Should I Keep Working Toward My Masters in Social Work? Now or Later?
March 14, 2013 7:43 AM   Subscribe

In a nutshell: I'm almost 38 years old, happily married, and am currently raising 3 kids (the youngest is 9). I work full-time at a job that I love – and that loves me back - but which doesn't pay particularly well. My husband's income compensates for that. We are decidedly middle class with some debts, low savings, and a mortgage. I have a (Canadian) college diploma in social services that's a little over 2 years old at this point. I am trying to decide whether to further my education - and whether to do it now or later.

I can't afford to go back to school full-time and my work hours don't lend themselves at all to part-time schooling – so I registered last year to work toward my Bachelor of Arts degree followed by my Bachelor of Social Work via distance education at my local university. I was able to transfer my college credits and some previous university credits from an uncompleted degree (in 1993) so I'm not starting from zero.

But.. it is really, really hard for me to learn online. I miss the interaction in the classroom, I miss discussions, and I find the message boards to be awkward. I'm having problems fitting the learning into my work day – my work schedule covers days, evenings and sometimes weekends – which means I feel perpetually stressed-out thinking about, let alone doing, the school work. My online marks are "meh" at best compared to "awesome!" when I was in-school.

At the rate I'm doing this, it's going to take me at least another 5+ years to get through my BA and BSW and then get started on my Masters of Social Work - the idea of this makes me want to weep.

But, those 5+ years are going to pass anyway, so it might as well pass with me doing something to improve myself, right?

Except... The flip side is that, in a little over 5 years, two of my kids will (likely) not be at home anymore. Some of our debts will be paid off. I'll have 5 more years of work experience in my field and could, in theory, be making more money than I currently do (and so, too, could my husband). I could potentially go back to school full-time in person if getting my BSW/MSW is still important to me - and it would be in a way that isn't overwhelmingly stressful for me.

Getting those degrees in place would open more doors (though I have my own feelings about formal education, I also recognize the need to 'play the game' in this regard). I don't have a specific goal in mind for after getting the degrees, but I also recognize that I'm a bit limited with my current education in terms of employability/financial compensation. I absolutely love my current job, and would be happy to do it for the next several years at least, but it's possible that outreach work may not be something I want to be doing in my 50s.

I would really appreciate any feedback, thoughts, comments y'all could offer. Should I keep dragging myself through this or should I put it on hold for a while?
posted by VioletU to Education (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is the field you are in now at all related to the degree you want? If not, and if you love your job, why do you want a degree (and presumably career) in a different field? Is it realistic to switch fields at this point in your worklife, even if you got a degree as soon as possible?

If you really want to move to social work and it's not already where you are working, then a degree makes sense, and possibly a job change. If not, then there is no reason to put yourself through the process of getting the degree. If you just want a degree for the hell of it, then it can wait, and you still could just audit classes when you have more free time.

The deeper question I am trying to get at is: why do you want this degree? What exactly will it do for you? When you know that, you'll know how hard you need to work at getting it.
posted by emjaybee at 7:51 AM on March 14, 2013

You've made a very strong case for putting it on hold. It sounds like you'll have more time to go to school in the way you want in a few years and be able to get the masters faster, if it turns out you still want to.

The big thing to me is that it could turn out that you either may not want to work in the field in five years or you may want to but will have gotten the pay you want in another way.
posted by ignignokt at 7:51 AM on March 14, 2013

. I don't have a specific goal in mind for after getting the degrees, but I also recognize that I'm a bit limited with my current education in terms of employability/financial compensation

Are you sure about this? Is it because you don't have a masters, or because employers aren't regarding a Canadian diploma in social services as valuable? Or because you don't want to be in the field?

I'm all for education, and even education for the sake of education, but given the context of your question, I wonder if you've looked into job opportunities or salaries for MSW grads. I say go for it if it's something you want for yourself and your career, but it's not exactly the key to prosperity.
posted by murfed13 at 8:09 AM on March 14, 2013

Also, I have zero familiarity with education in Canada, but do you really need a BA, a BSW and an MSW? In the US you can get the BA and go straight to a two year MSW program. Or just get the BSW and go to a one year MSW. Why both?
posted by murfed13 at 8:18 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I come from a perspective of having just finished three years of full time Masters studies (not in a classroom, but not online either) while raising three children and working full time.

Although I am really glad I did my Masters and it will increase my earning potential I found it really, really difficult and in retrospect I would have done things differently. Basically, I was doing too many things, too poorly.

Five years seems too long to be stretched so thin (esp. if that five years is then followed by one, two or three years in a Masters programme). I am sure you have already researched it, but are you sure you need to get your BSW after your BA in order to get into the Masters programme? With the already existing two year diploma, your years of work experience and now the BA/BSW it seems like you may be over-qualifying yourself. I have friends that go into Laurier's excellent MSW with just a BA, so that is why I am wondering if you have spoken to anyone in admissions or just following the Master's programme listed requirement on their website.

Would it be possible to take a one or two semester sabbatical from work to attend university full-time and plough through a bunch of credits in a focused way?
posted by saucysault at 8:28 AM on March 14, 2013

I know people working very hard on bsw/msw programs and it saps your free time and energy. As well online is really not the same as in classroom learning. You need for credit practicums and supervision to really get into what you are learning. If these are a part of your online learning program you would have to juggle work and a placement which would be difficult. If they're not, you are missing critical face-to-face training.

Friends I know with kids have taken 10 plus years to pursue their academic goals- but they've gotten to spend quality time with their kids when they come home from work. schooling and children is a stretch- perhaps family or reliable friends could commit to easing you childcare needs 2-3 days a week so you could be a student then? Something worth looking in to.

nthing continuing your reasearch-Look into jobs you might want with or without the msw, there's much more than outreach in your future with a msw. Is there a certificate that might be useful in achieving your goals in the short term?
posted by outdoorslady at 8:39 AM on March 14, 2013

I work in a field similar to yours. I tell people all the time that the diploma gets you the job and the degree gets you the advancements. I did my entire university degree part-time - usually taking courses just in the summer, two nights a week, and sometimes one course in other parts of the year just one night a week. I just plucked away at it until it was done. There is no harm in starting to go part time now and then later going full-time. It will be interesting for you now, it will keep you motivated and feeling positive about how things are going with your career, and then if you want to go full-time you'll have fewer credits to complete. And along the way it sends a message to employers about your ambition and dedication to your work. Good luck!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:37 AM on March 14, 2013

Yeah, school isn't going anywhere.

Also, as the daughter of a LCSW, with an MSW from UC Berkeley, an MSW is NOT the path to riches.

Hang out where you are, if you can get promoted to higher paying work, then do that, or see if you can transfer your skills to a better paying job.

5 years WILL pass, but do you want them to pass frustrated and not spending the time you'd like with your kids and husband?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:32 AM on March 14, 2013

Beginning salaries for a MSWs right now are like $30-$35, being generous. Unless you really love and want to do this kind of work it is not the best education to pursue given the pay-off.
posted by Shusha at 1:06 PM on March 14, 2013

Salaries for MSW are very regional. Where I live (Ontario, Canada) someone with an MSW would most likely work for a Health agency, Regional government or school board. The salary would be entry level at $50,000-60,000 with excellent benefits and pension. A co-ordinator or manager level is around $75,000 with about ten direct reports. The MSWs I know in private practice charge around $90/hour (but usually work around 30/hours a week and have overhead like office rent) and don't have benefits/matching pension. The entry level is usually the hardest to get in and if the OP is in a large agency that is unionised she can build her seniority while pursing her education and move up as her education is completed. A selection of positions are here.
posted by saucysault at 2:44 PM on March 14, 2013

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