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A List of Helping Professions: Big Hearts, Big Opportunities

A helping professional is someone whose work helps others. These workers exist in a variety of different roles in criminal justice, education and healthcare among other fields.
A woman speaking with another woman about her helping profession role

Know before you read
At SNHU, we want to make sure you have the information you need to make decisions about your education and your future—no matter where you choose to go to school. That's why our informational articles may reference careers for which we do not offer academic programs, along with salary data for those careers. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

This article was updated on October 6, 2023, with contributions by Mars Girolimon.

For those who strive to help others live better, there are plenty of career options in one of the helping professions.

What is a Helping Professional?

A helping professional is someone whose work helps others.

Dr. Eric Perry with the text Dr. Eric PerryAccording to Dr. Eric Perry, a clinical mental health faculty member of the master's in clinical mental health counseling at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), people usually join the helping professions because they like to positively impact others.

"Most of those who choose this path are already pretty good at it and that feeling of helping someone motivates them to want to do it more," he said.

Whether you want to deliver patient care, help make your community safer or support programs that protect and rehabilitate vulnerable populations, working in one of the helping professions can facilitate your personal growth and professional development. Even more promising, the future job outlooks for several helping professions continue to brighten, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).*

20 Jobs That Help People

With the right qualifications, you can find opportunities to help others in community-focused, criminal justice, education, healthcare, psychology and mental health or public health and safety roles.

Here's a list of options to consider if you're interested in a career helping others.

Community

Many helping professions offer opportunities to support your community, whether that means your organization, hometown or peers across your country or the world.

1. Social Worker

Helping people is what social work is all about, making this field a popular choice for those looking to make a positive impact on others.

Social workers help people access services like therapy, help communities improve social and health services and participate in legislative processes, according to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

BLS notes social workers typically perform the following tasks in their role:

  • Identifying those in need of help
  • Assessing situations to determine a client's goals
  • Researching, referring, and advocating for community resources
  • Maintaining case files and records
  • Providing therapy and crisis intervention services

If you want to become a social worker, BLS reports requirements can vary depending on your location, but you'll likely need a bachelor's degree and clinical social workers require a master’s degree, supervised clinical post-graduate work and a license.*

(SNHU does not currently offer bachelor's or master's degrees in social work.)

The job outlook for social workers is expected to increase 7% through 2032, and the median annual wage for social workers is $55,350, according to BLS.*

2. Human Services Professional

Human services professionals channel their compassion and empathy in a range of roles that help those in need — from caseworker to group home coordinator to juvenile court liaison. If you want to care for or advocate on behalf of vulnerable populations in their communities, this may appeal to you.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in human services with a concentration in child and family services, Lala Slan '23 said her education at SNHU gave her a background to help those in need.

"My goals are to open up facilities for youth and the homeless population," Slan said. "This journey has shown me that I am on the right path to help others, and it's who I am."

Workers entering human services professions typically have a bachelor's degree, BLS reports — often in human services like Slan or in a related field such as social work, public health or public administration.

According to BLS, the demand for social and community service managers is projected to increase by 9%.* Drivers include a large aging population and the increased demand for substance abuse treatment and mental health- and health-related services.

Human services professionals work in various sectors including government, nonprofit, health care, and mental health services, and the median wage for social and community service managers is $74,240 per year, according to BLS.*

3. Organizer

If you want to make a difference in the world, working as a community organizer or field organizer could be the way to start.

According to Britannica, "In community organizing, members of communities are organized to act collectively on their shared interests." Organizers often work for political campaigns or nonprofit organizations on projects related to social change or environmental sustainability.

BLS notes community and social service specialists working for social advocacy organizations make an average of $48,820 per year.* Typically, entry-level social service positions only require a High School diploma and on the job training, according to BLS, and experience as an organizer can take you a long way.* In fact, it's how President Barack Obama got his start in the public sphere.

"I have a track record, starting from the days I moved to Chicago as a community organizer," Obama said of his qualifications for presidency in a 2008 debate.

If you have a political science degree, this role could be a perfect opportunity to turn your passion into action.

4. Human Resources (HR) Professional

Those working in human resources are the helping professionals of their workplace and the field of business. They often draw upon their knowledge of organizational behavior to build relationships, address conflict and help navigate healthcare benefits for workers.

Human resources specialists are in high demand and command a median pay of more than $64,240, BLS reports, and there's often opportunity for advancement in the field.*


   

Human resources managers make a median annual salary of $130,000 with the lowest 10% of earners making $76,610 and the highest 10% making $224,360 as HR managers, BLS reports.*

The primary tasks associated with this position include:

  • Advising leadership
  • Employee benefits
  • Employee culture
  • Workforce planning

To become a human resources manager, you'll likely need at least a bachelor's degree in HR management or a related field, according to BLS. A master's in human resources offers a more advanced look at HR topics.

Criminal Justice

Several criminal justice career paths could allow you to make a difference through work in courts, corrections or policing.

5. Law Enforcement Officer

Have you always had a desire to serve and protect? There are a variety protective service occupations to pursue, including policing, corrections and security, according to BLS.

The continued need for public safety is expected to lead to new openings for officers, although demand and salary vary greatly by location.

According to BLS, the median annual salary for a police officer is about $66,000 per year but depends on location, size of a department and rank.* The lowest 10% of police officers earned less than $41,660, and the highest 10% earned more than $109,580, BLS reports.*

Most police and detectives must graduate from their agency’s training academy and meet intensive personal and physical qualifications before completing a period of on-the-job training, but some departments and federal agencies may require a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a related field, according to BLS.

For more advanced knowledge, you also might earn a master's in criminal justice and pursue a concentration in public safety administration or advanced counterterrorism and homeland security.

6. Lawyer

Lawyers can specialize in various fields to make a difference for individuals or society at large.

According to the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), a few areas of law include:

  • Animal law
  • Civil rights
  • Employment and labor law
  • Environmental and natural resources law
  • Immigration law

As legal experts, lawyers research and analyze legal issues like these to represent and advise their clients, according to BLS, and the median annual salary for lawyers is $135,740.*

To become a lawyer, most states in the U.S. require you complete law school at an accredited institution and pass the bar exam wherever you intend to practice law, BLS said, but first, you'll need your bachelor's degree. If you're planning on pursuing this career, you might consider studying criminal justice or earning an English degree to sharpen your writing and critical thinking skills.

Your undergraduate studies could also help you prepare to specialize in a certain area of law down the line. For example, if you're interested in a career as a civil rights attorney you might pursue a sociology degree, or if you're an aspiring environmental lawyer you might consider an environmental science degree.

(Law degrees are not currently offered at SNHU.)

7. Legal Assistant

Even if you aren't interested in going through the schooling and testing required to become a lawyer, you could still play a role in the work they do as a legal assistant. As a legal assistant, you'll support lawyers first and foremost, but your contributions will help their clients, too.

Legal assistants are typically responsible for administrative tasks in a law office, such as scheduling meetings or organizing documents and invoices, BLS notes.

According to BLS, legal assistants and paralegals made a median of $59,200 and are in high demand, with an expected growth of 4% by 2032.* Most paralegals and legal assistants have at least an associate degree, BLS said, although requirements vary between positions.

8. Victim Advocate

Victim advocates act as support for people who are victims or survivors of crimes. If you want to help people who need help most, this could be an opportunity to do just that.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, crime victim assistance programs typically provide a range of services (PDF source). Some of these include:

  • Criminal justice advocacy
  • Crisis intervention
  • Emergency shelter
  • Emergency transportation

Victim advocates frequently assist with victim impact statements and support clients in police interviews or court appearances, too, but the Department of Justice notes services and rights vary between states.

Social and human service assistants including victim advocates made a median salary of $38,520 in 2022, BLS reports.*

Some degree options for victim advocates might include a bachelor's in human services or a bachelor's in criminal justice with a concentration in human services and advocacy. 

Education

Plenty of jobs in education involve helping people achieve their goals and improve their lives.

9. Academic Advisor

Kathleen Dalton with the text Kathleen DaltonAcademic advisors assist students throughout their education. This helping profession can make a difference in students' lives by providing important guidance and support. In fact, some students even credit their academic advisors as a primary support system while earning a degree.

Kathleen Dalton '23 said her academic advisor at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) gave her confidence from their very first call together.

"I am not sure I would have continued beyond the first few terms without her consistent communication and feedback," Dalton said. "She saw more in me than I saw in myself and could show it to me."


   

As an academic advisor, you'll be dedicated to student success. You'll help students acclimate to their coursework and work with students through any challenges they face throughout their educational journeys.

School and career counselors and advisors make a median of $60,140 annually, according to BLS, with a higher than average 5% growth projected.*

10. Teacher

Have you ever had a teacher who changed your life for the better? You could be that person for other students and impact a new generation of learners.

"Teachers are the backbone of our democracy – fostering curiosity and creativity, building skillful individuals, and strengthening informed citizens," according to the U.S. Department of Education, which further notes that a great teacher in every classroom is one of the most important resources that can be provided to students.

BLS reports teachers and instructors make an average of $66,450 annually, with the bottom 10% of earners making $30,230 and the top 10% making $102,800 on average.*

To become a teacher, you'll likely need a bachelor's degree and licensure to teach specific grade levels or subjects, but qualifications vary between states as well as between public and private schools, according to BLS. Some schools, like SNHU, provide undergraduate education for licensure programs. If you already have a bachelor's degree, you could earn a master's in education to further develop your expertise in teaching.

Jodi Gleason with the text Jodi GleasonStudying education could help you become a teacher outside of the school system, too. For instance, Jodi Gleason '17G '22EdD said she earned her doctorate in educational leadership from SNHU to help educate her peers in law enforcement about disability awareness and crisis intervention.

"This degree has opened some doors for me to teach, train and talk about my research and hopefully help change someone's views, tactics (or) thoughts on mental health and law enforcement," Gleason said.

11. Teaching Assistant

Teaching assistants support teachers and students in the classroom in a variety of ways.

According to BLS, teaching assistants are responsible for:

  • Reviewing lessons and concepts with students
  • Reinforcing rules and teaching proper behavior
  • Supervising students in a variety of environments, including in the classroom, the lunchroom, recess and field trips
  • Supporting teachers with grading and record keeping

The median annual salary for teaching assistants is $30,920, BLS notes.*

Many aspiring teachers work as teaching assistants or paraeducators to gain experience in the field of education while obtaining the required certifications to teach, and you can often secure one of these positions before earning your degree, according to BLS.

Healthcare

Careers in healthcare are often focused on assisting or treat people with injuries or other medical issues.

12. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

EMTs and paramedics are first responders who assess patients and provide medical care during emergency situations, BLS notes. As an EMT, you might travel in the back of an ambulance providing care for patients while en route to a hospital. It's an important and often life-saving role.

EMTs and paramedics make a median salary of $39,410 per year with 5% growth predicted by 2032, according to BLS.*

To become an EMT or paramedic, BLS reports you'll need to complete training and certification that will teach you all the skills you'll need to assist patients experiencing medical emergencies. (SNHU does not currently offer an EMT or paramedic program.)

13. Home Care Worker

Another quintessential helping profession, home care workers visit clients in their home to provide support.

According to BLS, home health and personal care aides assist in daily tasks typically limited to nonmedical care or services, including:

  • Bathing
  • Cleaning
  • Dressing
  • Driving
  • Shopping

In this role, you might be required to take notes about your client's condition and report to a supervisor, BLS said, and some home care workers with specialized training may also assist clients with medical equipment.

Home health and personal care aids make a median of $31,180 annually, and this position typically requires a high school diploma plus training on the job, BLS notes.*

This role could also offer entry-level experience if you're looking to begin career in the medical field.

14. Nurse

Nurses make a huge difference in people's lives, offering compassionate care in a variety of health care settings. According to BLS, some of these settings include:

  • Hospitals
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Schools

The need for registered nurses is projected to grow 6% through 2032, BLS reports.* The need for nurses will continue to swell for a number of reasons, including an increased emphasis on preventive care and demand for healthcare services from older adults, as they live longer and more active lives, according to BLS.

If you want to become a nurse, there are several different levels of nursing degrees to explore. Registered nurses may earn a bachelor's degree in nursing, an associate’s degree in nursing, or a diploma from an approved nursing program and need to be licensed. To become licensed, nurses must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), according to BLS.

The median annual wage for registered nurses is $81,220, according to BLS.* The lowest 10% earned less than $61,250, and the highest 10% earned more than $129,400, BLS reports.*

The demand for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) is expected to grow a staggering 38% and includes roles such as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists, BLS reports.* Individuals in these roles must earn a master’s degree, be licensed in their state and pass a national certification exam, according to BLS, and the median pay for these roles topped out at more than $120,000, with nurse anesthetists earning more than $200,000.*

Because nurses are rated as having high trustworthiness and ethical integrity, according to Gallup, organizations such as Nurses on Board Coalition are working to recruit nurses to provide critical insights to health-related and corporate boards.

Find Your Program

Psychology and Mental Health

Psychology is the study of the mind and human behavior, providing a critical foundation for anyone working in any one of the helping professions, but it's also a critical field all its own.

15. Crisis Counselor

Crisis counselors work directly with people in distress, including those experiencing mental health emergencies or struggling in the aftermath of a traumatic situation.

While some crisis counselors provide services in person, others work from home or in a call center to assist people in crisis via phone, text or online chat through an organization like The Trevor Project or 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

"As a counselor for the 988 Lifeline, we get calls nonstop, and that could be anything from someone looking for resources for a therapist or someone in crisis with suicidal ideation," said Jennifer Lang in a 2023 Psychiatric Times interview. "Working at a crisis center, we never really know what type of call we will get, but it is important always to be prepared for anything."

In 2022, the median pay for substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors was $49,710 according to BLS.*

Some organizations provide training to volunteers and paid employees, but a mental health degree could offer you an even deeper understanding of the issues you might see in this role. Otherwise, this position could serve as entry-level experience if you're looking to pursue another mental health or psychology position.

16. Psychologist or Psychiatrist

According to BLS, psychologists strive to understand and explain human behavior, thoughts and emotions. "They use techniques such as observation, assessment, and experimentation to develop theories about the beliefs and feelings that influence individuals," BLS noted.

Most psychologists earn at least a bachelor’s degree, according to BLS, but they usually need a doctoral degree and a license to enter clinical practice. (SNHU does not currently offer doctoral degrees in psychology.)

The role is expected to grow 6% through 2032 with median pay coming in at $85,530, where the median pay for psychiatrists is $226,880, according to BLS.*

The major difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that psychiatrists have a medical degree. (SNHU does not currently offer medical degrees.) While both psychologists and psychiatrists can diagnose and treat mental health conditions, a medical degree allows psychiatrists to prescribe medication.

Both of these roles typically require a doctorate, but you can get off to a start with a psychology bachelor's degree. If you have a degree in psychology, you could also work in a variety of other roles, including human resources, public relations and marketing careers.

17. Therapist or Clinical Mental Health Counselor

More than 43 million American adults deal with mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). With issues such as addiction, childhood trauma and dementia in the aging population driving the demand for licensed counselors, the need for them is expected to grow more than 18% through 2032, BLS reports.*

According to Perry, "Clinicians are advocates and researchers who support those who need it most and seek out new methods to help clients improve their mental health."

These professionals support clients through difficult life experiences, help them set goals and provide critical emotional support. As a therapist or mental health counselor, you could enjoy a rich, rewarding career making a difference by using your listening, problem-solving and interpersonal skills.

"Working in the field of mental health provides you the opportunity to help others in a way that is motivating, empowering, engaging and inspiring," Perry said.

To become a therapist, you'll need to earn a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, according to BLS. (SNHU does not currently offer a master's in clinical mental health counseling.) 

You'll also need to undergo rigorous post-graduate training to become licensed in your state. From there, Perry said you'll never stop learning.

"As clinical mental health counselors, we are lifelong learners. It’s best to see your graduate training as the beginning of a journey that never really ends. Which, for me, is part of what makes this field exciting," he said.

As a therapist or mental health counselor, you can assist people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds and practice in non-profit, hospital, government and private settings. The median annual wage for a mental health counselor is $48,520, with higher salaries found in the government sector and specialty hospitals, according to BLS.*

"The added benefit is getting to learn so much about yourself along the way," Perry said.

Public Health and Safety

Public health and safety are broad fields that involve protecting individuals, populations and communities and increasing their quality of life.

18. Firefighter

Fire departments in the U.S. received over 36 million calls in 2021 according to the National Fire Protection Association. Perhaps one of the most iconic helping professions, firefighters respond to these calls and help keep communities safe.

BLS notes firefighters are typically responsible for a variety of different tasks, including:

  • Carrying out drills
  • Driving firetrucks or other emergency vehicles
  • Extinguishing fires
  • Providing medical aid
  • Responding to other emergencies

The median pay for firefighters was $51,680 in 2022, according to BLS, and the process of becoming a firefighter tends to vary between states.* Firefighters typically must complete longterm training on the job in addition to other locally required certifications, BLS notes. (SNHU does not currently offer a specific program for firefighters.) 

19. Public Health Officer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a major division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a national research institution dedicated to educating and informing the public on health issues from general wellness and genetic disorders to preventing virus transmission and eradicating infectious diseases. The CDC notes that while medical personnel and physicians treat individuals, "public health professionals focus on improving health at the population level through disease control and prevention.”

Individuals with a degree in public health may provide education on the prevention and treatment of illnesses within a community or a hospital setting or work on projects related to epidemiology or environmental health.

According to BLS, community health educators assess a population's health needs and teach individuals and communities about behaviors that promote wellness; they collect data, develop programs, train health professionals and advocate for policies that promote improved health. The demand for community health educators is expected to grow 7% through 2032, commanding a median salary of just over $59,990 in 2022, BLS reports.*

20. Public Safety Telecommunicator

If you've ever needed to call 911, you know how important it is that someone answers. Working in public safety telecommunications, you'll be that person providing support during emergencies and directing help wherever help is needed.

As a public safety communicator, you'll have a variety of responsibilities including responding to emergency and nonemergency calls, dispatching first responders and providing instructions while callers wait for help, according to BLS.

Most positions in public safety telecommunications offer on the job training, but certain states require additional certifications, according to BLS. (SNHU does not currently offer these certifications.) These professionals earned a median salary of $46,900 in 2022, BLS reports.*

Whatever helping profession you choose, there continues to be a great demand for employees who lead with their hearts, as well as their talents.

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU online degree that can best help you meet your goals.


*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.


Krysten Godfrey Maddocks ’11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Mars Girolimon '21 '23G is a writer with a master's in English and creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with them on LinkedIn and X, formerly known as Twitter.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.