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Attend UC Berkeley or CSULB for MSW?


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I was accepted to both UC Berkeley and CSULB for my MSW. I actually accepted UC Berkeley first, before I found out that CSULB had also accepted me. As of now, I am enrolled to attend both schools. Obviously, I cannot be in attendance at both schools, so I need to decide asap which school I am going to attend.

Being a Bay Area native, my dream was always to attend UC Berkeley. If I do attend Berkeley, I will live at home in San Francisco with my family. The MSW program at Berkeley is supposedly held in high regard since it's 'Berkeley.' However, the tuition is whats holding me back. Tuition is basically $20,000 a year, so I would be in a total of over $68K in student loans if I do attend Berkeley (accounting also my student loans from undergrad). I am now unsure if attending Berkeley is actually worth it since I will be in so much debt. My field placement for Berkeley is just okay, it's basically case management/counseling with the homeless population in the Bay Area. The only reason I would attend Berkeley was because it was once my dream school, the prestige, renowned faculty, and to gain networks in the Bay Area. 


CSULB also accepted me and has tuition substantially less than what Berkeley wants. CSULB is about $8K a year (my first year at CSULB is actually paid for from a grant I received). So when I graduate, I will only owe about 26K (accounting undergrad/graduate loans) compared to the 65K I would owe if I attend Berkeley.  Supposedly the MSW program is also well-known as being a good program, but the school obviously doesn't have the same prestige that Berkeley has. As of right now, I live in Southern California with some other family, so living situations would not be an issue. I also graduated with my bachelor's degree at CSULB. My field placement at CSULB is with a school district also doing case management and counseling. Basically, I will graduate with substantially fewer loans than if I attend Berkeley. 

Basically, I am just unsure if Berkeley is the right decision because of the cost of the school. I feel that with all the hard work I have done in terms of my education and work experience, I deserve to attend Berkeley. But I am just not sure if the tuition is actually worth it...Is Berkeley actually as great of a school that they make it to be...or is it just over-hyped? Or will my degree from CSULB be the same as getting my MSW degree from Berkeley? After my MSW, I do plan to move back home to the Bay Area for work. I am hoping that if I attended CSULB, finding a job won't be an issue than if I had attended UC Berkeley.

Thanks for reading if you got this far. Please let me know as to your opinion and what you would do in my situation. Thanks. 

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Hi Kahlah,

Congratulations on your acceptance to two very good MSW programs! Cost and prestige aside, your choice comes down to location. While UCB is world reputable, UCB's internship opportunities are primarily in the Bay Area. If your dream involves working in the Bay Area for an agency or an organization, UCB is an easier path to achieving that dream; however, it's not impossible if you were to go to CSULB and pursue the same dream.

Investing in an MSW means looking at the opportunities and network available to you through the program. Reviewing the internship opportunities for 1st and 2nd years on each school's website may help edge you one way.

I personally went to UCB and loved the people in the program as well as the internship opportunities. UCB hosted a "Welcome Day" for incoming 1st years--if you were able to attend, that may give you some data point about the people you'll be spending 2 years. If CSULB provides the same exposure to your future cohort, it'll give you insight on which program will provide the right fit in terms of peers.

Lastly, if the networking opportunities and program fit is a great match, the price of tuition may not be as big of an issue. I have peers who went to USC, UPenn, Columbia who all swear by their program experience and wouldn't change their decision if they had a do-over. 

Whatever your choice, I wish you much success ~

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  • 2 weeks later...

Not sure if this is still helpful or if you’re already committed to a program, but just in case...

Only you can decide if the tuition is worth it to you, but I will offer my $0.02 as an MSW grad from Cal who is definitely paying for it now. 

Looking back, was it worth it? For me, I think it was. I was from L.A., intended to work in L.A. after graduation, and had admission offers from UCLA, USC, and several out-of-state programs. But I was a macro student who wanted more control over my field placement assignments, a smaller cohort, and a program with a strong research focus. Berkeley gave me that and more—including a job offer from my field placement. However, I chose to leave the Bay Area and had a job waiting for me in Los Angeles by graduation.

The training, experience, and relationships I gained at Cal opened a lot of doors for me and continue to benefit me in my career in a lot of ways. I most certainly would not have had the same opportunities elsewhere. Though no one can say for certain whether that is for better or worse, I can say that Cal set me on a path where I’ve made significant contributions to my field working on high-profile and large-scale projects (including national work) and where I am now turning my eye toward a PhD. 

As a clinician, your mileage may vary. The debt is real, but there are options to make it more manageable. Networking is important, but I might argue that it is less so for clinicans. No program is perfect, and you will be disappointed if you expect Cal to be any different. There is no shame in pursuing the prestige of Cal if that is your dream, but there is also no shame in being pragmatic and taking the more economical route. 

Edited by briefinterviews
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You gotta consider your income in California versus other states, your earning potential is a lot higher and will make the UCB price tag more doable. The reputation of UCB may help you with finding work, advancing, and it may help you acquire clients, then again it may not. I think it's helpful when you are also good at what you do. If you were going to work in community based mental health, or a non profit, or for a small county or a homeless shelter or something, I'd say go for cheapest. If you are going to work for a large agency like the VA or LA County DMH or the state, or a school district in a middle class area in California, then I'd say consider UCB. Those careers tend to start around 55-65k but build up to 75-85k when you are licensed, and beyond after more experience and moving up into administrative roles. Also if you plan to work in the bay area, then UCB is a natural fit for your network. Now that said, the cost is important and when I factored in my cost of living, commute, books, professional degree fee and other fees, etc etc my bare bones cost is more like 30k a year for UCLA after all expenses, about 22k of that is tuition, fees, books and parking. You figure CSULB is going to be about 10k a year after tuition, fees, and books. That's a lot less and something to consider seriously as well.

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On 8/6/2018 at 12:21 AM, BackNSchool83 said:

You gotta consider your income in California versus other states, your earning potential is a lot higher and will make the UCB price tag more doable.

While this is true, you also have to consider that the cost of living in California is also high. Over half of California renters are spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs; this gets worse in places like the Bay Area and Los Angeles.  I wouldn't equate a higher income to making the price tag more doable, especially if you have other loans or debts.

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  • 2 weeks later...

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