At GSSW there seems to be a pretty balanced population of students who came straight to graduate school from undergraduate and those folks that have been working in the field for anywhere from 1 year to 25 years. From my perspective, there are benefits to both and both groups have a lot to offer classroom discussions, each having a different perspective on those populations that we will serve.
As a student that worked for a number of years before returning to graduate school, I find that those people that have worked tend to have had their “perfect world” bubble burst long before now. When you enter the field of social work, regardless of what you studied as an undergraduate, there is a definite period of time when you realize how little you were taught about the reality of the world we live in and the work that we will do as social workers. You are provided with a new lens through which to look at the clients we serve, the challenges facing non-profits and the discrepancies between the goal of public policy and their actual outcomes.
I value the time I spent in the workforce and feel that I’m a better graduate student because of it. It allowed me to find out what I didn’t want to do as a professional social worker and helped clarify/narrow down what I did want to do. I also believe that the pressures of work environments taught me to be a better student than I was as an undergraduate (though I was still an overachiever then, too).