Why Social Work Degree is an Investment with Diminishing Return

When choosing a bachelor’s degree or a career, we often think about what we’re passionate about and what could help us make a difference in the world. Some students are drawn to a social worker degree, a profession dedicated to helping others and positively changing society.

With a degree in social work, you can embark on a journey of different social work programs. Such as assisting individuals, families, and communities in navigating their issues and adversities. But is this the right degree path for you? Is it as rewarding as it seems?

What is a Social Work Degree?

It is a specialized academic program designed to teach students about various social work theories and practices. Students learn different topics such as human behavior, social welfare policy, ethics in social work, research methods, and direct approach.

Graduates of this degree are typically equipped to do social work in various fields like child and family services, mental health, school social work, and community development.

Why Social Work Degree is Not Worth It

While a degree in social work does provide the necessary skills to make a real impact in the lives of others, there are several drawbacks to consider that may cause you to question its worth.

Low Salary Prospects

The estimated total salary of Social Workers in the USA is $57,587 per year according to Glassdoors. This is below the average income of Americans according to WorldData which is $70,930.

High Levels of Stress

The emotional toll of social work can be overwhelming. Dealing with severe societal issues daily can lead to stress, burnout, and secondary traumatic stress. This could potentially affect your quality of life and overall job satisfaction.

High Student Loan Debt

Social work degree can be expensive, and many students taking this degree take on substantial loans to finance their education. However, the relatively low salaries in the field can make repaying these loans a significant burden. This financial stress can add to the already high occupational stress social workers experience.

Danger with People from the Society

Social work often involves working with various populations, some of which might pose risks to the worker. These could be individuals dealing with substance abuse issues, those involved in criminal activities, or others going through severe mental health crises. While the goal is to aid these individuals, the unpredictability of such situations can sometimes lead to dangerous scenarios.

Working with Vulnerable People

Social workers often work with some of the most vulnerable individuals in society: children in neglectful or abusive situations, victims of domestic violence, homeless individuals, older people in need of support, and more. Witnessing firsthand the struggles, suffering, and injustices these individuals face can lead to sadness, frustration, and helplessness. 

Career Paths for Social Worker Graduates

Despite the challenges outlined above, it’s important to note that a Social Work Degree can open up various career paths. The skills and knowledge obtained by social work students are applicable in many fields. Here are some potential paths for those who graduate with a degree in social work:

Social School Worker

School social workers play a vital role in educational institutions, supporting students facing academic, social, and personal challenges. They collaborate with teachers, parents, and school administrators to ensure students have a positive and conducive environment for learning.


A Social Work Degree can also lead to opportunities in the education sector beyond the scope of school social work. Graduates can venture into roles such as teachers, counselors, or special education specialists, imparting valuable life skills to students and helping shape their future.

Probation Officer

Probation officers work with individuals on probation instead of serving sentences in jail. They monitor their progress and ensure that they comply with the conditions of their probation. A Social Work Degree provides a strong foundation for this role, emphasizing empathy, understanding, and skills necessary to guide individuals toward a law-abiding life.


Usually, social workers have the potential to advance in their careers and explore opportunities in managerial positions, such as assuming the role of directors within social service departments or non-profit organizations. In these capacities, they would be responsible for coordinating and guiding a team, establishing objectives, and strategizing the most effective approaches to accomplish them.


Caseworkers, also known as case managers, work directly with individuals and families to help them cope with various problems they’re facing. They might work in multiple settings, such as government agencies, non-profits, and private practices.

Job Outlook/Demand After Completing Social Work Degree

Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 9 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 74,700 openings for social workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as retiring.

Here’s a screenshot from the BLS website:

Percentage of job outlook after completing social work degree

Average Salary of Social Worker Graduates

Based on data from ZipRecruiter, the average hourly wage for Social Workers in the United States, as of June 22, 2023, is $31.35. Recent studies indicate that hourly salaries for social workers can reach as high as $51.20 or as low as $12.98. Most Social Worker’s wages fall from $25.00 (25th percentile) to $35.82 (75th percentile) nationwide.

The pay range for Social Workers exhibits significant variation, differing by as much as $10.82. This suggests numerous opportunities for career advancement and increased pay based on factors such as skill level, geographic location, and years of experience.

Here is a list of the top 10 highest-paying cities in the United States for Social Worker jobs, as reported by ZipRecruiter:

Top 10 highest-paying cities in United States for Social Worker jobs

Job Satisfaction of Social Worker Graduates

While social work can be challenging, many find it a deeply satisfying career path, especially when they have the resources and support necessary to manage the inherent challenges.

How satisfied work graduates are with their job prospects

Real World Examples: How are Social Worker Graduates Fare in the Real World?

If you’re wondering what social workers experience daily during working or how they operate in the real world, here are some examples from Reddit:

Working as a Social Worker

Can you Really Enjoy Being a Social Worker?

New Hospital Social Worker Questions

Social Worker Malpractice

Pros and Cons of Social Worker Degree

Having a degree in social work is a complex profession with unique challenges and rewards. Let’s consider some of the pros and cons associated with this career path:

Pros of Being a Social Worker:

  1. Making a Difference: Social workers often enter the field to help others. They can significantly impact the lives of individuals, families, and communities, whether through direct assistance or broader advocacy work.
  2. Variety of Work Settings: Social workers can work in various settings, including hospitals, schools, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private practices. This variety can allow individuals to find a work environment that suits their interests and skills.
  3. Job Security and Growth: The demand for social workers has been steadily increasing over the years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of social workers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.
  4. Professional Diversity: It means having a lot of specialties, from child and family social worker to licensed clinical social worker, providing a broad array of paths to pursue.

Cons of Being a Social Worker:

  1. Emotional Stress: The nature of social work can be emotionally taxing, as professionals frequently engage with individuals and families undergoing significant distress or hardship. Over time, this can lead to compassion fatigue or burnout.
  2. Low Compensation: Despite the significant responsibilities and stresses of the job, social workers often need to receive high levels of financial compensation. This can be incredibly frustrating, given the educational requirements of the profession.
  3. Bureaucratic Challenges: Social workers often have to navigate complex bureaucratic systems, whether coordinating client services or dealing with organizational red tape. These bureaucratic hurdles can be frustrating and time-consuming.
  4. High Caseloads: Many social workers have high caseloads, leading to long hours and job stress. High caseloads can also limit social workers’ time dedicated to each client.
  5. Personal Safety Risks: In certain situations, social workers may face unique safety risks, such as visiting unstable environments or interacting with volatile individuals.

Alternatives to Social Worker Degree

If you’re interested in helping others but are unsure about pursuing such a course, numerous alternative degrees can lead to fulfilling careers. Here are a few:

Psychology Degree

This degree can prepare you for various careers helping others, from counseling and therapy to research and human resources roles. It’s also a common pathway for those interested in working in mental health services.

Counseling Degree

A counseling degree is similar to a psychology degree. Counseling services prepare you for work as a counselor in a variety of settings. You could become a school guidance counselor, mental health counselor, child abuse counselor, or substance abuse counselor.

Public Health Degree

This degree equips you with the skills to improve health at the population level. Careers could include health education, epidemiology, health policy, administration, or any other degree related with healthcare settings.

Human Services Degree

This degree is similar to social work but is broader and more interdisciplinary. Graduates often work in roles that involve helping individuals and communities but with less focus on social work’s therapeutic and clinical aspects.

Sociology Degree

A sociology degree can lead to various careers in social and community service, human resources, criminal justice, and research roles. This field focuses on understanding social behavior and societal issues.

Criminal Justice or Criminology Degree

This degree could lead to work in the justice system, helping individuals as probation officers, correctional treatment specialists, or victim advocates.

Nonprofit Management Degree

This degree can prepare you for a career in managing nonprofit organizations that serve various communities and causes. You’ll learn to run an organization, fundraise, organize volunteers, and more.

Education Degree

A degree in education can lead to a career in teaching, counseling, or administration, helping students gain knowledge and skills for their future.

Final Verdict

Salary | Score: 5.5/10

Based on Glassdoor’s data regarding the salary of Social Workers, the estimated total salary of Social Workers in the USA is $57,587 per year. According to CNBC or known as Consumer News and Business Channel, Americans need an income with an average of $68,499 per year to live comfortably in the U.S. Because of the numbers above, I gave it a score of 5.5 out of 10.

Satisfaction | Score: 7.5/10

Although social work is a demanding profession, it is often considered a highly fulfilling career choice for many individuals. This is particularly true when social workers have access to the necessary resources and support systems to effectively navigate their inherent challenges. This is why I gave it a score of 7.5 out of 10.

Demand: | Score: 7/10

The employment outlook for social workers indicates a projected growth of 9 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average growth rate for all occupations. Over the next decade, an estimated average of 74,700 job openings for social workers are anticipated yearly. With this gathered data, I scored it 7 out of 10.

X-Factor: | Score: 5.5/10

The unique factor of having a degree in social work is the ability to impact individuals and communities directly, often at times when they’re most vulnerable. It combines deep knowledge of both social welfare and social systems with interpersonal skills, empowering you to champion social justice and contribute positively to society. Because of this, I personally gave it a score of 5.5 out of 10.

Overall Score for Social Work Degree: 6.375/10

A career in social work receives an overall score of 6.375 out of 10. While the salary prospects are average, social work is considered a fulfilling profession with a strong demand for professionals. The unique aspect of a Social Work Degree lies in its ability to directly impact individuals and communities, but it has a moderate appeal. Considering all factors, individuals should carefully think before choosing a career in social work.

FAQs about Social Work Degree

What does a Social Work Degree program typically entail?

Working professionals of social work involves coursework in social welfare policies, human behavior, research methods, and ethics. It also includes supervised fieldwork, internships, and participating in any social work program.

What are the prerequisites for a Social Work Degree program?

Prerequisites for a bachelor’s degree in social work typically include a high school diploma or equivalent. At the same time, a master’s program generally requires a bachelor’s degree. It may require specific prerequisite courses or experience in the field.

What are some career options for social workers?

Graduates with a Social Work Degree can work in various settings, including hospitals, schools, social service agencies, and mental health clinics. They can serve as case managers, mental health counselors, child, and family social workers, or clinical social workers.

Is it necessary to obtain a license to practice social work?

In most regions, individuals need a license or certification to practice social work, especially for clinical positions. This typically involves meeting education and experience requirements and passing a licensure exam.

What skills are necessary to succeed in a social work career?

Key skills for success in social work include strong communication and interpersonal skills, problem-solving ability, empathy, resilience, and an understanding of social systems and social justice issues.

What are alternatives to social worker degree?

Here is a list of some alternatives to getting a social worker degree:

  • Counseling degree – Can become a counselor or therapist in schools, private practice, etc. More focused on mental health.
  • Psychology degree – Broad degree that can lead to careers in research, counseling, human resources, etc.
  • Human services degree – Prepares for careers in nonprofits, community organizations, social services. Less clinical than social work.
  • Criminal justice degree – Jobs in law enforcement, courts, corrections, victim advocacy. Focus on legal system.
  • Nursing degree – Nurses interact with vulnerable populations and can provide healthcare services. More medical focus.
  • Education degree – Teach in schools. Work with youth and families. Collaborate with social workers.
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