Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Social Work and Dual Degree Programs

The Social Work Today newsletter released this article in its September/October 2009 issue. After completing my first year in a dual-degree program, I should discuss this popular topic: Should you pursue a dual-degree in social work and another discipline?

The article does an excellent job laying out the facts, arguments, and research. It also lists samples of institutions that provide dual-degree programs in social work and another discipline.
...having only a social work degree is not enough to obtain a fulfilling job. Faced with an increasingly competitive job market tightened further by the economic recession, many social workers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack to secure the positions they want. And, for some social work students, the way to stand out in the crowd is by completing a dual degree program. These programs allow students to pursue an MSW and a degree in another discipline in parallel, making it possible for students to earn the degrees in less time than it would take to earn them separately.

Dual degrees aren’t new in social work, but they are attracting more attention from universities and students adapting to the profession’s increasingly interdisciplinary nature.

Nevertheless, there are drawbacks. I caution people to only pursue dual-degrees if you are passionate about both fields. In other words, pursue the dual-degree only if it is absolutely necessary for your future career goals. It is a major endeavor mentally and financially (It can take an additional year to finish, and you won't graduate with your incoming cohort). There can also be a sense of isolation if there are only few people who share your academic interests (I discovered my other interests -- library and information science -- makes me very unique among my peers).
Despite the benefits of a dual degree, the programs are not for everyone. In fact, they often come with major obstacles that turn off some students. The primary obstacle is that the investment of time and money needed to complete a dual degree program—though less than that needed to earn two degrees separately—is significantly larger than that needed to get an MSW alone.

The good news is that dual-degree students, on average, receive higher earnings and have more access to management positions after graduation. The bottom line is that one should do careful, thorough research before they apply to multiple disciplines. Figure out where your interests intersect and decide whether another degree makes sense. Otherwise, just stick with the MSW degree.
However, a 2008 study (Miller, Hopkins, & Greif) suggests that a dual degree can speed the advancement of a social worker’s career. Forty-two percent of the 72 dual degree graduates who participated in the study reported that they were hired into management positions for their first job after graduation. The authors also found that the mean salaries of the dual degree graduates ($60,000) were higher than the National Association of Social Workers’ published mean for all social workers ($47,200).

[UPDATE 09/2012]: I will complete a dual-master's degree in higher education and social work at the University of Michigan in 2013.

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