By: Jane E. Shersher, LSW & Founder of Counselors Autonomous, a program within Ava Today
Choosing an MSW program to apply to can be overwhelming and challenging, but there is a way to have a successful experience… this is the path that I took to achieve clarity and focus in my search:
Read the Social Work School’s Website
This is more useful than trying to find a ranking, which doesn’t really mean anything in the social work world and isn’t reliable for much. You can find on a school’s website their orientation to education: are their social workers more community service base oriented, clinically trained, or administratively focused? I remember reading the website for the University of Chicago’s social work program and realizing that I needed to ditch my application half way through because their focus was on administratively based interventions and I wanted strong clinical training so it would not be a good fit despite the prestige aligned with U of C. You also need to ensure that the topics that you are interested in are available within each school’s concentrations- for example I was interested in a health concentration, and this was not offered at each school that I applied to.
Call social workers that work in the geographical area and ask them about the reputation of the school you are considering applying to. Call alumni and current students to hear about their experiences at the school.
Check out RateMyProfessor.com
I looked up the required curriculum classes (national regulations dictate certain classes as a requirement for accreditation) that were offered at each school and looked up in the schedules who was teaching them. I then would look up each professor at ratemyprofessor.com to see what students reported about their experiences in class with these professors. This was crucial for me because I learn through the teacher more than I learn via the textbook and if the professors were not getting spectacular reviews on average at a school, I wouldn’t bother even applying.
Find Out What and Where the Field Placements Are
Field placements are 50% of the degree in my book. Experience is king in social work. Employers hardly ever look at transcripts, but they sure look at your resume, which should include both internships that you have completed along with role descriptions for each job. Employers want solid experience on your resume before they hire you, especially while considering hiring you for clinical service implementation. Find out what the reputation is of each school in the area regarding host sites. You can even call a host site such as a supervisor at a hospital or a non profit/social service setting and see what they have to say about students from programs that you are considering. They would know best regarding the clinical readiness of most students coming to them from each school in the area.
Find Out What Kinds of Jobs Graduates Are Securing
Do your research. Find out accurate numbers regarding the average length of time that it takes for graduates to get their first jobs out of grad school. Discover what what kinds of jobs students are securing upon graduation, how many people pass the LSW exam on the first try, and what the gross pay for graduates upon the first 3 years of hire post graduation is. The answers to these questions may vary greatly depending upon the quality of the school, it’s reputation, and the geographical area in which it is located (for example, urban environments with protective funding for social services are more likely to have more jobs but also more competition for these jobs; consider local funding streams for most non profit employers as pertaining to areas in which schools are located).
Location is very important. If you can afford to live in the neighborhood where you intend to study, believe you will be productive in this neighborhood in order to complete papers, read 1,000 pages of material a week, and prepare for tests and presentations, plus have a safe and stress-free commute back home, then you are well on your way to selecting a program. In both instances where I studied in Boston and Chicago, I felt that the city life was 25% of my education, classroom and homework another 25% and the internships comprising the remaining 50%.
That’s my two cents. I’m happy to answer questions regarding this process or unmentioned topics that have not yet been covered here. Good Luck!