by Phyllis Babrove, MSW, LCSW
In previous articles that I wrote, “A Social Work Career Later in Life” and “My Midlife Crisis Led Me to Social Work,” I talked about the challenges and rewards of being a student in later years. My decision to get a degree was an impulsive one, so that was pretty easy. Next came registering and signing up for classes, and that was also easy. And then the difficulty set in: studying.
I hadn’t been a great student in high school, and here I was, at the age of 40, sitting in a classroom. Once I settled into a routine, I learned how to study and to be organized. The more A’s I earned, the more determined I was to work hard. When I had a difficult class, such as math or science, the frustration would loom over me. But I never let that frustration get the best of me, because my support system - comprised of my husband, children, and friends - always encouraged me to stay positive.
In the introductory social work classes, we learn that it is good practice to teach our clients the importance of having a support system. Whether it pertains to a single parent, an older client who lives alone, or a family that is in a crisis situation, it is essential to have someone to turn to for support. Practicing it in our own lives can mean the difference between giving up on our dreams and achieving them.
Two types of support systems are beneficial for social work students: informal and formal. Examples of informal support systems include family, friends, and fellow students. These are the people in our daily lives who help keep us motivated and on track. I met a woman during my first semester who was also a non-traditional student. We became good friends (we still are 26 years later). Aside from having similar goals, she helped me see that I could get through algebra, and with her help, I did.
Another example of an informal support system occurred during the master’s program. Because of scheduling, students often take classes together throughout the entire program. We became connected to each other this way and did group projects together, studied together, complained to each other, and relied on each other for support. Social media is another means of connecting with people who have a common goal.
Social work students share a common goal, which is, of course, entering the field of social work. Many universities, if not all, offer a formal support system for social workers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The Bachelor’s of Social Work Student Association and the Master’s of Social Work Student Association (they may have different names at your school) provide support in the form of meetings, social events, and networking. I would suggest that you check with the social work department at your school. If they do not already have these associations, perhaps a group of students can find out how to form one.
Another formal support system is the advisor in the social work department. The advisor is familiar with the difficulties students face. That person is there to help with scheduling and to provide information on resources that are available for the students. The advisors are also there to encourage you when you feel stressed.
Whether your ultimate goal is to work in the medical field, educational system, child welfare, or in private practice, you should be proud of yourself. You took a huge step when you registered for that first course. Your support system will help keep you from being discouraged and giving up on yourself when life becomes overwhelming.
Phyllis M. Babrove, MSW, LCSW, recently completed her first novel and is hoping to have it published. She enjoys spending time with her family and likes to travel to New England with her husband of 45 years.