A couple of years ago I attended a social work alumni/student networking event. At the time the Dean of Student Affairs for the school of Social Work was attempting to get a career mentoring program off the ground. The idea was that alumni and students would fill out a basic questionnaire about weather or not the were looking to be a mentor or mentee and what career path was of interest to them. The program would then link the mentor with a mentee.
on this night a first year MSW student was talking to me about her interest; if recollection services she had been working with substance abusers. Anyway the conversation turned to the topic of salaries and she told me that she hoped after graduating to get a job making $60,000. I really had to strain to hold back my laughter. She honestly thought that as a newly minted MSW (graduating in the middle of a recession, none the less) that it was possible to get a job making any where near that kind of money. As the night wore on I soon found that a few of her fellow students were equally out of touch with the reality of social work salaries.
At the time I was working as a Domestic Violence Advocate and a number of the students showed interest in this line of work. Many of them did not realize there were other options beside direct practice. A couple of the students asked about salaries for this position and I told them it was in the low 30’s. This made their mouths drop (not in a good way).
Now, many of my fellow MSW graduates indicated to me that their first job after graduation paid under $40,000. The professor of my Capstone class told us that on Long Island the average salary for an MSW was between $38,000-$40,000. If you go to your favorite job board and look at postings for positions requiring an MSW you will find this to be pretty much par for the course.
Around the time of the alumni/student event, I was contacted by a new MSW graduate who had been an intern at an agencies I use to work for. She was frustrated because she was having difficulty finding a job. Her focus was on clinical work, so she was searching for a direct practice position only to find that potential employers did not want to talk to her until she had passed the LMSW. She felt that the university she graduated from had been deceptive about the job prospects for an unlicensed MSW. I have read similar accusations on social work forms.
These encounters got me thinking about how well social work programs are doing at helping to guide students in their careers. In no way are universities responsible for a graduates inability to find employment. Nor should they be liable for a bad return on an educational investment. However, should these programs do a better job at preparing students for the reality of the job market? Could they be doing more to help students chart a career path? Is this even there responsibility?