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Struggling between Macro MSW & MPA


Lauren A.
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Hello everyone, 

I have been considering going to grad school for a while now. The only issue I'm having is trying to decide what I want to go back for. I graduated from my undergrad  program with a BSW with a minor in Child and Family studies. Then I went to work as a case manager. So the obvious thought would be to get my MSW. But I know MSW programs put a lot of focus on  direct practice and clinical studies, which I have decided is not the route I want to go. So I've been thinking about applying for an MSW but just with a macro/policy focus. Then I discovered MPA programs and it seems like that may be the better route. Does anyone have any advice?

Basically can anyone shed any light on the big huge difference between getting your MSW with a macro concentration and getting your MPA?

 

Thanks!

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First, I can speak more to MPA's than MSWs, and I agree with TheCrow's comment -- what are your goals?

If your goals are to manage a government agency and/or evaluate public policy surrounding justice reform, poverty, or something similarly related to social work, then I think an MPA will do you just fine. You'll gain the credible skills to do these kind of things.

I'm not an MSW person (I have an MPA), but my understanding of an MSW -- irrespective of the concentration -- is that the degree is ultimately focused on direct service as a social worker. So, even if some people with MSW's ultimately do something other than become a social worker, most of your graduate school peers will be focused on becoming social workers. With an MPA, most of your peers will be focused instead on managing and evaluating policy from a macro level, which sounds like what you want to do.

Just my two cents!

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1 hour ago, TheCrow said:

What are your goals? This is very specific to your goals.

My goal is to continue to work in the nonprofit sector, but on a more administrative level. Right now what I do is very much so direct practice, and while it is rewarding, I feel like I would be of better use at a management level. Possibly be a director over a program. 

Edited by Lauren A.
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@MasterPublicPolicy,

Thanks for commenting! My goal is to be at a management or program director level of a nonprofit. Your point about everything having a clinical spin anyways is valid, and I'll definitely have to look more into it because I feel like macro minded social workers will be less common than clinical so there may not be as many networking opportunities than an MPA program.

But I'm curious since you have your MPA,  what has your job search experience been like? I've a had a few people tell me I was basically wasting my time looking into MPA programs, and I should get an MBA instead just because of the job market. I would love your prospective on that, if you don't mind sharing. 

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You're welcome!

My job search was fine -- I had a job before I even graduated! Granted, I don't work in a field where anyone would even think of having an MSW. I work in urban planning, so I can't see an MSW/MPA overlap being very common. Maybe in a human services agency it would be, though.

 

I've heard the MBA thing as well. It's probably somewhat valid -- an MBA DOES give you more technical and marketable skills. But here's the catch -- it's a much more expensive degree, and many fewer people work in something like a nonprofit, especially one geared towards poverty alleviation/social justice/other MSW-things. So, I don't think it's at all the right fit, unless money isn't a concern at all. If you're going to take out a lot of debt for an MBA, then I don't see you being as likely to desire working in a nonprofit or something, where pay will be less. Further, I'm not even sure how marketable that would be, especially for a social justice-focused nonprofit. I think in those cases, an MBA might even be a turnoff.

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I just graduated from a macro focused MSW program and had considered a joint MSW/MPA. For me, I already had many of the quantitative/technical skills that an MPP/MPA would teach from my undergraduate degree. I took mostly macro classes during my MSW and I didn't think they were very good because they assumed you knew so little.

There's a big distinction between getting the skills you want, versus "signaling" to future employers that you're a good fit/part of the club for what they do. I took my MSW from a name-brand school and turned it into an amazing macro position. No one asked me anything about my degree during the interview and I couldn't have gotten the job if it wasn't for my undergraduate degree. On the other hand, you also have to balance those two factors with the cost.

In my opinion, I think it might make sense to apply to a number of different types of programs so that you have many different options. My classes weren't the most relevant in my program, but the social work program at my school has infinitely more financial aid than our school of public policy. Especially if you are eligible for advance standing, that could be a great option to get the degree done (if you can do it in one year, you not only save a year of tuition, but gain back a whole additional year to make a salary).

If you're comparing between programs are local, non-brand-name schools (which is a completely valid option!) I think I would definitely go with an MPA unless you want to manage direct service programs. Then they're might be an advantage to an MSW (since you can supervise students and eventually other social workers). I'm not convinced an MSW/MPA makes that much sense for many people - one master's is usually sufficient.

The last comment I have is that I would give real consideration to evening or part-time programs in either vein that will let you keep working while you earn a degree. I think that doing that is definitely an underrated option and I wish I had been in a position to do it.

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An MSW is an incredibly versatile degree. If you find a program that offers a community/economic development focus I doubt that you'd be involved in the clinical side of things at all. In fact, at my "non-brand name" university, some MSW students take graduate policy courses as electives, and that seems to work well. I strongly disagree with the statement that an MSW "degree is ultimately focused on direct service as a social worker." Not true.

I went the macro (aging) route my MSW and the only time we delved into anything clinical was in one required course (individuals, families and groups). I'm finishing up my only required practice class, motivational interviewing, which I highly recommend.

I recently started a full-time, grant-funded position with my university (cancer research). It is an amazing opportuity that will allow me to work on strategic planning, launch a local support group for cancer survivors (with my own grant funding from a national cancer advocacy organization), and work with policymakers from Harvard Law. Our PI is talking about working with me to start a nonprofit and sending me to a 5-day program at Georgetown in the fall, which will be attended by 45 nonprofit executives from across the US. 

I can't imagine doing my job without an MSW, because I have been able to apply all of my coursework on the job (research methods, program evaluation, gerontology, MI, social policy, and aging policy).

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Marco SW is tricky. There are more direct practice jobs. I went to Unv. of Pittsburgh. One of the best Marco programs, wish I did it, I did direct practice. Getting a MSW is more job security. Just my thoughts. 

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Thanks everyone. You guys are giving a lot of great feedback and a lot of things to think about. 

I have been thinking about going part time so that I can continue to earn a salary but I'm not opposed to just pushing through. The main reason I was hesitant with getting my MSW is because I am adamantly opposed to doing more direct practice work. I just do not feel that it is really for me. I am much more interested in research and impacting community level change. 

From what everyone is saying, I am now  really considering getting my MSW with a macro concentration, because I do have advanced standing and could get it done within a year.

And if I just feel like I need an MPA to get me where I want to go, I can do an executive MPA program, as most schools require at least 5 years of experience and I'm working through year 3 currently. 

Im not sure if I will stick to this plan, but I do feel better about my search. If you guys have any thoughts please keep 'em coming!

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7 hours ago, Lauren A. said:

Thanks everyone. You guys are giving a lot of great feedback and a lot of things to think about. 

I have been thinking about going part time so that I can continue to earn a salary but I'm not opposed to just pushing through. The main reason I was hesitant with getting my MSW is because I am adamantly opposed to doing more direct practice work. I just do not feel that it is really for me. I am much more interested in research and impacting community level change. 

From what everyone is saying, I am now  really considering getting my MSW with a macro concentration, because I do have advanced standing and could get it done within a year.

And if I just feel like I need an MPA to get me where I want to go, I can do an executive MPA program, as most schools require at least 5 years of experience and I'm working through year 3 currently. 

Im not sure if I will stick to this plan, but I do feel better about my search. If you guys have any thoughts please keep 'em coming!

Hi Lauren, I struggled with the same predicament. In fact, I was part way through an MPA program before I dropped out and pursued my MSW instead (my original plan was to do both). My goals may differ from yours, but what I appreciate about the MSW is that it gives you a social justice background in whatever you want to concentrate in. I decided to go to UConn, which has an excellent macro program-you can choose Community Organization or Policy Practice, which is what I'm doing. Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions!

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On 6/19/2017 at 6:44 PM, bquinn said:

Hi Lauren, I struggled with the same predicament. In fact, I was part way through an MPA program before I dropped out and pursued my MSW instead (my original plan was to do both). My goals may differ from yours, but what I appreciate about the MSW is that it gives you a social justice background in whatever you want to concentrate in. I decided to go to UConn, which has an excellent macro program-you can choose Community Organization or Policy Practice, which is what I'm doing. Feel free to reach out if you have any other questions!

I'm also starting UConn's MSW program in the fall, but I'm doing the Community Organization concentration.  Their macro program seems to be incredibly solid.

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On 6/18/2017 at 0:54 AM, Lauren A. said:

@MasterPublicPolicy,

Thanks for commenting! My goal is to be at a management or program director level of a nonprofit. Your point about everything having a clinical spin anyways is valid, and I'll definitely have to look more into it because I feel like macro minded social workers will be less common than clinical so there may not be as many networking opportunities than an MPA program.

But I'm curious since you have your MPA,  what has your job search experience been like? I've a had a few people tell me I was basically wasting my time looking into MPA programs, and I should get an MBA instead just because of the job market. I would love your prospective on that, if you don't mind sharing. 

If admin within the non-profit field is your goal, I would recommend MPA because you already have professional credential as a social worker with your BSW. It is great that you already have some field experience too because your experience would definitely help when it comes to policy development and implementation. 

Some MSW schools have administrative focused concentration so I would apply to MPA and MSW programs to see which ones you get accepted to. Maybe some schools offer you scholarship and that would sway your decision (you never know!). It is always good to have options :) 

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On 6/25/2017 at 8:49 AM, COGSCI said:

If admin within the non-profit field is your goal, I would recommend MPA because you already have professional credential as a social worker with your BSW. It is great that you already have some field experience too because your experience would definitely help when it comes to policy development and implementation. 

Some MSW schools have administrative focused concentration so I would apply to MPA and MSW programs to see which ones you get accepted to. Maybe some schools offer you scholarship and that would sway your decision (you never know!). It is always good to have options :) 

I've been considering this as well. Hopefully everything will work out! Slowly but surely, I'll figure it out. 

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I considered the MSW/MPP (or MPA) route but decided on the MSW for its versatility. I don't want to provide direct services but want to strengthened clinical skills as I focus on administrative social work, policy analysis and evaluation. I looked at listings for jobs I'd want in the future and they all list MSW as acceptable degrees for prospective employees. 

I second applying to both MPA and MSW programs after narrowing down your ideal career options and determining which programs would support your goals. 

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