Career in the social services, but my heart isn't in it.
April 17, 2007 7:13 AM   Subscribe

Career in the social services, but my heart isn't in it.

I am struggling with a conundrum. I just earned an MSW, but I don't feel that I'm up for the challenges of this career. While I didn't go into the profession to make money, and I do truly wish to help people, I don't feel that I will make a salary that will give me a comfortable standard of living...and the more I have learned about myself and the profession, the more I feel that this is a poor match. I understand that there is a wide range of salaries in the profession but I don't feel that I will be one of the high earners, i.e. those who manage large programs or do policy making or have a private practice.

So...what on earth else can I do with this degree? What kinds of jobs can I look for that aren't typical social work jobs...or aren't in the field at all? Would it be worthwhile to earn my LICSW and then move into a different field, or can I do something else entirely right out of school? If so, how do I spin my area of study to future employers?

Another option is going back to school. I'm willing to do so but I have no idea what would be a good profession for me.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Comfortable standard of living by whose standards? If you move to a poor community (whether in the US or elsewhere) your salary could buy many luxuries relative to your new Joneses.

Or even in absolute terms. You aren't going to get a Manhattan apartment as a social worker, but you could easily get a great house in East Asswipe, NE with money left over for a good car and lots of other "comfortable living standard" items.
posted by DU at 7:24 AM on April 17, 2007

So...what on earth else can I do with this degree? What kinds of jobs can I look for that aren't typical social work jobs...or aren't in the field at all?

With a Master's in social work, you could get a well-paying job in a large corporation's community outreach program.

Also: It sounds to me like you don't want to leave school. There's always Law School. You could get a high-paying job and do pro bono work helping the less fortunate on the side.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:30 AM on April 17, 2007

(So the only thing that you've really made clear is that there isn't a lot of money to be made in typical social serivces jobs - it wasn't clear why else you've decided that this could be a bad fit.)

Besides that, why don't you think you could be in the policy side? Have you considered looking at some of the consulting-ish firms that do policy? One that comes to mind in particular for domestic social policy is Abt Associates, but there are lots of others as well.
posted by whatzit at 7:34 AM on April 17, 2007

Do you have any desire to become a counselor? Many people with MSWs do private practice counseling fairly lucratively. I decided to to go the Phd route, but when I was looking for advice a lot of people told me that a MSW was one of the faster and cheaper ways to break into counseling. I met with a few MSW counselors and they seemed to be fairly well off. Nice offices, houses, et cetera and this was in Fairfield county, Connecticut. You could also take some continuing education classes in counseling on the side, if you didn't feel adequately prepared, without having to pay for another full degree. Best of luck!
posted by amileighs at 7:42 AM on April 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

My mom had an MSW and did private practice counseling and did fine for herself. It was also really nice that when her kids were small she could work one or two days a week quite easily.
posted by k8t at 8:07 AM on April 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I entered an MSW program in 1997 with the intention of becoming an LCSW. Lord, lord, after the first year (and an eye-opening internship), I realized there was no way in hell I wanted to go into direct practice. Luckily, my program also had an emphasis in Management and Community Practice, so I switched. This was more of policy/non-profit management focus, and was a good fit for me.

However, upon graduation I had a hard time finding a job in Nashville that paid a livable wage. I fumbled around for a few years in retail management before getting my foot back in the door in the non-profit world: in fundraising and development.

Fundraising has a huge range of positions: Major Gift Officers who deal one on one with donors, grant writers, researchers, budget managers, database managers, office managers, etc.

I worked part time in Delaware, and then finally made the leap by moving to NYC- where there are more non-profits than you can comprehend. I started entry level at a large well known org, but moved pretty quickly up the ladder. My last job was budget and systems management (all skills that I developed on the job), and my current job is prospect research (basically creating dossiers on rich people) and systems management (database, info coordination).

There's a huge salary range for middle management type positions. When I was job searching this past summer, I saw plenty of things in $40k range, but I had no problem finding jobs in the $55-$70 range (usually with larger non-profits).
posted by kimdog at 8:08 AM on April 17, 2007

I dropped out of an MSW program at Columbia and wound up trading stocks on Wall Street for five years. I have since returned to social services.
posted by The Straightener at 8:22 AM on April 17, 2007

I would say right out of the chute, based on your statement "My heart isn't in it", that you are making the right choice. Based on my ten years doing social work, that statement was one of the tell-tale signs for me to get out. When I decided to get out of the field in 1993, I transitioned ever so slowly to a career in IT within the same organization; a mental health hospital. That was a stepping stone to a better paying career and one that didn't come with the same type of stress I endured for ten-plus years.

Private practice and/or some type of consulting/research work may be an option since you have a degree and in those settings you at least have some control over how much you take on.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:00 AM on April 17, 2007

If your heart is not in it than definitely get out of it. That said, if you could be persuaded to work for some kind of company or organization that is looking for a staff MSW, keep that in mind. I think there are lots of positions that aren't down and dirty direct service jobs or even admin type positions. These days many places are looking to have MSWs on staff for consulting purposes. I would start by talking to MSWs you know, even faculty at your school and see if they have some recommendations.

If you are truly turned off by doing anything social work-related, it sounds like you might want to try another degree or a different job path.
posted by sneakin at 9:28 AM on April 17, 2007

I work for a consulting firm that helps nonprofits with resource development, capital campaigns, strategic planning, program design, etc. We have a number of MSWs on staff who decided against direct service careers for a number of reasons. We all make less than we could at the big consulting firms, but we do alright.
posted by qldaddy at 9:35 AM on April 17, 2007

Human Resources departments often look for people with social work backgrounds. That might give you the structure and financial comfort you're looking for.
posted by judith at 10:34 AM on April 17, 2007

My mother has a degree in social work and a masters in training (as in training educators about social work topics). She worked as a social worker in a public housing project, then worked for a drug abuse prevention program training teachers, then did some similar stuff. . . now she manages the partnerships between a school and local community organizations. She has moved farther from social work over the years but is still helping people.
posted by mai at 2:14 PM on April 17, 2007

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