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Pursuing a Social Work Degree: How to Pick the Best School for an MSW

About two years ago, December 2017, I received my first two acceptance letters for graduate school. Amazingly, they were my top two schools. I didn’t even need to wait for the rest, but I was so torn. How do I pick between the two schools?

I did some diligent research during the beginning of the year and over the summer in 2017. Here are the things I did, as well as things I wish I knew when deciding which schools to apply to and which to choose.

WHAT TO DO

  1. Go to information sessions. Ask questions. Aside from getting information, see if you like the people running the session. They may be your professors.

  2. Call and ask questions. Many schools may have programs that help prospective students get information. Admission advisors, current students who take calls or emails, etc. It’s not just what they say, but how they say it. It meant a lot to me that every time I called the school I have since chosen, they were always kind and extremely helpful.

  3. See what information is online. Curriculum, resume help, writing help for students, trainings offered, etc.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

  1. Is the school more research-focused or clinical-based? Every school should have a strong clinical base; you will get on-the-job experience. However, not all schools require a thesis or may offer opportunities to assist researchers. If you like doing research, call and ask if there are research opportunities.

  2. What stipends are offered? For example, you may be able to apply for a stipend for working for the Department of Mental Health after graduating.

  3. What trainings are offered? Will you be given trainings in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Problem-solving therapy? These trainings can help you get jobs if you put them on your resume.

  4. Similarly, can they help you get a credential? It is not easy to get a Pupil Personel Services Credential (PPSC) in California after graduating. It would require extra work, but a PPSC lets California social workers help youth and families in schools. Some universities in CA can help students get the credential, others do not. Aside from a PPSC or similar credential, do they offer any other help to work toward a credential? Maybe they provide trainings, but not the supervision to apply for a credential. Still helpful!

  5. Are there caucuses or groups you can join? A caucus for Black social workers? A caucus focused on clinical social work?

  6. Do you need to go to seminars? This can be good or bad depending on what you want. Do you want that extra time or extra trainings?

QUESTIONS TO ASK CURRENT STUDENTS

  1. What is your favorite and least favorite thing about the school?

  2. What should I look for in any school? If you did not pick your school, which would you recommend?

OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER

  1. Social work, and other similar professions, is difficult. You will have days when a client’s pain feels like your pain or when you and a client share a similar difficult story. Can you be near people who care for you and bring you peace? Not everyone will be able to do so, but I recommend you consider it. That said, social workers have made good friends in my experience. You can lean on each other

  2. What state do you want to live in long-term? It can be helpful to go to school in the state you would like to get licensed in so that the school covers information you will need for licensing. Not sure? Pick a school somewhere like New York or California, where the standards are generally high… More rigorous experience will make it easier to pass a licensing exam, or so I’ve been told.

  3. Tuition. That’s it. Social workers can make good money, but tuition should be considered.

  4. What does the school’s name mean to others? Is there a strong alumni association? Do alumni help other alumni? Although your experience is the most important thing on your resume, in my opinion, sometimes it helps when your prospective employer had gone to the same school as you.

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