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

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