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!
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!
As the fall semester begins picking up steam, I know many are beginning to feel the pressure mount. Amidst the readings, assignments, clients, and various other things that fill our days (and nights), it can be challenging to find time for it all. Even with the best time management and discipline, things like sleep and a social life are scarce commodities. As an advanced standing student, our cohort was immersed into the program by the “baptism by fire” method during our six-week summer bridge course and second summer session. After a 2 ½ week break, along came the fall semester, and we’ve been rolling with the punches ever since.
Now I must say that though it is demanding, my experience at Carolina has been absolutely amazing. There are still times when I sit in class and am amazed to be receiving instruction from instructors with such a wealth of knowledge and depth of research and field experience. Through my classes and field placement, I am exploring new interests and challenging myself daily. I can honestly say that even in these few short months, I am quite a different professional and person than I was when I walked through the doors of the Tate-Turner-Kuralt building on May 12, and I am looking forward to who I will be on May 10, 2015 (GRADUATION DAY!!).
With all of that being said, there are still days when it gets downright HARD!! For me, balancing four classes (thankfully one’s an audit), my field placement, and a part-time job, though all awesome, isn’t always easy. Whether you’re a senior in undergrad, a professional in the field, or anywhere in between, I think we can all relate. However, in the midst of all of our hard work, I think it’s absolutely necessary that we take time out for SELF. Yes, as social workers, we are often the champions of everyone but ourselves, but if we are to experience longevity in the field (and in life period!), it’s critical that we remember this word that we often skim past in our textbooks: SELF-CARE. :)
So in the midst of reading, studying, typing case notes and meeting minutes, go ahead, take that hike along the Eno River… go out with your friends and salsa dance terribly in front of strangers…go, do something! Even the small things count. And return with a mind renewed and will resolved that you CAN do this. The research paper, the difficult client, and yes, even the grad school application essays. You’ll thank yourself later. :)
Just a Few Moments my Personal of Self-Care:
The way the graduate program is set up at the School of Social Work lends itself to a lot of 3 hour classes. Most undergraduate programs tend to lend themselves to the traditional 3 times a week for 50 minutes or the 2 times a week for 1 hour and 15 minutes classes. I only took two 3 hour night classes during undergrad, so having all 3 hour classes is an adjustment! Here are some tips on surviving:
- Come PREPARED - Preparing yourself for a 3 hour class is very important. The amount of reading for the class session is typically more than a class that meets more frequently because you have an entire week to read for that class. However, you are also balancing two to three other 3 hour classes, that all have readings. Prepare to engage in conversation, most of the 3 hour classes are broken up into a lecture and some type of classroom exercise. Also, bring snacks, water, caffeine, whatever will help you stay focus and energized for class.
- Stay DEDICATED and MOTIVATED - Keep tabs on your syllabus, I like to check off the readings when I have completed them to stay on track. Review your syllabus for upcoming exams, quizzes, and assignments. You don’t get constant reminders about your assignments; it’s up to you to space out the work so you don’t have a tone to do the night before an assignment is due.
- Take BREAKS! – The majority of teachers are really great about giving students at least one break during a 3 hour class. At the beginning of the semester be clear about this expectation. If you need to take more than one break, do so, you don’t want to be bored, burned out or sleepy by long lecturing. Make the most of your break!
- ACTIVE Listening – I know, it’s hard, but actively trying to listen will actually help you focus on what you’re learning. It also makes the time go by faster because you focus on the lesson instead of the time.
- Take GREAT notes – Like I said, this class only meets once a week, take notes so you can review what was previously discussed so you can build on it for the next class.
- Lastly, make FRIENDS – Try to get to know the people who sit around you, after all you are stuck next to them for 3 straight hours a week. You never know when you will need a buddy to provide notes if you have to miss a class. They will also come in handy when you need to do the popular group projects that occur in the social work field or for when you “discuss” concepts with your neighbor.
Over and over I hear that one of the biggest adjustments to grad school is decreased income and increased expenses. We know this when we commit to the program and we resolve to make the sacrifices we must to get the education we need and deserve! At least for me, I was determined to get everything I could out of this opportunity and accept the loans as more than fair payment for the key to unlock my career goals.
However, within the first few weeks, I quickly found there are a few opportunities to get a paycheck while investing in my resume and experiences: University Fellowships, Graduate Assistant Positions and Research Assistantships to name a few. I decided to apply and interview for a Research Assistantship and it has added so much more than a pay check to my time here at UNC School of Social Work!
I am a Research Assistant for Dr. Paul Lanier. His area of expertise is early childhood maltreatment prevention but knows a whole lot about pretty much anything related to early childhood, maltreatment, and prevention programs themselves. He has given me the opportunity to do everything from writing literature reviews for papers and editing full drafts to creating GIS maps and coding research study videos. I am now beginning my second year as his Research Assistant and have already learned more than I ever anticipated!
If this is something you think you might be interested in, here are some tips I’d suggest:
1. Be prepared to make a time commitment (mine is 10 hours a week) to the assistantship. This was a mistake I made by thinking I could just squeeze in 10 hours here and there during my week. I soon learned, I needed to carve out consistent time for at least most of those 10 hours to happen.
2. Do some research around which faculty at the School are experts in your interest areas.
3. Reach out to faculty whose research you find interesting. If they don’t have an available assistantship position for which you can apply, they may be able to point you in the direction of someone who does.
4. Be on the look out for emails announcing open research positions and take the initiative to contact those openings as soon as possible.
I truly could not be more thankful for the hands-on knowledge I have gained through my Research Assistantship. And while there just isn’t enough funding for every student to secure a formal position, many professors would gladly allow you to volunteer on their projects. It is an incredible opportunity offered here at UNC School of Social Work and I would highly recommend it!
Greetings everyone! This summer, I was selected to participate in a fellowship at UCLA and USC. This fellowship was a “Pre-Doctoral Workshop for Urban Planning”. They flew me out to California (my first time EVER on the West Coast!) and I was finally able to walk on the iconic campus of UCLA and USC. They are beautiful places but UNC has my heart <3.
Anyways, below you will see some notes I took during my time there. These notes can be helpful if you’re contemplating if a doctoral degree is necessary for what you want to do later or if you’re confident that you want to pursue doctoral education, below are some practical steps of things you will need to know.
Why should I get a Ph.D at all?
- PhDs help you become a leader in your field. You don’t necessarily have to research, you can become a leader in a corporation or agency you decide to work for
- Real development in the career/field you are interested in depends on who is teaching. If you want there to be a change in your field, become a teacher to the next generation of professionals.
- People can learn a great deal from minority professors/professionals. We become a voice for the voiceless
- Getting a PhD helps you become a critical thinker
- Helps you create knowledge
- Will give you platforms in front of many people in many places to help you advocate for what and who you care about
- Teaches me to write and communicate more effectively
- Teaches me to research and communicate that research
- Equips you to ultimately do something. It is action oriented.
- Becoming knowledgeable in GIS is very important and useful skill (look into courses on this even before you begin a Ph.D program)
- They teach you to be analytical and how to measure things to figure out problems. You don’t get that in undergrad.
- To make a difference, you need to be analytical
- You get your skills—skilled. You take your cutting edge skills and you get to come up with more innovative skills and solutions.
- You get to read and lear
- Students of color need to make their way into leadership positions. One of the ways to produce social change is by having leadership of colored individuals in these societies that are evolving.
- These programs require strength and courage.
- PhDs are people who are independent thinkers. They know how to design and create things from start to finish.
Basics of PhD study
- The first two years are classes, third year you are moving away from classes into the field to do research/collect data, fourth and/or fifth year, you focus on writing.
- You work with an adviser closely the entire time.
- Take the courses you think you need to write the dissertation you want to write
- With funding, you get paid to go to school for at least the first two years (it is pretty common, however, not all schools provide funding).
- You need to find a place that will fund you. Look for places that will fund you at least 4 years after you are accepted to their program.
- You may be asked to become a TA or a RA. Depending on your skill set, you may be offered more funding.
- Look into Ford Foundation. Start applying for fellowships early
- You must motivate yourself to get the work done. Employers look at how long it took you to complete your PhD. 4-5 years is a typical finish time.
What are some good things to do when searching for a program?
- Reach out to faculty you would like to work with. Email them, meet up with them
- Make yourself known. First contact the program admissions person (just tell them who you are, what specific things you are interested in, and some faculty you may be interested in. Ask them what you need to know in reference to applying and having all your materials together), Next, contact the faculty you are interested in, and then the department chair.
- Make sure there are at least two people at the university you choose, that share your professional interest. You wouldn’t want to enroll in a program and the faculty member you desire to work with, leaves for some reason.
- Make sure you go to a place that will provide you with the best advisers, don’t focus too much on the location of the program
- Apply to more than one doctoral program— you can negotiate funding offers
- Make sure you take visits to the places you would really want to study. Make sure you meet all the key people you have been emailing/contacting beforehand.
- Look up articles by topic you’re interested in, find out where those people work, and look into the programs at their school.
- Make sure the faculty that you are looking for are real faculty, not adjunct, lecturers. Look for assistant, associate professors or professors. Be careful about looking at deans because they will be focused on administrative things.
What matters in a PhD application?
- Tell them what frustrates you, tell them about the gaps in the literature, and why your research will help.
- You should demonstrate a passion to understand why things happen a certain way and why that strikes you
- What questions from your field/work experience have to you in regards to your research interest?
- How does your personal experiences lead to new research?
- They are looking to see if you can be a researcher. That’s really what they want to know. Are you interested in research?
- Can you phrase a research question that’s practical?
- Don’t sound too narrowly focused on your research question that you don’t seem interested/willing to grow and develop different ideas when you enter the program
- Try to make sure majority of your recommendation letters are from researchers.
- Let them know you know methodology
Words of advice from recent PhD grads:
- Join a writing group to hold yourself accountable to writing
- Most dissertations are between 150-300 pages
- Think about each chapter as being a bunch of 20 or 30 page papers
- Don’t get the “ I don’t belong here blues”
- Don’t take extra courses you don’t need to graduate. Just take what you need. However, if you think a extra class will give you more insight on your research, do it.
- Could be a good idea to collaborate with an organization and come up with a research question.
- If someone give you the opportunity to publish in a “edited volume” remember, they aren’t as good as journal publications.
- *Undoing the silence—book that helps with writers block
- *Writing your dissertation- teaches you to write your dissertation, 10 min a day
- There is an option to do a 3 page paper dissertation or a full paper manuscript.
I hope you all were able to take something from these great notes listed in this blog post. I will definitely use this as a guide as I continue to search for doctoral programs this fall. I plan to enroll into a doctoral program Fall 2015, so I am currently in the same boat as many of you are, in applying for masters programs. My research interests in a nutshell: What are low-income communities doing to remove barriers to academic success for minority students and how are these communities preparing them for college and to graduate from college? My passion lies in college access and empowering students and families to rise above their current and past situations and follow their dreams.
If you are considering a PhD in Social Work, check out the UNC School of Social Work Doctoral Program http://ssw.unc.edu/programs/doctoral Enjoy!
Until next time folks~~ *
After living in Carrboro and less than 10 minutes away from campus for the last three years, I thought that moving to Durham and commuting to campus would be no big deal. I knew I would miss the convenience of being able to run across the street from my apartment to catch the bus, but I couldn’t wait to have more space and a great deal on rent. I told myself, ‘I’ll just make the 20-minute drive to campus and find a lot to park my car'; however, now having commuted back and forth between Chapel Hill and Durham for the last month, I realize I have grossly underestimated how big of a transition this was going to be.
For other students who are or will be commuting to campus this fall, here are a few warnings and tips for getting to campus safely and on time:
- Prepare Early! If anyone is like me (not quite a morning person), every minute from the time I wake up to the time I walk out of the door is jam-packed. Between hitting the snooze button and figuring out what to wear to accommodate North Carolina’s fickle weather and Tate Turner Kuralt’s at times frigid classrooms, I frequently find myself running late. To avoid a mad dash out of the door (and a potential speeding ticket), I’ve found it helpful to pack my lunch, picking out my clothes, and packing my book bag the night before. Not only do I ensure that I have all I need for classes, I also have saved some critical time for my commute.
- Make time for traffic! Before making the drive from Durham to Chapel Hill in the morning, I had no idea what kind of traffic congestion I would face. No matter if I took side roads or the highway, what I thought was a 20-minute drive was actually a 30-minute commute, filled with stop-and-go traffic and consecutive red lights. Let’s just say it didn’t take long for me to realize that if I was going to commute to campus, I needed to give myself ample time for potential traffic congestion. Just like me, faculty and staff, other UNC students, and community members may also want to get to Chapel Hill by 9am.
- Carpool Anyone? After talking with others about my move to Durham, I found out that many of my classmates and co-workers lived in nearby neighborhoods. Although I have yet to try it out, I am excited about the possibility of sharing the responsibility of driving to campus and carpooling. This will not only be an opportunity spend time with a fellow doctoral student, but also a chance to get to know my neighbors and save some money on gas.
- Commuter Alternative Program—say what? The Commuter Alternative Program, or CAP for short, is a public transportation option available to UNC students and staff who live off-campus. With a focus on “promoting sustainable travel options” and advocating for healthier alternatives for individuals, communities, and the environment, CAP offers a variety of different rewards to Tarheels who make the choice to bike, bus, rideshare, or walk to campus, including:
- Free rides on the Chapel Hill Transit bus system with bus stops all around Chapel Hill.
- Park & Ride lots located in Chapel Hill and Carrboro that are served by Chapel Hill Transit and offer parking options cheaper than those on campus.
- The Triangle Transit GoPass, a free bus pass for commuters traveling to and from Durham, Raleigh, Hillsborough, and other areas of the Triangle with convenient stops around campus. I have taking advantage of the GoPass myself and consider it an absolute lifesaver. I simply park in the designated parking area near the Southpoint Mall movie theater, get on the bus, slide my GoPass card, and enjoy the ride. Instead of having to drive for 30 minutes in traffic only to arrive at the parking lot just as the bus is pulling off, I drive for less than ten minutes and arrive right in front of the School of Social Work. And did I say it was free?
There are other options available too! Just know that you don’t have to sacrifice your time, money, and patience to enjoy the advantages of living off campus.
For more information about commuter options available to UNC students, please visit the UNC Department of Public Safety’s website at http://www.dps.unc.edu/Transit/gettingtowork/CAP/studentcap.cfm
Thank you for your interest in the UNC MSW program! My name is Regina D’Auria and I am an Advanced Standing MSW student here at UNC. All this means is that my undergraduate degree is also in Social Work, and I elected to start the MSW program the week after I graduated. But have no fear if this same similar situation applies to you, UNC really helps to make this transition smooth and easy adjust!
You are definitely ahead of the game by looking at schools and asking questions early. I know the world of application deadlines, letters of recommendation, and the ever-pleasant GRE can seem daunting right now, but I promise you, you are in good company! You have a lot of great opportunities to choose from, so I can definitely understand feeling overwhelmed. I was in a very similar situation as you last year, looking at this same UNC Ambassador website thinking, “I don’t even know where to begin.” Much like you, I had to decide what graduate school would best fit what I wanted to get out of my MSW education.
First semester of my senior year was a very stressful time for me, as I was battling a heavy year of college papers, GRE studying, and exams. Trust me, you are NOT alone! Even with all that, I am here to say be encouraged! You CAN do it. At the end of the day, I chose UNC Chapel Hill for several reasons (faculty, affordability, ranking, sports, location, ETC!) and I have absolutely loved it here so far.
To help assist you in this process: making a plan is always key! I was somewhat overly ambitious and I applied to 9 MSW programs this exact time last year. I definitely would not recommend applying to that many because it only made my decision harder (And let’s face it, it was super expensive and time consuming!). I was faced with the daunting task of talking with programs and visiting AFTER I was accepted in order to narrow my choices down. Case in point, do the opposite of what I did: do your research on the front end of applying so you already have a narrow focus on what it is you are looking for! This will help to make your decision way easier in the end.
I also suggest making a pros and cons list of every school because that really helped me decide. Also, as you look at schools, do not forget to remember how you are treated while as an applicant. That made all the difference to me in choosing UNC (not to mention we are ranked #5 in the nation for our MSW program!). I felt like I was a Tarheel even before I sent my application in because the school really made me feel wanted and appreciated. That is what set UNC apart for me verses other schools. Students are the priority here.
I stress the importance of a visit. It is a much better indicator and representation of what you are going to get as a student. UNC’s passion for service is what led me to want to apply and be apart of the program, and that was evident through my visit. This value attracted me to social work initially, so I also wanted that in a graduate program.
Ask yourself what is important to you in a graduate education. For me, location was important because I wanted an area that had a lot of diverse opportunities for social workers to experience while in my field placement, but also to propel me professionally. But like I said, that was just me. Your criteria might be different. There is no right or wrong. It’s all about what works for YOU!
How welcomed do I feel? Do I feel comfortable asking questions? How well are my questions answered and in what timely manner? There is professionalism on the phone when I call, or do I feel quick to hang up, feeling rushed? Is this school located in a area of the country where I can picture myself working an internship that caters to my professional goals? How affordable is it in comparison to other programs I am looking at? Do they offer scholarships? These are all some of the important questions I asked myself while applying.
I came to select UNC for the many different reasons that I briefly stated in my opening, however, there is one in particular that I want to point out. Our faculty is truly what sets this university apart from the rest–they are ABOVE and BEYOND my expectations. Professors truly care about you as a whole being, not just as a student. They understand you serve many different roles. They challenge in ways I have never been pushed, and that has refined me as a social worker in ways I cannot express. I am truly grateful for their leadership! They have 100% completely exceeded my expectations. They go out of their way to make themselves available to you. That has been a game changer for me as I navigate my MSW degree.
Also, lastly, our STUDENTS. There are so many people coming from such diverse backgrounds, which really help to create many different viewpoints in the classroom that benefit lectures/class activities. This allows students to see things from a new perspective that they never considered. This has seriously impacted my learning and contributed to my competency as a social worker in a positive way. (And of course, can’t forget UNC has GREAT sports, of which I am a huge fan!).
I hope this “grad school app starter kit” was helpful to you as you navigate this process. I wish you the best of luck in applying this year and go Tarheels!