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Jul 29, 2020
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I am deciding between Pepperdine University's Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy and Smith College's Master of Social Work. I ultimately see myself as an LCSW with a private practice in Los Angeles specializing in LGBTQIA+ mental health and wellness.

Pepperdine's program would prepare me for licensure as an LMFT whereas Smith College's would prepare me for licensure as an LCSW. I am drawn to Pepperdine's focus on learning various therapeutic approaches as I am less interested in public policy. That being said, Smith College is regarded as one of the strongest social work programs in the country with a clinical focus and is the more rigorous of the two programs. Their Block Plan would allow me to pursue a clinical internship at a site in L.A., returning to campus in Massachusetts during the summers to complete the coursework.

My dilemma is the classic LMFT vs. LCSW debate. I would appreciate any thoughts on this given my interest in the therapeutic encounter, not social policy change. Also, I foresee myself settling down in Austin, Texas, later in my life to be near my mother. Is an LMFT as transferable across state lines as an LCSW?

Smith College's block plan seems a bit wearisome but it is the more rigorous of the two programs and offers more courses on serving queer clients. That being said, Pepperdine's intimate 24-person cohort class size is appealing, as is its focus on psychotherapy and location outside L.A.

I would appreciate any feedback as I contemplate this momentous decision.

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LCSW is a much more portable degree than the LMFT. I would go with that one. Also, I would save your money and go with a state university MSW program. They typically offer a great education for a fraction of the cost. MSWs don't make enough to warrant $65000 in student loans. Also, where did you see they are top ranked other than on their website? I'm on the East coast and know a lot of LCSWs and have never heard anything about their program, so I'm not sure how much of that is accurate vs just a marketing strategy.
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I second what @PsyDuck90 said. And also, I'd be wary of programs that distinguish themselves by offering specialized coursework. You can obtain a practicum and focus in this population. Often supervised clinical practice is the better teacher anyways and it's a lot cheaper than taking out more student loan debt for some faculty pet project.
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Since you already know exactly where you'd like to practice and what you'd like to specialize in, attending a non-local program will likely limit your opportunities for networking and mentoring. Being successful in private practice requires therapy skills but also connections for referrals, business sense, knowledge of the local market, etc etc etc and I doubt Smith will be able to help you significantly in these areas.

I also agree with @PsyDuck90 to look for a state school. Not only is it likely cheaper but they've probably also operated their programs longer as part of their institution's overall public mission and may have better connections for practicums, networking, and local employers who have been happy with their graduates and can help you with initial jobs.

Good luck!
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Thank you for your feedback! I really appreciate it and plan on taking your suggestions into account as I weigh my options.