The dreaded (or maybe not) grad school interview

Recently I’ve had a few people ask me about the interview for the MSW program, so hopefully this post will soothe some worries or answer some questions.

After I applied to the UNC SSW I received a letter that wasn’t quite an acceptance and wasn’t quite a denial- it was a suggestion to apply for the Triangle Distance Education (DE) program instead of the Full Time (FT) MSW program. I had never considered applying for anything but the FT program, didn’t really understand how DE would work, and was thrown by the end of the letter where I was advised to call to set up an interview if interested. However, the whole deal turned out to be a fantastic set of circumstances.

I was completely nervous about the interview before it happened. I wanted to know what they would ask and what they were looking for. I wondered if I should talk about my emotional connection to the field? Should I emphasize the work I’ve done so far? Does a good interviewee get personal, or do they keep it professional . . .cool as a cucumber? Is that the best approach? And did I do enough research about current UNC faculty? What would my questions reveal about my skill set? Should I study some social work terms? Do they know I didn’t get a BSW? And on and on my concerns snowballed.

One thing I must say is that most of the reason that I had such a wonderful interview experience is that I was interviewed by Travis Albritton and Teresa Ilinitch. They were incredibly warm, open, affirming, and excited about meeting potential students. They immediately made it clear that this interview was about all of us getting to know each other and figuring out if UNC and I were right for each other, not if I was good enough for UNC. All of my concerns about the interview process quieted down as our discussion began and Travis and Teresa asked me questions that allowed me to be myself and show them a light outline of the sort of social worker I am working to become.

This is the thing about the interview— it’s personal and emotional and professional and challenging all at once. There were some questions that I felt were designed to uncover my level of empathy and my interpersonal instincts and others that were more directly about how I planned to balance life and school. I left feeling as though I had gotten the opportunity to share who I am, who I want to serve, and what I want out of my career. So, if I can give you any advice about the interview it would be to spend a little time beforehand reflecting on those ideas: who are you? Who do you want to serve? What do you want out of your career? Sure, for most of us those are constantly changing answers, but be brave and confident on the day of your interview. Think of it as a day to explore and connect with people and trust in your ability to suss out if UNC is a good fit for you.

*** I have to say that it is really nice to reflect on my admission interview because it was the day that I met Teresa Ilinitch, a fantastically warm, fun, talented light who passed away recently. I feel so thankful that I was able to meet her in that way during that potentially stressful process. In the first few minutes she put me at ease and made me feel like she really wanted to know who I was and where my life would take me. Hers were incredible gifts to give to people and I was blessed to know her.



About Marie Funk

Hello, I'm in my second year of the 3-year Distance Education Program in the UNC-SSW. I'm originally from Norfolk, Va., but have grown to love North Carolina. My foundation field placement is in the Orange County Court System. My professional interests include the homeless population, those coming out of incarceration, and urban community development.
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