Jump to content

Determining "fit" of a program

Inspired V

Recommended Posts

In looking ahead to the upcoming application season, I've been trying to do extensive research to narrow down my prospective schools. I'm hoping to apply to only a handful of schools, both due to the expenses and time involved in applying. I have a pretty good list of my top 7 programs right now, but I'm hoping to get some opinions on how you determine how well a school really fits your academic needs and desires.

My area of interest is fairly specific and won't be relevant for most of you (although I have been surprised by the other postings I've occasionally seen around) but I will use it to provide context to the situation, while asking you to imagine that the topic is something more closely related to your interests in reflecting upon how you determined the compatibility of programs for yourself. I'm most interested in work with refugees and asylum seekers -- in general, but areas of specific interest are women and children, protection issues (gender based violence etc.), preventing and overcoming trauma, and finding durable solutions. I'm still deciding what type of MSW I want in terms of concentration, because I guess my overall desire falls more into the "mezzo" sphere than it does micro or macro... or maybe it's better to say I want both!

Anyway, I realize that there are a limited number of SW programs that offer an international perspective. I'm not as concerned with that, as I have 3 years of international development and service experience anyway. The programs that are at the top of my list are there because of the breadth and depth of the curriculum they offer, the field experience opportunities they offer, and the opportunities that exist for research as a master's student. I am beginning to feel as though a PhD might be in my future after some years of practice, but I'll cross that road when I get there. The main thing that I'm finding challenging is that I'm having a hard time finding faculty at these schools whose research interests align with mine, and I'm trying to determine to what extent that should play a role in my decisions. The truth is, there aren't a lot of SW scholars doing research on these issues, so it's not simply that I've chosen to consider the wrong programs. But would it be fair to assume that faculty interested in GBV more generally may also be supportive of my interest in GBV within refugee populations? Or a professor who does a lot of research on immigration, might they also be a resource when investigating forced migration? Even at master's level, I would really like to be involved in research - hopefully even presenting at conferences - so I'm wondering how to balance this desire with the reality of what most research assistantships or other opportunities for master's students to be involved with.

These are very specific concerns and I don't expect answers that specifically address them. I guess what I'm really asking is, in determining the "fit" of a SW program for yourself, how did you factor in the following:

1. Location / opportunities to engage with your population of interest

2. Curricular flexibility or relevant certificates

3. Faculty areas of research

4. Opportunities for participation in research

Any other insight is warmly welcomed! Thanks!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Socialworkphd - thank you so much for sharing your insight! It's very helpful and I'll definitely keep it in mind. Although at this point it seems to be expanding my list of potential schools rather than narrowing it! Luckily I have plenty of time to continue to research, get in contact with schools and students, etc. I'm glad to have a more informed search in mind.

I wonder if you couldn't also weigh in on micro vs. macro. I know it's discussed in some other topics on this board, but I guess I'm wondering for other people like me who are interested in the nexus between micro and macro, which foundation would be better to start from? I entered into my search for MSW programs thinking that I would enter an administration/macro program (I had previously been considering IR/MPP/MPA programs) but realized that I want to be able to do interpersonal work as well. This comes from transitioning from grassroots activities to upstream work in my current international life, and while I think one informs the other, I don't quite know how to approach it academically. I'm presuming that it may make more sense to do a clinical concentration, because administrative skills/perspective are easier to pick up along the way? I'm not sure the same is true if I focus on administration and later want to do more direct practice...

Any thoughts you have about the practicality of each concentration as it relates to more of a mezzo social work field would be greatly appreciated!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Inspired V, apply to programs that will allow you to specialize or have strong course offerings in both macro and micro. These programs exist, but you'll have to search around (Michigan allows this dual concentration to MSW students). That would be the best fit in your case.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

re: micro/macro

Honestly: Nobody cares. I've never heard anyone asked about whether they did a micro or macro track. If you hope to do micro work in the future, people may be interested in whether your field placement included things like assessments and case management. If you are interested in macro work, people might want to know if you've had any experience in things like policy writing or grant writing. Nobody will care whether the few electives you can take were micro or macro, or whether your core courses focused more on one than another. Dual concentrations are meaningless. The MSW provides a good curricular foundation. Your best applied training will come from CEU's once you are working in the field.

Actually, I disagree with this post. I think the concentrations do matter, depending on the applicant's career goals. It may not matter to human resources, but it does matter for the student's professional growth. As someone who was not interested in clinical social work, it was important for me to choose a program that had a strong macro curriculum (courses, field placements, and research). More specifically, I wanted to become an administrator and policy advocate. My social work professors exposed me to a variety of contemporary issues and theories in administration, community, social change, and public policy. In addition to my field placement, I picked up several part-time administrative positions in nonprofit and educational settings, learning essential transferrable skills along the way.

I like social work because it is a very flexible degree with a wide range of careers and work settings. On my cover letter and resume, I explain up front that my social work concentration was not clinical. When hiring managers see that, they have a better understanding of my background. While I am pursuing another master's degree program (I discovered during my second year that I love education policy), my future placement supervisor told me she was very impressed with my background and attitude. The main point is students should be assertive and ambitious with their education. No one will hold your hand and guide you along the path. If you know what you want, do whatever you can to achieve that goal. This advice is especially true for social work students pursuing alternative and nontraditional careers.

Edited by michigan girl
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you both for your input! I hope I'm not the only one taking this insight to heart - there's a lot of good food for thought in this post.

I think to the extent that the concentration you choose impacts the field placement opportunities available to you, your selection matters. The more I compare schools though, I see that as socialworkphd pointed out, the curriculum really is very similar. And there is always the choice of how to spend electives if you want to learn more about a secondary concentration.

Both of you mentioned something that I also think is essential -- getting good experience that highlights/develops skills outside of the classroom. I'm definitely going to pursue opportunities that will afford me more experience, research, leadership, etc. I think that knowing what I want to do is a strong advantage, because it allows me to select programs that will provide me with opportunities to better equip me for that work; it's a lot harder if you enter a program trying to narrow down your goals. (Although I think it was mentioned in another post that often times those people who haven't figured it out yet have a harder time getting in).

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!! I'm feeling much more prepared to select schools that are a good fit for me, and to ensure I have strong applications to those schools.

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
  • Create New...

Important Information

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