Can I Handle It?: Brown School Workload | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
Jill Conway
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Can I Handle It?: Brown School Workload

I remember back to that time a year ago when I initially received my acceptance letter from the Brown School. So many thoughts rushed through my head when I received the acceptance packet in the small community where I was living in Albania. I was feeling… Happiness! Wow, I was accepted into my first choice school – one of the best social work programs in the country!  Excitement! I have the opportunity to start fresh and gain new skills in a field that I love! Anxiety. How hard is it going to be? Will the workload be too much? Can I do it? It makes sense to have mixed emotions when making the big life decision to return to school and that initial apprehension is completely normal. Many prospective students (myself included) wonder about whether or not they are made for graduate school and whether or not they can do it. But I’m here to tell you that it’s definitely possible, especially with the support and guidance that you’ll receive here.

 Course load can really vary at the Brown School depending on each concentration route, as well as from professor to professor. Students that are focusing on mental health and taking more of the clinical route will naturally have different types of coursework than those focusing on social and economic development. While the concentrations and specializations do differ, there are many skills that all social work students at the Brown School will learn, regardless of academic interests. From my experience in the social work curriculum thus far these are some aspects that you can expect from (almost all of) your classes:

  1. Reading: Every course that I have taken at the Brown School has had a fair amount of reading assigned to students outside of class. Assigned materials will correspond with what is currently being discussed in class. Most courses will pull materials from textbooks, evidence-based surveys, and other scholarly or peer-reviewed articles. In one of my courses, we even read a novel and discussed the importance of using bibliotherapy to work through areas of ambivalence with clients. Usually, outside reading for each class can range from one to five hours worth per class a week.
  2. Group work: A lot of the courses that I have taken involve group work projects. This can be in the form of writing a group literature review, implementing a group research project, giving a Brown bag presentation together (where presenters share knowledge on a topic of their choice and participants bring their own lunch!), etc. This semester a partner and I will be giving a Brown bag on the how to be a sex-positive advocate and peer educator. Group work is an important aspect of the social work graduate school experience because it allows us opportunities to grow as team players.
  3. Essays: Essay-writing and the research that goes into writing convincing essays are skills that you will definitely practice and hone at the Brown School. Every class I have been in requires some sort of essay (if not several essays) throughout the semester. This can often be an opportunity to focus on specific topics within the scope of your class that interest you. For example, this semester I am taking an International Social Development Theory course and where we are assigned a 15-20 page analysis of an international social development topic. I’m choosing to focus my research on the international shift in women’s access to education because that aligns with my career trajectory for life after the Brown School.
  4. Oral Presentations: Most courses will incorporate oral presentations. Sometimes these are done individually; sometimes it may be in a group. Being comfortable with public speaking is an important professional development skill to have for careers after graduate school. And even if you’re not comfortable speaking in public just yet, there are opportunities to practice these skills among your peers, as well as with the Communications Lab (one of the many resources that is offered to students at the Brown School).
  5. Evidence-Based Practice and Research: You may have heard me or another blogger discuss the importance of evidence-based practice here at the Brown School. This is a prominent feature of our studies, and for good reason too! Evidence-based practice and research is something that is emphasized in all of the courses in the social work graduate program because we know that evidence-based practices have been empirically proven. Knowing how to find research that supports programs and practices will be a skill gained during your time here!
  6. Field Education: Every social work student at the Brown School will participate in hands-on field education work at one of the many internship opportunities across the state, country, or even globe! During the second semester of your first year you will take enroll in 360 hours (3 credit hours) of a Foundation Practicum internship where you will build upon generalist social work skills such as advocate, broker, counselor, mediator, case manager, etc. In your second year, you will work 600 hours (5 credit hours) of a Concentration Practicum towards in an internship placement that pairs well with your specific concentration and specialization interests. Another cool thing about Concentration Practicum is that those credit hours can be split up between different organizations, so if you’d like to work 240 hours at an organization in St. Louis during the spring semester and then 360 hours in Washington D.C. over the summer, that’s also a possibility.

So even though graduate school is a lot of work, it is totally worth it. I know that I am gaining pertinent skills that will take me far after graduation. I find it fascinating that I have been able to learn so much already in such a short span of time. Just remember, it wouldn’t be one of the best programs in the country if it was easy, but if I can do it, you can do it too!