who are abusive, aggressive, or confrontational. Other difficult people you may encounter throughout your day will come in the form of colleagues. So, if you are not somebody who can grin and bear it, well, this may not be the line of work for you. So, when evaluating the pros and cons of being a social worker, you will need to figure out if you can play nice in the sandbox with all the personalities you will come across. Unfortunately, getting along with others will be part of the job.
TOP PROS OF BEING A SOCIAL WORKER
(The following are the top 13 advantages of being a Social Worker.)
1. You can earn your degree online.
One of the advantages of being a social worker is that you can earn your education online
. Many benefits come with achieving your education through an online school, such as working at home and getting a degree faster. You will find that it is easier to have full-time employment while attending classes through an online program. Online programs are often very flexible with different deadlines, times, and learning techniques. You will also be able to balance life and work with online school more easily.
2. You can make a pretty good living.
As a social worker, you can expect to earn a comfortable income, which will increase as you gain experience and succeed in your career. According to the Bureau of labor statistics
, the median annual earnings of social workers are $51,760 per year. The highest 10% of earners can expect to earn $85,820 per year. Having a good and steady income is one of the most significant benefits of becoming a social worker. Think about all the finer things in life that this type of career can afford you.
3. You will be in demand.
Social work is an in-demand career that will never go out of style. The employment need for a social worker is expected to grow faster than the average occupation. And, it is one of the most flexible careers today. According to the Bureau of labor statistics
, the job outlook for social workers is expected to increase by 12 percent from 2020 to 2030. This increase is faster than the average and is one of the top pros of being a social worker.
4. You can work in various settings.
One of the biggest perks of being a social worker is the various places you could work in. This is an extremely versatile career. Depending on your experience, interests, and personality, any one of these settings will be an excellent start for you. As a social worker, you can work with children and youth: foster parents who need help raising their kids, child protective services workers trying to stop abuse or neglect, child therapists, or school. Other examples of where your expertise is needed are in hospitals, rehab programs, and prisons. So, if one place of employment does not seem like a good fit, well, then there are others out there to try.
5. You may be able to have your student loans forgiven.
Did you know that social workers can have their student loans
forgiven? After working in social work for 10 years (or 1/3 of your loan forgiveness period), you can apply to have the remainder of your student loans forgiven (not taxed as income). How much can someone save with social worker loan forgiveness
? For a brand-new social worker, the remaining amount on their student loans could be over $100,000. Their total salary afterward will be around $50,000. So, they can save approximately $50,000 in taxes from getting a quarter of their student debt forgiven. After the 10 years of work, a social worker will have saved thousands if not tens of thousands on loans and taxes! It's just one of many reasons to consider going into social work. For some people trying to stick out the 10 years to gain loan forgiveness is one of the important things to think about while analyzing the pros and cons of being a social worker. Yes, ten years is a long time, but think of all that money you can save.
6. You can grow in your field.
As a social worker, you will have numerous opportunities for growth within your profession. Some of these opportunities will include leadership roles on the local, state, and national platforms. You will also have many opportunities to grow your career from a co-worker to a manager and eventually up the chain to an executive. Each of these paths has its own set of requirements and specialized skill sets. However, they all include room for growth.
7. You can work anywhere in the United States.
One of the biggest advantages of being a social worker is that you will have the ability to work
anywhere in the United States. Every state has a department or agency in charge of social services, and there is plenty of room for employment. Social workers will always have a job, no matter the temperature of the economy. It also helps that almost 95 percent of all working social workers are employed in educational institutions, health care facilities, government organizations, and mental health centers. If one field doesn't work out, many other socially focused organizations always need social workers. Social workers should not be worried about employment for the rest of their lives.
8. You could work internationally.
As a social worker, you will have the ability to lend your service and expertise overseas
. Social workers are needed all over the world, particularly in developing countries where there are many challenges. The social work profession is growing in these countries, which means there's a need for more workers. One place you may look to help you figure out where to serve abroad is the Peace Corps
website. This website has an extensive list of all the countries that have programs and will help guide you through the process of working overseas. I bet you didn't know that this was a career that could help you tour the world.
9. You can specialize in specific populations of people.
There are different populations that a social worker can work with depending on where they are employed. For example, if you work in the school system you would typically focus on children. Other areas that you could choose to specialize in is working with the elderly, and those who have disabilities. Your services would also be utilized in numerous hospital settings to support their patient populations such as those who have been recently admitted or those who just had a baby. Other populations that you could specialize working with are those who have been incarcerated or those who are fostering children. The availability of options of the type of clients you could work with is truly vast. So, suppose you feel pulled towards a particular population where you may have a personal connection. In that case, you might consider this when figuring out where to work.
10. You can make a difference in people’s lives.
One of the pros of being a social worker is making a significant impact on other people's lives. Your clients will love you for it. The important thing about social work is that you can make a difference in people's lives by helping them find resources. If your client has financial troubles, your job is to help him find a way to make a living wage. If your client was a victim of rape, you get to help them find support and resources for themselves and their family. You get to be the difference in people's lives, which is terrific.
11. Your day will have a variety.
As a social worker, boredom will definitely not be part of your daily routine. Every day will be different and full of surprises. You will never know what to expect, and that is amazing! Each case you encounter will be a new experience and a new challenge for you. Your day will never be the same, and that is what makes it so exciting. Whether a client tells you a story about domestic violence or talks to you about how addiction has been destroying their family, being able to offer support and solutions is both satisfying and fulfilling.
12. You may end up with a pretty nice schedule
If you are a social worker who decides to work in the school system, you can end up with a pretty nice schedule. You will have off in the summer and during school breaks. You will also not have to work weekends or holidays. The best part about this is, is that you will get paid for this time off.
13. Your job will give you a sense of pride
One of the advantages of being a social worker is that the work you do will help others and will give you a great sense of pride. Whether you are working with children, elderly people, or families, your work will almost always give you a feeling that you are making a difference in the world. Not many people can say about the work they do.
The Bottom Line
So, what are the 13 pros and cons of being a social worker? I’m sure you can answer that question now. Some people say that they love their job because it's rewarding to make life better for others. Others find themselves frustrated by obstacles they may encounter throughout the day. Still, others may enjoy taking care of children but hate having to deal with adults. The top 13 pros and cons of being a social worker that I have presented to you have surely given you a lot to think about. Yet, at the end of the day, it seems like only you can decide if this career path is right for you!
Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.