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!
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.
It’s the time of year when collectively students feel exhausted and stressed as classes are over in less than two weeks from today and final papers and exams are very near. Appreciatively, after the countless hours of writing and studying are over, winter break will soon begin (hooray). Over the past two years, I have spent my winter breaks engulfed in working extra hours; I never allowed myself to truly “take a break” to recuperate from the preceding semester because I worked throughout the entirety of all breaks. However this winter break I am going to try something different. Because this is my last year of school and I know it is potentially my last “winter break” my goal is to make the best usage of my time off as possible. Here’s what I have planned so thus far:
- Take a break– I know, I know that sounds like a given, but for me and for likewise for many other graduate level social work students actually allowing myself to “take a break” for longer than a day or so is a pretty big deal. I am looking forward to sleeping in late, catching up on Netflix, reading for pleasure, and spending globs of time cuddling and playing with my puppy GUILT-FREE. I plan to allow myself at least two days each week of the break to enjoy myself all in the name of self-care of course!
- Prepare for my job search- I plan to take some time to update my resume, my LinkedIn profile, and also my job search website profiles. During this time I also plan to start narrowing down things such as desired specialty area, companies that I would like to work for, and contacting a few past employers and or professors to inquire on their willingness to provide reference letters and/or be added as professional references. I also plan to review the Association of Social Work Boards’ website www.aswb.org to learn more about the requirements to apply for the Social Work Licensing Examination, and to learn about what study resources are available.
- Prepare for spring semester- Next semester I have quite a few big projects to look forward to in addition to my coursework; at my internship I will have to present a case study to my cohort and complete a major group research assignment and presentation, I am a PrimeCare grant recipient and therefore will have to complete a project specific to that mental health and interdisciplinary health care, and lastly I will have to complete my capstone project which is a graduation requirement. In an effort to not feel completely overwhelmed in the spring, I plan to review the syllabi of all of my spring courses and get slightly ahead on some assigned readings over the winter break.
- Spend time with family- My family and friends have been remarkably supportive throughout my time in this program, my partner especially. I have cancelled many date nights and neglected to cook meals for weeks at a time as I wrapped myself in my studies and my field placement, but my life partner has been completely understanding and accommodating. I have also turned down many invitations to hang out with friends and to travel to visit with family members; so over the break I plan to spoil my partner and some of my and friends with attention, love, and homemade gifts.
I am really looking forward to my four week break, and my hope is that by following this plan I will return to classes in the spring well rested and prepared to face my final semester of graduate school.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Social work is all about advocating for social justice and equality, regardless of if you’re working at a macro or micro level. However, self-advocacy is just as important—and can sometimes be a more difficult skill to hone. As social workers, we’re used to advocating for others—but in certain situations, I think we forget to offer the same service to ourselves. Learning how to self-advocate is a crucial skill to have and there are plenty of opportunities for students to practice throughout the program, especially within the field placement decision process.
As an advanced standing student, I can only speak to the field placement process for that particular track of the UNC Social Work program. For us, after we are accepted to UNC, we complete a form—The Advanced Standing Planning Guide (ASPG)—detailing our previous field experience and our future interests. After we begin the program in May, we almost immediately start meeting with our field faculty member to determine how our professional interests align with available placements. Since the process begins so quickly, I would recommend thinking deeply about your areas of interest before you even start at UNC—and before you even submit the ASPG. For me, this was difficult because the classes and experiences I had while at UNC really shaped what I now want to do with my degree. However, during the initial search process I was more concerned with being flexible and making it “easier” for my faculty advisor, so I didn’t advocate for myself enough while discussing the areas I was truly passionate about. Flexibility is an important skill to have, but as an advanced standing student, you only get one graduate field placement—try to make it count! It ended up working out for me because I really enjoy my current placement, but I would recommend thinking critically about your professional goals, interests, and passions beforehand and advocating for the kind of placement you really want.
Once you choose a field placement that sounds interesting to you, there are still opportunities to self-advocate. You still have to complete an interview with the potential field placement, and in many ways, it’s a dual-direction interview. The field instructor is hoping to ensure that you will be a good fit for their agency while you are also trying to make sure this is the field placement you want to be in. I would recommend preparing a list of questions beforehand that you plan to ask the field instructor. These questions can involve what your duties and responsibilities will look like, how the agency uses students, as well as what resources or barriers the agency has: Are there gender neutral bathrooms? What is the agency culture like? Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions, and don’t be afraid to decline a field placement after the interview! The whole point of the interview is to make sure you know what you’re signing up for. If you have doubts after the interview, voice them to your field faculty member. Their job is to find you the best possible placement, so if one isn’t sitting well with you, they will work with you to find another!
Self-advocacy is one skill I wish I’d learned earlier on, so I’d recommend getting an early start, even if you’re not at UNC yet! Look for opportunities in your current program, job, or life in general—having practice taking care of yourself will go a long way once you’ve made it to Chapel Hill!
My full-time job and part-time graduate program keep me busy during the week so I’ve had to learn to stay ahead of my homework. I’ve realized that my living room is not always conducive to studying (Netlflix is just too tempting). If I’m not at work or in class, there’s a good chance that you can find me at one of my favorite coffee shops. I thought I’d share them with you!
Located off of Highway 54 between Chapel Hill and downtown Durham, Bean Traders is the perfect spot for a group-project meeting or Saturday morning study session. It’s colorful and cheerful and full of tables. Grab a cold brew and carrot muffin from 9th Street Bakery and settle in. (Warning: it does get crowded).
Market Street has locations in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. I frequent the Chapel Hill location on South Elliot Road. There are comfy seats and tables to choose from. The quiet atmosphere is great for solo studying.
My favorite campus coffee shop, Friends Cafe is located in the Health Science Library on South Columbia Street. Less than a five minute walk to the School of Social Work, it’s the perfect spot to get some work done before class or grab a treat during break.
Since I work in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, the Meantime Coffee Co. is my go-to spot for a mid-day coffee break. Housed in the UNC Campus Y, the Meantime is a non-profit coffee shop that is completely student run. Definitely stop in if you find yourself in this part of campus. You can enjoy delicious coffee from Carrboro Coffee Roasters while supporting the Carolina Community!
Technically not a coffee shop, but my list wouldn’t be complete without it. Closed in the winter, Honeysuckle Tea House is best enjoyed in the spring and summer. Located on the outskirts of Chapel Hill, the open-air shop is surrounded by gardens. It feels like studying in a tree house (but there’s still WiFi). Definitely worth the drive!
Best Hot Cocoa spots in the Triangle (Place name/ what to order):
- Cocoa Cinnamon, Durham, NC (3 locations): Cacao Canela
- Parker & Otis, Durham, NC: Regular hot chocolate
- Bean Traders, Durham, NC: Hot chocolate with coconut milk OR their sipping chocolate
- Coco Bean, Chapel Hill, NC: Hot chocolate with macadamia nut milk
- Sir Walter Coffee, Raleigh, NC: Hot chocolate with macadamia nut milk
- Jubala Village Coffee: Hot chocolate with macadamia nut milk
- Liquid State: Hot chocolate with soy milk
- Goorsha, Durham, NC: Cocoa Spice (spiked hot chocolate (;)
- & finally, for the best hot cocoa in town: me (:
I reflected last week on things I have been able to experience in the past few months that I have been wanting to work on and have been wanting to take part in. My caring of self has not always been great- at times I do so much of it but mostly I disregard the need to be gentle with myself or do the things that bring me joy.
Some of the ways I was able to come around and find the things that bring me joy is by
- Setting boundaries: Deciding what I say yes and no to, and fighting the urge of changing my mind afterward. I’m sure many of us relate because many of us are overachievers and may have little time to spare. (Use that time wisely)
- Finding activities, people etc that recharge us: As an introvert, I realize how much joy I find in doing things I love alone. This could be going somewhere public but doing my own thing alone, attending an art class alone, going to a concert alone. For some of us being around others recharge us- so find what works for you!
- Making a list: Many of us are busy, drained, and at times unattuned or unaware of our wants and needs in midst of many moving pieces. For me this meant, I had to be intentional about what I wished to achieve or do, or try. I made my caring of self another line item on my to-do list until it became easier to do. (This is for us who need more structure when it comes to finding ways to care for ourselves)
- Trying things: Sometimes we have no idea where to start because we have never practiced a hobby, perhaps we have social anxiety among other things that make trying new things a bit challenging. I have found that just trying things with no expectations has allowed me to be able to know what I want to do- and also has taught me what I DON’T want to do.
New habits take time, boundaries take time, but find what works for you and don’t forget to be consistent. Caring for yourself is central to your well-being and will be especially as social workers, students, caretakers, researchers, leaders, staff, and administration etc.
PS: One of the things I do to care for myself is to listen to music, make playlists and as of recently DJ. So! I suggest a playlist on Spotify by the name of Jazz Vibes! it’s my go-to with studying, or spending time alone!