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How to choose MSW program? Rank? Location? Feel? How hard to get in?


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Hey all,

 

I've just enrolled at a college in the Amherst/Northampton area. My girlfriend is doing a second Bachelor's degree at our alma mater in NYC, so she has to stay here for another year or so to get that done. However, she said that, after deciding against law school - we have a professor who is very honest in her opinions against law school, and has statistics to support - she wants to pursue a Masters of Social Work. I think this is the best choice for her, because she originally wanted to go to law school not to make money, but as the only thing she knew of where she could work face-to-face with people who are down on their luck and help them out. I know this sounds like something that would obviously point to an MSW, but for people like us, who are first generation college students, we have to kind of stumble around trying to figure out the best programs, degree options, etc. As a sidenote, I should say that this forum was extremely helpful guiding me along my own path towards graduate study.

 

In any case, my girlfriend is pretty excited about an MSW and says that she is planning to pursue it in either NYC, where we are both now, or come up to Massachusetts/the Massachusetts area. I told her that if she would like to do that, I would probably move with her if she is somewhere close enough that my commute wouldn't be more than an hour or two each way. (Boston, Amherst, etc. I don't mind driving, and if it would mean she is closer and also happy...).

 

She's asked me to look into programs a little bit for her, given that she's still working and taking summer classes and is, therefore, quite busy. One thing that confounds me is how to determine whether a school is good or bad, aside from the rankings. I know many people say that "rankings do not matter" or social work programs, especially in clinical programs, where her interest lies. Is there any advice that you all have?

 

Of course, given that I'm in the area, I've already put Smith on the list of suggestions, and she seems excited about that. How hard is it to get in? This is one question I have. I know that in PhD programs, where you get in has everything to do with your "fit," i.e. how much professors are interested in working with you/in your area of research. You could get rejected from some fourth tier school and still get into Harvard. How is it with the MSW programs? Is it like that? Or is it more like, if she's a really good student, she can get into Smith based on her academics and volunteer experience, etc.?

 

Also, some of the programs in the area are ranked low, but if rankings don't matter...how does she know what is good? For example, Westfield State University is inexpensive - and some say go where it's inexpensive - and close, but is it a bad school? The same questions go for Springfield College.

 

Also, financial aid: I know that in PhD programs, you generally get a tuition waiver and a stipend, while there is very little funding for Masters students. Is that the case with an MSW as well?

 

Sorry! We're both full of questions. She's planning, I think, to make an account here, but I want to support and help her out and get information as soon as possible, especially since she's been incredibly supportive of me

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Most MSW programs have GRA funding which offers tuition waiver and hourly.  Larger schools have GRA's across campus, so if you don't get the competitive GRA in Social Work, there might be something available in another department.  

 

Westfield has some good faculty, but just went through quite a bit of growth, so a lot of newer people.  If she graduated from there she'd be a graduate of a CSWE accredited program, just like she would if she graduated from Smith.

 

MSW programs really lay out the fundamentals, teach a lot of the groundwork information for learning about clinical social work. A lot of clinical theories are explored, and students try them on to see what fits.  MSW grads are required to have about 2 years (depending on the state) of post-MSW supervised clinical experience before getting an independent practice license.  In my opinion, the more important choice is finding an excellent licensure supervisor if you want to be a good clinician.

 

Smith is harder to get in to, but a lot of people apply and decide not to go because of the price tag.  That said, they have the best reputation for clinical social work.  I provided clinical supervision for a student who went there and loved it.  It's a beautiful campus.

 

In most cases, employers will not care where a person completed their MSW.  This might be different in very high-profile jobs (a policy advocate, for instance) or if she plans on working in a city where one school is considered excellent ad the others mediocre.  When I worked in California, people working in the social work field had no opinion of Smith College.

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Thanks so much; that was extremely helpful advice! The most important thing, I guess, is that she go somewhere she likes and that is CSWE accredited?

 

Do some schools offer better help in finding placement than others? Or do some make it easier to find the right adviser after the MSW?

 

Thanks again!

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I suggest that people place some priority on going to school where they plan to live so they can start making contacts, but some people prioritize going to a school that feels like a better personal match.  Either way, the school should be CSWE accredited. 

 

The clinical supervision after the MSW- in a clinical agency, will usually be provided by the agency.  This is great because it's expensive out-of-pocket, but one should make their employment decision in part on the quality of clinical supervision they will get at the employing agency.  I'd advocate taking less pay for great supervision vs. working somewhere with bad supervision for more money.  If the employing agency does not require a clinical license, it may not provide clinical supervision- out of pocket, it costs $50 an hour and up, and one is typically required to engage in an hour of supervision a week. Schools do not help find post-MSW supervision specifically, as it is typically connected to employment.

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Once again, thank you. As for location, how specific should it be? For example, my girlfriend and I are from close but different places: I'm native to Boston, and she to NYC. If she's going to a program in, say, Northampton, Massachusetts, would that be close enough to Boston and NYC to have a reputation in both places? I guess what I'm asking is, when you say put a priority on a nearby school, do you mean regionally, i.e. don't go to U of Michigan even thought it's top ranked if you want to live in the Northeast? Or do you mean make sure to be in the same metro?

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Well, if you look at my justification for making a choice (to begin making contacts and understanding the community where you hope to work) then it makes sense to go to school as close to possible in the community where you hope to work.  I don't think there's much "make sure" in this game though- there are a lot of puzzle pieces to consider, and you have to figure out how they fit best based on what's most important to the student.  If she thinks going to a top-ranked school will make her feel really really good about herself, I'd say place a higher priority on that.  Everyone's different in terms of what they value.  I value practicality, in general, and what's practical to me is getting to know the community where I hope to work and not racking up a bunch of loan money if possible.

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Hi,

 

I've been a clinical social worker for 13+ years (15+ counting grad school); here's my take on the field and your questions:

 

1. Go to the most affordable school you can get into. If you're currently residents of NYC, that would be Hunter. Social work salaries aren't great, so you don't want to rack up huge debt.

 

2. No one cares what school you went to, at least for clinical work. I've been part of the hiring process for several clinicans, and we look for their field placements mostly because that's where you get your skills. Ex., if we need a clinician with lots of child experience, we'll look for someone who was placed in a school setting, doesn't matter where they went to school. The MSW cirriculum is fairly standardized so all schools teach pretty much the same things. (However, most of the socal work schools in NYC are pretty good, so we are safe hiring people from them. Not sure how Westfield State University would be viewed. Maybe contact some agencies and set up an informational interview and ask?)

 

3. Yes, go to a school that is accredited.

 

4. In NYS there is a social work tuition reimbursement bill that's been passed, but I don't think it offers too much $. Some agencies like ACS offer reimbursement if you work there for a few years. Maybe the military or the VA, do some research about that.

 

5. The main contacts you'll make will come from your field placements and the faculty. (I took a course on social work in hospitals and the prof, who was the director of soc wk in a major hospital, invited me to interview for a job close to graduation.)

 

Good luck,

 

Duck!

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