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!
The application deadline has past and now you anticipate a response from one of the best schools of social work in the country. Two years ago I was in the same position as you are now. Anxiety, self-doubt, apprehension, indecision, GRE scores, personal statement, and a plethora of other thoughts and emotions flooded my body and mind everyday. There was nothing I wanted more at that point in my life than to be accepted to this wonderful school.
Fortunately I had a wonderful support network who gave me sound advice; take a deep breath and relax, you have done everything you are supposed to do, and it is out of your hands now. These few phrases were exactly what I needed to hear and they helped alleviate some of the stress I was putting on myself, which is why I share them with you today. Hopefully you too can find some solace from these words.
The hardest part is over but there will be some things you’ll need to do once you get your acceptance letter from UNC.
What’s next after you get accepted?
If you are decided about attending UNC you may want to:
Attend Welcome Weekend! (invitations to be sent out in approx. two weeks)
It’s official: only 114 days left until I graduate with my MSW (but who’s counting :)). Spring semester classes began on Monday, and with that the countdown was instantly in effect. This semester I’m taking Differential Diagnosis (effectively a crash-course to the DSM 5), Research (where I will write my Master’s thesis –eek!), Child Welfare Policy, and Social Workers at the Intersection of Mental Health & Criminal Justice (what a mouthful!). I’m really looking forward to diving into the heart of these electives, and as daunting as writing my thesis may feel, I swear I can see the light at the end of the tunnel already.
My last winter break was half-productive, and half-doing-as-little-as-possible (I mean, self-care). The month or so we are given away from school is a great opportunity to get ahead on field hours. I did this by spending an extra week at my agency, and also by taking two agency-sponsored, online trainings from home. Working ahead on my hours will allow me more flexibility this spring, as I schedule job interviews, or want to allow myself some extra time to dedicate to exams and papers. We’re permitted to finish our field placement as early as April 1st, which would give any overachievers about a month off from their internship responsibilities before graduation.
I also had time to travel home to see friends and family. I read books that weren’t textbooks, and attempted to teach myself calligraphy. I edited my resume, and started looking into post-graduation job options. I sweated out my first hot yoga class, sewed a baby quilt for a friend, and learned to bake some pretty fantastic scones. I also got to travel to Oklahoma for the first time for a friend’s wedding. All that to say, I had a great break, and came back to campus both recharged and reorganized to make my last semester as wonderful, and smooth as possible. Let’s hope that feeling lasts!
Some students work while in school, others have a family or plan to have a baby, some are taking care of parents, and almost all have other responsibilities, obligations, or stressors that make a full-time (or even part-time in the case of our Distance Ed programs), rigorous, and challenging program quite a commitment. As I reflect on my past 5 semesters in this program (I am a Distance Ed-er, myself) – with this past semester easily being the most difficult with juggling 5 classes (totally did that to myself and it is not typically), an especially challenging field placement, some health difficulties, and WEDDING Planning – I would like to share some nuggets of wisdom I’ve gathered from others or from doing the opposite of the following advice:
1. Set Realistic Expectations. Do not plan to fill up every waking moment with some task or commitment. You NEED time to rest.
2. Intentionally Schedule Self-Care. Self-care is a topic that is literally preached in nearly every class you will take because as social workers it is not just recommended but absolutely necessary to your efficacy (and survival). Find the self-care activity that works best for you and put it on your calendar, carve out time, and commit to it regularly.
3. Find a Support System. At field, in class, with your cohort, in student organizations, within your friends and family circles, wherever. Having someone to vent to, problem solve with, and distract you will be invaluable.
4. Develop Time-Management Skills. Start papers early. Break assignments up into smaller tasks. Get places on time so you don’t feel guilty. Read an assignment during your lunch break, in your child’s school car line, while waiting for your inevitably late partner. Let your friends and family know you can’t host this year’s potluck and you might not be able to attend every single event like you typically do. Be realistic about how much time you should devote to school and guard your free time!
5. Reach Out! The school has LOTS of built in support and has intentionally hired very supportive and understanding faculty and staff (I mean they’re social workers, for crying out loud!). These people only want you to succeed and become the best social worker you can be. Your field adviser, your professors, your program coordinator, the administration, basically everyone who works in the Tate-Turner-Kuralt building is more than happy to lend an ear, a shoulder to sob on, advise, and some leniency and grace. You just have to ask for it!
6. And lastly: Remember the Goal. I tell myself all the time, “this is a temporary sacrifice to reach my dreams.” After all the learning and growing and networking, grad school is really just a means to an end. Its short-term and eventually you will once again (or maybe for the first time) have an income, have benefits, and have a life!
YOU CAN DO IT! So many people have before you and so many others will after you. And it is beyond worth it to know you will be more than qualified to go out and tackle the evils of this world and support those who need it most!
- Updating my resume—Not going to lie, I don’t maintain my resume as I should. I plan to do a major overhaul on my resume. I’ll add my field placements, summer internship, activities and leadership positions held this school year, my awards, and the fellowship I received this semester.
- Exploring Linkedin—I set up a Linkedin during undergrad at my mother’s suggestion but have never used it. It always seemed to be another resume to keep up-to-date. At a recent professional development workshop at SSW, I learned some tricks about using Linkedin. I plan to update my LinkedIn information and use it for online networking.
- Perusing job sites and boards—Last year, I learned that the SSW maintains a job board for SSW students and alumni: http://ssw.unc.edu/alumnissw/jobs. Other resources I know of include Indeed.com, LinkedIn (again, I’m learning this site IS actually helpful), NC Center for Nonprofits, and Idealist.org. I’ve also made a list of agencies I would be interested in working for after graduation. I plan to keep tabs on these organizations’ websites for open job opportunities.
- Drafting a cover letter template—I remember writing lots of cover letters during my senior year in undergrad, and they always took so much time! Because I don’t anticipate having a surplus of time to draft cover letters from scratch for every job, I’m going craft a cover letter template. Since I’m looking for a particular type of job, I can be specific but will be able to modify the template later for each company and job position.
- Racking up field hours—Applying for jobs CAN be a full-time job in itself, and I’ll need time in the busyness of my semester to interview for positions. By getting extra field hours over the break, I’ll be able to use my “stored” hours for future use in the spring.
- Obtaining references—I plan to ask about 4-5 people to be references for me. I’m starting with professors and field placement supervisors who know my academic abilities, leadership capabilities and work ethic.
- Preparing answers to interview questions—I haven’t done a formal job interview in about two years so I’m definitely a little rusty on interview questions. One option I’m considering is through UNC Career Services, which is open to all current students and recently graduated students. Students can schedule a time to complete a mock interview. Another option would be to practice with other MSW students or non-social work friends.
- Attending the SSW Job Fair/Career Day—Though this is typically in April, the SSW Job Fair/Career Day is a great opportunity for students to meet with potential employers. Although I wasn’t looking for a job, I attended last year to get an idea of employers in the area and potential jobs I might be interested in.
- Attending networking night—There is a networking night for both direct practice and macro students to meet with professionals in the field and get your name out there!
- Jobs and fellowships through the SoWoSO listserv—From time to time, positions are floated to students through the listserv, particularly ones that alumni have received in the past.
Here’s UNC’s UCS website: https://careers.unc.edu.
Graduate school at UNC School of Social Work (SSW) is a time consuming and challenging experience. Often times I am asked if there is time to get involved with some of the many magnificent activities at the SSW. The answer is yes. Individuals admitted to UNC SSW are some of the brightest, most motivated, and organized students in the country. Many of us are involved in many extracurricular activities and even hold leadership positions in a variety of groups. I serve the school as the NASW Student Liaison, UNC SSW Student Ambassador, and the Social Work Student Organization (SoWoSO) NASW Liaison. Additionally I have been able to develop, organize, and manage several service projects since coming here. The biggest challenge is deciding which activities to get involved with and preventing over commitment. Below are some examples of extracurricular activities within the SSW and a link to their corresponding website.
- SoWoSO Cacuses (aging, military, LGBTQ, homelessness, black student, macro, mental health, international, criminal justice reform, spirituality, women’s, self-care, Latin@, social work and public health dual degree)
- Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC)
- Additional SHAC Information
These are just a few of the many opportunities to get involved in the SSW. Campus wide there are also hundreds of other opportunities to get involved. UNC is not school where you’ll want to just go to class and then go home. UNC SSW is much more than just a school, it is a community where people come together to serve the school and the surrounding area. Even more it is a place where you connect with people you’ll be connected to for a long time. If this sounds like a place that fits who you are please apply. From my experience here I can honestly state that I doubt you’ll regret the decision to come to UNC SSW.
Despite my love for Carolina, I was born and raised a Duke Blue Devil. If you aren’t from North Carolina, or just not into sports, you may not understand the importance of this statement. Think of the one person you dislike more than anyone in the world. Though you live pretty close to each other, you’re in college and you both like the color blue….none of that matters because you absolutely despise each other. Now, imagine that you are Duke and they are UNC. There, got it? Okay…
So now you might understand that this has made the Fall Semester pretty difficult for me, with all of the Carolina blue walking around during football season. However, I have to admit that it has become pretty difficult not to be swayed over to the light blue side of life. Not only are the academics amazing, the faculty supportive, and my colleagues all incredible people, UNC is just a genuinely wonderful place to be full of interesting and caring people. I saw this in full effect at the Late Night with Roy event back in October.
To kick off the start of basketball season, UNC hosts a free event called Late Night with Roy, where people from all over the community and campus come together to watch the first scrimmage of the men’s basketball team….at least that is what I thought. I ended up in only a few hours being able to watch performances and skits from student groups all throughout campus, including dance teams, A capella groups, and improv groups. All of these groups added a twist- each group included a few of the men’s basketball players in their performance! There were also dedications made to important members of the UNC community past and present, and donations given to important local organizations doing positive work in the community.
Overall, it was a fun time that really helped paint a picture of who the UNC community is, and what they are capable of doing- far more than providing major basketball entertainment and life-long rivalries. Though I am a graduate student, UNC continues to provide me with opportunities to feel like a part of the UNC family. It’s going to be hard to watch the UNC v. Duke games this upcoming season!
It’s already the end of the semester, and I am now halfway through my MSW coursework!! As the year is winding down, I can’t help but look towards the near future. I am eager and excited about the many opportunities that will be afforded to me as a result of my educational privilege.
As I reflect on my career at the School of Social Work thus far, I am proud of the academic accomplishments, growth as an individual, and progress as a competent social worker. I am amazed at how fast time has gone. From the nervousness of making my application to school the best it could be, to the anxiety about entering back into an academic lifestyle, to starting field, and getting adjusted to “real life” as a social worker…it has all been eye-opening, startling, and amazing! I can honestly say that it is both humbling and gratifying to feel that I am in the right place and settling into the career path that I have chosen, a career that chose me. It is truly a dream realized.
With the mix of emotions, I continue to recognize how important self-care is for our field. We take on the heavy task of helping others, and choosing to do so for the rest of our careers. As social workers, we are called to serve others and sometimes forget to serve ourselves. I now know that self-care will have to be a constant moving forward as a student, and furthermore as a licensed social worker.
I encourage you, whatever path you are on, to continue pushing forward. Whether you are still studying for the GRE, wrapping up your first semester as a first year student, or finishing up your 2nd or final year, realize your potential and look towards the end goal. If you were to ask me 5 years ago where I would be, I would tell you that I never intend to be in graduate school. However, it has been one of the best choices I’ve made in life. I have already changed so much as an individual, sister, daughter, friend, partner, and colleague. I cannot wait to see the evolution of me a year from now.