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!
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!
I just started my second year of the full time MSW program at UNC, and I am coming into this year with a lot more confidence and self-assurance than I had at this point last year. I am now comfortable in my shoes as a graduate student, confident in my ability to pass my classes, and feel that I have a strong support system from my fellow MSW students and numerous faculty at the School of Social Work. My first year as an MSW student was a whirlwind of classes, papers, field experiences, and life experiences, which were both amazing and challenging. I’d like to share with you the reasons why I LOVED my first year, and also some of the things I wish I had known throughout the year.
Why I loved my first year as an MSW student:
- My peers: It is so refreshing being in an environment where everyone around you truly cares about helping others, diversity, treating others with respect and kindness, and most of all, social justice. I found my fellow MSW students to be extremely supportive, motivating, and great friends.
- The courses: Some people come into their MSW program knowing exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives. I was NOT one of those people, and still don’t exactly know what I want to do when I grow up… and that’s okay! One of the best parts of the first year is that all MSW students take broad courses that allow you to explore all of your interests.
- My seminar group: During your first year, you not only have a first year field placement, but you will also have a seminar group. For my placement, I worked at an elementary school as a school social work intern, so my seminar group consisted of fellow school social work interns from my cohort. My seminar was an amazing opportunity to process my field experiences and create great friendships based on our similar interests of working with youth in a school setting.
- Field placement: One of the most valuable parts of my first year was my field placement. I was able to directly apply what I was learning in the classroom to my fieldwork, and was able to work in a setting where I felt I was actually making a difference. When I was at field I was able to jump out of my student role and become a real professional, role model and life-long learner, which helped me become confident in my choice to choose social work.
What I wish I had known during the first year of my MSW:
- Reach out to professors, even if they are not your academic advisor or professor: Professors at the school of social work are incredibly supportive… How could they not be, they’re all social workers! Do research about the professors (http://ssw.unc.edu/about/faculty) and see if any of their interests align with yours, and reach out to the professors whose brains you want to pick.
- Take advantage of all that UNC has to offer: All of your classes will most likely be at the School of Social Work, and I often forgot that there are other parts of campus beyond the School of Social Work. UNC is a huge, energetic, diverse campus filled with many opportunities. Go to basketball games and football games! Join student orgs (there are some graduate student orgs, ot of undergraduate student orgs are welcoming to grad students as well)! Go to the gyms on campus, and take advantage of the climbing wall, volleyball courts, and great fitness classes! Explore the campus and learn about its rich history!
- Reach out to 2nd year students: They have great insight and would love to chat with you. Just because they are 2nd years doesn’t mean they’re mean or scary… They’re very friendly and would be glad to chat with you about classes, professors, field experiences, and more.
- Make sure to have a life outside of being a student: Your first year as a full time student is VERY busy… between four classes, a seminar group, and two days of field each week (and I also had a part-time job for 8 hours a week), the week can become really busy. Your professors will constantly stress to you the need for SELF CARE,
- Tell your professors when you are overwhelmed: There were numerous times during my first year when two papers were due on the same day for different classes. My class told our professors about these overlapping schedules, and they were very open to changing the schedule of the papers to help us be less stressed out. Communicate with your professors when you are stressed, overwhelmed, or need some extra time for an assignment.
- Explore your options and don’t be afraid to make your own path: Many people come into the program thinking they are definitely going to be a therapist, or definitely going to be a macro student. The social work world is not so black and white, and has many options beyond the direct practice/macro dichotomy. You can be a self-directed student, get a dual degree, get a certificate, or seek out numerous alternative paths. I decided to do a dual-degree MSW-MPH program, and love it so far!
If you are reading this and you are a current first year student, I hope this is helpful. If you are reading this and you are still in the application process to come to the UNC School of Social Work, GOOD LUCK on your application, and don’t forget to be yourself!
At Welcome Day for new students a few weeks ago, I had a few entering students ask me what they should do over the summer to prepare for the program. Here are some scattered thoughts on what might be helpful as you prepare to start classes in the fall.
1) Read for fun–magazines, blogs, books, cereal boxes. If you’ve been out of school for a while, this will get you into the practice of reading regularly, which will come in handy when you get your syllabi in August and have regularly assigned readings for school.
2) Update your resume–you probably updated it recently to apply to the program, but update it again. Make sure that when you need to have a copy handy, it’s current and reflects your address if you moved, graduation dates or end-of-employment dates that might have happened after you applied to school, etc.
3) Meet your classmates–these days it seems that cohorts quickly form Facebook groups. Try looking for “UNC MSW Class of” whatever year you’ll be. This gives you a chance to start communicating with the people you will be around a lot during the next couple of years.
4) Rest, relax, repeat–take advantage of any days you might have to sleep late, or go to bed early, or waste time watching Netflix. You want to start the semester as well-rested as possible.
5) Get excited–You’re about to have a lot of new experiences, in field work and in school, and meet some amazing people.
Best of luck to all incoming students!
When you’re applying to graduate school, March comes in like a lion and can go out like a lion or a lamb, depending on the decision-making process. If you’re a prospective student who is pondering your admission status, considering other programs, and just trying to figure out what to do next, I have been there.
If you’ve been admitted to Carolina, first: CONGRATULATIONS! And if you’ve been admitted to other programs as well, congratulations! You might find yourself with some deciding to do.
This time two years ago I was lucky to be torn between a few graduate programs, even as it caused me anguish at the time. Here are some of the strategies I engaged in to help me make my decision to attend UNC, a decision I am certain was the best for me and my career.
- Pros vs. cons lists – I made a lot of these. A lot. I kept my list for UNC and here it is verbatim: “outstanding faculty, stellar national reputation, wide range of course offerings, great field placement/internship opportunities”. And my cons: “the building’s entrance is on the wrong side, mediocre cell phone reception, already a Carolina grad, too tough academically?” Now when my cons list includes issues about possible cell phone reception and door location, I realized that I was looking for things to balance out the great pros.
- Talking to friends, family, and colleagues – I’m pretty sure that everyone in my life got tired of hearing me weigh out my life choices. Which school should I choose? Should I defer for a year? Or go right away? Would I be able to have a part-time job? Where would I live? Luckily the people I talked to were exceedingly patient and kind and consistently thought UNC was a great option to have.
- Flipping a coin – This one didn’t work well for me, because I was choosing between three schools and coins only have two sides, but also because it was too flippant a means of choosing where I would spend two years of my life.
- Getting out and focusing on my gut – In the end, my decision was made by leaving town for a few days and being reflective in the wilderness. I found myself at Max Patch Bald on the Appalachian Trail where I could think about my pros and cons, my feelings, my desires.
Two years post-decision, and a little under two months from graduating from UNC, I wish I could travel back and tell my younger self that the decision-making process should be easier. And to choose Carolina. But since I can’t help myself in the past, I hope some of this rambling helps you. I look forward to meeting some of you at Welcome Weekend!
Clinical Social Workers (CSW’s) are taught that looks can be deceiving. During my internship at the Emergency Department, a woman being discharged from the hospital asked the medical staff to return her personal belongings from the hospital’s safe, including $15K in cash. What complicated the situation were the facts that the woman was homeless, her appearance was disheveled and disorganized, she had a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, and she was being discharged from William’s Ward, the area of the hospital that cares for those with mental illness. After checking the hospital’s safe and not finding any personal items for the woman, the case was appropriately turned over to the clinical social work team with little hope that the woman’s claims were in fact real. Clinical social workers are trained in assessing client and patient situations, advocating for clients and patients’ best interest, and avoiding stereotyping. After making a series of calls to obtain collateral (others who may have insight into a client or patient’s story), the social work team began advocating for the patient. The social work team learned that the hospital had more than one safe for patient’s personal valuables, and since the woman had been admitted to the hospital through a different medical department, her belongings were in the safe closes to where the patient was admitted. Yes, she did indeed have $15K cash, credit cards, and by memory she knew the name and the phone number of who she wanted to pick her up, even in this age of cell phones and speed dial codes. This woman’s state of homelessness and mental illness were not this woman’s complete story.
Clinical social workers endeavor to understand what makes up a person’s comprehensive story in order to provide the most appropriate evidence based solutions for clients and patients. Obviously, there are times when the patient believes something that is not in fact a reality, however, CSW’s take responsibility for ensuring that each client and patient are treated without bias. This is accomplished through several methodologies. Amongst many, one of the goals of assessment is avoiding stereotyping by seeking to understand each individual’s circumstances, even within a unit dynamic. Through time, care, and application of clinical social work skills, one gains a holistic view of a person and their personal life situation in order to best provide evidence based services. CSW’s have an assortment of tools and instruments for accomplishing this outcome, such as using SEEMAPS or performing a biopsychosociospiritual assessment, as well as treating client and patients in a professional manner as outlined in the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics, which states patients are not prejudiced based on age, gender, mental capacity, or sexual orientation. These skills, along with others, aid clinical social workers in being the most successful in our work with clients and patients because CSW’s know you cannot judge a book by its cover.
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!