Welcome to the Student Ambassador Blog!

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!

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The Summer Before You Begin Your MSW

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!


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Out of the Woods on Waiting, Into the Woods on Deciding

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.
Max Patch Bald, NC (Steven McBride)(Image credit: Steven McBride, backpacker.com, http://www.backpacker.com/january-2010-max-patch-bald-nc/destinations/13728)

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!


Posted in I ♥ North Carolina, Outside of the classroom

You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Stereotypes Everywhere
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.

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Humility Vs. Conceit

Six tips for writing great personal statements

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!

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Supporting you 100%!

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!


Posted in Events

Snow Days as a PhD Student


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. You used to be excited to miss class–now you worry about catching up on missed material as much as your professor
  5. Sleep on snow days used to look like this:                    snowdaysleep                                                                                     Now it looks like this:                                                           image-1
  6. You used to enjoy going out to play in the snow–now, you may barely open the  blinds on the windows.
  7. Back in the day, ‘school is closed’ meant “no school today”–now ‘school is closed’ means “work from home”
  8. Instead of spending snow days playing video games, you now spend them sending emails
  9. 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                    image
  10. 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.

Posted in Academics, Outside of the classroom | Tagged , ,

The dreaded (or maybe not) grad school interview

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.


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