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Why I Chose Social Work (& What to Expect in an MSW Program)

Many people are graduating right now, and (probably) many people are wondering what the future holds in this strange time. For those who might be considering a social work program, here is my perspective as a recently graduated MSW.

Just before I graduated from my undergraduate program, I was aiming for a PhD in Clinical Psychology. Maybe I will pursue that one day, but I did my research and decided it was not right for me at that time. I am so glad I made the decision I did.

Why I Chose Social Work: Flexibility

The PhD would have been an awesome challenge for me, but I felt I would have been put in a box. Social work, on the other hand, was so flexible in my eyes. As an MSW, I could use my skills with any population. Social workers adapt and frequently change jobs to work with diverse people. (Disclaimer: I am not endorsing high turnover. Just that a social worker has the ability to change jobs and accept challenges anywhere they are needed.)

Social workers can work in or run nonprofits. They can work in the foster care system. They can work with professional athletes, students, elderly persons, couples, families, children, incarcerated persons, people in the juvenile justice system… any one. They work to change global, federal, state, local, and industry policies. If they see a need, they find a way to fill it.

Social workers can share the same job descriptions as others (think: marriage and family counselors), but we also have some abilities that others do not. For example, in California, only an MSW can sign adoption documents while other case workers cannot.

Additionally, I figured that it would be a great stepping stone to other career-paths if I choose it. If I choose to pursue clinical psychology again, my MSW can help me get the experience I need. Same for a law degree (who knows!)

What to Expect in an MSW Program

Some Good...

You will encounter some of the best professors you’ve ever had. Not all will be your cup of tea, but there will be a professor, professors, or even just a statement by a professor that will move you. 

You will (hopefully) see that there are many right ways to do something. The wrong is obvious (ie don’t insult clients), but every social worker speaks differently. My colleagues and I could meet with the same client and approach them differently, yet still help them equally.

You will (hopefully) meet amazing friends and colleagues. I did, and I am grateful. Remember, this is a small-big field. Be nice to everyone, even when you need to be assertive.

I say hopefully, because it will take humility, kindness, and self-reflection to build relationships and see diverse perspectives.

You will start to find your communication style, but it will continue to develop. Are you the funny social worker? The sweet social worker? A “let me be real with you” social worker? You’ll find the right mixture for your day-to-day communication, and you’ll learn when to use different styles (that are still you) when they are necessary.

You will be inspired by tons of ideas. Professors, guest speakers, and other students will tell stories of what worked for them. You’ll try some ideas, and others will make you think: “no way can I say that.” Some will work for you, some will be uncomfortable, and some will work maybe 1 in every 5 times. If you're lucky like me, some ideas will come in the perfect timing to prepare you for a client.

Some Challenges...

You will get triggered, and you will encounter triggers you didn’t realize you had. Be ready to see your own therapist, take self-care seriously, and confront your own obstacles. 

You will compare yourself to others. You will. Sometimes, you will judge. But if you’re like me, you might get jealous of the experiences others are having in their internships, of their supervisors, or of the successes they have. Like me, you might get intimidated by others who have been in the field for longer. But you will learn if you are eager, and your personality and gifts will help the right people.

You’ll mess up, but you’ll get better every day if you’re eager to learn.

Final Thoughts

This is not a profession to be taken lightly.

Read the National Association of Social Work’s Code of Ethics. Really read it, because you might be surprised what it says.

This is not an advice-giving profession. You help others help themselves. While your title may be social worker, you can be a compass to guide them, a mirror to help them reflect, and a teacher to teach helpful techniques.

Please let me know what kind of articles you’d like to see in the future!Check me out on Instagram @eagersocialworker for post updates!

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