Welcome to the UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work Student Ambassador Blog! This blog was created by current student Ambassadors 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!
Depending on when you apply for schools and what your life looks like, it could be a mad dash to get applications in and make a decision, move to a new city, or even graduate with another degree first! I was finishing my BSW when I applied for grad school, and some things slipped by my radar. Here’s 3 of those things to pay attention to as you’re applying for grad schools.
1. Apply for scholarships and grants
FIRST THINGS FIRST. When we think about financial aid, we think about the FAFSA. However, there are many other options that *aren’t loans*! Most schools have a web page where they house funding sources. UNC SSW’s information can be found here. Many scholarships have deadlines in the Spring, as in January-April. This is frustrating when you’re trying to fill out school applications and now need to fill out scholarship applications, but it’s definitely better than paying back loans! Additionally, use Google. Many organizations offer scholarships if you plan to focus in a certain area of practice or with a certain population, or if you’re a member of a certain population. National and state chapters of the National Association of Social Workers are a great first step to find outside funding.
2. Make a list of what you want to learn
What do you want to do? Do you have an idea? Look at what you’re passionate about, and find people doing that or something similar. A Google search can provide this. You can even look at available jobs (scary!) that you’d be interested in doing. What are the qualifications for those positions? What are the responsibilities? Find that out and then look at your own skills and experiences. Where are there gaps? Make a list of things you need to learn, and use that to help you identify placement opportunities, beneficial courses, and faculty who can support you in gaining these things. Don’t be shy about asking for what you want and seeking support in getting it, that’s why you’re going to grad school!
3. Look at placement opportunities in the area
The opportunities available in an area are YOUR opportunities. Who is in the area that can provide you the skills and experiences you need? Also look at the connections they can provide. You’ll need to meet with a Field Faculty Liaison to determine a placement, and if you already know what you’re looking for and what you want, that meeting will be much easier and you’ll leave feeling excited rather than frustrated. Make sure you have more than one option in mind in case something isn’t available or falls through.
I hope you’ll find these tips helpful, and you’ll make time to pursue them! I know it can seem overwhelming to have to do so many things while trying to apply, but you CAN do this, and a little work in the beginning will save you a lot of regret in the end when you learned what you wanted and made the most of your MSW!
“The core experiences of psychological harm are disempowerment and disconnection from others. Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections” –Judith Herman Trauma and Recovery
One of the opportunities I have had at field this year is to co-lead a trauma-sensitive yoga group. The work being done with trauma-sensitive yoga, mindfulness, and embodiment practices have grown in popularity, the support of the scientific community, and the mental health community. Trauma Center, Trauma Sensitive Yoga comes out of the Trauma Center which was founded in part by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk author of The Body Keeps the Score.
David Emerson began yoga sensitive practice at the Trauma Center in 2003, where it was used as an adjunct with individual psychotherapy. This model of yoga was found to be effective with folks who have experienced interpersonal, developmental, and complex trauma many of which had a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
This model focuses on specific elements not often found in mainstream yoga spaces. One of those focuses is invitational language, every movement is optional and the language one uses is very specific to ensuring that safety and options are available and encouraged. This means that I use language that shares power and provides support to participants to make choices or not make choices. This could look like
“If you would like”
“When you are ready”
“Would you like to start with some yoga today”
This model also does not focus on poses, and or breath. Oftentimes in my own experience in yoga studios, the teacher is teaching how to do something “correctly” or how one specific style of breathing may be better than the next. This model does not focus on ensuring that poses are named, or that breathing is focused on but rather the point is for participants to listen to their bodies, and to decide what may or may not feel right for them at that moment. Since movement is optional, participants are welcomed to move or not move. Facilitators are also creating space for option through practice, because of the complex trauma participants may be experiencing or have experienced too many options may be overwhelming, so often facilitators may provide a choice A and a choice B
“If you would like, you may want to lift your right leg… or you may decide to lift your left”
There have been many articles written to support the effectiveness of yoga as an adjunct component to individual therapy. The outcomes have shown that clients who participate in this kind of yoga experience more self-awareness, an ability to connect to their bodies, an increased ability to express emotions in therapy, and an ability to increase their tolerance for emotional states and bodily sensations.
My experience working with the community being served at my placement has been very impactful. It has aided in my development as a clinical social worker and has allowed me to see the changes folks who participate are having. Likewise, the model and or the language available to us often does not include being mindful of ableist language, and language that is not gendered. I am mindful of the shortcomings of the model and aim to use language that is inclusive of trans and gender non-conforming folks, folks that may have different bodily capacities, folks who may have larger bodies, and folks who might not traditionally have access to yoga language, and yoga theory.
Do you live in the Triad or west of the Triad? Not sure if you want to leave your job quite yet? Deciding between the full-time program or the part-time program? Let me explain the perks of the Winston-Salem Distance Education program for your MSW at Chapel Hill.
You don’t have to leave your job during your first year of grad school (and maybe not your second year)
If you’re like me and many others in my cohort, you are working a job that you love and you’re not ready to leave it to pursue full-time academia. During my first year of grad school, I was able to work with my social work employer to adjust my hours and accommodate a Monday-Thursday schedule while going to school on Friday. I worked it out my second year too… but that is less common. Email me for further details.
If you live in the Triad, classes during the first two years are conveniently located in Winston-Salem.
That’s right! Classes are from 9:00am-4:50pm on Fridays at Forsyth DSS on the fifth floor.
The cohort is diverse, rich in experience, and close in community.
During the first two years of grad school, all of your classes will be with the same 15-20 fellow students. The WS DE program attracts a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds and work experiences. Some might be right out of undergrad, others may have worked in social work for some to many years, while others are here to pursue a second career. We’re known for being the most diverse in age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. This rich cohort experience provides an incredible learning environment where we draw on each others’ backgrounds, expertise, and knowledge in thought-provoking, supportive classroom dialogue. Since we’re all in the same classes for two years, we all bond deeply, establish immense trust, and look out for each other during stressful times with school, hardships in our personal lives, and high points in our stories. My cohort has celebrated babies being born, scholarships obtained, field placement successes, jobs changed, jobs left, houses bought, and so many other beautiful life experiences. We’ve also supported each other during family members passing, mental health challenges, discrimination experiences in the workplace, and challenging experiences with clients in our field placements. Through thick and thin, we have each other’s back.
The faculty members are there for your success!
Tina, Theresa, and Annamae are there for you at every step of the way to support your academic journey. This culture and environment are that of support, respect, and professional development. They are available and ready to answer questions, responsive to your inquiries, and provide deep attention to your needs and desires. Theresa and Annamae work with you side by side to locate the best and most rich field placement experience for you and Tina will help you map out your base course of study to maximize your experience in grad school with the specific skills and interests you want to pursue.
I hope you chose to pursue your MSW at Chapel Hill’s WS DE program.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about my experience in this program.
I hope you could sense my sarcasm in the title.
It’s that time of year for those of us wanting to get licensed after graduation to start looking into the Licensure process. However, this process can vary state by state!
As a prospective student, if you are even considering looking into getting licensed as a clinical social worker, I would recommend checking out what the requirements are based on which state you think you are going to be practicing in. Don’t worry — you don’t have to know if you want to be licensed before starting the Masters program, but it could help you to figure out if there are any necessary electives you need to take while enrolled in the program. For example, some states are particular about their clinicians knowing how to diagnose clients and require that you take Differential Diagnosis – or its equivalent, if you don’t end up taking it here!
Now, if you are starting to panic or worry – don’t!
As a planner myself, these are pieces of information I wish I had been more aware of when thinking about what I wanted my social work career to look like. A little nugget of information that I hope can help prospective applicants is that, in the state of North Carolina at least, you can apply for your provisional license (LCSWA) before you even graduate – during your last semester of school! You won’t be granted the title until afterwards, but it can save some time processing all of the paperwork when you do graduate and all you have to do is mail your transcript to the Licensure Board.
Maybe you hadn’t been thinking about being licensed until reading this blog post, but it is definitely something to consider! Even if you have leanings in macro social work and research, the licensure can broaden your opportunities and increase your capability to provide services to clients. One of my supervisors has her LCSW, became the director of a program, and now spends most of her time doing program implementation, grants applications, research studies, while still working one on one with clients. It is possible to do it all. 🙂
So, how does UNC School of Social Work fit into this post? Well, let me tell you! In order to be licensed, you have to obtain a Masters in Social Work degree from an accredited school, which UNC-Chapel Hill is! In addition to that, UNC’s MSW program offers a multitude of electives, clinical lecture series, continuing education opportunities and more which will help to prepare you for the Licensure Exam. Many of the faculty and staff at the UNC SSW are licensed as well and can easily answer specific questions about the process when the time comes.
I hope that this has peaked the interest for some of you reading this, because the world needs more social work minded clinicians, and there’s no better place to receive your training than here in Chapel Hill!
Have more questions about the licensure process? Check out these links:
https://socialworklicensure.org/ – you can find specific state licensure requirements and more resources through this link
http://www.ncswboard.org/ – North Carolina Licensure Board website
https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=_8sf-T2D034%3d&portalid=0 – if you are interested in learning what it looks like to transfer licensure to and from a different state
I’ve never been completely comfortable on job interviews, but I’m even more nervous now that I’m a social worker. Now that I have professional goals and a clearer picture of what I’m looking for in a field placement (and pretty soon, a job!), I feel even more pressure preparing for interviews. However, from talking to my peers in social work, I’ve noticed that it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between “just nerves” and real red flags that come up during the interview. To help anyone who will be joining the UNC School of Social Work soon and going on their own field placement interviews before long, I decided to put together a brief list of things to keep an eye out for during the interview process.
1) An inability to clearly describe what your role will be at the agency
If your potential supervisor is unable to clearly and succinctly explain what your responsibilities and role will be during your field placement, that’s a strong signal that you may need to ask more questions or be more cautious before accepting that placement. Even if the agency is newer or has never had a student in a particular area of the agency before, they should still have a clear picture of what they will be expecting of you during your time there. Think of it this way: if you can’t go home after the interview and tell a social work friend what you would be doing during your field placement, you may need to follow up with your potential supervisor and ask some more questions.
2) Signs of burnout
If your supervisor or other social workers at the agency express discouragement, dread, or lack of interest in their work, it might not be the right place for you or the right time for you to be learning there. Remember, if burnout warning signs are creeping in during the interview, they will likely become more prominent once you actually begin working there.
3) Signs of an unhealthy organizational culture
Keep an ear out for damaging or oppressive language, inappropriate jokes, signs of unaddressed prejudice, or anything else that may make the workplace difficult or even harmful. No one is perfect, and part of being a social worker is acknowledging when we make mistakes, learning from them, and improving. As a student in field, there is definitely room for you to teach your supervisor even as they teach you. However, be careful if it seems like the culture as a whole is deeply unhealthy or even toxic. Remember that you are entering your field placement ultimately to learn from everyone there and become a social worker—not to “fix” the agency’s culture. Take care of yourself, and remember that you can decline a field placement. You don’t have to assume the responsibility of “making it work” if the agency’s culture and values don’t seem to align with social work ideals.
4) There seems to be a lot of frequent turnover
Similar to the previous point, high turnover can be a signal that something about the workplace culture is off. It may have nothing to do with agency culture—for instance, certain job types tend to attract new graduates who may stay just long enough to get some experience or get their license before finding a new job. Regardless, you may want to ask some more questions about what the workplace culture is like if your supervisor mentions regular turnover.
5) General unprofessional or disrespectful vibes
This one may be obvious, but it’s worth stating. If your potential supervisor can’t stay off of their phone or email long enough to conduct the interview (barring some urgent issue that may have arisen) or if they make jokes about you being “just the intern” who will do all of the paperwork or get coffee, don’t be afraid to turn the field placement down. No internship is worth sacrificing your sense of self-worth for. This should go without saying, but this is especially true if your potential supervisors or other future coworkers do not respect your pronouns or identity.
As a final note, remember that individually, these red flags don’t necessarily mean the field placement will be a negative experience (except for #6—please do not say yes if you are disrespected during the interview!). Sometimes things happen. It may have been a really hectic week prior to the interview, or your potential supervisor may have some personal issues going on at that time, or there may be a lot of heavy matters arising in the larger community. If you notice one or two red flags but your supervisor is able to address it and you feel comfortable moving past it, that is okay—and probably common! No field placement or interview is going to be completely perfect, but before accepting a field placement, take some time to think about what your personal limits are. If you think a particular field placement is going to push you too hard or run you ragged (rather than challenging you in a positive way), remember that you can say no. The field office is here to help you, and they will work with you to ensure you have the best possible field experience so that you are prepared for your future social work career.
Here are a list of some of my favorite safe spaces for Black folks in the Triangle area:
- Black August, Durham, NC: annual event in August with black vendors and activists
- Goorsha, Durham, NC: Ethiopian restaurant
- Awaze, Cary, NC: Ethiopian/ Eritrean restaurant
- Beyu Caffe, Durham, NC: American restaurant and live jazz
- Dame’s Chicken & Waffles, Durham & Cary, NC: Southern restaurant and all-day breakfast (:
- Souly Vegan, Durham, NC: Southern vegan restaurant
- Al’s Burger Shack, Chapel Hill, NC: American restaurant
- Mama Dips, ChapelHill, NC: Southern restaurant
- Lee’s Kitchen, Raleigh, NC: Jamaican restaurant
- Black Market, Durham, NC: annual event in November with black vendors
- Hayti Heritage Center, Durham, NC: Cultural arts and educational programs
- African American Cultural Festival, Raleigh, NC: annual event in September with black vendors and food
- & THE LIST GOES ON!
A top question I’ve heard from students who are considering UNC’s MSW program is: is the amount of work manageable? Of course, the classic social work answer is, “it depends!” However, even as a student in the Advanced Standing Program, which is pretty fast paced, I have found it manageable. Here are a few reasons why, and tips to help others manage it, too.
1. Plan everything out and work ahead!
What college student doesn’t wait until the night before to start an assignment? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen far more than any of us want it to, but avoiding all-nighters is a must. Utilizing the time you have at the beginning of the semester will prevent you from scrambling to finish projects in the last few weeks. Most of your classes will be heavier with deadlines in the last month or so, and you’ll have field documents due, so stay on top of things by working ahead.
2. Pair your assignments with your field work.
While not all of your assignments will align with your placement’s needs, many will. To balance your work load and maximize learning, you can use assignments to help you complete projects in your placement. Doing so not only lets you complete an assignment while helping your agency, but also gives you support and feedback as you apply new skills and address your agency’s needs in a variety of ways.
3. Remember less is more
Throughout the education system, students are expected to write lengthy papers with lots of impressive language. At the UNC SSW, the professors I’ve had have all emphasized that your work should be accessible to stakeholders, meaning it should be clear, concise, and understandable to non-social workers. Many assignments will have page maximums rather than minimums. It is difficult at first to switch from writing ten pages to writing three, with nearly the same amount of content. However, creating useful documents is an important skill, and mastering it will also save you time completing assignments.