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10 Careers in Advocacy That Make a Real Difference 

Advocates go by many names and work in many fields. They’re found in legal, medical, educational, and social service systems. Depending on their role, advocates can support students, conduct research, develop public policies, represent clients in court, write grants, and much more. If you want a job dedicated to helping others, advocacy is a great career path to consider. Here are 10 careers that make a difference:

Victim advocate

When someone is the victim of a crime, it destabilizes their whole world. Victim advocates step in and provide assistance including but not limited to emotional support, information on legal rights and how the justice system works, help with safety planning, intervention with employers, and access to other resources. They work with a client through all the stages of the criminal justice process and are often needed afterward, as well. Advocates work in government law offices, medical institutions, social service organizations, law enforcement offices, and nonprofits.

Like many advocacy jobs, a victim advocate career can take a few paths. You’ll need at least an associate or a bachelor’s degree in a field like criminal justice, social work, human rights or psychology. There are certificates available, too, which when combined with a degree, can open up more job opportunities. Most people need at least 1-2 years of experience in social work (internships often count) before getting an entry-level victim advocate job.

Shelter advocate

Shelter advocates provide support during a crisis, usually to adult and child survivors of domestic violence. They work at domestic violence shelters and perform many supportive and administrative duties. Responsibilities include caring for the health of the client (emotional, physical, psychological), answering a crisis hotline and providing resources to callers, assisting with safety planning and orders of protection, and completing intakes for clients.

Most shelters require at least a bachelor’s degree in social work or another social services field. Previous experience working with survivors is also essential, either in a former job, as a volunteer, or as an intern. Shelter advocates should also have certain certifications to ensure a client’s safety, such as certification in basic first aid and CPR.

Guidance counselor

A safe, supportive school environment is essential for young people. Guidance counselors are advocates for K-12 students. Academics are a focus, but guidance counselors also work with kids on personal and social development. Responsibilities can include helping students with academics, identifying behavioral issues and recommending solutions, and providing training for school faculty.

Bachelor’s degrees in counseling, social science, or an education-related field are the best fit. Most schools also want their counselors to have a master’s degree in school counseling or a similar area. You’ll also need to complete an internship and pass any required exams for licensure or certification. To expand your job options, additional certifications in areas like mental health, career development and college admissions are a good idea.

Youth worker

Like guidance counselors, youth workers advocate for young people. They work in places like juvenile detention facilities, government offices, community centers, schools, and social service agencies. Workers educate kids on healthy behaviors, skills for employment, and skills for emotional regulation. They also advocate for programs and resources that serve kids. The challenges faced by youth workers vary. Sometimes, the kids they’re working with need minimal support and help, but often, the kids are struggling with more serious concerns like mental illness, addiction, abuse, and more. A youth worker based at a juvenile detention facility will have different responsibilities than a worker at a school.

Youth workers need at least a bachelor’s degree in a field like youth work or community studies. After graduation, you’ll most likely need either a postgraduate diploma (in youth work or community work) or a specialist certification. Volunteer work and internships provide necessary experience. Continuing education in the field of social work, behavioral health, and more will benefit a youth worker, too.

Mental health advocate

Those struggling with mental health issues often need help navigating their diagnoses, work, school, and other areas of their life. That’s where advocates come in. Mental health advocates work at a variety of organizations, including schools, hospitals, community clinics, and addiction treatment centers. Responsibilities include providing emotional support to clients, explaining treatment options, and helping them access other resources regarding their diagnosis. Advocates must understand things like health insurance coverage, the legal system, school policies, and whatever else may be relevant to the client. Advocates can also work with organizations destigmatizing mental health and/or lobbying for public policies that improve mental care access.

Organizations that hire mental health advocates ask for different qualifications. There isn’t a specific degree requirement, but if you want a managerial position, you’ll need a degree. Some places ask for a master’s degree in public health, social work, student affairs, or a similar field. For entry-level jobs, 2 or so years of experience in healthcare or social services are usually required.

Community health worker

Community health workers work with social services, nonprofit organizations, clinics, and other institutions to provide health-related care to a community. Trust is very important in this profession as community health workers serve as advocates for the people they serve. The majority of the time, community health workers are hired from within the communities. Responsibilities include providing health education, developing strategies to improve a community’s health, collecting data, and addressing community concerns. They often work alongside health educators.

Community health workers usually have at least a high school diploma, though some areas require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Some areas have certification programs available, too, though a community health worker may not require certification. On-the-job training is the norm, where you’ll cover outreach skills, information on the specific health topics you’re assigned to, and communication skills. Knowledge of multiple languages is also very beneficial.

Social media manager

In the age of the internet, a lot of advocacy happens on social media. That includes drawing attention to urgent issues, raising money for campaigns, and providing educational content. An individual activist can engage in advocacy and support themselves using platforms like Patreon, but many organizations hire people to manage their social media. Responsibilities include developing the organization’s brand, planning and scheduling content, and tracking the social media impact.

Because social media management is a fairly new career, organizations are flexible about what they’re looking for. Many managers have bachelor’s degrees in marketing, business, or related fields, but anyone with a lot of social media experience and a track record of engagement will appeal to employers.


Before advocates and advocacy organizations can take action on issues, they need information. Research paints a clearer picture of the issues at hand, allowing organizations to develop the most effective strategies. Researchers are responsible for identifying research goals, identifying sources, gathering and verifying data, and organizing and reporting on their findings. They might also be in charge of analyzing the data in more depth, but not always. Researchers work at just about any organization, including nonprofit advocacy groups, governments, intergovernmental groups, colleges, medical institutions, and more.

Most researchers need a postgraduate degree in the field they want to work in. A master’s degree is usually the standard for entry-level jobs, while you need a doctorate for higher-level positions. Experience is important for this career, so you should work on research projects while a student.

Grant specialist

Many organizations engaged in advocacy depend on public and private grants. Grant specialists are responsible for researching and securing grants. These specialists understand an organization’s mission, what grants an organization is eligible for, and how to convince donors to give them the grants. They might also be responsible for distributing and monitoring the grant money. Colleges, universities, and nonprofit advocacy groups hire grant specialists the most. Specialists may be on staff at an organization or work as a freelancer.

To become a grant specialist, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree. English, communications, and marketing are common majors, but if you want to secure grants for specific causes, a background in that cause may be better. For example, if you want to secure grants for an organization advocating for police reform, a criminal justice degree could be more beneficial. To gain experience, look for internships or volunteer grant writing positions.

Immigration lawyer

Immigration law is complex. In many places, the law is not only confusing but also unfriendly or discriminatory towards immigrants and refugees. The process is very challenging, so people need strong advocates who understand the law. Immigration lawyers represent clients on cases involving student visas, green cards, temporary work visas, asylum, deportation, criminal proceedings, and more. The lawyer’s job is to advocate for their client, ensure they understand what’s going on, and get the best outcome possible. Immigration lawyers work in law large firms, small practices, and networks focused on immigration law.

To become an immigration lawyer, you’ll need a law degree. If possible, you should choose a concentration or specialization in immigration law. This won’t be required to practice law, but it better prepares you for your future career. As you’re completing your education, look for experience wherever you can, whether it’s internships, volunteering, or part-time work. When you take the final exam to become a lawyer, see if there is a certification in immigration law available. This appeals to both clients and prospective employers.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.