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!
So it’s November 11, there’s less than one month left in the semester, and I have 8 big assignments due before then, 5 of them papers. The weather has finally turned appropriate for November and I finally turned the heat on for the first time. The leaves are gorgeous, the sun is out, and I am inside, writing a paper. This is the reality of graduate school, I spend a lot of my Saturday’s inside reading, writing, and working. My Saturdays are (usually) devoted to school work so that on Sundays I can focus on the best two words I have learned in graduate school: Self Care. Self care, something impressed upon me in virtually every single class in social work school, is an amazing opportunity to give yourself a break, watch some netflix, hang out with friends, or in my case, take a hike, all in the name of good ol’ R and R.
Fast forward to Sunday, my computer had a nice chance to gather some dust (except for writing this blog post,) because I was no where near it! I was with my partner and our pup on top of a mountain! The leaves were gorgeous, the weather crisp, and the fresh air greatly needed. While I still have to finish and edit my paper before it’s due tomorrow, I feel refreshed and ready to tackle this assignment, and the end of the semester.
If there’s one lesson I have learned in graduate school that I would impart upon you, and anyone else I meet, it is the importance of self care. Take time to take care of yourself, as this inspirational quote says, “Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.”-Etty Hillesum. And as they say in social work, if you want to help others, you must help yourself first.
Have a great week y’all! Do some self care, and enjoy this photo of Phoebe on a mountain.
It is the critical time for my cohort in which we are tasked with declaring our concentration. The two choices are “Direct Practice” or “Community, Management & Policy Practice(CMPP)”; CMPP is often referred to as “Macro”. My aspirations when I entered this program were very concrete. Upon entering the social work program my ambitious future goal was to open a hospice home within North Carolina’s state penitentiary. With that goal in mind, I had no problems deciding from the beginning that I would declare CMPP so that I could learn the skills essential for such a great task.
A wonderful part of Chapel Hill’s Social Work program is that you are exposed to so many unique needs, populations, and existing services through readings, lectures, and guest speakers. However, for me it presented a great challenge, I went from one specific goal, to an array of interests. As imagined, this caused me to question my professional goals. I learned from an UNC advisor that North Carolina has an existing hospice home in one of its prison’s. This was great to learn, and is what really shifted my plan from CMPP to direct practice, so that I can learn evidence based practice and skills to directly serve this population as well as others facing end of life, even outside of the prison system. I decided that I would like to pursue a career as a grief counselor, and just last week I formally declared my concentration as direct practice.
It’s amazing how this program helps you to evolve in just a brief time. I love that UNC School of Social Work requires core courses in both concentrations. It really helps students to see the value and similarities of the two types. In fact, it enhances the realization that we as future social workers need both skill sets to be successful, which is why I plan to utilize my elective courses to have a good blend of both. It’s been really inspiring, exciting, and fun to brainstorm and exchange future goals with my cohort as we declare our concentrations and really begin to plan for our concentration year of study.
Below are two helpful links on UNC School of Social Work’s website to better understand the two concentration types as well as the curriculum offered:
It’s application season! In the past month I have seen an increase in potential students emailing me with questions about the social work program here at UNC. For this blog post, I am going to provide answers to some of the most common questions I am getting via email and in student interest sessions.
- How available are faculty, really? Our school of social work has only graduate students, so faculty are not dividing their time between undergraduate and graduate students. Classes are small (I would say 30 people is a large class). I have found every faculty member I have interacted with to be responsive and interested in students’ development. Faculty always quickly respond to my emails and are eager to help with school or professional development.
- Why did you choose UNC for you MSW? I knew I wanted to do an MSW and an MPH with a focus in maternal and child health. UNC has an amazing dual degree program, and the school of public health has a great maternal and child health department. That combined with both program’s stellar ratings were big reasons I wanted to become a student here. When I was looking at schools I immediately eliminated anywhere that I knew I wouldn’t want to live. I had heard good things about the Chapel Hill-Durham-Raleigh area and felt that there would be plenty to do here.
- How does the fieldwork placement happen? As a full-time 2-year student, the first year your input is pretty minimal, which I actually appreciate. There was an in-depth survey of our interests and goals, and an interview with a field faculty member to discuss placement options. We have a full-time field staff here which is unique for social work schools. Those faculty know the agencies in this area like the back of their hands and the program is unbelievably organized. The second year you choose your top choices for placements and the field faculty works to get you one of those top picks. It’s a VERY organized system and people are happy with their placements.
- How feasible is it to work during the full-time program? Working part time is common among students in the program, but it is not without stress. Several students have research assistantships with faculty in the school of social work. This is convenient for many reasons, not the least of which is that there is often flexibility in scheduling which makes this more doable. I work about 5ish hours per week right now. Last year I had a research assistantship and worked 10 hours per week. It was stressful, but manageable. Whether or not to work while in the program is a very personal decision, and different students find different feasibility with this. Having an accommodating manager is useful if you are planning to work while in the program.
Grad school is hard. Between classes, work and field, it’s easy to feel overstretched. There are days when I come home and ask myself, “Is this worth it? Should I have come back to grad school? What in the world am I doing?” Fortunately, those days are few and far in between but when my battery is running low, those voices of uncertainty can begin to creep in. It’s at that point that I have to take a deep breath and remind myself why Carolina and a MSW were right for me.
After college, I had the opportunity to work as an AmeriCorps VISTA at a community resource center in DC. Though my main job was coordinating trainings and pilot programs, I also worked one on one with community members to work on their goals. After my first couple of months, it became abundantly clear that if you wanted to get something done, you called a social worker. Wanted to find a substance abuse treatment program? Call a social worker. Wanted to lobby for affordable housing? Call a social worker. Wanted to create a new community program? You guessed it, call a social worker. I was inspired by the social workers I saw partnering with members in the community to create major individual and societal changes. Additionally, social workers follow their own code of ethics (check it out! LINK) that values social justice, the dignity and worth of individuals and the importance of human relationships. I had found my people and I knew I wanted to go back to school to officially become part of their tribe.
The next step was deciding on a school. I asked family and friends, read online articles and made pro-con lists. Nothing however compared to coming to visit. I decided to drive one afternoon to see campus and attend an information session. Secretly, I hoped I would really hate it so I wouldn’t have to leave my home state. But I loved it. I was impressed by the amount the faculty really cared about and invested into the students. I was inspired by the work students were doing in their classrooms and their field placements. And I was won over the beauty of the state and the little piece of heaven I found in Carrboro. I liked it so much that I applied even after bombing the math section of the GRE.
UNC’s School of Social Work is not a perfect institution by far and the field of social work is still shifting to meet the needs of the community and populations it serves. However, I am happy I decided to move to North Carolina and pursue my MSW. I know when I graduate I will have the skills and knowledge I need to start a career in social work and I can’t wait to get back out in the field.
There were so many financial decisions that I had to consider while applying for graduate school. At the time I was working and fully supporting myself in my one bedroom apartment. I knew that I would not be able to pay for graduate school right away and that eventually I would have to leave my full time job in order to complete the program. I knew there was a way to make “grad life” work but I was resistant due to my independent state of mind. I take pride in supporting myself and not asking for help. But that all changed when I committed to UNC’s MSW program.
Initially taking out loans was a pain. This was my logic due to me paying on loans from undergrad for the past four years. My perspective changed as I began my first year in the program. I was challenged so much in a positive way that I began to grow as a person. That’s when I started to look at graduate school as an investment. The amount of loans I chose to use was just enough to cover my tuition and I stopped calculating the cost. Becoming a social worker was where I needed to be and the cost no longer mattered.
As a student ambassador I run into individuals that often resist a graduate degree due to the possibility of taking out more student loans. I challenge those individuals to change their perspective. Yes…student loans are a pain. But you will be able to support and provide assistance to so many vulnerable populations in your future career.
There are scholarships available. Take a look on the UNC School of Social Work’s website to find information about financial assistance, scholarships, and specialty programs that provide stipends. There is also free money online. I’ve had conversations with people that block out time to google and apply for several scholarships online. Even smaller amounts are helpful and I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like FREE money. Also consider different ways to save money and sit down with family and friends to make a plan.
If you only think of loans when you think of graduate school, then the cost will linger over your head. And that is not what’s important.
Remember future career + MSW Program = Investment in myself and others
When you’re in graduate school, the rest of life doesn’t simply stop happening. One of the trickiest things for me in my concentration year of the social work program has been managing the work-life balance. In the winter of 2015 (my firs year in the DE Cohort) and I got engaged to my sweetheart. We knew we wanted some time to plan, but we didn’t want to wait for too long, so we decided we would do the wedding while I was still in grad school.
Starting this semester I had more than just school and field on my mind; I was also planning one of the biggest days of my life! At times it was difficult to fit in all of my assignments, part time work, and wedding planning, but in the end, it all came together. In this process I learned the importance of time management, delegation, and began to understand that there is only so much time in one day. At this juncture I realize I can do my best, but I can’t do more than my best. When I got back a paper that was slightly lower than the usual grades I get, I took a lesson in acceptance, knowing that it wasn’t necessarily a bad grade and “can’t win ’em all”.
Dealing with whatever you have in life in addition to grad school can be a challenge, but it can be done. It’s important to prioritize various responsibilities and life events in a framework considers what’s most important in this moment, what will matter the most in 1 year and what will matter the most in 5 years. It’s important to remember that we all have big things going on in our lives while we’re in this program. In the DE cohort alone I was the 3rd of 25 students to get married while in the program. Remembering that all of us are navigating this balance helps to normalize my feelings of being overwhelmed and I am reminded that there are strategies I can practice to feel calmer in the moment and stay on top of my responsibilities.
While we’d like to think that life will slow down after graduate school, the truth is that a social work career is very demanding. I imagine I will continue to live a very busy life after I graduate, and developing the skills to stay calm in the moment, prioritize the most important things in life, and setting work/life boundaries will all prove to be invaluable and necessary to avoid burnout in this field.
I’m happy to say that the wedding was a success and thus far the semester has been a success too!
Fall is absolutely my favorite time of year, as it brings all of my favorite things – Football, leaves changing, pumpkin flavored treats, and sweaters. Even in the stress of the mid semester assignments and papers, I have committed to making the most of weekend activities and making sure that I do more this year than just stare at my laptop furiously typing. As a born and raised Virginian, I was excited to explore all the new things that North Carolina has to offer.
First on my fall bucket list: a real college football game. I had been so excited to go to Kenan Stadium and cheer on the Tarheels, especially when we are playing Duke. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, some of my MSW classmates and I yelled and participated in cheers we knew nothing about. Even though we may have lost, I know we’ll get the Blue Devils back come basketball season.
Next up, I had to get to the mountains. I since moving to Raleigh I have missed the mountains in my home town, and just knew that a weekend away hiking and enjoying the beauty of the Appalachian mountains during peak leaf weekend was exactly what I needed. I headed to Boone, North Carolina for a great weekend getaway. A few days of hiking and eating lots of good food helped me to recharge and find some new motivation for the fall semester.
I also had an UNC event marked on my calendar since the summer that I knew I had to attend. As an avid UNC basketball fan, I was so excited to attend Late Night with Roy 2017, the annual “kick-off” of basketball season, with my family. This year it was even more exciting as the Men’s National Championship Banner was revealed in the rafters! I think as graduate students its easy to pass up some of the opportunities like sports games or other fun events on campus, but I think it’s critical to take advantage of as much as possible and do something that may be a little outside of your usual activities!
There is still more time left in the fall, and I still have many great plans found via Facebook events, radio announcements, local news channels, and helpful websites (linked at the end of the post). The next things on my list are the NC State Fair, a North Carolina wine festival, and more. Living in the Triangle area has brought so many opportunities and fun memories. There is an abundance of things to do – so many restaurants to try, parks to explore, festivals to attend, and day trips to take. Because I only have one year in my Advanced Standing MSW program, I am doing the best to make the most of my time in Raleigh and at UNC. While studying and Social Work is really important, self-care is also critical, so I try to remember to let loose and have a some fun!