Thinking of Entering a Helping Profession? Here’s What You Need to Know

This week I’m featuring guest posts from some of my best blogging friends while I take a small blogcation. Don’t run away - these are awesome posts from talented bloggers! Today’s post comes from TeacHer Finance, an educator who is rocking her debt payoff while educating the masses. Check out her blog, which may or may not have been recently redesigned by yours truly!

I’m American. As such, a common question that is asked of me when I first meet someone is, “What do you do?” (FYI – Europeans usually ask “Where did you go to school?” Interesting stuff, huh?) When I tell people that I’m a high school teacher, I get a lot of interesting responses, such as:

“What? No way – you look like you could be in high school.” (Thanks, that makes me feel confident in my position as an authority figure.)

“Oh my God, I am not patient enough to be a teacher.” (Thanks, but you don’t know the half of it.)

But usually, people say something like:

“Wow! Cool! I always thought about becoming a teacher!”

A lot of college students consider entering what I refer to as the “helping professions,” professions like nursing, teaching, or social work. These are the types of careers that you know will never make you rich, but where you’ll make an impact on the lives of others. In fact, it’s not just college students who enter into this type of work – a lot of people choose these professions as second careers when they feel it’s time to transition out of the first career they chose. As a person in one of these professions, I think it is great when people choose enriching the lives of others over making tons of money. I find my job incredibly rewarding and strongly encourage others with similar interests and personalities to enter the teaching profession.


Becoming one of society’s “helpers” is not a decision to be taken lightly – teaching has one of the highest turnover rates of any profession in the United States. According to this article, nearly 50% of teachers leave the profession within five years, and one of the top reasons cited for such staggering teacher attrition rates is low pay.

Now, money should probably not be the deciding factor when it comes to choosing any profession. There’s no sense in choosing a lucrative career only to wind up rich and miserable. But in the interest of full disclosure, I want to share some of the financial considerations that come along with choosing to enter one of the helping professions:

1. You’ll need to seriously minimize your educational costs

I’m going to be straight with you: if you’re going into a helping profession, you are not going to earn enough money to pay off the costs of a private university education – assuming that you’re taking out loans. If your parents are footing the bill or you’ve gotten a full scholarship, then by all means, go to your dream school. But if you’re planning on taking out loans for college, you might have to let go of the idea of going to your dream school if your dream career is a helping profession. I know a couple of teachers who owe more in student loans than they make in three years of work. Trust me, you don’t want this to be you. Consider going to community college for two years or going to an inexpensive state school. If you just can’t give up the idea of a high-priced education, then maybe the helping professions aren’t for you.

2. You will not be able to take a vacation every summer

I’m mostly talking to the future teachers of America out there with this one. If you think you’re going to have the time and money to go on a big vacation every year, you’re SO wrong. I mean, you might have the time (probably the whole month of July) but you definitely won’t have the money. If you’re thinking of becoming a teacher because you want to travel all summer – and you’re not independently wealthy – you might want to reconsider.

3. You will not be able to keep up with your friends – financially speaking

Right after college, all of your friends will be broke. For the first few years, you’ll all be in roughly the same spot financially. But eventually, they will get significant raises and promotions. Your salary will climb, but not at the same rate that theirs will. Eventually, they will be significantly out-earning you. You’re going to have to be ok with this, and you’re going to have to resist the temptation to try to keep up with them, otherwise you’ll end up seriously in debt. So when your roommate from college buys a new convertible as a reward for paying off her student loans, you’re going to have to smile and nod at her accomplishment then be ok with driving away in your Honda Civic. Smile through gritted teeth, maybe, but be ok with your Civic nonetheless.

4. Buying a home will be harder for you than it is for others

This is somewhat dependent on where you live in the country, but it will probably take you longer to become a homeowner than it will for others in your social circle. You’ll have to save harder and longer because you simply won’t be making as much money as they will. Again, you’ll have to be ok with this. You’ll get there, you just need a little more patience and perseverance.

5. Earning extra money will probably be necessary for a little while

When you first start working, you might not be able to pay all your bills without a second job or working overtime. There is not shame in this. In fact, I think that working a second job while you’re young is a really good financial move. Just be aware that not working a second job might not be an option for you, at least at first.

I should say that I hope that what I’ve laid out here hasn’t totally turned anyone off to the idea of entering one of the helping professions. Again, I am very passionate about my work and would never want to dissuade anyone from considering what I find to be a very fulfilling career. But at the same time, I wish someone had been a little bit more up-front with me about some of the realities of choosing to enter a notoriously low-paying field.

What about you? Have you ever considered a career in a helping profession? Why or why not?


Thinking of Entering a Helping Profession? Here’s What You Need to Know14 Comments

  1. My wife is a Special Education teacher and absolutely LOVES IT! She's been teaching it for more than 12 years. Sure, she doesn't make a ton of cash, but she could certainly TEACH classes in patience.

    She is one of the most patient people I've ever seen. Really, she'd have to be- just to put up with ME!

  2. I made my education choices for purely mercenary reasons. I need a lot of stability and security in my life, so it would have been disastrous if I had gone into a helping profession. I would probably have ended up really bitter.

    Now that I am financially secure, it gives me great pleasure to contemplate a transition into some sort of social work, maybe with low income women. It will be a few years yet though, but it will be so much easier to help others when I don't have to worry about myself.

  3. You forgot librarian on your list of "helping professions." Librarians, like social workers, often need a master's degree even to get an entry level job, and good luck getting one of those. I have been very, VERY lucky and have had a library job since finishing graduate school, but I know too many who don't have a job and it's been a few years since finishing their degree.

    I love my job and can't think of doing anything else (I had a few careers before finally going to library school) but I tell everyone I meet who says they want to be a librarian not to do it. It's expensive and a job is by no means guaranteed nor easy to find.

    • Indeed it is hard to find a job. I, too, have a MLS degree and have been working as a High School teacher for the last ten years. Anything at the public school level, unless you are in administration, is going to have that stagnant pay scale. I have a second career in Real Estate that I devote part time hours to, and it doubles my income. Both my husband and I are teachers AND Realtors. To those considering education: Yes, you will have some time off in the summer….plan to work a second job during your time off. Also, the final comment on TeacHEr finanance's post…#5 you will need to earn extra income for "a little while". I disagree, you will ALWAYS need that extra income if you plan on raising children and having enough money to give them little luxuries such as summer camps or sports involvement. Inflation has outpaced my annual wages. I effectively have less spending power than I had when I started teaching.

  4. Great article. It's sad how we can subsidize so many different industries but we can't do enough to keep good teachers in our schools.

  5. The teachers around here make a decent amount of money in my opinion, certainly more than me and I'm sort of in the education field if you want to call it that too. I do realize I don't have it in me to be a school teacher though, and it's sad because I'd love to be able to impact someone's life like a teacher does. I reach kids in a different manner, and for right now that's alright with me.

    • I agree - maybe it's bad some places but not everywhere. I have a friend who is a teacher (high school art, Oregon) and she makes very good money. And when you add in her benefits, (which are considerably more generous than the private sector), she makes about $100K year (teaching 7 or 8 years). I wish I'd have considered it.

  6. I believe it really depends on where you plan on working within the helping professions. I am graduating next month with my Master in School Counseling. It's rather difficult to get a school counseling job going straight into the field, but there are plenty of opportunities where I live…in Alaska. There are no people graduating in my program who have had difficulty finding jobs. I can imagine that it would be a lot more difficult if you lived in a community with a much larger population. I will actually have a job right out of college and there will always be places to work, but then again I live in Alaska. It's really not that miserable, I promise :)
    Also, it's relatively easier to get tenure as a teacher within my district. It's not easy, but teachers get tenure on the first day of their fourth year of employment within the school district. Teachers and other school faculty generally just need to be relatively flexible, as it could be a preferred school the first year, and a different school the next.
    I love this list of things to consider. Unfortunately, lot of people who are just graduating tend have a lot of unrealistic expectations (including myself when I graduated with my BA).

  7. This is a great post! I'm actually in the process of switching careers and going into teaching because my current career (journalism) is far too unstable in pay. It is kind of a joke among my friends that teaching is the job I veer to for financial security! Haha. Oh, the pension! But really, I've always wanted to go back and get my teaching degree, so I'm very excited about it, and I'm OK with the concessions that come with it. I'd much rather do a job that contributes to society and that I find personally satisfying than one that nets me a whole bunch of money.

    I have to ask though, if you don't mind sharing, what do teachers make in your area? In Ontario, they're not well paid by any means, but they do alright, especially those who have been in the game for a while. New teachers don't make very much, but you rise on the latter pretty quickly.

  8. Those are some great points! I think so many people focus on the amount of time that teachers have off… and conclude that it's a super easy/rewarding job. In reality - there's so much more to it than summer vacation and Christmas break!

  9. Hi guys! Great comments here!

    @Ness - I totally agree, location matters a lot. Around here (DC area), teaching is a very secure job, but that's not the case everywhere.

    @Melissa - That's great that you're going into teaching!

  10. I've thought about psych or teaching. But ultimately I know I don't have what it takes - and the lifestyle and money is also a factor.

    I'm not in a helping profession as such, but work in publishing - definitely a low-paying passion field- so I can relate to much of what TeacHer says.

  11. My son is a first year special ed teacher so I know he will be living with us for awhile. But I am happy that he loves his job I just wish that people valued teachers more

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