Welcome to the Student Ambassador Blog!

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!

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Halfway There… Tips!

With a little over a year complete there are a few tips I have learned along the way that I think will be helpful for 3 Year-DE students:

  • Keep textbooks for research and macro classes

If you plan to focus on macro social work for your specialty year (third year) the same textbook is required for SOWO 770 that was used for SOWO 570 the previous semester. If you accidentally rent this book and send it back as I did, it is available for download on Amazon kindle. I did not have to pay anything but I am not sure that is always the case.

For the evidenced based practice course SOWO 510 (research) the same textbook is required for the advanced theory practice course in the Fall of the third year.

  • Renting textbooks from Amazon saves. Again just make sure they are not books you may use the following semester. Always compare cost of renting for two semesters and purchasing.
  • If there is an opportunity to participate in any research study do so prior to second year, second semester.

For my first year of field I have participated in a research study. It was extremely helpful with the SOWO 510 (research) and SOWO 770 (Implementing Evidence-Informed Practice with Organizations & Communities). I was pleased to learn that one of the assignments/certifications for the research course I had already completed the previous semester because it was mandatory for my participation in the research study.

  • Never stop checking emails

During Spring, Summer and Winter breaks always, I mean ALWAYS check emails. Although class may not be in session there is important information being communicated, such as scholarship opportunities.

As always, stay in communication with instructors and other faculty within the School of Social Work during your application process and after enrollment. They are always happy to assist!

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Research Assistantships

The thing I get asked the most about as a graduate student is the opportunity for Graduate Assistantships (GAs) and Research Assistantships (RAs). Both are paid positions through the university with many different paths that lead students to them. I am currently an RA for the school of social work, but there are more options out there than just my experience!

When I was accepted into UNC, I filled out an application to be considered for financial assistance. Because I was coming to UNC as an out of state student, I was offered an RA position that came with a small stipend and a  50% tuition remission. This award is typically given to out of state students to help bring the price down to as close to in-state tuition as possible. 

As an advanced standing student, I started my program in May, however my position is for the 2019-2020 school year, so I did not begin my RA position (or receive any of the financial benefits), until the fall term started. In the middle of the summer, new RAs were emailed with information on the professors who would be hiring RAs and information about their projects. I emailed the professors I was interested in working with, set up interviews with them, and ultimately was offered the position I am in currently. 

My RA position requires that I work about 8 hours a week. A lot of the positions require students to be physically at the School of Social Work while completing their hours due to the nature of their work; however, I was able to obtain a position that allows me to work remotely, which is great for my schedule.

So far, I have done data input for the projects my research professor is working on and helped begin a literature review for the beginning stages of a new project. I have really enjoyed these tasks and I feel like the work I am doing is really rounding out the education and experience I am getting.

If you are not initially offered a position like this, there are still opportunities, especially for 2nd year students in the traditional program. Throughout the year, we receive emails with information about opportunities like this, and several people I know have gotten positions that way. There are also a lot of opportunities for first year students to apply for positions for the following year. Keeping an eye out for these is a great way to ease some of the financial burdens of grad school while helping you learn more about the field!

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As An Out of State Student, When Should I Start Thinking About In State Tuition?

The short answer: NOW

The long answer: North Carolina is one of the few states where you can become a resident and apply to receive in state tuition after only one year of residency. I moved to North Carolina a little before my MSW program began; I paid out of state tuition for my first year. However, after one year of residency, I applied for in state tuition and was awarded it! So I now pay in-state tuition for my second year of school.

You may ask: if I have to be a resident for a whole year, why should I think about in state tuition now?

Good question!

To receive in state tuition, you have to do more than “establish residency” in North Carolina; you need to show evidence that you plan on staying in North Carolina. This is referred to as “domicile.” In additional to providing documents that show when you moved to North Carolina, you also have to show proof regarding your intent to stay in North Carolina.

You may ask: what does documentation about domicile even look like?

It can look like a variety of things: switching your driver’s license to a NC license, registering your car in NC, opening a local bank account, a local library card, a lease, a utility account, participation in NC community events (i.e. going to a conference within the state), going to local sporting events, working, paying taxes and filing taxes in NC, registering to vote and VOTING in NC… the list goes on and on!

Since these things can take time, if you are an out of state student, it is important to start thinking about these things during your first semester of graduate school! That way, you won’t want have to rush to take care of all of this “evidence to prove domicile” all at once.

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Words of Advice: Get You a Theme Song


Photo by Mark Solarski

What I’m Thinking:

Holy crap. This semester is going by fast. And I really need to catch up on my readings. And all of a sudden everything is due?! Hold the phone, when did this happen?!

It’s that time in the semester where assignments are in full force and the stress level is

c r a n k e d  way up!

I mean, you didn’t think the #3 social work school in the nation was going to be that easy did you?

(Then again, isn’t that the reality of Graduate School in general?)

Thank goodness a much-needed university-wide break is right around the corner. And that North Carolina weather finally dropped low enough to sport some hella cute Autumn layers and minimal sweat during rushed walks to class. Not to mention, thank goodness for the community of support I’ve found at UNC School of Social Work! Support and encouragement in the form of peers, colleagues, and faculty – this is one of the major reasons I chose attending UNC SSW over other competitive programs.

They. Just. Get. It.

(It also helps that a big chunk of faculty are alumni of UNC SSW because they have gone through the process themselves!)

Not going to sugarcoat it – it’s been a rather stressful few weeks with balancing assignments/projects, readings,  field practicum hours, and personal responsibilities. This time in the semester is pretty intense – surely this is true for my social work colleagues regardless of the cohort! In saying this, I’m happy to share the powerful words of wisdom given to me from one of my mentors on my very first day of class:

Get yourself a theme song.

-Dr. Iris Carlton-LaNey

[Recipient of the 2019 Significant Lifetime Achievement in Social Work Education Award; The Berg-Beach Distinguised Professor of Community Social Work at UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work]

Yup. I’m not kidding. Apparently, it’s a thing. And I assure you it works.

Random Tidbit:  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve visited a faculty mentor in their office only to have them blast their theme song of the week – often Beyonce’s “Before I Let Go” or Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried”. After the song ended, we’d then push repeat and dance it out.

Dance. It. Out.

Say what? I know, I know. And yes, it actually happens. Granted, who doesn’t want to leave pumped up after an office visit?!


Photo by Wes Hicks

My Specialization Year involves a helluva lot of extra classes, workshops, assignments, and real-life commitments on my end so I opted to choose three theme songs to keep on rotation this semester (brilliant idea, right?). Here, take a peek:

Never mind my vast music preferences, I listen to A LOT of different genres (though, I tend to gravitate more towards Americana on the daily – just an FYI. Seriously though, just hand me a fiddle and we’re golden.). Interestingly, what these songs all have in common are upbeat rhythms putting me in a mood of motivation and momentum – just enough to get me back on track when I’m needing a little bit of a boost, a breather, some grounding, and a much-needed reframe.


Photo by Andre Hunter

Now that you know one secret to the success of some students and faculty at UNC, what are your theme songs to plow through stress?

Keep it real.


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Self-care, half way there!

I am a second-year student in the social work graduate program. The first semester of this year is coming to an end and it is coming full force!

 One thing that the professors told us at the beginning of the year is that “after Fall break, students really begin to feel it”. I had no idea what they were talking about, I mean what would make this year any different from last year… well they were telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth!! I believe this year had just as much reading as last year. I have been practicing social work for over eight years, so the material was familiar and I thought it would be a breeze. The papers however, were straight forward but were very time consuming.

Over the last two weeks, after returning from Fall break, I couldn’t tell you if I was coming or going. This is not to scare you but to prepare you. During all you may have going on, school, work, family, and for some of us that are trying to maintain a social life, remember to practice self-care. I thought I was practicing self-care by taking vacations and keeping those lunch and dinner dates with friends, you know making time for myself. Well I realized that my choice of activities were only making me more exhausted and it was necessary that I make some changes.

There are some simple things that you can do to practice self-care. I will name a few…

Focus- Be mindful about where you choose to do your schoolwork. I look forward to going home everyday and getting in my bed and thought this would be a great comfortable place to do homework. I was wrong, choose a quiet place in your home, away from TV, and not somewhere that you will more than likely fall asleep, or go to a public or campus library.

Delegate- If possible, ask for help and give some of your responsibilities to others. I had to have a family meeting with my teenagers about them being a little more independent and helping more around the house.

Sleep- Get enough sleep and get better sleep. Get as much of those eight hours of sleep as you can, it may not always be possible but try. Also, I recently heard Dr. Oz say that not eating three hours prior to sleeping makes your quality of sleep better.

Exercise- If you can’t get to a gym everyday do things like ride a bike or take a walk around your office or neighborhood.

Eat Better Food- School can be stressful and if you’re like me, more stress means more snacks. Also, we get so busy that we don’t make time to eat real meals. Meal prep if you have to but don’t rely on snack foods. A nutritious meal will make you feel better.

Learn to say NO! – (I should take my own advice here) It is necessary to turn down some invitations and make yourself unavailable to others. Success comes with sacrifices. I often hear “its okay to be selfish”. Well this is one of those times when you must choose you and do what’s best for you!

Being a social worker, it is important to set boundaries and practice self-care in order to prevent burnout. Start now!

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Throwback: My Generalist Year’s First Semester

Hi There!

Happy November.

Ever wondered what the very first semester at UNC School of Social Work might look like? It’s different for everyone but here’s the tea from a first-generation student, immigrant, and person of color (among other identities).


Here’s a sneak peek into my Generalist experience and mentality this time last year (originally posted on my personal blog):

Dissonance & Duality

I hope that provides some insight!

Cheering you on,


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Making Decisions Surrounding Degrees: Considerations for the MSW/MPH

As one of the co-leads of the MSW/MPH caucus, I field a lot of questions from both potential MSW students and current MSW students about becoming a MSW/MPH dual degree student. Obtaining a Masters of Social Work and Masters of Public Health is a wonderful opportunity for a lot of reasons: you get two Masters degrees in three years, you deepen your knowledge about social justice and are able to apply it seamlessly to a public health framework, you have SO MANY options in terms of a career path, you (in theory) get paid more once you graduate from school … the list goes on and on!

If you are thinking about applying to the MSW/MPH program, here are some of the questions to consider

  1. With whom do I see myself working?

Do you want to work with clients or families? Or are you interested in working with organizations or communities or within policy advocacy? In order to pursue UNC’s MSW/MPH program, you must be macro concentration (also known as the CMPP concentration) within the School of Social Work.

If your dream is to work with individuals and families, I’ve known one MSW/MPH student who was technically macro concentration but took extra classes so he was able to get plenty of experience in direct practice as well. However, that took a lot of extra advocacy and lots of extra classes to add to an already busy schedule.

If you are devoted to working with individuals and families, just know that the dual degree path will make pursuing that interest slightly more difficult.

2. Why am I interested in both degrees rather than just one or the other? How will getting both degrees further my future career?

This question resonates differently for everyone! For myself, I was specifically interested in the intersection of health education with inequity. I wanted to better develop my understanding of how structural bias affects marginalized groups so I could better critically examine how my presence as a white woman can impact the communities with whom I hope to work. For me, getting both degrees at once made the most sense.

3. How do I feel about spending another year in school?

School is expensive! And time consuming! An extra year feels very long when the cohort you entered with is graduating without you. Make sure you feel ok both financially and emotionally to stay in an intense grad school environment for an extra year.

4. When should I apply to the MSW/MPH program?

Applying to the MSW program currently does not require taking the GRE while the MPH program does.

Let me say that again: if you are interested in applying to both the MSW and MPH programs you will have to take the GRE.

You can apply to both at once (usually applications are due in December for admissions in the following fall) or you can apply to the MSW program first. After getting into the MSW program, you can apply for the MPH program during your fall semester of your first year. If you are feeling sure about doing a dual degree, I’d recommend doing both applications at once so you don’t have to worry about applications during your first semester of graduate school (you will have plenty to keep yourself occupied!). If you are feeling unsure about the dual degree program, waiting is a great option to see how the school of social work feels and to get a better sense of what your social work education will look like.

Hope this helps! Feel free to reach out with any questions you may have about the dual degree program.

-Sophia (sdurant@live.unc.edu)

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