Wondering if they made the right decisions regarding their education and career are common MSW student concerns. We are people that are drawn to helping the disadvantaged, so we may worry that time in the classroom is a waste of resources or disconnected from the gravity of social problems. Also, as individuals attuned to the importance of well-being, we may notice our own unhappiness or distress that stems from everything from poorly instructed courses and time management to identity crises.
I interviewed my friend and former classmate, Caitlin Gorr, to better understand her journey of choosing (and ultimately choosing to stay with) an MSW program while experiencing doubts.
CG: This may sound silly, but when I was little I used to watch those stupid talk shows, like Maury Povich. Whenever there was an episode about sick children, my heart really ached. I think this was one of the first signs that I would probably work with people. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and began working as a case manager for women who suffer from mental illness. I was really motivated to be the first in my family to achieve a higher education degree. After working in the field for several years, I thought social work made the most sense to continue my studies. An MSW keeps doors wide open instead of closing them, unlike a Masters in psychology or something really specific.
ISC: After being accepted into an MSW program, you deferred your admissions for one year. What happened during that time?
CG: I moved to California and tried living out there for a bit. This trip helped me to realize how significant higher education is as it was difficult for me to land a job that I was satisfied with.
ISC: When did you first consider leaving the program and why?
CG: I question everything I do in my life, sometimes to a fault. I have a hard time sticking to one thing because my mind is always on the next. After the first semester of the program, I was frustrated because I had learned all of the material in my undergraduate program. The MSW is designed for someone who has no background in social work or a related field. It makes sense, as there were people from all realms. I should have been wiser and tested out of the primary micro courses. I also felt like a lot of it was common knowledge. I remember reading articles that would literally tell you not to instruct clients to kill themselves. I also feel that each and every case and person are so distinct and different that specific theories are often not the best approach, but theory-driven intervention was a primary part of first year.
A big part of me wanting to leave was being unsure if I wanted this path for my life, and by this I mean “professionalism.” I was scared that I was just going with the norm and doing what I was supposed to instead of really discovering me.
Although I expressed my doubtful feelings a lot, I never would have dropped out of the program.
ISC: You had some serious concerns and understandable complaints about the program. What helped to temper these doubts?
CG: I really enjoyed the social aspect of it. Never before have I met so many people who I have so much in common with. I realized that I have my whole life to discover myself and an MSW is a beneficial task to have completed along my journey.
ISC: What advice do you have for someone considering an MSW?
CG: I recommend working in the field first. I think this makes the program so much more valuable. How can you truly know you want to be a social worker if you have a bachelor’s degree in biology and worked in a sandwich shop? Social work is not for everyone, and being a kind and caring person is simply not enough. Also, keep in mind that social work is a hard thing to study because there is no right or wrong answer.
ISC: If someone is in a program and begins to have thoughts of leaving, what questions should he ask himself?
CG: I think someone should try and picture him/herself using the degree. Ask, are you learning or growing as a person because of the experience? I think it is harder to quit a program then it is to stay in it, especially when factoring in the cost of it all.
ISC: What were the most valuable lessons you learned during your MSW program?
CG: I learned a lot during those two years. One valuable lesson is to think for and trust myself. Just because someone has the title as professor does not mean they are any smarter than you. By the second year, all of my classes were like a small family. We all knew each other really well and it was so comfortable. This was new to me and I learned how to grow and thrive in connection to other people’s energy. A part of me thinks we were a really special group of people.
ISC: You graduated in May of 2011. What are you up to these days?
CG: I have been living in Santiago, Chile. I have always wanted to live abroad and improve my Spanish skills. With no job set up and not knowing anyone, I had no idea what I would be doing. Somehow, I ended up working for a social venture. In Chile, and probably most of South America, books are outrageously over-priced. Also, all school books for children of all ages must be purchased by the families. I work with a very small organization called GreenLibros. We collaborate with schools and organizations to obtain donated books. Then, we sell the ones we can at an affordable price and recycle the rest.
ISC: Any final words for us?
CG: Live your dreams, cherish the environment, and don’t eat endangered species!!!!
Why did you decide to obtain an MSW? Did you ever consider leaving your MSW program? Please share your experiences with us in the comments section.