I just started my second year of the full time MSW program at UNC, and I am coming into this year with a lot more confidence and self-assurance than I had at this point last year. I am now comfortable in my shoes as a graduate student, confident in my ability to pass my classes, and feel that I have a strong support system from my fellow MSW students and numerous faculty at the School of Social Work. My first year as an MSW student was a whirlwind of classes, papers, field experiences, and life experiences, which were both amazing and challenging. I’d like to share with you the reasons why I LOVED my first year, and also some of the things I wish I had known throughout the year.
Why I loved my first year as an MSW student:
- My peers: It is so refreshing being in an environment where everyone around you truly cares about helping others, diversity, treating others with respect and kindness, and most of all, social justice. I found my fellow MSW students to be extremely supportive, motivating, and great friends.
- The courses: Some people come into their MSW program knowing exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives. I was NOT one of those people, and still don’t exactly know what I want to do when I grow up… and that’s okay! One of the best parts of the first year is that all MSW students take broad courses that allow you to explore all of your interests.
- My seminar group: During your first year, you not only have a first year field placement, but you will also have a seminar group. For my placement, I worked at an elementary school as a school social work intern, so my seminar group consisted of fellow school social work interns from my cohort. My seminar was an amazing opportunity to process my field experiences and create great friendships based on our similar interests of working with youth in a school setting.
- Field placement: One of the most valuable parts of my first year was my field placement. I was able to directly apply what I was learning in the classroom to my fieldwork, and was able to work in a setting where I felt I was actually making a difference. When I was at field I was able to jump out of my student role and become a real professional, role model and life-long learner, which helped me become confident in my choice to choose social work.
What I wish I had known during the first year of my MSW:
- Reach out to professors, even if they are not your academic advisor or professor: Professors at the school of social work are incredibly supportive… How could they not be, they’re all social workers! Do research about the professors (http://ssw.unc.edu/about/faculty) and see if any of their interests align with yours, and reach out to the professors whose brains you want to pick.
- Take advantage of all that UNC has to offer: All of your classes will most likely be at the School of Social Work, and I often forgot that there are other parts of campus beyond the School of Social Work. UNC is a huge, energetic, diverse campus filled with many opportunities. Go to basketball games and football games! Join student orgs (there are some graduate student orgs, ot of undergraduate student orgs are welcoming to grad students as well)! Go to the gyms on campus, and take advantage of the climbing wall, volleyball courts, and great fitness classes! Explore the campus and learn about its rich history!
- Reach out to 2nd year students: They have great insight and would love to chat with you. Just because they are 2nd years doesn’t mean they’re mean or scary… They’re very friendly and would be glad to chat with you about classes, professors, field experiences, and more.
- Make sure to have a life outside of being a student: Your first year as a full time student is VERY busy… between four classes, a seminar group, and two days of field each week (and I also had a part-time job for 8 hours a week), the week can become really busy. Your professors will constantly stress to you the need for SELF CARE,
- Tell your professors when you are overwhelmed: There were numerous times during my first year when two papers were due on the same day for different classes. My class told our professors about these overlapping schedules, and they were very open to changing the schedule of the papers to help us be less stressed out. Communicate with your professors when you are stressed, overwhelmed, or need some extra time for an assignment.
- Explore your options and don’t be afraid to make your own path: Many people come into the program thinking they are definitely going to be a therapist, or definitely going to be a macro student. The social work world is not so black and white, and has many options beyond the direct practice/macro dichotomy. You can be a self-directed student, get a dual degree, get a certificate, or seek out numerous alternative paths. I decided to do a dual-degree MSW-MPH program, and love it so far!
If you are reading this and you are a current first year student, I hope this is helpful. If you are reading this and you are still in the application process to come to the UNC School of Social Work, GOOD LUCK on your application, and don’t forget to be yourself!