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!
When I first applied to grad school I was intimidated by the idea of a personal statement. Now that I’m an ambassador I’m hearing echoes of this sentiment from some of our current and future applicants.
A personal statement is a sales pitch that describes why you deserve to be a Carolina candidate more than all of the other amazing social workers in the world. It does not discredit others. However, it’s one of the few times in your career when someone asks you how you stand out from other social workers. Your personal statement is an opportunity to use your own words to compel the school to choose you over the competition. So, how do you stand apart?
I think the easy answer is by embracing yourself fully. You are completely unique and different from all other social workers and you just need to see the value in your different experiences.
The reason writing a personal statement can be challenging for some social workers is that being a salesperson for yourself feels a little close to boasting. For social workers whose strengths can be listening, recognizing value in others, and being humble, the idea of highlighting your own accomplishments can feel like a contradiction to those practices. Our natural impulse may be modesty to demonstrate our humility.
For example, my first draft was really an uemotional list of my activities (see my link above to see why that’s a bad idea). I thought sticking to the facts would take ego out of the equation. But my narrative was also very boring the first time around.
Next, I discussed my spark or the events/activities that make me feel great. Again, conveying your passions or personality doesn’t necessarily highlight your strengths. While your personality can help you build rapport with clients you also wouldn’t try to get through an interview on charm alone.
One activity that helps with the personal statement is re-reading it and imagining the person on the page as a friend or client asking advice on landing a job. What advice might you give that person?
A fellow ambassador mentioned that he asked others opinions while writing his personal statement. I thought this was amazing advice! Friends, family, supervisors can help you notice when you sell yourself short. They can also recognize strengths you have never realized about yourself and help you find the words to articulate a compelling narrative.
Most important, you must separate your sales pitch from feelings of grandeur. Think about what is good and bad about someone who brags and apply those observations to your own writing. Positively reframe your own thoughts. Writing a personal statement is not a case of exploiting your experiences for gain. It’s answering an important question to the person who asked you. It might help to view your statement as a written interview which will help you remember that you wouldn’t want to freeze up and undervalue yourself if a hiring manager asked to hear about your strengths or achievements. They will not be surprised and will not view you as egotistical if you tell them your accomplishments. Discussing your abilities with someone who asks about it is very different from unsolicited bragging.
I like to ask new applicants what made you choose social work, to get you used to talking about and thinking about your personal story. You will repeat these stories to scholarship donors, clients, and potential employers throughout your career. So write it up and get used to sharing it without flinching. Best of luck to you all!
I had the pleasure to meet some pretty focused and intelligent ladies (and maybe one male, Lol!) last week in Chapel Hill. The School of Social Work sponsored a diversity recruitment event and the ambassadors had a chance to meet and chat with future social work graduate students. They represented state universities, HBCU’s, and smaller regional colleges; most were juniors in a BSW program. This was the second year that the school sponsored the event and invited students to learn about the great program that UNC offers prospective students. The opportunity to chat about my experience and answer questions reminded me of my zeal before starting my application process. The only difference is that I had been out of school for about 10 years and these ladies (and gent) are currently enrolled in their BSW program. The link that connects us (other than our interest in social work) is the support of the UNC School of Social Work Recruitment and Admissions Office. Although the catalyst for each of us deciding to attend graduate school is different, the support I received and the support that they are now receiving from recruitment and admissions is the same. The school has continued to support me (and my trusty cohort in Winston) through our entire graduate school process. From the information session, to the free GRE prep session, to assistance with the application process and submission, to welcome weekend…to our own little personal distance education orientation in Winston-Salem, the level of support has been phenomenal and tremendously…hmmm, supportive!
So, to the students who are considering UNC for your next stop in social work matriculation, the support you are currently receiving is a good omen! And if there is one thing you will learn throughout your graduate school journey – it will be a genuine appreciation of those who work to support you. I look forward to seeing and chatting with some of you again!
Oh, snow days! I used to be so excited to have you, but now that I’m a PhD student, you just don’t bring the same joy. Within the last month and a half, North Carolina has experienced three bouts of snow and ice, resulting in numerous weather advisories, closings of businesses, and cancellations of school. While receiving my bachelor’s degree from UNC and being a resident of North Carolina for the last 11 years, I only can recall having one snow day…ever; however, the wintry weather that we have had just within these first couple months of 2014 has greatly impacted colleges and universities, causing numerous cancellations of undergrad and graduate classes as well as the closing of university offices.
After having our last snow day just yesterday, I can’t help but reminisce about the snow days I had as a child. Yes, it snowed a lot in Rochester, New York and we were well prepared with plows and salted roads, but on those few days when the snow fell just a little too fast and heavy, I could not wait to wake up, peek out the window, and turn on the news to look at the listing of school closings. As soon as I saw ‘Rochester Public Schools are closed’, pure happiness would take over me as I jumped back into my bed and, with a smile on my face, close my eyes and nestle my cheek into my pillow, thankful to have a day of relaxation. That’s far from how I see snow days now.
Here’s 10 ways snow days are different for PhD students:
- Instead of looking forward to sleeping the day away, you look forward to an extra hour of sleep, or if you are lucky, an afternoon nap.
- Instead of drinking hot chocolate while curled up on the couch, you’re drinking coffee or tea–not for the warmth, but for the caffeine, while hunched over your desk.
- Snow days used to mean an extra day to finish the homework assignment that was due that day–now, homework assignments are due the same day, snow or no snow
- You used to be excited to miss class–now you worry about catching up on missed material as much as your professor
- Sleep on snow days used to look like this: Now it looks like this:
- You used to enjoy going out to play in the snow–now, you may barely open the blinds on the windows.
- Back in the day, ‘school is closed’ meant “no school today”–now ‘school is closed’ means “work from home”
- Instead of spending snow days playing video games, you now spend them sending emails
- Snow days used to be time to catch up on your favorite TV shows–now snow days are time to catch up on your readings
- Instead of treating snow days as vacation days, you treat them as work days, using these opportunities to work even harder towards achieving your goals.
We must remember to take the time to enjoy these rare occasions. Although we are no longer children looking forward to time free from homework and class, we are human beings in need of time to recuperate and re-energize. So let’s recapture some of that snow-day joy as we continue to take steps closer to fulfilling and completing our doctoral education.
Recently I’ve had a few people ask me about the interview for the MSW program, so hopefully this post will soothe some worries or answer some questions.
After I applied to the UNC SSW I received a letter that wasn’t quite an acceptance and wasn’t quite a denial- it was a suggestion to apply for the Triangle Distance Education (DE) program instead of the Full Time (FT) MSW program. I had never considered applying for anything but the FT program, didn’t really understand how DE would work, and was thrown by the end of the letter where I was advised to call to set up an interview if interested. However, the whole deal turned out to be a fantastic set of circumstances.
I was completely nervous about the interview before it happened. I wanted to know what they would ask and what they were looking for. I wondered if I should talk about my emotional connection to the field? Should I emphasize the work I’ve done so far? Does a good interviewee get personal, or do they keep it professional . . .cool as a cucumber? Is that the best approach? And did I do enough research about current UNC faculty? What would my questions reveal about my skill set? Should I study some social work terms? Do they know I didn’t get a BSW? And on and on my concerns snowballed.
One thing I must say is that most of the reason that I had such a wonderful interview experience is that I was interviewed by Travis Albritton and Teresa Ilinitch. They were incredibly warm, open, affirming, and excited about meeting potential students. They immediately made it clear that this interview was about all of us getting to know each other and figuring out if UNC and I were right for each other, not if I was good enough for UNC. All of my concerns about the interview process quieted down as our discussion began and Travis and Teresa asked me questions that allowed me to be myself and show them a light outline of the sort of social worker I am working to become.
This is the thing about the interview— it’s personal and emotional and professional and challenging all at once. There were some questions that I felt were designed to uncover my level of empathy and my interpersonal instincts and others that were more directly about how I planned to balance life and school. I left feeling as though I had gotten the opportunity to share who I am, who I want to serve, and what I want out of my career. So, if I can give you any advice about the interview it would be to spend a little time beforehand reflecting on those ideas: who are you? Who do you want to serve? What do you want out of your career? Sure, for most of us those are constantly changing answers, but be brave and confident on the day of your interview. Think of it as a day to explore and connect with people and trust in your ability to suss out if UNC is a good fit for you.
*** I have to say that it is really nice to reflect on my admission interview because it was the day that I met Teresa Ilinitch, a fantastically warm, fun, talented light who passed away recently. I feel so thankful that I was able to meet her in that way during that potentially stressful process. In the first few minutes she put me at ease and made me feel like she really wanted to know who I was and where my life would take me. Hers were incredible gifts to give to people and I was blessed to know her.
As an ambassador, I am often asked questions that begin with “why”…Why did you decide to get your MSW? Why Carolina? Why now? Why….
I will endeavor to (briefly) answer some of these common questions because I know they are often on the minds of prospective Tar Heels.
First, why did I decide to pursue my MSW? Most importantly, why do you want to get your MSW? This is a central question that will fuel you throughout your career in social work, which begins the day you decide to apply to graduate school. Social work is so much more than a job and is far greater than a paycheck. Social work is work from the heart, it is work that respects and values humanity. Social work is not work to be entered into lightly. Those who are drawn to the field most often have intrinsic qualities and attributes that are naturally attracted to human services. For me, there were many reasons why I chose to pursue this degree. In many ways, I feel social work found me and it was something that I would always end up doing. My passion for social justice, my drive to ensure equal access for my patients, and my heart for those who are less fortunate, make me well suited for this career. Actually being in this MSW program has only confirmed that this is the best decision I could have made. I feel pushed and challenged daily while getting to use the skills and talents that make me unique. I honestly cannot think of a career that would be better suited for me and I am personally so grateful to have found it.
Why Carolina? Well of course because we beat Duke last night! Now seriously, some of my reasons for selecting UNC included ranking (#5!!!) and reputation of the program. Also, I already lived in the triangle area and I knew I was not prepared for a major move on top of the transition back into school. Once I made the decision to pursue my MSW, I was always going to apply to UNC. However, the more I read about UNC, the curriculum, the professors, and the overall experience, the more excited I became about the opportunity to hopefully have the “Carolina experience”. Additionally, I wanted the atmosphere of a larger institution. I knew that at Carolina I could attend football games, basketball games, lectures with world famous speakers, art exhibits, dance performances, and the list goes on. My experiences outside the classroom have greatly enriched my classroom experience over these two years.
Why now? Again, this is really a question for you to ask yourself. What makes this particular year the best year for you to return to (or stay in) school? Having some work experience was my personal preference before returning to school. Mostly I was unsure of which field I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in. I knew that I needed to work for a few years and “test the waters” in a few jobs to be sure that I knew what I wanted to study in graduate school. I am certainly glad I took this time because had I gone back to school a few years ago, I was going to get my MBA. That would have been a MISTAKE and so I am grateful that I waited until I could be sure. However, this is a very personal decision. Each of you is different and some of you have known from a young age that you wanted to be a social worker and this is your life’s work. For others of us, we had to try out a few different paths before we found the right one. There is no right or wrong answer to when you should enter graduate school, in my opinion. The best answer is the time that feels right for you, and only you can know that.
I will close by saying that it is always appropriate to ask why. Understanding someone else’s experiences and thought process can certainly be beneficial and informational. I would also encourage you to ask yourself each of these questions as well. Your “why” may be the very reason you are reading this blog. Your “why” is what makes you special and unique. Your “why” is the passion and dedication that you will bring to this work and to your clients on a daily basis. Your “why” will be the fuel that drives you on each day. So while I am always happy to share my “why” with you, I encourage you to really take time to find the answers to your “why”.
Being an Advanced Standing Student, my time at UNC has been short lived. I am in disbelief that we are getting ready to move into March and 2.5 months from graduating. This past year has flown by and I have not accomplished nearly as much as I hoped to in graduate school. Graduate school is a time to not only expand your knowledge in the field of social work, but also a time to grow as an individual. One of the ways that I have grown is learning that in order to take care of others, I first have to take care of myself. I often find myself engaging in self-care activities on weekends. The following suggestions are recommendations for all graduate and non-graduate students to participate in and grow as individuals together.
- Take a trip to Asheville and participate in the NC-NASW conference- One of my favorite memories this year was road tripping to North Carolina, renting a cabin in the mountains, and hearing the passions of many social workers through NC at the NASW conference. It was a great weekend that allowed me to grow as a social worker while also building relationships with some great classmates; the scenery wasn’t bad either.
- Attend a UNC Basketball Game- As a UNC student, you receive free tickets to all sporting events. Due to my schedule, I was only able to attend one football and basketball game but it provided an experience and atmosphere that I will never forget!
- Take a trip to the beach- One of the reasons why I love Chapel Hill is because of its accessibility to both the mountains and the beaches. I camped on the beach this summer and despite the gnats and high waters, we survived.
- Attend live music at the Carolina Inn- Every Friday night, the Carolina Inn has live music and it is FREE (free is your favorite word as a graduate student).
- Visit the Old Well- This may sound like an obvious activity but often times as social worker students, you forget to explore the other parts of campus. It took me four months to finally walk by the Old Well and drink out of the famous fountain. Another great way to see campus is through a scavenger hunt that is put on each year by Love Chapel Hill.
- Maple View Farms- I have never been to Maple View Farms but I hear that their ice cream is to die for. Something that is still on my list to cross off before I graduate in May.
- Cat’s Cradle- Another attraction that I have yet to attend but many of my social work peers speak highly of the concerts held at Cat’s Cradle.
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure to speak with many prospective applicants to the MSW program at UNC. Some really great questions were asked (and answered) and if you have an opportunity to attend an information session at UNC School of Social Work, I definitely encourage you to do that. I wanted to go in-depth with a little bit of reflection on one of the questions that was asked that afternoon and that I had when I was considering applying back in the winter of 2011/2012.
Question: What if I have been out of school for a little while, will it be hard to adjust to being a graduate student? Will I fit in as an older adult?
The first answer is that it depends. Like many of my peers in my cohort, I had been out of school for several years–five to be exact. I was worried about adjusting to classes and homework and reading and papers. However, I was able to adjust back to the student role, and if I could, you can as well. In many ways, our schedule is similar to that of a traditional 40-hour employee, with class during the 9-5 time a few days a week and field hours at an internship site the other week days. Of course, in the evenings there is reading to do, there are papers to write, and there is life to live. But ultimately I found that having worked full-time prepared me to balance my time and maintain a consistent schedule and I feel that that has been a strength for me as a graduate student at the UNC School of Social Work.
The second answer is an enthusiastic yes! In my cohort, the average age of enrolling students was around 29. There are many students who are younger and more recently graduated from college, plenty of students who worked full-time for several years like I did before finding themselves in graduate school, and many more students who have decided to make a career change after decades in another profession. And in the classroom setting, everyone’s experience is valued and the diversity of age and life experiences contributes to the learning environment.
So if you’re wondering, like I was, like many other prospective applicants are, about whether or not you can be a student again after many years outside of the classroom, rest assured, the transition can be made.
And finally, on an unrelated note, because tomorrow night is the Carolina v. Duke game, and I have a student ticket, and one is never too old to get rowdy and loud and support their school, GO HEELS!