Frequently Asked Questions


We’ve asked two CSUF professors, the chair of the Counseling department, Dr. Leah Brew, and the director of Social Work Department, Dr. David Cherin, to answer some questions that Human Services students frequently ask about graduate school. You can find their responses to questions about degree types, working while being in school, and differences between counseling and social work here.


Get Answers Below

How beneficial is having a Masters degree compared to just having your Bachelors

Professor Brew:   “Very beneficial! With a Master's degree in Counseling, graduates are able to sit for the licensing exam after collecting their internship hours. With a credential like a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), one has many choices such as private practice doing therapy, consulting and training, teaching undergraduate courses in the field, or working at agencies or for social services agencies. Even though you can work at agencies or for Social Services without your degree, the nature of the work will be more therapy-oriented, and you will be paid at a much higher salary. In general, people with Master's degrees earn significantly more than those who stop at their Bachelor's degree. The biggest challenge is that you have another 2-4 years of schooling (48-unit or 60-unit program), plus another 2 years post degree to earn your internship hours before you can sit for the exam. You will, though, be able to work part time or full time while doing this.”

Professor Cherin:   “An MSW was the terminal or highest degree in social work before the ph.d programs began in the mid 1950’s.  It is recognized as a professional degree where the BSW is an entry level degree that requires supervision in public agencies from an msw.  The msw is required if one wants to get an lcsw.”  

How beneficial is having a Ph.D. degree?

Dr. Cherin: “If you want to teach in social work as a career you truly need a ph.d. You can teach with an msw but you are limited to the lecture level as opposed to tenure track.”

Dr. Brew: “Obtaining your Ph.D. is also quite beneficial, and if you want to pursue a Ph.D. in Psychology, you probably will not need your Master's degree first. In California, most doctoral programs are in Clinical Psychology and will accept students directly from their undergraduate degree. If you have coursework from a Master's degree, they will often not transfer any of these units toward your doctorate, unless earned from the same institution. However, this field is highly competitive which means that you will need high scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and a very high grade point average (GPA). Once you earn your doctorate, you will be eligible to take the licensing exam for psychologists, who earn even higher incomes than Master's level professionals. The biggest challenge is you will have a five-year commitment - minimum, to complete this degree, and most often, you will be required to attend school full time. In addition to the options above for a Master's degree, you would also be able to teach at any level within a university.”

Will I be able to work full time and go to grad school?

Professor Brew: “This depends on where you earn your degree. In the Department of Counseling at CSUF, you most definitely can work full time. If you have young children, a significant other, work full time, and plan on going to school, you may feel overwhelmed at the end of each semester with exams, but many of our students do this. They usually take two classes per long semester, and often take summers off (for mental health reasons). If you don't have quite so much on your plate, then working full time and going to school is busy, but quite reasonable. The standard formula for graduate school is that you should plan to study 2 hours for every 1 hour you are in class. So, if you take 2 classes (6 hours/units), then plan on doing homework for about 12 hours each week, depending on the week. Most of the students in the Counseling Department at CSUF work full time, and nearly everyone works at least part time.

Some Master's programs require that you go to school full time, so working full time might be difficult, if not impossible. You'll need to ask that question as you research where you want to go to school. Nearly all doctoral programs require that you go to school full time making it unlikely for you to work full time.”

Professor Cherin: “It is very, very difficult to go full time to grad school and work. It can be done, but your msw program” (at CSUF) “requires two full days a week in field and two day per week in the classroom.  There is little time for work.  If work is a necessity we would recommend a program offering a part time option.”

I can’t decide between counseling and social work. What are some major differences between these two programs?

Professor Cherin: “The counseling and msw degree overlap only in that with each one can provide clinical services to clients and individuals.  The msw degree offers flexibility in career choices ranging from direct clinical services to policy and research positions.  The choice of graduate degree is personal preference and should be decided based on current and long term career choices.”

Professor Brew: “In some ways, they are similar. For example, once you complete your degree, internship hours, and pass the licensing exam, you can have a private practice providing therapy. There are some philosophical differences though. Social Work focuses on the social environment and looks at how public policy and other external factors contribute to the problems of individuals. The coursework tends to focus on issues of diversity, working with severely mentally ill individuals, and understanding social contexts.

Counseling is focused more upon the individual and his or her family. Counselors view problems from a developmental or a family systems perspective. Wellness and prevention is emphasized. In the Counseling Department at CSUF, you take courses like couples therapy, family therapy, child and adolescent therapy, group therapy, basic counseling skills, counseling and culture, and others like this. Students are expected to look at themselves and their own families throughout the program. Self-disclosure in class is common (for those students who feel comfortable doing so). Students are encouraged to pursue personal growth. This is starkly different from social work. If you enjoy personal growth, then counseling may be the right decision for you.”

I want to provide therapy. What’s the difference between counseling in the social work and counseling fields?

Dr. Brew: “If you want to go into private practice to provide therapy, there is little-to-no difference when it comes to doing the work. What is different is how you are trained. You may want to look at the curriculum of these departments and see which courses seem more interesting to you. The Counseling Department at CSUF has courses such as couples counseling, family counseling, child and adolescent counseling, group therapy, counseling and culture, basic counseling skills and many others. In many of these courses, you have a practical component where you get to try these new skills with the support of a faculty member to give you guidance. These courses are very specific to learning a variety of theoretical orientations for you to choose from, and how you might approach different ages or types of issues to provide talk therapy.  So, a degree in counseling more than prepares you to handle a variety of client issues and client types.”