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A professor's insight: micro/macro, state vs ivy league- a long post


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I think one point that leads to lack of clarity is that a lot of people do their research about MSW programs online, and many programs do an insufficient job of telling the story of their program and curriculum online. Very many social work programs have strong social justice perspectives. I don't know where you would take clinical coursework and not get a fairly strong social justice perspective. It's one of the main characteristics that sets us apart from clinical psychology programs, and it is a clear part of our code of ethics.

The program I teach in is considered Advanced Generalist. We have neither a macro or clinical track. We were discussing at a recent meeting what it would take to develop a track in one or the other. The answer was, basically, that the classes that we now offer electives in either area would become mandatory for a person seeking to be part of that "track"- in other words, what we offer would not really change. The curriculum is already there. That's what I mean when I said that most programs have options, if they are at least medium sized programs. This may not be the case in a very small program, so ask some questions about macro coursework in the schools you might be interested in. Don't just do online research- call someone at the program. Good luck.

Thank you very much for your post, Socialworkphd. After reading through the entire thread and doing quite a bit of research on my own, I am still confused about one thing. While I agree that a generic state school is perfectly fine for the MSW credential, I have not found many state schools that have Macro concentrations (except for in California.) I know you said that all accredited programs have some courses that are macro-focused, but since I already know that's the route I want to take, I would prefer to be a part of a macro program. The other issue I have with the clinical-focused state universities is they seem to have little focus on social justice or understanding of the bigger picture of WHY certain groups need direct service in the first place. Even if I did enroll in a clinical program, I would need the school to see social work through the lense of oppression. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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Here's my early disclaimer so you don't miss it. Someone here is going to disagree with me. Maybe some other professor would disagree with me (but not most). Some applicants and grads will disagree

Also, I have a few friends who work at Columbia, smart as whips, with good practical experience. When they got jobs at Columbia, I was impressed that they got in to such fancy places. If I had applie

Glad my post was helpful. I felt a little guilty though, because "top tier" schools fill a need and place in our education spectrum too. Here's how: 1. The low class loads mean faculty can do res

I want to applaud this thread as well. After reading it many times, I'm applying to mostly state schools. Funny enough, Portland State with out-of-state tuition iis cheaper than my school in-state. By about $5k!

Does anyone recommend any state schools they have found impressive both program wise and tuition wise? I'm not terribly amped for Calfornia schools since their out-of-state tuition seems to be very high. I'm in Arizona and there's only one MSW program here, which I will not apply to.

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I assume you've already applied, but there are small schools (not ivy) with international focuses too... so it's not an either/or choice for folks interested in international macro work.

 

WHERE are these schools?! someone please give me some insight on international social work / best int'l SW schools that ALSO focus on mezzo/macro work. I've been researching this topic for 1.5 years now and I still have yet to find this school......

Edited by susanbe
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susanbe, the large programs (Chicago, Columbia, Michigan, UC-Berkeley, etc.) would have good international social work programs since they offer resources, funding (grants/scholarship) and international institutes.

Berkeley doesn't have an international focus (not even remotely close) and I haven't considered Chicago, Columbia, or Michigan due to very expensive tuition. I was hoping someone could chime in on some "smaller" more affordable programs with an international focus. It seems the only schools that have this concentration also will cost $50,000+ in tuition. 

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You will want to find a program that is simliar in structure to Michigan: http://ssw.umich.edu/finaid/msw/GASP.html

 

UC-Berkeley does offer international opportunities: http://www.socialwelfare.berkeley.edu/NewsEvents/intercambio_pilot.shtml
 

 

You may also want to google "international social work" for a list of schools. On the first two pages, I saw Rutgers, UConn, Texas, and USC. These are large social work programs with endowments that can afford international social work clubs, programs or study abroad options. If you are not a resident in any of these states, you will have to pay out-of-state tuition.

Edited by michigan girl
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Last year the University of Utah offered int'l social work but I know they were offering new concentrations this year and that might not be one anymore. Check them out though :)

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Thanks, socialworkphd, for all of your valuable insight regarding the admissions process. 

 

I have one question regarding location of your MSW program.  I agree it's probably worth it to just go to a state school and save a really significant amount of money.  However, how important do you think it is to go to an MSW program in the part of the country that you would like to, perhaps, permanently settle?  If I want to live in Oregon or California, do you think it's very important that I go to an MSW program in those states?  Does the location of your MSW program really affect the nature of where you will be able to live?  I'm wondering if going to a state school in, say, TN means it is much less likely that one will have a chance to find a position in, say, Washington state.   Do most MSWs stay local relative to their programs?

 

I imagine that field placement is really important while you're in your program, and obviously you will be doing those near wherever your MSW program is.  However, how limiting is this in terms of being able to practice nationally? 

 

Again, thanks for your help. 

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MSW's are pretty transportable degrees. I have practiced in several states.  If you plan on getting licensed, you should explore the licensing requirements for the state where you hope to live.

 

I advocate going to school in the place where you plan to practice, because (a) most of your classmates will stay in that state, and grad school begins your professional network building; (B) a lot of internships lead to jobs, © a lot of community networking happens in internship, (d) it is often cheaper, (e) some of your practice assignments will likely involve learning about community opportunities, resources, etc, (f) programs have a local flavor; for instance, rural programs often give some focus on rural issues, (g) agencies will know more about a local program than a distant program (this could be good or bad I guess), (h) agencies may give some favor to those who they assume know the community.  All that said, if it makes a lot of sense for some reason to move after grad school, you'll generally be just as employable as a local grad.

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Not sure if socialworkphd is still following this thread, but I have questions about job placement rates.  I am approaching my MSW degree very pragmatically and want to make sure I am employed at the end of the day.  I have looked at the Dept of Labor's job statistics (predictions) by location, but have yet to see any similar with regard to MSW program placement rates. Do you have any advice I where I could find a school's placement rate?  Or is this hidden under lock-and-key at most schools?  

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Hi Lola,

 

Not all schools even keep stats on their placement rates, and when they do, the numbers are often fuzzy. (Is someone who is employed full time as an MSW but working in a bachelors level position successfully "placed")?  PhD programs do a slightly better job of tracking outcomes (they report on types of positions and there are some national standards for reporting). The DoL stats probably provide the best info you'll get in terms of market size and other stats (remember that their mean salary stats cross tenure- so these are averages for all people at all stages of their career- and in states without title protection, the reported incomes tend to be lower because there are a lot of people classified as "social workers" who are not). Look at job postings in your target market.  I've said here before that people outgoing enough to look for career advice and participate in forums like this are probably outgoing enough to find jobs for themselves.  Good luck.

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Hi SocialworkPhd,

Thank you for your response.  I don't know how familiar you are with DofL's stats, I have a question about them.  You did manage to answer my question re mean salaries, which was helpful.  My other question has to do with Location Quotients.  I am confused about whether a high location quotient is good or bad in terms of job prospects.  The website defines it as such: 

 

"The location quotient is the ratio of the area of concentration of occupational employment to the national average concentration  A location quotient greater than one indicates the occupation has a higher share of employment than average, and a location quotient of less than one indicates the occupation is less prevalent in the area than average."

 

My confusion stems from whether a LQ greater than 1 means that the area is saturated with social workers, and good luck finding work there, or does it mean that there are more social workers there because there is a high need for them (and likely to continue to be a high need)?  Or am I reading too much into this data point and it doesn't mean either of these things??? :unsure:  Any insight you have would be appreciated.

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Above 1 means that there are more social workers employed there than national average, and under 1 is less... it doesn't tell us anything about how many openings there are or market saturation. We can make some assumptions that in places where more social workers are employed, there may be more frequent openings. However, some markets are tough because they are highly-desired places to live or are in a city with a large social work program and lots of graduates.

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It's times like these when I wish my current state had better state institutions and that my homes state still considered me a resident. Paying out of state tuition at a state school was going to run me more than the fancy private schools and almost as much as the ivy league school I've been accepted to.

 

I don't plan on staying in that city, either.

 

Sounds like I'm making all of the wrong decisions here. I wish funding wasn't so skimpy for us clinicial folks.

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It's times like these when I wish my current state had better state institutions and that my homes state still considered me a resident. Paying out of state tuition at a state school was going to run me more than the fancy private schools and almost as much as the ivy league school I've been accepted to.

 

I don't plan on staying in that city, either.

 

Sounds like I'm making all of the wrong decisions here. I wish funding wasn't so skimpy for us clinicial folks.

 

Lifesaver, I sympathize with you. I agree with the theme of this thread -- minimize your out of pocket costs as much as possible. It really is very similar curriculum across the schools. IMO, the only difference is cross registration options, and opportunities to enrich your MSW coursework. 

Edited by Lola1233
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Here's my early disclaimer so you don't miss it. Someone here is going to disagree with me. Maybe some other professor would disagree with me (but not most). Some applicants and grads will disagree with me due to their own cognitive dissonance and confirmatory bias. That's ok. If you've already decided and don't need the advice, then don't read it. http://forum.thegradcafe.com/public/style_emoticons/#EMO_DIR#/smile.png

1. Go to the state school. Unless you've got some superstar professor at a fancy program who's agreed to publish with you and you want to be an academic, save the money. Go to the program that best fits your needs. This DOES NOT mean you need to go to Hunter to get a good macro experience. This means that if Hunter is closest to your grandma's and you'll save a bunch of money by going there and fulfill your mom's dreams of having a daughter at Hunter, then do it. If you want to go to DU's animal-assisted therapy certificate program because you want their unique training, pick that school. But generally, your state school is just fine.

*It must be a CSWE accredited school.

*If bias exists in the world related to where you got your degree, it will probably be around those with diplomas from small religious-based programs. Not that the ed is necessarily inferior, but some in the social work field will turn a nose to a small Catholic program, for instance, and assume you have not learned skills in working with diverse clients.

There are two general categories of schools: teaching schools and research schools. Some fall in between the two.

At teaching schools, teachers have heavier teaching loads, up to about 4 classes a term. The result is that these people are often better teachers. They've been doing it longer. They may be more likely to use clinical faculty (no PhD), and these faculty probably have more practice experience. If you want to be a clinician, this may actually be a better learning experience for you. Yes, better than Ivy League.

At research schools professors have smaller loads because they are expected to do research. They may like doing research more than teaching. They may "buy out" of class time, which means adjuncts often fill the gap. They may have very little practice experience because they always wanted to be researchers. If it is a school with a PhD program, doctoral students may fill the gap when the profs get their buyout. These instructors may have less experience and make for a less pleasant learning experience.

Class sizes are often bigger at research schools.

My suggestion is to evaluate personally the fit between you and your school of interest using some of the following criteria:

1. What are the class sizes? (they may be different in clinical vs theory classes... 15 is perfect for clinical IMO)

2. What are the Grad Research Assistant opportunities?

3. How long do professors stay? (Are half the professors tenured?)

4. How many classes are professors teaching?

5. How many of the classes are taught by adjuncts and doctoral students? (Adjuncts are ok if they've been there a long time and are teaching in their specialty... for instance, if there's a great LCSW that teaches clinical skills every year for 10 years, great! If someone new teaches HBSE every year when a full time faculty refuses at last minute, no good.)

6. If you want to go on for a PhD, are there faculty there who work with MSW students on publishing and/or research?

7. Find some alumni of the program and call and ask them about it. Call a licensed clinical social worker, for instance, who has the school listed on their website as where they got their MSW. Most will be willing to tell you about their experiences.

Let me tell you a few stories:

a. When I was a new MSW graduate, I went to work in public child welfare. My starting pay (10 years ago) was a respectable $45k. I graduated from a mostly-unknown state school with a clinical focus. Another guy started at the child welfare agency at the same time as me. He was an ivy league grad. He got paid the same as me. I promoted faster than he did in the agency. They didn't care where our degrees came from. The only thing he ever said about his school was how much he was paying in loans. He'd go to a state school if he had it all to do again. After meeting many ivy-league folks and hearing about their experiences, I don't regret going to a state school.

b. When I applied to the PhD program at a school that is often named here as a top tier, the things that helped my application were my decent writing skills, the one pub I did with a professor at my mediocre MSW program, and my ability to articulate my research goals. I learned very little about fancy research in my MSW program, but I did my research on how to apply for a doctoral program. My PhD program admitted 10 people a year- I only applied to one place and got in without a problem.

c. When I went to school at the fancy schmancy PhD program (tuition free through the whole degree- any decent doctoral program will offer a waiver with a GRA), I taught in the MSW program. I wasn't a good teacher. It was my first time. I wasn't horrible, but not good. There were a lot of mediocre teachers in my "good" program, most of them tenure-track research faculty. There were a lot of students, fairly large classes (20-30) and a few great teachers. Overall, I believe the students in that program had a classroom experience pretty darn similar to my MSW experience. They liked living in a big city, but their learning outcomes were about the same and the classroom experience was some good/some bad. Because of CSWE accreditation, classes and the degree program must contain a certain amount of specific content, and the program learning outcomes will not vary widely between schools.

d. When I went on the academic job market nobody cared where I got my MSW. Where I got my PhD made some difference. If you are going to get a PhD, you should get your PhD from the caliber of school where you hope to eventually teach (if teaching is your goal). Maybe I'll make a post some day about how to choose a PhD program.

e. One of the schools on a"top-10" list is now a school that is making tons of money by admitting huge groups of students and using mostly adjuncts in the program. Many of you have applied there. Many of you will get in. You'll be paying off those loans for a long time, and if you love the program my guess is that it will mostly be because you expect to love it because you are paying so much for it. (No, I don't name names. Do your own diligence).

DUCK, Duck, MICRO, MACRO, GOOSE

If you want to do "macro work" then get work experience. Lots of it. That's how most people get macro jobs.

I've never heard of anyone getting a "macro job" because they went to a program with a macro focus. Schools everywhere have macro-focused placements and macro courses. It's a CSWE requirement. Placement experience helps if macro work is your goal. If you want to do management or administration, you either need to move slowly up the ladder and get practice experience so you know how to lead, or work in a small/rural agency where there aren't enough MSW-level practitioners floating around and where you outrank most folks. If you want to do policy, then read a lot, volunteer a lot, and network a lot. This is best done in the place you hope to live. If you get really good at networking at Hunter, it probably won't do you much good when you go back to Seattle.You'd be better off going to a school in town where the professors are well-networked and can introduce you to people in the non-profit sector there.

Sure, there are exceptions to every rule. I can't think of a MSW-level job where micro/macro and ivy league/state would make a considerable difference, unless: you are interviewing with an alumni who has warm nepotistic feelings, or you are doing a highly competitive national job search (most don't, but here your experience will also make a big difference). I have worked for the feds, hospitals, counties, in private practice, at universities, community college, for the state... nobody's ever cared me where I got my MSW. When I've worked with ivy-league grads, a few things can happen: (a) they can be seen as high maintenance, ( http://forum.thegradcafe.com/public/style_emoticons/#EMO_DIR#/cool.png someone might assume they are smart because they got admitted to a good school, © they have higher debt.

Research backs up the state school choice- a study of people who got Harvard MBA's vs those who were accepted to the program but didn't go found that the ultimate salaries of both groups were similar. So- maybe you've got mad skillz if you can get in to a fancy program, but in the long run you'll probably do just as well in your career no matter where you go. If you're smart enough to get in to a great school you are probably smart enough to navigate your way to a great job no matter where you got your degree. In fact, maybe you'll be the superstar at the state school and get sweet opportunities because you're so darn outgoing.

Schools are often ranked based on their institutional research. That may mean that the medical school is hella productive, even though the social work program doesn't do much. It doesn't say much about the satisfaction of the social work graduates, so use measures that matter to you. The US News list uses a set of outcomes that are not so relevant to me. The "top sw schools" listed on the internet have no criteria by which they rank the schools, and are sometimes tied to advertising by those schools (but sometimes the schools have no idea how they landed on some random internet list- the websites often do not say, but are bringing people to their site for ad revenue. Buyer beware).

I teach now in a good school. I am a tenure track professor, and I have grants and teach clinical courses. We have an admission rate lower than the numbers I hear thrown around about the top tier schools, although we aren't a "Research I" university- this tells me the competitiveness of some of these places may be overrated. I imagine that a school's admission rate has more to do with local need and demand than reputation.

Paying it back

I use the Income-based Repayment plan for my loans. I took loan money during the PhD program because my yearly income dropped significantly when I went from practice back to school. Although my tuition was paid (and I had a GRA salary), I needed money to make the mortgage payment and to support my family. Based on net income and ICR calculations, my student loans are actually quite small. There is a calculator at the ICR website, but it overestimates significantly in my experience. The only way to get an accurate number is to apply, send in all your paperwork, and let them calculate it for you. Since I work for a state school (non-profit), I am eligible for the 10-year non-profit loan forgiveness program. My payments go up each year as I make more money, but this loan forgiveness will still be significant for me. People are eligible for the 10-year forgiveness and ICR with MSW degrees, as long as your loans are consolidated through the federal Direct Loans program, you work for a non-profit, and make under a certain salary. (Government jobs, many hospitals, schools, and lots of other places are non-profits).

The only other decent federal loan forgiveness program is National Health Service Corps. They operate in limited communities, mostly rural and hard to recruit. For the jobs you have to have your clinical license in all cases I think. Learn more here: http://nhsc.hrsa.gov/loanrepayment/

Some states have their own programs... for instance, California has a clinical social worker loan forgiveness program. Check out this list Smith put together: http://www.smith.edu...ms-by-state.pdf

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Greetings socialworkphd

When will you be able to put this list together for PhD programs. This is very helpful but I am not sure it applies in the same way for doctoral programs. Looking forward to your guidance. I created an.account just to ask this question since I couldn't find clear guidelines other than find faculty who are interested in my area of research.

Edited by futureswphd
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@socialworkphd

First, thank you so much for your insight! I've been reading up on all of your posts these past few days, and they've been incredibly helpful.

I am thinking of pursuing a PhD, as I'm interested in teaching at university level. Currently, I live in CA but my first choice for PhD would be columbia. 1) I've been dreaming of living in NYC 2) as you noted, where you go for PhD matters depending on which type of schools you wish to teach at

Can you provide more information on the financial factors of a PhD, assuming I graduate in 4-5 years. What is the usual GRA amount (if you know specifically for columbia that would be helpful as well!), are there any other grants/scholarship available? Living allowances? Possibility of working while obtaining a PhD?

I know I still need to gain more experience post MSW before I apply, buy how competitive is it to get into a PhD program? From what I've been seeing at the university's website, most schools admit 6-10 students only! Quite a scary number. Any insight would be greatly appreciated!

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Thank you for such a great post. I agree with EVERYTHING you said. USC is not worth the debt. As a recent MSW graduate of an online program, I can confirm that my experiences have led me to conclude that employers place little emphasis on the school the practitioner attended. My school fits into the "no name" category(fully accredited), yet this has never hindered my job search as I accepted an offer with one of the largest employers in the Bay Area, one month before graduation. My program was around 40k (including out-of-state fees), which my company will reimburse.  I have colleagues (and a supervisor) who regularly share that they wouldn't have attended Ivy schools and Private schools for their MSWs if they had it to do again. 

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I started on this forum when I was looking through master's programs. I'm graduating next month and I just wanted to add a few things I've realized for those interested in policy. For background, I had a fairly quantitative undergrad and entered the MSW at a "top" school right after undergrad. I got good financial support and then a large research grant in my second year that wiped out most of my remaining debt, and was able to churn out a number of publications. I got a great summer internship after my first year in DC. I was able to turn that into a great full-time position, but in a quantitative role that is not traditional social work and which I would not have qualified for without my undergrad degree.

1. Most "policy" happens at the state or federal level. Other policy positions, as mentioned by the OP, are agency-level positions that are effectively based on experience. Getting a true entry level position in policy requires hard skills (such as econ, stats, research) that will likely be difficult to obtain during your MSW (and even if you do, you'll often be considered part of "the other"), unless it's a generalist "program coordinator" type role that you work your way up from. Federal positions are quite difficult to get at the entry level without veteran's preference, not even mentioning the present climate.

2. In general social work privileges experience for its own sake. There seems to be a lot of "dues paying" (waiting for it to be your turn to move up) and a lot of focus of people remaining in the area they graduated from, compared to many other fields. To that end, consider where you are. Many major cities have local policy, state policy, and regional offices of federal agencies. If you don't have strong skills in in-demand fields like I mentioned above and don't get them through a dual-degree or elsewhere, you're probably better off avoiding debt and working your way up through experience. 

3. If you're interested in a PhD, please remember that the degree (and many of the positions you use it for) are about research, not teaching. You may be better off getting an MSW followed by a PhD in a different field that provides better methodological training for your research interests. And if you're not aiming for a full-time academic position, you may be better of just getting one research-based master's in something else (there's likely more funding for it too).

4. The highest ranked programs are the most likely to admit students with little experience, but the most likely to bury them in debt. Make sure to thoroughly consider all of your options. Recruiting is also a lot more siloed at the graduate level - so the school name may not carry you into positions that other professional schools get recruited for without a whole lot of hard work and luck.

5. I'm very happy with where I ended up, but I feel uniquely fortunate. Most of my classes were 30+ people squished around a table called a "graduate seminar" (when 30+ people is, by definition, not a graduate seminar). The focus was not at all on the master's students and little seemed to be gained by anyone from the classes - there was a lot of showing up and going through the motions. A large portion of the tenured faculty were not social workers at all and were hard to meet with due to field hours. Even being research focused at a school obsessed with research, I had to work with faculty elsewhere at the University. 

6. "International social work" at the master's level, excluding wealthy students studying in the US from abroad, seems to be much less existent than prospective students seem to imagine.

Edited by TheCrow
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@TheCrow : Can you do a Pros & Cons about your program besides the 30+ student "seminars"?

On 5/30/2017 at 1:39 AM, TheCrow said:

You may be better off getting an MSW followed by a PhD in a different field that provides better methodological training for your research interests.

If I decide to pursue a doctorate I believe I'll be doing this, but after I gain my independent license. As I review the academic literature in social work I feel my research interests would be better served in looking at other disciplines like human development, education or even social psychology. Though anecdotal, I was reading a bio of one social work doctoral student and I kept wondering why she didn't pursue a doctorate in sociology given her research interests.

Edited by UrbanMidwest
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On 7/6/2017 at 9:58 PM, UrbanMidwest said:

@TheCrow : Can you do a Pros & Cons about your program besides the 30+ student "seminars"?

If I decide to pursue a doctorate I believe I'll be doing this, but after I gain my independent license. As I review the academic literature in social work I feel my research interests would be better served in looking at other disciplines like human development, education or even social psychology. Though anecdotal, I was reading a bio of one social work doctoral student and I kept wondering why she didn't pursue a doctorate in sociology given her research interests.

This is the exact conundrum I am facing, having a masters in development management and nonrpofit management work experience(field experience) of three years, due to the nature of job I could get into the research although, most of my work was qualitative research but as I said, which program to approach is proving little difficult. Human Ecology, Nonprofit management, Community based research all are interesting under social work but the fact is having near to zero research experience causing me choose social work PhD instead programs say PhD in management or anthropology which need rigorous research experience.

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