Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Balancing Financial Needs With Becoming a Social Worker

Let me preface this article by stating that no one goes into social work thinking that they will become rich. Similarly, no one becomes a social worker thinking that they will have to struggle financially for the duration of their careers. There must be a balance between doing what one loves and having the money to pay the bills, feed the family, and engage in some quality self-care. While many social workers live within their means and are happy with their lifestyles, there are some that ultimately burn out and switch careers to earn better wages. This article provides advice on how one can balance becoming a social worker with wanting a higher standard of living. I'm sure some of these tips could be extrapolated towards other careers as well.

Tip #1: Evaluate the standard of life that you hope to have. There's nothing wrong with wanting a big house, luxury car, fancy wardrobe, private jet, and vacation house in the South of France. However, if you're expecting to fulfill all of these dreams on a social worker salary, then you may want to reevaluate your college major and career aspirations. Please read my article on why certain majors are more profitable than others.

Tip #2: Get your degree from a public school (unless you're offered a generous scholarship to a private school). I obtained my masters degree from a state university. Currently, the only difference between me and my co-workers who attended private schools is the amount of debt we have to repay. Given an average social worker's salary, it just seems unwise to spend $50,000 a year to get a bachelors or masters degree. Even if a more prestigious school were to offer a slightly better education than a state university, I don't think it's worth having to repay student loans until I qualify for Medicare. Those hundreds of dollars a month could be better used on a car, house down payment, or vacation in the South of France.

Tip #3: Get paid to receive your degree. There are several ways to accomplish this. One way is to work for an employer that will pay for you to go back to school for a degree. Another way is to choose paid internships while in school to offset tuition costs. Additionally, scholarships and grants are a great way to lower education costs. In California, the Title IV-E offers generous stipends in exchange for two years work at a child welfare agency upon graduation.

Tip #4: Target higher paying social work jobs in government or the medical setting. These jobs typically pay significantly higher salaries than positions at smaller non-profit agencies. If you have a social work license and enjoy counseling, consider opening a private practice.  However, if you happen to enjoy your current setting then by all means stay.  The happiness and quality of life brought from working somewhere you love simply can't be purchased with a higher salary.

Tip #5: Obtain your social work license. Not only will you be able to privately practice therapy, you will open the doors to a number of new social work positions which require licensure, hence increasing your income potential.

As stated above, if you are hoping to become exceedingly wealthy as a social worker, then you might want to consider changing your career for your sake and the sake of your clients. For everyone else, it is more than possible to have a rewarding and financially stable career as a social worker with some careful financial planning. I suppose part of the beauty of my field is that I get paid for following one of my passions in life, and I consider myself lucky in that respect.

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