Social Work vs Counseling: Career ROI

Written by Grad School Center Team We are a passionate team of experienced educators and advisors at, dedicated to guiding students through their graduate education journey. Our experts, with advanced degrees across various disciplines, offer personalized advice, up-to-date program information, and practical insights into application processes.

Reviewed by David Krug David Krug is a seasoned expert with 20 years in educational technology (EdTech). His career spans the pivotal years of technology integration in education, where he has played a key role in advancing student-centric learning solutions. David's expertise lies in marrying technological innovation with pedagogical effectiveness, making him a valuable asset in transforming educational experiences. As an advisor for enrollment startups, David provides strategic guidance, helping these companies navigate the complexities of the education sector. His insights are crucial in developing impactful and sustainable enrollment strategies.

Updated: February 29, 2024, Reading time: 10 minutes

Social Work vs Counseling - featured image

Find your perfect college degree

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Choosing between social work and Counseling for a career path isn’t a difficult decision because both offer excellent returns on investment!

On the one hand, social workers and counselors earn comfortable incomes with the attendant benefits that come with their compensation packages (e.g., health insurance, paid leaves, bonuses, and retirement packages).

Both professionals also enjoy good job security, thanks partly to the increasing need for social workers and counselors to address social issues and provide mental health treatments, respectively. 

On the other hand, the opportunities to help families and individuals deal with their challenges contribute to a strong sense of personal and professional fulfillment. Even with the challenges that come with their professions – with burnout being a common complaint – the recognition and appreciation that social workers and counselors receive from their clients and communities make it worthwhile. 

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

A Quick Look at Their Differences

Social WorkerCounselor
Average Annual Salary$55,350$49,710
Projected Job Growth7% (2022-2032) or about 63,800 job openings/year, on average18% (2022-2032) or about 42,000  job openings/year, on average
Licenses/Certifications RequiredYesYes
Primary DutiesSocial workers provide guidance and assistance for accessing appropriate resources for individuals, families and groups that enable them to overcome their challenges.Counselors, such as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, provide individuals and their families with advice on overcoming their mental health issues.

How Social Work and Counseling Compare

Both Social Work and Counseling are helping professions. The aim is to assist families, individuals and even communities in dealing with their unique challenges. Professionals in both fields adopt a client-centered approach and exercise active listening and empathy in their client interactions.

Both are relationship-centric professions, too, meaning their work emphasizes the value of building trust in relationships as a foundation for positive change.

Social Work and Counseling adhere to ethical guidelines, including client confidentiality and autonomy. Both professionals must hold the appropriate license to practice. 

As for their differences: 

The bottom line: If you want to make a broader impact on society, your best choice can be social work. If you want to interact more with individuals, then go for Counseling. Either way, your career will be about helping others become better – and that, in itself, is its reward.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

What Does a Social Worker Do - Image

Social workers perform these general roles and responsibilities: 

Note that social workers can be involved in different types of well-paying careers in social work. First, macro social work refers to the advocacy done on behalf of their clients and of their profession, such as raising awareness of and enthusiasm for social work among individuals, organizations and governments.

Second, micro social work refers to the person-centric work that social workers do, specifically in helping persons overcome their life challenges. 

If you decide to become a social worker, you can also choose a specialized area including: 

Regardless of their specialization, social workers must possess good communication, organization and time management, and interpersonal skills as well as empathy. 

Social Worker Education and Career Paths

The common path toward a successful career in Social Work is a bachelor’s degree. An undergraduate Social Work program from a Council on Social Work Education-accredited program makes qualified for entry-level, non-clinical positions.

Get a Master’s in Social Work degree from a CSWE-accredited program if you want to become a clinical social worker. A common requirement is supervised training and experience. 

By completing an MSW program that takes two years of full-time study, you can secure a state-issued license to become a clinical social worker. Note that some states also require non-clinical social workers to obtain and maintain a professional license. 

Aside from being a social worker, you can also pursue a career as a community organizer or a policy analyst. 

A career in Social Work Is for you If: 

A career in Social Work is not a great fit if you: 

What Does a Counselor Do?

What Does a Counselor Do - Image

There are several types of professional counselors, and each type has its specific roles and responsibilities. 

Counselors employ Counseling methods and techniques and are paid based on their role. The specific tasks vary depending on specialization, but the following presents the general scope of their work:

Like social workers, a counselor must also be compassionate, a good communicator and listener, and resilient. Counseling careers expose professionals to the realities of life so their mental health must be sound, too. 

Counselor Education and Career Paths

The starting point for a successful counselor career is a Bachelor’s in Counseling, Psychology, or Social Work, among other related fields. The bachelor’s degree is usually sufficient for entry-level, non-clinical positions.

If you want to advance in your career, you must earn a Master’s in Counseling or in the specialization you want to be known in, such as School Counseling or Family and Marriage Counseling. In addition to their didactic coursework, graduate students are also required to complete clinical training and experiences.

These hands-on learning experiences are also usually part of licensure and certification requirements of state licensing boards and professional organizations. 

Once you’re licensed or certified, you may have to obtain continuing education credits that help maintain your professional credential. These can include participation in industry workshops, conferences and seminars, and continuing education classes. Investing in lifelong learning courses enhances your personal and professional development.

With the appropriate credentials, professionals have numerous top-paying Counseling career opportunities in government agencies, schools, healthcare organizations, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. 

A Career in Counseling is for you if: 

A Career in Counseling is not a great fit if you: 

Social Work vs Counseling - fact

Becoming a social worker or a counselor isn’t an easy walk in the park. You need to do the work—from earning your degrees and obtaining licensure to dealing with difficult clients. However, if you focus on the opportunities of helping others and, in the process, helping yourself, then it becomes worthwhile!

Additional Resources:

We’re certain of one thing—your search for more information on picking the best graduate degree or school landed you here. Let our experts help guide your through the decision making process with thoughtful content written by experts.