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MSW Fall 2018 Enrollment Decision Help!!

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Is anyone else struggling heavily with the debt factor vs their desire to attend a particular program?  I will be pursuing a clinical track since I want to become a LCSW and am currently deciding between the following 2-year full time MSW programs:


UW Madison: $12,000/yr (in-state tuition)

U Penn: $36,000/yr

U Chicago: $37,000/yr

U Michigan: $39,000/yr


My enrollment decision deadlines are approaching quickly, so any and all thoughts are welcome!  Would especially be nice to hear from others in a similar position or from graduates of any of the above who do or do not feel that the debt incurred was worth the experience, network, and opportunities. 


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I would ask yourself why you are seeking an MSW and what is most important to you in your education. Is it the curriculum, the field placement, networking, opportunities, etc. Each of those things will be impacted depending on where you go. If you feel that a particular school has a very unique curriculum that suits your specific goals as an LCSW, and can also give you amazing field placements, I would say go for it. But if you can find everything you are looking for at a more affordable school, I would opt for that. 

The field of social work is not a lucrative position. You should take into consideration how your pay will increase with your degree, as well as how much you would owe in loans. Most students who attend U Penn and Chicago are in a significant amount of debt after graduation. Based on the information you provided, it looks like Michigan is also quite expensive. I know several social workers who have gotten their degrees from NYU and Columbia, and all agree that it was not worth the debt. I was accepted into U Chicago but ultimately opted not to attend for this reason. Although U Chicago has a program unique to my goals, going into a debt of nearly $100k was just out of the question. I would be paying back $1100-1300/mo for 10 years! In reality, obtaining this degree will not really increase my salary all that much either. I live in California, and would move back after I graduated if I were to attend Chicago. It is extremely expensive to live in the SF Bay Area, and if I took into consideration the cost of living plus my student loans, I would have very little to live off of each month.

As someone who has vetted employees for a social service agency, I can attest that employers care more about work experience than where you received your education. For example, we once had someone who graduated from U Penn with a 4.0 apply for a position as a social worker, but besides verifying she had obtained an MSW from an accredited school, we gave priority to applicants who had an extensive work history in the field and demonstrated they had the skillset we were looking for. As I am also attending school this fall, my agency is gearing up to look for my replacement. One of my Board members asked me who would take my position, and I told her I knew a great social worker who has a law degree from UC Berkeley, and is finishing up her MSW at Columbia. She flat out said "None of that matters if she can't do the job". That is not to say all agencies operate that way, but it is something to think about.

Anyways, I would really weigh out the pros and cons. The type of program the school has to offer, field placements, location, cost, etc, as well as where you plan to live after you graduate. Don't go to a school where you won't be happy and you feel is not a good fit. Which ever school you choose, be confident in your decision. All the schools you have mentioned are great schools. I'm sure you will do amazing wherever you end up going. Best of luck to you!

Edited by cafelatte08
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I was facing a similar conundrum: choosing between Smith SSW ~30 thousand/ year (after financial aid) and Westfield State, ~10 thousand/year. One thing that helped was that I was able to find and chat with folks currently working in the field who had gone to both. I found alumni from both to have successful careers in the specialties I am interested in. I also spoke with my personal therapist, who is an alumni of Smith SSW, who explicitly said "go to the cheaper option, what matters more in this field is getting the right letters after your name (going somewhere accredited and being able to pass the LCSW exam if that's the direction you want to go in).


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9 times out of 10 the least expensive option for an MSW is the best. Programs are fairly consistent across schools because of accreditation requirements, employers don't care where you got your MSW, and social workers can't expect to make salaries that make $80-100K in debt an easy thing to pay off. Also, if you end up taking private loans, those loans are not eligible for public service loan forgiveness. I know lots of MSWs who deeply regret spending so much on their degree. 

Something else to consider - cost of living in the areas these out of state schools are in is astronomical compared to Madison, so the actual debt you'd go into is much more than the tuition itself, plus possible trips back home, moving expenses, etc. it's a tough choice for sure and the lure of these other schools is strong, but anecdotally I've had friends go to all of them and no one was blown away by their experiences so much that it made the debt they incurred worth it.

Ultimately I asked myself "can I do the type of social work I want to do in this community? Are there professors here I would like to learn from?" And the answer was yes. If there is a particular population or setting you want to focus on that you can't find in state, that's something to consider, but most other reasons for going probably won't be worth the debt.

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