Welcome to the Student Ambassador Blog! This blog was created by current student Ambassadors of the UNC School of Social Work MSW programs for people like you: Prospective students interested in getting a glimpse of our Master of Social Work program from the student angle. Feel free to contact Student Ambassadors if you want to learn more!
Graduate school encompasses many different levels of exposure and learning; we meet lifelong friends, we study, we learn new skill sets, we study, we broaden our perspectives, we study, we find our passion and purpose in life, we try new things and challenge ourselves with new and awesome experiences, and yep…we study. My point is that our graduate school experiences are so much more than the papers we write or the ever-pressing articles we have to read – although, they are a good portion of our program. Where we decide to attend graduate school and how we explore that area can greatly enhance our experience. North Carolina is a great state to explore! At different times during the year, North Carolinians can choose to go hiking, city touring, beach bumming, skiing (yes, skiing, imagine that!), and vineyard hopping.
As fall weather is upon us (and also fall break) making plans with family and friends to get out and explore can be a gratifying experience, and trust me, a compromise can be made with looming assignments and readings. During my first year as a Winston-Salem Distance Ed student, a third year student told our cohort “never leave the house without an article or book on your person”. This has been how I compromise. I recruit a driver, read on the way, and enjoy every second of my experience while exploring. In truth, I am only practicing what I advise of my clients: the art of mindfulness. When I hike, depending on the level of the trail, my frontal lobe is spending so much time negotiating the trail that my mind drifts into a cleansing decision-making frenzy – lest I trip over a tree trump and bite the dust!
Anyway, all of that to say, I love North Carolina. There are many social predicaments I would prefer to be different; but the exploration of nature and curiosity is a like Switzerland to me: just plain ole’ neutral. So, to begin your exploration, below is a link for NC state parks, NC waterfalls, and Winston-Salem activities. A few of my favorites are Stone Mountain State Park, Triple Falls, Hanging Rock State Park, and…ahem, Winston-Salem (coffee and a movie at our independent art house cinema). Enjoy exploring!
Avoiding applying to grad school? Got the procrastination blues? Have no fear, MSW Motivation Man is here!
Top 10 tips on getting motivated to begin the process!
- Get excited and energized! Getting an MSW degree should first and foremost be EXCITING. At the end of the day, you are going to school to help other people, on behalf of your intended population of interest. How rewarding is that? As a prospective student, no matter what program you decide on, you should be excited towards the possibilities that will come along with an MSW degree. For me, what motivated me to finally begin the application was not only thinking of the people I wanted to impact once I received the degree, but also the populations I had come in contact with ALREADY that led me to the profession to begin with. Their faces and their stories in my head acted as the prime motivation to get GOING. This fire should motivate you to want to begin the application process too. Knowing that you hold the key to unlocking someone else’s potential in the helping professional field should ignite that passion from within you. Your future awaits you! What do you have to lose? Positivity is key.
- Don’t limit yourself. Avoid the negative self-talk that often comes along with starting the application process. This standard talk looks very familiar: “Oh I won’t get in,” or “That school is too competitive for me, so I won’t even apply”. A lot of the times, we know more than we think we do. You will never know until you try! Believing in yourself does not make you cocky! Instead it is the foundation to motivation, the pre-requisite to pressing, “start” if you will. It is important that YOU become your biggest fan first- not your own worst enemy. If you don’t believe in your own personal capabilities first, it will be even harder to convince an admissions team, let alone future clients. Any sort of self-doubt does not get you any closer to the goal, nor any closer to submitting the application! Don’t put yourself in a box on what schools you think would deny or accept you, but rather instead, be open to new possibilities on where you might end up. You never know what you can achieve by just simply believing!
- Self-evaluate: What areas of social work interests you? It is important that you start to ask yourself this and brainstorm what your interests are prior to beginning any program. This simple exercise will propel your coursework and your professional connections (and also hype you up!). I suggest jotting down a quick lists of a couple different social work interests that spark your motivations for wanting to apply for an MSW. There are endless possibilities, and they don’t have to all be related to each other. The sky is the limit in social work. If there is a need you see in a specific population, speak to that! This not only helps you to become more familiar with yourself and reflect, but it gives you options on what you could potentially pursue in the field. You never know who you will end up meeting in graduate school that will change your direction, or which classes will spark another interest you didn’t know you originally had, so I always keep a running lists of these interests on hand. Once again, don’t limit yourself!
- Start early & plan ahead-Applying to grad school is similar to that first encounter with a potential new partner you recently just met…you think about that person all the time and you really want to make a “first move” to let them know you are interested, however you just don’t know where to begin or what to say because you want them to like you. It seems like a daunting task at first, and you’re scared. But after you make that first initial interaction you realize it’s not so bad after all. By starting early and doing your research ahead of schedule on specific MSW programs, you make that initial interaction with schools seem less overwhelming. You begin to know them more as you start the “dating” process. By starting early, you become more familiar with deadlines, requirements, and potential information sessions and the process can seem less intimidating.
- Schedule your GRE test. Notice how I didn’t say “Take the GRE test.” Let’s face it, for me, the biggest first step in beginning the application process was just simply scheduling the GRE. Once I did it, I felt like a huge load was off my chest, almost as if I had just left the actually testing room itself (haha, okay maybe that quite that much excitement, but still!). This simple step acted as the huge catalyst in finally making my transition to begin the application process. On top of that, by setting a non-negotiable date, it motivated me to begin studying and preparing, as well as eliminated anymore time for me to procrastinate. Sometimes just scheduling it makes you feel like it one more baby step closer in the right direction. It’s one thing off your plate and a small victory to MSW success. Do it today!
- Identify your recommenders early. Yep, the good old “recommendation letter” plug paragraph is headed your way. Let’s be real. It’s important to have people that know you WELL so they can brag on you in the most beneficial way! Thinking of those specific people who know you well enough to speak on your behalf can take time, so allow yourself that. But most importantly, nothing will motivate you more to start on an application than knowing that others have already committed to doing their part to brag on you. I became motivated when I knew that many of them had even already started on the process of doing so. I wanted to start on my application because I knew “Hey, if they are doing me this favor, the least I can do is have my application ready in time.” At the end of the day, a recommender cannot upload their letter as submit it as “complete” until you start the application anyways, so it was a good accountability for me to have. Lastly, by identifying recommenders early, it gives them time to get motivated too! (Cause let’s face it, procrastination doesn’t just affect students, teachers, bosses, and professionals need time too!)
- Draft your personal statement. I know Andrew, my fellow ambassador, has already gone through this component to the application pretty in depth within a previous blog post. I will not touch too much on the logistics of drafting it, however, I will say what motivated me to start mine was feeling the impulse inside of me to finally tell my social work story. I saw this as a victory rather than an anxiety-ridden process because it was the first time I was giving myself a voice that pertained to my profession. It was the moment where I finally said out loud what it was that I was interested in, and was able to put it into words for others to read. That was powerful for me. It gave me ownership of my passion and sparked motivation in me. Thinking of the reasons why I was drawn to social work and the people I wanted to impact as I wrote motivated me to want to share experiences throughout my statement. I felt responsible to have the reader feel as though they had shared that same experience alongside with me. The result: the added motivation to begin!
- Ask questions! Getting answers to a lot of my questions in the first couple months really prompted me to want to get going on the application process. I felt by having my questions answered, I was eliminating excuses that originally prevented me from starting the application in the first place. Reaching someone within the school of social work who could answer my questions really helped me feel as though I was getting relevant questions I had towards applying “crossed off my to-do list”, and making strides in the right direction to get motivated.
- Network- Come to events, reach out to professors, and email current students. Nothing will motivate you more to start on the process than by coming to campus here at UNC. By coming and seeing the beautiful school and all it has to offer first hand, it will be contagious! You will have no choice but to fall in love with it and begin the process as soon as you arrive home!
- One step at a time, one day at a time. It might seem overwhelming right now with a lot of moving pieces to the puzzle and loose ends to tie up, but little by little it will all come together. Remember, Rome was not built in one day! It does not happen overnight. Cut yourself some slack and show yourself grace in being able to get it all done. It is a PROCESS—so most importantly, have PATIENCE. Slow and steady will win the race, and I promise it will get done in time. Set a feasible goal for yourself that by the end of each week, you will have something else done towards the completion of your application and hold yourself accountable to that goal. Your motivation will be your strongest weapon as a prospective student!
MSW Motivation Man
You may have heard the latest buzz–it’s all about team work and collaboration!! More and more job opportunities are becoming available for social workers that are couched in a team model, joining us with professionals from other disciplines. The idea being, if we share our unique approaches and bases of knowledge, our clients will receive more comprehensive and holistic care. I have certainly seen the benefit of interacting with students from other departments in my own education. It has been a great way for me to gain greater insight into the issues I will be addressing as a future social worker.
I have loved the opportunities for interdisciplinary learning that I have had in this program. For example, I signed up to take part in an interdisciplinary learning opportunity that brought UNC grad students from a variety of health programs together for four mini-sessions. We were broken into teams representing a variety of programs like nursing, public health, physical therapy, pharmacology, and social work and each team collaborated on addressing the needs of different “clients”. The clients were given to us in the form of short vignettes. It was a terrific way to learn to communicate with other professionals and to benefit from their expertise. I had never known what occupational therapists did and how they could benefit my clients!
This type of knowledge grew for me while I participated with SHAC, a student run health clinic in Carrboro. There I volunteered on a diverse team representing medical students, pharmacy students, nursing students, and other social works students to meet the needs of living clients who came into the clinic for treatment, often because they were uninsured or could not come in to a traditional health center during business hours. I highly recommend volunteering with SHAC. It’s an excellent way to serve the community while you’re in school and to also learn how to work effectively with a diverse team to meet the immediate needs of clients.
Most recently, I signed up to take a course called “Leading for Racial Equity”. This class brought together graduate students from all over campus to partake in a 4-day training on racial equality led by several excellent UNC professors and the excellent staff from the Racial Equity Institute. Not only was this the most racially diverse class setting I’d ever experienced, it was also the most interdisciplinary with students coming from city planning, library sciences, the law school, business school, and health schools. It has been an amazing learning experience and one that I hope the school continues to make available. If you have the chance, I highly recommend this course or any training with REI!
As the field of social work continues to advance, I suspect that being able to work closely and effectively with professionals outside of our field will become increasingly important. These learning opportunities are certainly available in our program but you should be proactive and seek them out! Wonderful things are happening all of the time all over campus.
By checking in with the school newspaper, getting on various student-group list-servs, participating in graduate student events and programming, and most importantly, BY READING YOUR EMAILS! You will be able to keep up with all the fun, interesting, and important learning opportunities available to you outside of your classes. We certainly can’t take advantage of every opportunity (there are not enough hours in the day!) but I would encourage every student to take at least one opportunity to work along side students from other programs. We have a lot to learn from each other and we can go a lot further working side by side!
A few years ago, I worked at a residential mental health facility for teenagers, and occasionally we would take the kids off campus for special activities in the community. I remember one particular Saturday afternoon when we had been given a handful of free tickets to a men’s basketball game at the local university, and I won the rock-paper-scissors battle to chaperone the clients. As part of the halftime entertainment at the game, there was a 3-point shooting exhibition featuring a 60-something-year-old man who apparently held a record for consecutive shots made, shots made in a minute, or something mildly impressive like that. As the man warmed up by taking a few shots from different spots on the floor, I noticed that, although his shooting form was not particularly textbook, he had a routine of physical movements that was virtually identical on every shot. I remember telling one of the kids what I’d noticed: “Watch. Every shot is exactly the same. He steps up as he catches the ball, he releases the ball at the same point and with the same motion, and he hops back a step after each shot.” Over presumably years of practice, he had figured out precisely how to put the ball through the hoop from the distance of the 3-point line and how to move from shot to shot efficiently, without wasted motion.
Step up, shoot, bounce back (swish).
Step up, shoot, bounce back (swish).
When the clock began to count down 60 seconds, nothing changed. Step up, shoot, bounce back (swish). When the crowd cheered with each make—or occasionally groaned at a miss—nothing changed. Step up, shoot, bounce back (swish). He knew what worked , and he stuck with it. He had a repeatable routine that enabled him to hit his mark more often than not, and he relied on it. He had a “groove.”
Fast forward a few years from that Saturday afternoon to this one, and the concept of finding a groove is on my mind again. No, I’m not at the Y perfecting my 3-point shooting stroke—my dreams of roundball glory were laid to rest many moons (and several twisted ankles) ago. I’m four weeks into my second year in the UNC MSW program, and I’m thinking about the things that have enabled me to succeed thus far, and what will allow me to keep my head above water this semester.
(You probably see where I’m going with this, so I’ll cut to the chase…)
Finding a routine that works for you—your groove— is one of the best things that you can do for yourself as an MSW student, both academically and personally. Routines facilitate time management and organization, and as we all know from our Human Development courses, they provide an element of predictability that mitigates stress and anxiety. In other words, you get more stuff done, and you cry less.
So here are some tips for finding your groove:
(1) Prioritize. Start with the things that are most important (e.g., research and paper-writing time) and most inflexible (e.g., classes), and build your schedule around those.
(2) Observe the ebb and flow of your energy and productivity in a given week, and use those patterns to guide your routine. For example, I work 10-hour days on Mondays and Wednesdays, which leaves me pretty drained mentally. So those are the evenings I hit the gym for workout (brain off) then do most of my reading for class. In contrast, I work on assignments and projects during periods when I typically have more energy and focus—weekends, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
(3) Schedule a regular morning/afternoon/night off. It’s good self-care, and it will help you be more productive the rest of the week.
(4) Allow margins in your routine for the unexpected and the “nuts and bolts.” We all have to go to the grocery store, and we all have unforeseen situations that arise. Don’t schedule so tightly that a trip to the Target or a spontaneous lunch date throws your whole day or week off.
(5) Protect your routine. Be willing to tell people “no” when they ask you to do things that will disrupt your groove. Tell them when you WILL be available.
(6) It’s not just about time. Find places where you like to study and/or work on assignments. Find people who will study with you regularly. Find music that energizes you and/or helps you focus. Anything that makes the grad school grind more tolerable can be incorporated into your groove.
Hopefully these tips will help you find your own groove for success in grad school. Or maybe for mastering the 3-point shot. I guess it depends on your goal. :)
I’m a 2nd year full time student and moved from Florida to attend this program. I grew up and lived in Titusville, Florida my entire life. I knew how to get to point a to point b without getting lost, was involved in my community, and most importantly had a wonderful support system. I didn’t think how all of that would change if I moved to another state until I received my acceptance letter to UNC Chapel Hill’s MSW program. My fears of getting lost, not having enough money (out of state tuition..-_-), being away from my family, and losing touch with my friends rushed through my mind and really scared me. My concerns/fears were well founded. Moving to a new state, entering a Master’s program, and taking out student loans are HUGE decisions that should involve deep thought. However, I’ll be vulnerable with y’all…I THINK WAY TOO MUCH and sometimes not to my benefit. Over analyzing often makes making small or big decisions a huge task. In this case, my over analyzing almost prevented me from accepting my admission into the school. I was focused so much on the negative ‘what ifs’ (i.e. don’t make friends, don’t get a job then can’t pay my loans) and not on the positive ‘what ifs’ that could come out of the program (i.e. make amazing friends, connect with and learn from experts in the field, get an awesome job). Finally, I realized I can’t allow the barriers (real or ones made in my head) stop me from pursuing my calling. After ALOT of thought, prayer, and talking with my family I decided UNC’s program was worth the sacrifices.
The decision to move outside of my comfort to somewhere completely foreign to me was not an easy one. Here are some tips on how I reflected if this program was the right fit, worth the financial investment, and the sacrifices. Hopefully you can shape these tips into what works for you.
-Pray: Prayer helped keep my grounded and center me through out the decision process. I was able to speak freely about my worries to someone who I knew was listening. Reminding myself that I was made with a purpose for a purpose guided my decision. Prayer, meditation, or simply just taking time to quiet your 1,000,000 thoughts are really powerful tools.
-Talking to my family and friends..honestly: I knew entering a graduate program would limit my time in many areas..including my relationships. Especially, if I was moving to another state! I didn’t want my family to think I was ignoring them or lose the beautiful connections with my friends. In this day and age there are many forms of staying connected..BUT I know myself..I do not like talking on the phone, Facetiming or Skyping. Therefore, making this whole maintaining and cultivating my relationships thing a little more tricky. While I was making my decision, I sat down with my friends and family and had an honest conversation. I explained how I probably won’t be able to talk for lengthy periods of time on a day to day basis and probably won’t be able to make it for every friend’s birthday, wedding, etc. I also let them know that although I would be busier and probably more stressed it didn’t change my love for them. I don’t know why I thought this would be negatively received but it was the complete opposite. My family and friends were really understanding and appreciated my honesty. Although, distance and time have changed the dynamics within my relationships, the love and support have been a constant. Be honest with your loved ones and let them know how they can best support you in this transition. Also, ask your family and friends how you can best support them even if perhaps it’s miles away.
Thinking about ‘Post MSW’: I’m a very future oriented person. While I was trying to decide if this program was the right fit and if it was worth the sacrifices I began to think about myself post-MSW. I’ve walked across the stage, received my expensive degree…now what? What kind jobs could I apply for? How long did I have before I had to start paying my loans? Would I stay in North Carolina? While some of these questions I’m still in the process of figuring out, I realized I wasn’t asking myself the right question. The question I eventually came to ask myself (which led me to choosing this school) was: will I leave this program equipped with the skill sets and knowledge needed to make a positive impact on the lives of those whom I hoped to serve? Although I’m not at the post-MSW stage yet, I can honestly say with no hesitation that I will leave this program confident in my abilities. My advice to you while you think about what program is right for you: Think about yourself walking across that stage. Will this program offer you the skill sets and knowledge you need to make a positive impact on those you hope to serve?
Want to talk about someone who was scared to apply to grad school? As I slowly raise my hand, I am willing to admit I was petrified about the application process. See, I attended UNC Chapel Hill for my undergraduate studies and it wasn’t necessarily the easiest time in my life. I wasn’t prepared for the rigor and at times felt like a failure because I was used to being successful in my studies. So here I was applying to the School of Social Work at my alma mater and thinking the entire time, “Why I am even applying here?” But I will say I had support surrounding me giving me tough love but also encouraging me at the same time. After months of waiting, I found out I was admitted to the school of social work. I couldn’t contain my excitement, so I just called and text everyone who would answer the phone.
My next thoughts were, “I made it! Now what? How am I going to survive my first semester and not have a repeat of freshman year? And I’ve taken two years off from school, am I ready?” My goal was to be successful in the program and to navigate graduate school better than I did in undergrad. They had already told us the first semester was the most rigorous so, I connected with professors who were teaching our classes as well as other professors who were in the building. Not only did I connect with my professors but, I came to the School of Social Work with Monique, whom I met had seven years prior when we were both in summer bridge. We then became college advisers with the Carolina College Advising Corps and spent two years advising high school students and helping them navigate their journey to college. So we used each other to survive; we found tips and tricks that helped us with all of the readings we had to do (there were a lot). Then Alexandra joined us and with a third resource, we were able to process our thoughts with each other and ask each other questions for clarification. We spent at least one night a week, many times two nights, having paper writing sessions, motivating each other when one of us started tiring out. We were not only classmates, but we became friends. We now have a standing date Thursday nights where we watch one of our favorite shows, Scandal, and enjoy a snack potluck. So now I sing the chorus of Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” (even though it is an old song) because I am just that, a survivor of the first semester of graduate school. If I can survive, you can too!