Friday, September 14, 2012

Social Work Graduate School: Selecting Your Area of Concentration

An important question to ask of schools is at what point in the program will you be required to declare your selection of area of concentration (i.e., clinical with an emphasis on children and family treatment, or administrative with an emphasis on community organization).

    The selection of an area of concentration is important because it will determine the emphasis of your graduate education. It should be noted, however, that it will not necessarily limit your job opportunities beyond graduation. As mentioned earlier in this book, all schools have a common core of foundation courses as required by the Council on Social Work Education or CASSW-ACESS. Therefore, all MSW holders, regardless of their school of graduation, have a core set of social work skills. The concentration adds a specialty to that core. For example, I was a clinical concentration student, yet I have held policy and administration positions, as well as clinical ones.

    Some schools do not expect students to declare a concentration until shortly before completing the program’s general requirements. The strength of that approach is that students are better prepared at that point than at the start of the program to make an informed selection. By that point, the general requirements will have given students a good background and foundation in both the clinical and administrative/policy aspects of social welfare.

    Other schools, on the other hand, require students to declare their concentration as early as the time of making application for admission. Inquire of those schools if it would be difficult for you to alter your selection if you should change your mind as a result of what you learn from the general requirement courses.

    Whether a school asks you to declare your concentration in the application for admission or not, it should not be difficult to change your selection if you do it before your concentration phase begins or even soon after beginning work on your concentration. Most schools either ask explicitly in the application what your intended area of concentration will be or infer it from your biographical statement. The reason the information is important to the school during the application phase is that it allows the school to balance the numbers of students who expect to be in the various concentrations the school offers.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Have you researched the schools of social work you are considering?

I read an article the other day on the U.S. News education site that says that the biggest mistake prospective graduate students make is not researching schools thoroughly enough before making a decision. According to Don Martin, the article's writer, people too often decide on a graduate school for reasons such as:
  • my parents went there
  • it's a top ranked school
  • someone said it was a good place to go
And then, sometimes, they are disappointed when the school  isn't everything they had hoped for.

I have seen online discussions on Facebook and other places that go something like this:
  • Student 1:  I hate my school.  I go to _____ U. and it is the worst school ever.
  • Student 2:  Oh, thanks for posting that, because I was thinking of going there myself.

And conversely:
  • Student 1:  I LOVVVVVE University of ______.  If you are thinking of going there, GO! It's the greatest.
  • Student 2:  I'm applying there right now!!! Can't wait!

Problem is, one student's dream school may not meet another's needs at all.  And one person's nightmare might be another's dream.

Jesus Reyes, a former school of social work director of admissions and author of The Social Work Graduate School Applicant's Handbook, suggests that prospective social work students visit their prospective schools, talk with current faculty and staff, and contact current and former students, as well. Prior to the visit, you need to have done some self-reflection to determine what you want to get out of grad school, what you are looking for, and what your career goals are.  Then make a list of questions that relate to what is important to you in a school of social work.

In the book, Reyes provides an extensive checklist for the school visit, Making Your Visit Count: Questions to Ask and Things to Look For. This checklist serves as a starting point for you to develop your own questions about what the school of social work offers academically, socially, and otherwise.  What areas of specialization are offered?  Are there opportunities to work directly with the well-known professor that you so admire? How are field placements set up?  Is there a student association?  How good is the library?  (Don't just ask...visit the library yourself and take a look around.)  Is the campus safe at night? These are some examples of questions you might ask.

Going to grad school to become a social worker is a big decision and a big commitment. It's worthwhile to take the time to dig a little deeper, check things out for yourself, and find the one that is the best fit for YOU!