A surprising number of MSW students are second-career social workers, meaning they have held full time jobs in other fields prior to applying to the MSW program. For many of these folks, the decision was an emotional one. They’re motivated to help people and want to make a career of it. Perhaps something happened in their lives that led them to encounter a social worker. Now they are inspired to give back. There are a variety of reasons motivating people to switch careers. It’s important to dig deep and really understand your motivations. Here are some things potential MSW students should ask themselves before making the switch:
- Fordham's top-ranked Graduate School of Social Service Online Master of Social Work - Top-25 ranked online MSW offers both Traditional and Advanced standing programs. Both CSWE-accredited programs allow you to earn your degree full-time or part-time. Visit School's Website
- Capella University's CSWE accredited online Master of Social Work program helps prepare students to enter the general or clinical practice role. An Advanced Standing MSW option is available. Capella also offers an online Doctor of Social Work. Click Here to contact Capella University about their Master of Social Work program or Doctor of Social Work program.
- Saint Mary's University of Minnesota offers a Online - Master of Social Work, Master of Social Work Advanced and Traditional Track Visit School's Website
- University of Kentucky offers its Online Master of Social Work: Advanced Standing Program available. MSW program includes options for an advanced-standing program (30 credits) and a 60-credit regular standing program. Visit School's Website
- Campbellsville University is proud to offer its Master of Social Work - Addictions, Advanced Standing, Clinical Track, Foundation, Faith Based Track. Visit School's Website
- Our Lady of the Lake University offers its Online BSW and MSW: No GRE or GMAT is required for admission. Advanced Standing available. Visit School's Website
Why Do I Want to Make the Switch?
There are many factors to consider, but the most important is “why?” If you have worked at the same job for ten years and are burned out, are you really looking for a change in careers or a change in environment? Are you making an emotion-driven decision you may change your mind on later? If you’ve had a recent experience that inspires you to do something to help others, do you see yourself still being as inspired in fifteen years? Are you inspired enough to give back 40 or more hours per week for the rest of your working life?
Can I Afford it?
There is a good chance you will lose money (at least temporarily) by going back to school. If you are enrolling in a full-time MSW program, this most likely will necessitate doing a field work/internship experience each semester, in addition to attending a full schedule of classes. Completing these tasks AND working a full-time nine-to-five job may be unrealistic. You’ll need to decide whether you want to take out loans, apply for a graduate assistantship through the university, or arrange with your employer for a sabbatical or part time work option while you go to school. In some cases, your employer may be able to financially assist with your education!
Many second career social workers who come from the private sector will take a pay cut in order to switch careers. Assess your finances and make sure you are able to meet your responsibilities and live within your means if you are making a smaller salary.
One important exception to this might be someone in another helping profession. Even for masters-level counselors, an MSW may substantially increase marketability. In some states, social workers have a lot more independence than counselors. This varies by state, so it’s important to do your research.
Does Social Work Fit Your Life Plans?
Graduate school requires a lot of homework, including textbook and journal article reading, writing papers, conducting research, group projects, and presentations — all of which has to be completed outside the classroom. Talk to the VIPs in your personal life and make sure you have the support you need to focus on your MSW and the career that follows.
Unlike a traditional college senior who most likely doesn’t have a mortgage, small children running around the house, or older children preparing to attend college themselves, second-career social workers may have bigger life commitments to consider. Many social work jobs require work outside of a 9-5 schedule. Are you comfortable with the idea of meeting clients in their homes, attending an after-hours meeting, or being on-call for client crises on evenings and weekends?
How long do you have until you retire? Changing careers and going back to school can impact your retirement plans, more so the closer you are to retiring.
Will Making This Career Change Necessitate Changing Where You Live?
If you’re a good online learner, there are more opportunities than ever to complete your MSW online. Conversely, if you prefer to be in a classroom, make sure there is a CSWE accredited social work program in your area. If not, how far are you willing to drive? Would you consider a move? Would your family?
We know that as a field, social work is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years, but you’ll want to research whether that seems to match the economic culture in your area. Are you going to have to move to make yourself marketable? If so, is that an idea with which your family is on board?
Forget About Your Age. What About Your Health?
Age is just a number and it doesn’t necessarily mean much. What’s more important is how you’re feeling, both physically and emotionally. How is your energy level? How well do you handle stress? Are you a good role-juggler? Do you handle change well?
Our clients know even better than we do how challenging it is to make big changes to our personal and professional lives. As social workers, it’s our job to support them through making those changes. This support starts with being a good role model and considering all factors before making changes. Social work is a rewarding field, but it’s hard work! Before you apply to a MSW program, be sure that this career change fits in with the rest of your life.