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Longtime lurker, crippled by the advice on the site: MA vs MSW

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helmint

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After years of wanting to go back to school for clinical social work or mental health counseling, I'm finally in a position to pursue it. I moved back to my home state (MN) where I intend to stay and am now faced with the decision of which programs to pursue. I spent 8 years in Chicago and while there, the MSW would have made the most sense. LCSW's were better regarded than LPC's, and obviously the LCSW is transferable throughout the US. However, now that I'm back in MN permanently, the landscape is a little different. Transferability isn't really a factor for me anymore and the state of MN allows private, independent practice by LPCC's. Further, the cost of the M.A. psych programs here are significantly less than the MSW's: $10k, $15k, even $20k less. I've read repeatedly that someone going into the field of mental health should get the most affordable (accredited) degree possible given the salary expectations post-grad. I've also heard equally emphatic warnings to ONLY pursue the MSW, due to the stronger reputation of the degree. So, now I feel like I'm at an impasse.

On a strictly program-based level, I'm much more drawn to the coursework for the M.A. Psych programs. There's simply way more clinical preparation than the MSW, which is necessarily (but frustratingly) broad due to the nature of the degree and the CSWE requirements. Further, while I'm strongly socially liberal (and am excited about the feminist psychology courses available in one of the programs), I am a little wary of what I've seen as a lack of philosophical diversity within MSW programs. I genuinely want to be surrounded by people with different social/political/theoretical perspectives.

TL;DR: I live in MN where LPCC's are roughly equal to LCSW's (ie: private practice, reputation, etc.). I prefer the coursework in the M.A. psych programs AND they're significantly cheaper. Is there any reason I should continue to consider the MSW or can I get on with it already and apply to the M.A. programs?
 
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Another thing to research, if you haven't already, is whether loan forgiveness / tuition reimbursement programs exist. But in general, I'd agree with finding the lowest cost program.
 

helmint

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Thank you both. I actually (amazingly) just got a job at the university whose M.A. psych and MSW programs were top on my list, which means I'm eligible for tuition remission after one year of employment. I guess my new decision now is whether I want to spend 4 years taking classes slowly while working, but for free, or whether I'll go PT for a year and then quit to go FT.
 

aftermidnight

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I am an LCSW. My experience in TN has been that in many situations your degree won't matter too much. Your clinical skills, the experiences you gain through internships, and reputation/networking will matter far more than the specific discipline you choose. Yes, you will always have a portion of people who caught up in turf wars or who are more focused on the letters next to your name than on what you bring to the table, but often these are not the people you really want to work for anyway. If cost is not a factor, I would simply choose the best program, irrespective of which discipline it falls under. On the other hand, if cost must be taken into account then I strongly encourage folks to consider going cheaper -- if the degree program is credible. Some of my colleagues in my MSSW program took out $50,000 plus in loans and started out making around $30,000. To be clear, some made more than that out of the gate but certainly many did not.
 

smalltownpsych

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Go with the program that best fits who you want to be. Don't just be a therapist. Each degree has a different emphasis and that either fits well with you ar you become one of the mismatched who wishes they were something else.
 
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helmint

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Just saw the rest of these responses. Thanks so much for the straight talk. It's scary to consider taking the "riskier" M.A. Psych route but the program is solidly regarded and all the classes excite me whereas the MSW feels like what I "should" do. And following a "should" is more likely to lead to regret than passion (as experience has taught me).
 
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