I know one of the hardest decisions for me was choosing whether to enroll in a full-time or a part-time/distance ed MSW program. Clearly, there are advantages to both and ultimately it depends on where you are in your life and what you want out of your grad school experience. Obviously, both get you the exact same degree and have the same opportunities for certificates, dual-degrees, etc. But the routes certainly offer some variation in your time here.
Cohort. In the full-time program, each class has a different group of students as your cohort is much larger, whereas the distance ed cohort is generally between 20-30 students so you take every class in the first two years with the same group of students. This allows you to create strong relationships and find great support and solace among your cohort. Additionally, because you are only exposed to this group, the admissions process is heavily focused on diversity in order to provide a wide range of experience and knowledge to the discussion and overall environment of your first two years. In contrast, the full-time cohort generally gains that diversity organically as you are experiencing each class with a different mixture of people.
Time: two years of full-time studies vs. two-years of part-time and one year of full-time academics. In the distance ed program, you have one year of only classes on Friday. Now, its a full day of classes from 9a-5p, but its just on Fridays. Your second year, you have 16 hours of field work a week and again, class all day on Fridays. The third year, you join the full-time concentration (second year) students and have 24 hours of field and class the other two days of the week. This allows the distance ed students much more flexibility for work and other commitments during the first two years. For the full-time students, it is much harder to balance school and a job during those two years, however, its one less year of lesser income, and one less year of rent without a full-time, MSW-level paycheck.
Opportunities. To be honest, the opportunities, such as scholarship, field placement options, summer school, Research Assistantships, Graduate Assistantships, certificates, dual-degree programs, study abroad trips, and fellowships, are virtually the same. It may take a bit more proactive efforts to arrange your schedule and have potential prerequisites considered if you are in the distance ed program, but the upside is you have an extra year (and an extra summer) to take advantage of these opportunities.
Of course, these aren’t the only differences, but they are some of the most significant. Either way, if you are attending the University of North Carolina School of Social Work, you are getting the exact same, top 5 in the nation, highly favored Master of Social Work degree that comes with the same pride and respect. As a part of the distance ed program, I could not be more pleased and content with my experience at UNC SSW and all the experiences and opportunities it has afforded me.