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Factors in Choosing a Program?


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I'm wondering what factors everyone is considering in making a final decision for what program to attend, and what factors weigh most heavily for you. I'm trying not to base my decision solely on money (although that's definitely what I'm doing right now), so I want to know what you guys think I should be considering other than that. I'm specifically comparing MSW programs, but I'm sure it can apply to more than that.

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I've been facing the same issue! I've gotten into some great programs, I'm still waiting to hear on one more. Some things I've been taking into consideration:

1. Incoming Class Size - Is your incoming class 1,500 or  200 students? Depends on the program. In addition, I'm curious about class sizes in courses (15 or 30 students in a classroom?)

2. Location - Where do you see yourself spending the next few years? Where do you want to practice social work? If you want to do work in Los Angeles, Chicago might not be the best place to get your MSW, as you're building your network out there during your program. (This isn't to say you can't always move afterward, but there are things like licensure and hours if you're working toward an LCSW that you need to keep in mind as you move state to state.)

3. Field Placements - What opportunities will you have for field placements? Universities in big cities/metro areas will have access to larger organizations and resources. Most programs are seemingly private about the actual names of organizations they affiliate with for field placement, but most field placement offices will give you an idea if they have opportunities available in the area you're looking at.

4. Professors/Research - Find a professor you think you'd want to study under, read an article by them, and get in touch. Most professors I've found are more than willing to chat if they can make the time. Some questions to consider: What are the professors researching? What is the program putting funding into as far as research/initiatives? Are there opportunities to engage in professor's research if wanted? 

5. Student Body - What are your peers like? A lot of state schools attract a more diverse population, racially/ethnically, along with age and experience. Some bigger institutions attract more of an international population. Try and learn more about the students!

6. Courses - The more I've come to see it, most programs are fairly similar. Every program I've seen has a first-year generalist approach. Then some continue in the second year with that generalist approach or there are specialization tracks. Talking to my social worker friends, they've said these specializations have rarely been defining factors. Rather, they've said that their experiences from second-year field placements were much more impactful on their skillset than the special courses. But if there are courses you see in the catalogs that interest you, something to take into account.


Hope these help!

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I would consider what type of Social Work you're aiming to do with your MSW. For me, I focused on finding programs that emphasized macro practice. Plenty of MSW programs have concentrations that allow you to focus your coursework in a specific area, be it behavioral health, administrative social work, community organizing, etc.

Also, as @mswguy said, looking into the research from universities can be very useful. A lot of programs - especially those from larger or more well-known universities - will have a section of their website solely dedicated to highlighting the research that's being conducted by students and faculty within that program. It's a great way to gauge what types of issues are being addressed by the school, and it can also give you a leg-up when completing applications if you mention that you've looked into the research and that it's relevant to your interests.

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For me, I am forced to do an online program. I would much prefer face to face, but I live rural and so the option just isnt there. 

So focusing with an online MSW my requirements are:

a.) that the program is CSWE accredited (so important if you want to get licensed. and in my state it is a requirement that the MSW program is CSWE accredited to even sit for the exams).

b.) the cost is something I am taking heavily into consideration. I am already in $50,000 debt from my undergrad (Penn State was expensive!). I am terrified of getting this dream job and then not being able to make my ends meet. So i do need to be conscious of the cost. I Would like to keep it as low as possible but I do feel the need to make sure the program is a good fit. So i have to have some room for flexibility. Ive basically decided that $900 is my per credited hour cut off lol but even that is way more high than my liking. Ideally it would be between $500 and $650. (free would be fabulous but I wont hold my breath)

c.) the program. Some have a generalist approach. Some focus more on family and CPS work. Others health care or trauma. Then of course clinical. My end goal is to become a medical social worker. I am hoping to work in the hospital setting. I hear that can be a challenge to break into. I would like to have a more rounded medical background than what most of these schools are supplying but there are very few colleges that seem to offer that (online at least). 


Some people are telling me, just make sure its accredited and go the cheapest route. Dont worry about it not being a medical concentration because the internships and fieldwork is really what gets your foot in the door. Others are telling me, if you want the medical side, then go after it and forget the cost. I am so very conflicted. Ultimately every program I am considering will qualify me to sit for my LSW and one day my LCSW. However, in my head I feel id be more marketable with a medical background, given my goals, but then I look at the debt and im like...seriously not sure which route to take.  

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