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The pros and cons of becoming a social worker

Michael Feder

Written by Michael Feder

Christine Neider, Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science

Reviewed by Christina Neider, EdD, Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

As social workers, helping people who are in tough situations can be rewarding, but it can also be a challenging profession and not for everyone. Weighing the pros and cons of being a social worker and having a firm understanding of what the job entails is important before deciding to pursue a career in social work.

What do social workers do?

Social workers perform a wide range of tasks, but the vast majority are related to helping people. Typical duties include checking in with people who are dealing with substance dependence, investigating homes with potential abuse and helping people apply for community resources, such as food assistance programs. Typical social worker roles also include:

  • Child and family welfare: A family social worker generally supports families and children by connecting them with useful resources, investigating claims of abuse and helping displaced kids find foster homes.
  • Healthcare: A social worker in this field helps disabled and elderly people adjust to new situations as they undergo treatments or otherwise find themselves with physical limitations.
  • Mental health and substance abuse: Social workers provide support and programs for people struggling with mental health issues or substance use.

Who employs social workers?

Social services jobs exist in both the public and private sectors. Schools, child welfare agencies and medical facilities all employ social workers.

  • Schools: Social workers at schools help to identify and address issues that may be affecting a student’s education, such as troubles at home and substance use.
  • HospitalsMost healthcare social workers are employed by hospitals. Workers in these clinical roles perform tasks like screening patients, helping families make post-discharge arrangements, and helping patients understand potentially difficult medical treatments and procedures.
  • Private practicesSocial workers in private practices help children and adults by providing therapy, crisis intervention and other mental health support.
  • Community centersCommunity social workers provide advocacy by developing programs and seeking funding for support.
  • Nursing homes: Those employed at nursing homes perform a variety of tasks related to the well-being of a facility’s residents. They review conditions to ensure they meet state and federal guidelines, as well as support and advocate for residents and their families.

Benefits of social work

Employment in social work can be rewarding and fulfilling personally and professionally. It can be hard and emotional, but it does carry several benefits.

Growing job availability

Positions for social workers are projected to grow 7% from 2022 to 2032, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s roughly 63,800 openings each year.

Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Diverse work environments

Because social work jobs encompass several fields, the work environments are also diverse. Some jobs require social workers to visit patients in person or to meet with colleagues in the field, so travel is involved. Some roles take place at a school or in an office. 

Diverse responsibilities

Depending on the setting, social work responsibilities can change quite a bit. One workday can look substantially different from the day before, which is great for workers who enjoy variety. Social work sometimes requires clerical work in the office, meeting with clients, attending meetings and more.

Rewarding work

Social workers have countless opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives. As they offer social work support to struggling individuals and families, this can be rewarding. Seeing the results of positive changes in their clients’ situations can make hard social work worth it.

Potential cons of social work

While social work can have many rewarding and beneficial aspects, it also carries some negatives. Due to the innate stresses associated with social work, the field sees significant turnover as people leave to pursue other careers. 

This is why it’s important to have realistic expectations and know whether you can handle some of the more difficult aspects of social work. Some of the most prominent drawbacks include:

Emotional stress

Social work practice involves helping people through hard times. Confronting these issues day after day, directly with the people suffering, can take its toll. For a family social worker or a substance abuse social worker, for example, it can be hard to distance oneself from these challenging situations.

Safety concerns

Some aspects of social work can pose danger. For instance, clients can be unpredictable; they might verbally or physically assault a social worker. In risky situations, a social worker can request a law enforcement escort, but dangerous conditions can still arise quickly and with little notice.

Demanding hours

Since social workers may need to work around clients’ schedules, and sometimes drive significant distances, workdays can be long and irregular. Occasionally, social workers may be called upon to respond to emergencies, which can happen at any time of day or night. Additionally, excessive work hours can contribute to burnout and may even lead to several mental and physical health risks.

Resistance from clients

Clients may be uncooperative, rude and even aggressive to social workers. Pride or embarrassment might cause resistance to any kind of help. This makes it vital for social workers to harbor understanding, patience and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to recognize a dangerous situation. Conflict de-escalation skills may be necessary to help avoid incidents.

How can you become a social worker?

After you have determined whether social work is right for you, look into the licensure and education requirements of social work. A common prerequisite is a BSW, or Bachelor of Science in Social Work. Depending on the state and position, additional social work licenses and certifications may be required. More advanced social work may require a master’s degree in social work, or MSW.

Social work students pursuing a degree will learn skills necessary for their daily duties. These include learning how to behave ethically, how to assess individuals’ needs, and how to engage with families, organizations and communities. Students will get ample opportunity to engage with practical training in the field, which can help to build confidence and experience before stepping into this career.

Social work degree at University of Phoenix

If you’re interested in building your skill set and expanding your knowledge in the field of social work, learn more about online behavioral sciences degrees at University of Phoenix.

Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSW): Learn how you can make a difference in your community and prepare yourself for career outcomes ranging from family protection specialist to foster care social worker.

If social work may not be the right path for you, you might consider the following degrees:

Bachelor of Science in Correctional Program Support Services: Graduates of this degree program are taught skills to work with justice-involved individuals and provide crucial services. This degree program can prepare students for careers including case management and social services assistance.

Master of Science in Counseling/Clinical Mental Health Counseling: For those looking to take their counseling psychotherapy and clinical assessment skills to the advanced level, this program is one to consider. This program equips students with skills that are crucial for work as licensed professional and mental health counselors. 

Headshot of Michael Feder


A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and its Writing Seminars program and winner of the Stephen A. Dixon Literary Prize, Michael Feder brings an eye for detail and a passion for research to every article he writes. His academic and professional background includes experience in marketing, content development, script writing and SEO. Today, he works as a multimedia specialist at University of Phoenix where he covers a variety of topics ranging from healthcare to IT.

Headshot of Christina Neider


Christina Neider is the dean of the University of Phoenix College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Neider’s career spans more than 30 years in academia, healthcare and the U.S. Air Force. She has held several academic leadership roles at University of Phoenix, and she is the Vice President of membership for the Arizona Chapter of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.


This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
Read more about our editorial process.


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