Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Going to Social Work Graduate School - For the Right Reasons!

by Brittany Stahnke Couturier

Two years ago, I was far from the confident social work student I am today, but from the outside, it seemed I was thriving. I had worked my way into a Ph.D. program in psychology and moved cross-country with my husband to grab at the opportunity. However, I hadn't put myself there for the right reasons. I had done it for egoto feel good about myself.

I had always wanted to "help" people, but that was not why I was working to become a psychologist. I had never stopped to think of other options—other ways to do just that. I had tunnel-visioned my way to a town that was a major culture shock and into a program which I doubted was going to help me be who I wanted to be. Professionally, yes, but not personally.

Graduate programs can have as high as a 50% attrition/drop-out rate. Thousands of uninformed students blindly go into grad programs every year, and thousands leave, wounded and pulling at straws of what to do next. As future social workers, anyone going into the field should be informed— not only regarding people, policy, and the world, but regarding themselves. Be aware of every decision you make and why you are making it. Be aware of the person you are and the person you want to be.

There are a million ways to help people, and a social work degree can help you with many of them. I chose social work, because all of the things I was interested in doing with my life and career were fulfilled by the field of social work. Don't go to grad school because you are unsure what to do next and need to fill the time. Don’t go because you want to make yourself or your parents proud. And certainly don't go to make more money.

Go to graduate school in social work because you believe in people and have more tolerance than impatience. Go because you have worked in the field and want more knowledge and to move up the ladder. Go because you are hands-on. Go because your best days have been those that have been focused on other people. Go because you look at someone who hurts other people and wonder who once hurt them. Go because you were born a social worker.

As someone who has degrees in both criminal justice and psychology, fields in which people commit themselves to also help others, I can state that there is nothing like social work. I work every day to be more selfless, but in the end, I do this for me, as well. I want to go home at the end of the day and feel fulfilled. I am a person who needs to feel I have made a difference. Social work called to me during my darkest times, before I dropped out of my doctorate program, something I speak further about in my recent e-book, Confessions of a Grad School Dropout. I had never even met a social worker before the option was presented to me. But when I look at the happy faces of my professors, and think about the unhappy ones of those in my past program, I know I chose the path for me.

Information about grad school and making a decision is out there—so use it! There is plenty of information about where to go, what program is right for you, and what to do with your degree. 

Brittany Stahnke Couturier is a Master of Social Work student at Florida Atlantic University, with a focus in child welfare, a member of the 2015 class. She recently published her first e-book, Confessions of a Grad School Dropout. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology; a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice; a Bachelor of Arts in English; a minor in Sociology; and a Certificate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, all earned from Florida Atlantic University Magna Cum Laude. Her social work placements include working in adoptions and hospice care. She has published prose in Eternal Heartland and Surrender to the Moon. She runs Hub of the Grad School Dropouts, a blog dedicated to providing support to fellow students. She lives in Palm Beach County, Florida, with her husband and cat, Yoda. She can be reached at

Friday, October 10, 2014

3 Tips To Reduce Your Graduate School Application Stress

by Katie-Ann Mason, Ed.M.

1. Be Prepared

When applying to graduate school, allow yourself plenty of time, and make sure you are prepared for the process. When you are searching for schools or researching a specific school of interest, it is important to review the schools website in detail. You will likely have questions that cant be answered online, but it is an important place to start. Many schools put pertinent admissions, financial aid, and academic program information on their sites just for you. Before applying, you also want to be sure that you are in compliance with all eligibility requirements, and that you understand the complete process. 

2. Start Early

I recommend starting the application process early. You want to give yourself time to collect all the pieces of your application. You also want to give your references time to complete their recommendations for you. Everyone gets busy, including your references. Out of fairness to them, give them time to carefully write up and submit your recommendation. You also want to allow time as a buffer in case there are any problems getting your official transcripts sent to the school.

3. Put Your Best Foot Forward in the Personal Statement

For many schools, the personal statement is a writing sample, so be sure you follow the prescribed format, answer the required questions, and have one or more people look it over and review for grammar, spelling, or content errors and concerns. The personal statement is also one of the subjective parts of your application. It is the review committees chance to hear your voice. This statement is your chance to relay why you are choosing a certain profession or career path, why you are choosing to apply to that school in particular, and why you are a good fit for the school. It also provides you an opportunity to discuss any piece of the application that you are concerned with. For example, if you failed a class or had to withdraw, discussing these matters in your personal statement gives the committee something else to consider other than a grade on a paper.

Applying to graduate school can be stressful. Try to enjoy the search process and remember that you have to choose the school that is the best overall fit for you. 

Katie-Ann Mason, Ed.M., is the admissions officer at the Boston University School of SocialWork, a dynamic, urban-based graduate program offering MSW and PhD and continuing professional education.