Jump to content
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt

How do I know if I'm ready for grad school?


doctormelody
 Share

Recommended Posts

Alright, I'm gonna be brutally honest here and admit that I have been having some doubts recently about whether or not I am truly ready for grad school. I want to go, and have for years, but I am worried that I want it for the wrong reasons - namely, that I lack a sense of purpose in my life. I want to go to school for social work for a couple reasons - obviously, I want to help people, and more selfishly, I don't want to struggle the way I have been since I graduated college in 2015. Since then, I've had a series of jobs in retail and food service, most of which I deeply hated, and I've never made more than around $12,000 a year. I constantly get the sense that my family is confused and disappointed by my choices in life, but what they don't understand is that I don't feel worthy of or qualified for a better job than the ones that I have had. I struggle with depression and a lack of motivation and I also have somewhat significant back issues, all of which have contributed to me not being the world's most stellar employee, so I've never been up for a raise or a promotion (also haven't really stayed at any job long enough to merit one).

I was accepted to several MSW programs last year, but chose not to go for a variety of reasons, including that they all would have required me to take on a monstrous amount of debt. I found this website in February of last year and learned about the guaranteed admission program at the University of Pittsburgh. My partner and I were looking to move anyway, so we chose to uproot our entire lives to come here. I was accepted to the program in early January, but received a disappointing scholarship offer of only $4,000 a year, which means that I will have to take out almost $40,000 in loans for tuition alone. I already have $46,000 in debt from undergrad, so I'm questioning whether it is truly a wise financial decision, which is in turn making me question whether or not I am actually ready to take this next step in my life. Maybe this is stupid, but I guess I feel like if this was truly my calling, I wouldn't let anything give me pause. 

It's complicated. I'm not sure this is what I'd want to do with my life, or even the graduate program I'd want to attend, if money were no object, but of course, money rules all of our lives whether we like it or not. I chose social work because it seemed like a career I could feel good about at the end of the day, and because therapy has been helpful to me in my own life and I want to be that resource for others. I'm just having so many doubts now, though. I have a friend who is currently getting her MSW at Columbia and she said that at her internship the first semester they basically just threw her into sessions with clients with no preparation whatsoever. I guess everyone has to start somewhere, and I know that not all field placements are the same, but that really, really scared me. 

I feel like Grad Cafe tends to skew towards the younger side, so maybe no one will get this, but one of my other friends said something the other day that really resonated with me. She basically just reminded me that although I may feel like I'm behind in life, it's okay to still be figuring things out at 25. I know that especially with a professional degree like social work, a lot of people choose to go back to school a little later in life, and that would be okay by me if I could just get a better job in the meantime. The only problem is that I have no idea how to do that, and no confidence in my ability to do so. I guess it doesn't make sense to wait if I know that I want to get my MSW eventually. I'm just worried about the debt (obviously) and also that I won't be able to handle the demands of grad school. My mental health is kinda fragile at the moment, and it doesn't help that I really don't like Pittsburgh as a city. I think I can handle the coursework as long as I don't allow myself to procrastinate too much, but I'm really worried about the field placement component. To put it bluntly, why would anyone trust me, a 25 year old who doesn't even have her own s*** together? I'm worried that the admissions committee saw this in me and that's why I was given such a small scholarship. I'm worried, if I am truly being honest, that I am just not cut out for this. I'm worried I'm not cut out for anything, tbh. 

I know this is a really long post and I appreciate anyone who took the time to read it (and my other posts, of course) more than I can possibly say. I guess I'm just wondering if anyone has been in this situation or a similar one before and has any advice for me. I feel like I sound pathetic but my confidence really took a hit when I saw the scholarship I was offered, and it wasn't all that high to begin with. Does anyone else have similar worries? It's so lonely feeling like this.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My situation is a bit different from yours, as I'm looking for a PhD after taking some time after my MFA, but I think 25 is a perfectly reasonable age to get our s*** together. In fact, our brains just finished (or are close to) development. Also, young people now (and we're pretty young) are overloaded with options that take some time to sift through. I did my MA right after undergrad, at 21, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do but I knew I loved learning. Now, after feeling unsatisfied with my work (full time but not incredibly exciting or particularly related to my ideal career), I know exactly why I want to get my PhD. Still, I have a vision condition that makes reading for long periods hard, which I expect will be a huge challenge. I don't expect there will be many audiobook options. I'm also terrified to move to a city alone (save my beautiful feline companion), at 25. 

That being said, I think you have good motivation for getting another degree. It does sound like you may not have chosen the school which was the best fit for you. I know my school, for example, wasn't extremely stringent with admissions for the MSW and is less than 10k per year (2.5 years) even without scholarships in a small city with a reasonable cost of living and attentive faculty. It's not the only one, I'm sure. Perhaps you could look for smaller programs with more resources to support you in the campus, community, and faculty. But of course, an MSW has to grapple with accreditation and many clinical hours. It will be a challenge anywhere, but I'll tell you from experience as a graduate student myself and from working with them, most of us are wondering if we can do it at least some of the time.

That being said, if you struggle you can transfer. Just be sure to finish at your school on a good note rather than wait for it to become too much of a challenge. And who knows, maybe you will love it there and surprise yourself!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

10 minutes ago, MayliC said:

My situation is a bit different from yours, as I'm looking for a PhD after taking some time after my MFA, but I think 25 is a perfectly reasonable age to get our s*** together. In fact, our brains just finished (or are close to) development. Also, young people now (and we're pretty young) are overloaded with options that take some time to sift through. I did my MA right after undergrad, at 21, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do but I knew I loved learning. Now, after feeling unsatisfied with my work (full time but not incredibly exciting or particularly related to my ideal career), I know exactly why I want to get my PhD. Still, I have a vision condition that makes reading for long periods hard, which I expect will be a huge challenge. I don't expect there will be many audiobook options. I'm also terrified to move to a city alone (save my beautiful feline companion), at 25. 

That being said, I think you have good motivation for getting another degree. It does sound like you may not have chosen the school which was the best fit for you. I know my school, for example, wasn't extremely stringent with admissions for the MSW and is less than 10k per year (2.5 years) even without scholarships in a small city with a reasonable cost of living and attentive faculty. It's not the only one, I'm sure. Perhaps you could look for smaller programs with more resources to support you in the campus, community, and faculty. But of course, an MSW has to grapple with accreditation and many clinical hours. It will be a challenge anywhere, but I'll tell you from experience as a graduate student myself and from working with them, most of us are wondering if we can do it at least some of the time.

That being said, if you struggle you can transfer. Just be sure to finish at your school on a good note rather than wait for it to become too much of a challenge. And who knows, maybe you will love it there and surprise yourself!

Thank you so much for responding. Do you mind sharing the name of your school? There definitely do seem to be some cheaper options out there but most of them seem to be state schools which of course is not helpful if I am not a resident. Thanks again for the words of encouragement. I wish you the best of luck with your PhD applications and your move!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

8 minutes ago, MayliC said:

It's my pleasure, and we're certainly not alone. My school was a (small) state regional public, so that might present an issue, but it can be worth looking into! Here's the school: https://www.nmu.edu/socialwork  Good luck!

Oh my God... that's the cheapest MSW tuition I've ever seen. Looks like they might not be fully accredited for the master's program, though? Hmm. Thank you so much for the info, either way!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, doctormelody said:

Oh my God... that's the cheapest MSW tuition I've ever seen. Looks like they might not be fully accredited for the master's program, though? Hmm. Thank you so much for the info, either way!

I think they're seeking accreditation at the moment. Maybe give them a call?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, MayliC said:

I think they're seeking accreditation at the moment. Maybe give them a call?

Yeah, I read that on the website a couple minutes after I posted this! It's a lot to consider. How's the weather up there? (One of the reasons I don't like Pittsburgh is the cold, haha.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, MayliC said:

Nice in the summer and fall, but definitely cold in the winter. Today is unusually cold, actually. Absolutely perfect city, though. It will be very hard to leave.

It looks beautiful. Thank you again for the info and best of luck with all your applications. ☺️

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, doctormelody said:

It looks beautiful. Thank you again for the info and best of luck with all your applications. ☺️

Best of luck to you, too! I'm sure you're going to surprise yourself and do wonderfully!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello, I have read your post. I am 26, will start a PhD next fall in Social Work. I'm also scared and am unsure if I am ready. But I think it's normal. No one has everything figured out or planned. And even those who they they do, they don't because life happens. It's perfectly fine to still be looking for yourself at 25, your brain is not finished developing at 25. There are a lot of students in your situation, it's not abnormal to see someone in their twenties or even older return back to school. I think it's better if you listen to yourself and to your heart rather than staying in a position that makes you unhappy. I also live with mental health struggles and I can attest that you're absolutely not the only one in grad school with depression and anxiety. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Adelaide9216 said:

Hello, I have read your post. I am 26, will start a PhD next fall in Social Work. I'm also scared and am unsure if I am ready. But I think it's normal. No one has everything figured out or planned. And even those who they they do, they don't because life happens. It's perfectly fine to still be looking for yourself at 25, your brain is not finished developing at 25. There are a lot of students in your situation, it's not abnormal to see someone in their twenties or even older return back to school. I think it's better if you listen to yourself and to your heart rather than staying in a position that makes you unhappy. I also live with mental health struggles and I can attest that you're absolutely not the only one in grad school with depression and anxiety. 

Thank you so much, this means a lot to me. I know I am not the only one and seeing others (like you!) persevere despite mental health struggles is so inspiring and motivating to me. I'm rooting for you, and for all of us.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm doing a career change to social work (MSW) at 41 because I hated my first career and couldn't do it any longer. I'm looking at a 40% salary cut, but I've never been happier. Many of the students in the program are not right out of undergrad. I don't think that is a problem. I really do think you should resolve your mental health challenges before entering an MSW program, however. In field work, you will be taking on other people's trauma, and it sucks. I've been working with child maltreatment and sexual assault survivors for years, and it still challenges me despite the exposure. You should let your program contact person know that your mental health is fragile so. maybe they can assign you to field work that is less likely to trigger issues for you. It would be terrible to take out student loans and be unable to complete the program due to compassion fatigue. Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

9 minutes ago, hilaryp said:

I'm doing a career change to social work (MSW) at 41 because I hated my first career and couldn't do it any longer. I'm looking at a 40% salary cut, but I've never been happier. Many of the students in the program are not right out of undergrad. I don't think that is a problem. I really do think you should resolve your mental health challenges before entering an MSW program, however. In field work, you will be taking on other people's trauma, and it sucks. I've been working with child maltreatment and sexual assault survivors for years, and it still challenges me despite the exposure. You should let your program contact person know that your mental health is fragile so. maybe they can assign you to field work that is less likely to trigger issues for you. It would be terrible to take out student loans and be unable to complete the program due to compassion fatigue. Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

Thank you so much. I had hoped to take this year to get my mental health in order (I’m a second-cycle applicant), but I don’t have insurance at the moment and can’t afford to pay for therapy out of pocket. That’s a great suggestion but I haven’t much luck communicating with the program thus far (a simple question about a stats requirement has gone unanswered for a week), which also makes me anxious. Thank you so much for your advice. I definitely have a lot of pros and cons to weigh.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First, I'm sorry to hear about your struggles! Being in your twenties is difficult enough because there is so much (unrealistic) pressure to have it all figured out, but when you add on mental health concerns or physical barriers, it's all the more exhausting. I agree with your friend, most people even at 25 don't have it all together. And those that seem to, probably don't as much as they act like they do. Social work is an incredible field but I also think it's a field that you can only succeed in if you are 100% passionate about it. It's not sustainable if you aren't happy to be there. I know you mentioned self esteem issues that have held you back from pursuing work outside of retail/food, but I would encourage you to seek an entry-level position or volunteering in social work. There are a lot of jobs in the field that you can work with a bachelor's (including a bachelor's in something other than social work) and even though they don't pay plenty, it sounds like it wouldn't likely be a pay cut. Look into the non-profits in your area and see what types of roles they hire for and are available. Even positions that are not directly related to your career goals/interests might expose you to the professionals who are in that field and can also help you develop skills you will use later. I did not study social work in undergrad, but pursued a job that falls under the field of social work after school to take time before graduate school. It completely changed my course and affirmed my desire to get my MSW when I previously thought I wanted a PhD in clinical psychology. Working in this job has given me COUNTLESS opportunities, exposure to a multitude of skills and experiences, and has made me feel 100X more prepared for graduate school and confident that an MSW is the right fit, more so than any undergrad education could have. Building on this experience and taking advantage of those types of opportunities might make you feel more confident about starting an MSW program, the potential debt, and your ultimate goals. Or, it might make you realize it's not the right fit and save you thousands in debt. I think a lot of people experience impostor syndrome, especially young people, but the only way to combat it is to try to do the work and grow! It's not likely that getting your MSW will magically make you feel qualified, that's something that you have to work on within yourself, little by little.

I wish you luck and hope you don't beat yourself up too bad! I know these are really huge decisions and it's intimidating to make a life changing decision, but even if you make a choice that doesn't work out for you, you'll probably still gain a lot along the way and it can inform wherever you head next. And also, career changes are completely normal and going to graduate school later is completely normal! My boss who is now the director of a program at a mid-size non-profit has a degree in journalism and never got her masters. She's had a very successful social work career nonetheless. Even the "wrong" choices can still get you where you need to be.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

28 minutes ago, asr13b said:

First, I'm sorry to hear about your struggles! Being in your twenties is difficult enough because there is so much (unrealistic) pressure to have it all figured out, but when you add on mental health concerns or physical barriers, it's all the more exhausting. I agree with your friend, most people even at 25 don't have it all together. And those that seem to, probably don't as much as they act like they do. Social work is an incredible field but I also think it's a field that you can only succeed in if you are 100% passionate about it. It's not sustainable if you aren't happy to be there. I know you mentioned self esteem issues that have held you back from pursuing work outside of retail/food, but I would encourage you to seek an entry-level position or volunteering in social work. There are a lot of jobs in the field that you can work with a bachelor's (including a bachelor's in something other than social work) and even though they don't pay plenty, it sounds like it wouldn't likely be a pay cut. Look into the non-profits in your area and see what types of roles they hire for and are available. Even positions that are not directly related to your career goals/interests might expose you to the professionals who are in that field and can also help you develop skills you will use later. I did not study social work in undergrad, but pursued a job that falls under the field of social work after school to take time before graduate school. It completely changed my course and affirmed my desire to get my MSW when I previously thought I wanted a PhD in clinical psychology. Working in this job has given me COUNTLESS opportunities, exposure to a multitude of skills and experiences, and has made me feel 100X more prepared for graduate school and confident that an MSW is the right fit, more so than any undergrad education could have. Building on this experience and taking advantage of those types of opportunities might make you feel more confident about starting an MSW program, the potential debt, and your ultimate goals. Or, it might make you realize it's not the right fit and save you thousands in debt. I think a lot of people experience impostor syndrome, especially young people, but the only way to combat it is to try to do the work and grow! It's not likely that getting your MSW will magically make you feel qualified, that's something that you have to work on within yourself, little by little.

I wish you luck and hope you don't beat yourself up too bad! I know these are really huge decisions and it's intimidating to make a life changing decision, but even if you make a choice that doesn't work out for you, you'll probably still gain a lot along the way and it can inform wherever you head next. And also, career changes are completely normal and going to graduate school later is completely normal! My boss who is now the director of a program at a mid-size non-profit has a degree in journalism and never got her masters. She's had a very successful social work career nonetheless. Even the "wrong" choices can still get you where you need to be.

Thank you so much. I guess my worry is that I would only be qualified for case management jobs and I'm intimidated/worried about burning out before I even really begin. Do you have any suggestions for other job roles that I could pursue, at a non-profit or otherwise? Again, thanks so much for your reply, it was very kind and encouraging.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

11 minutes ago, doctormelody said:

Thank you so much. I guess my worry is that I would only be qualified for case management jobs and I'm intimidated/worried about burning out before I even really begin. Do you have any suggestions for other job roles that I could pursue, at a non-profit or otherwise? Again, thanks so much for your reply, it was very kind and encouraging.

I feel you, I have never ever wanted to do case management and it can feel like that's all there is! Personally, I work in sexual assault services so I know that most victim advocacy positions at crisis centers, state attorney's offices, police departments, and universities only require a bachelors. Same for the domestic violence equivalents. I know that isn't for everybody though.

I've also known people to work for counseling centers or substance abuse treatment centers in a capacity other than therapist, for example completing the intake interviews. Your state's version of department of children and families likely has lots of positions other than child protective investigators and case managers. It's a bit time consuming, but if you do a really broad "social work" search on Indeed, it might give you some ideas of what's available, and then from there you can narrow your search a bit more. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 minutes ago, asr13b said:

I feel you, I have never ever wanted to do case management and it can feel like that's all there is! Personally, I work in sexual assault services so I know that most victim advocacy positions at crisis centers, state attorney's offices, police departments, and universities only require a bachelors. Same for the domestic violence equivalents. I know that isn't for everybody though.

I've also known people to work for counseling centers or substance abuse treatment centers in a capacity other than therapist, for example completing the intake interviews. Your state's version of department of children and families likely has lots of positions other than child protective investigators and case managers. It's a bit time consuming, but if you do a really broad "social work" search on Indeed, it might give you some ideas of what's available, and then from there you can narrow your search a bit more. 

Thank you so much, this is really helpful!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.