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Social Justice

5 Alternative careers for social workers seeking a change

September 09, 2019

Alternative Careers for Social Workers


Social work is a dynamic field that asks a lot of the specialists who commit their careers to the cause. As caring professionals who dedicate their working lives to helping people cope with the challenges they may face, social workers become well-versed in a number of transferrable skills.


“The beauty of social work is that it’s a terrific training ground for a wide variety of fields,” explains Dr. Catherine Pearlman, associate professor of social work at University of Massachusetts Global. She notes that practicing social workers may find themselves curious about a career change due to new interests, an exciting opportunity that presents itself, a shift in lifestyle or a number of other reasons.


If you can identify with any of these reasons — or if you’re simply feeling burnt out — it may be time to consider a change. The great news is that your time as a social worker has helped you hone a host of skills you can easily apply to new career endeavors. Join us as we explore the alternative careers for social workers that could await.


5 Alternative careers for social workers to consider

Some of the most impactful social workers are those who have mastered a handful of soft skills that could be of use just about anywhere. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, social work professionals are adept in the following transferable skills: 

  • Active listening
  • Critical thinking
  • Social perceptiveness
  • Judgment and decision-making
  • Complex problem solving
  • Negotiation
  • Written and oral communication
  • Time management
  • Systems analysis

With those skills in mind, we’ve identified five potential alternative careers for social workers. See if you can find your future in one of these paths.

1. Elected official

Social work is a people-focused career. Professionals in the field become experts in supporting the needs of their clients and community members.


“Social workers learn to advocate,” Dr. Pearlman explains, “which can transfer well to a career in politics or lobbying.”


Jobs in politics exist at all levels of government, from local to State and Federal. Legislators — individuals who work directly on bills and laws — can hold positions in the U.S. Congress, in state legislatures or on local boards. These officials often meet with constituents to learn more about their needs and concerns.


With your intimate knowledge of the issues community members face, you could be uniquely qualified to pursue a position of this stature. The respective salary, requirements and job availability will vary depending on the level of government you hope to pursue, as well as your geographic location.

2. Sociologist

As a sociologist, you could use your skills to study society and societal behavior by examining the groups, cultures, organizations and social institutions that develop when people interact with one another. Social workers’ experience conducting research and composing papers and studies could serve as a great precursor for this type of work.


On a more tactical level, your days as a sociologist could be spent designing research projects to test theories about social issues, collecting and analyzing data and preparing written materials or presentations to detail your research findings. Sociologists may also collaborate with and advise other social scientists and policymakers.


In this role, you’d have the opportunity to specialize in a number of different social topics, such as education and health, crime and poverty, families and population, and gender, racial and ethnic relations. Sociologist positions typically require a master’s degree, and this career path earns a median annual salary of $82,050.

3. High school teacher

Social workers are no strangers to counseling people through significant life transitions — maybe a divorce, the loss of a loved one, a deployment, an illness, a relocation or a traumatic event.


While we often think of a teacher’s core duties as centered on imparting subject-specific knowledge to young minds, high school teachers are also tasked with helping prepare students for life after graduation. That’s one of the most prominent transitions students face. The unique coping and communication skills you’ve acquired in your social work career could come in handy in this environment.


As a high school teacher, your day-to-day life might include creating lesson plans, assessing students’ abilities, meeting one-on-one with students as needed and communicating with parents about students’ progress. You’d also be tasked with developing and enforcing classroom rules and administrative policies.


In this role, you need at least a bachelor’s degree. Public school teachers also need to be licensed or certified according to their state’s specific requirements. High school teachers earn a median annual salary of $60,320.

4. Paralegal

In addition to their experience as advocates, social workers are also adept at mediation and negotiation. These abilities could set you up for a successful career in law. Your writing, research and communication skills could also come in handy.


But if the idea of going back to school for a number of years to earn your law degree doesn’t appeal to you, there are other options. You might consider putting your skills to use as a paralegal, for example.


Paralegals perform a variety of duties to support lawyers. This can include conducting research on relevant laws, investigating and gathering the facts of a court case, drafting important legal documents and writing or summarizing reports to help lawyers prepare for trial. Your complex problem-solving abilities may even help you assist lawyers in cracking a difficult case.


Most paralegals have an associate degree in paralegal studies, but your bachelor’s degree could suffice if you add a certificate in paralegal studies to your qualifications. This career path brings in a median annual salary of $50,940, with the top 10 percent earning more than $82,050.

5. Social and community service manager

Social workers become experts in a number of different areas, including knowledge of their own communities. This could be a notable advantage in a career as a social and community service manager.


In this role, you’d be responsible for coordinating and supervising social service programs and community organizations. You would also manage the workers who provide social services to the public. All of your community-focused experience will be put to good use, as you’d be working directly with community members and stakeholders to identify any necessary programs and services.


Specific duties include overseeing the administrative aspects of programs, analyzing the effectiveness of programs, suggesting improvements to services, writing proposals for social services funding and planning outreach activities to advocate for increased awareness of community programs.


If you hope to land a role as a social and community service manager, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in social work, public or business administration, public health or a related field. These positions are expected to grow at more than double the rate of all occupations nationwide, with professionals making a median annual salary of $65,320.

Where will your career take you next? 

Even if you’ve decided to potentially close the door on your social work career, you can still dedicate yourself to a vocation that makes an impact. Consider these five alternative careers for social workers in which you could put your current skill set to great use.


As you venture toward changing careers, it can be helpful to take in some advice from those who have walked that path before you. Hear from professionals who found success after a major career change by reading our article, “6 Things to consider before making a career transition.”



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