By: Robin R. Wingo, MSW, LISW
Applying for graduate school is a big step! Whether you are just graduating with your bachelor’s in social work or you have been out for a few years, preparing that application takes time, energy, and careful consideration. Your grades are only one indicator of readiness for graduate study. It is highly likely that you will be asked to write a professional statement or essay along with completing a standardized application form. Although some admissions committees conduct personal admissions interviews, your first representation will be in writing, and your readiness will be evaluated on how you present yourself, your experiences, and your professional aspirations.
Every graduate school’s application process is different. Some are fully online and others use hardcopy, but they are all looking for the same thing—students who can clearly and thoughtfully make a case for how they are the best fit for acceptance into that particular graduate program.
As that applicant, you want to be successful, but making the most of the application process is a relatively unexamined process. Each program will provide forms and directions as part of the application, but little direction is provided regarding what works to meet the expectations. The following are some key thoughts for putting your best application forward.
1. Don’t just download applications!
Each graduate program is looking for students who match its educational mission and goals. Go to the Web site of each program that interests you, and review! Decide whether you are a good fit for that particular program. Applying only to programs that are located close by may not be a successful strategy if you can’t make a good case for fit. Take opportunities in the application to write about why you are a good fit.
2. Read the application carefully, and follow directions!
That sounds like a no-brainer, but often in the haste to complete an application, key information will be missed or ignored. Use a highlighter to target items that use the words “must,” “demonstrate,” “provide examples,” or “identify.” Read the instructions for the professional statement or essay carefully and make note of the expectations!
3. Attend a pre-admissions meeting or ask to meet with a faculty member to talk about the program and your fit.
Go prepared! Read the Web site and the application and prepare questions. Make sure you introduce yourself.
4. Give yourself ample time to think, write, revise, edit, get feedback from an impartial reviewer, revise, edit, and submit!
Make sure your spelling, syntax, grammar, and punctuation are correct. Make sure your word choices clearly and accurately depict your thinking and that your ideas are presented in a professional manner. As you no, its easy two half misteaks even win wee are being vary careful too due it rite! (sic)
5. If you aren’t confident about your writing skills, during the application process, you might consider taking a writing class or working with an editor to improve your writing skills.
Graduate students can tell you they do a LOT of writing, and it is a skill you will use in every class.
6. If you are applying in your senior year or are a new graduate, keep in mind that the coursework, volunteer experiences, and field practica you completed have increased your knowledge and skills.
Don’t underestimate their value! Focus on your strengths and what you have to contribute, rather than on whatever deficits you may think you have. Rather than, “I hope to learn...,” think about saying, “I have learned and applied...,” or, “The skills I developed have led me to....” Graduate programs are looking for learners who will contribute to the learning environment. Give them examples of what you have to offer!
7. If you have been out practicing at the bachelor’s level, use your educational and work experience to highlight what you have accomplished, where you are headed professionally, and what you will contribute.
Draw specific examples from your work (without breaching confidentiality) to demonstrate skills, leadership, creativity, ethical practice, and professionalism. Sharing your successes is not bragging!
8. Some programs request that a résumé be submitted along with your application.
Make sure it is up-to-date and formatted in a clear manner. Current students can use the college/university career development center for consultation in creating a résumé. Typically, alumna can use the college/university career center, if convenient, for up to a year. Online sites also exist for templates and suggested formats. Consider dropping off employment or activities that occurred in high school or earlier.
9. Be honest in your application, your résumé, and your professional statement/essay.
Accurately portray your work experience, skills, and knowledge. If asked to identify challenges or deficits, instead of simply stating, “I overschedule” (for example), frame your response with what you are doing to remediate that—“As overscheduling is a challenge, I am careful to schedule time for completing paperwork and meetings using a day planner.”
10. Write your professional statement or essay for a specific program.
Generic letters read that way! Some ideas, phrasing, or perspectives may fit with many programs, but tailor your writing to the mission and admissions criteria of each program. And keep the names straight—nothing is more off-putting than to have one’s institution referred to by a competitor’s name!
11. Do you have specialized experience related to a specific part of the program mission?
Do you have professional expertise that would be augmented by study in an area of the curriculum or with a particular faculty member? Do you have experiences that would enhance the student body? Make sure that it is included in your professional statement or essay.
12. References are always required!
Applications will likely have reference forms or specific points they want covered by a reference. Be clear about what kind of reference you need. There is a difference between someone who watched you grow up and thinks you are fabulous no matter what you do (personal reference) and a professional reference who can speak to the specific qualities that graduate programs are looking for, such as leadership, ethical behavior, and academic readiness. Supervisors (past or present), instructors (past or present), or colleagues who have had sufficient time to know you and your work are all potential references. Talk to the people you ask to be a professional reference and make sure they are willing to address the specific questions the program is asking. Provide them with your résumé as an information source, and remind them of examples of your work. A letter that specifically addresses your application, the criteria, and your readiness for graduate study can make a difference. After you are accepted, thank them for their help.
13. Avoid anything that can make your application and or professional statement or essay difficult to read.
Colorful paper, exotic fonts, and illustrations are not appropriate for this type of writing. A white or linen colored paper, with an easy-to-read font of a reasonable size (Times New Roman, 12 point, for example), printed clearly and cleanly, are good choices.
14. Carefully review what should be mailed or done online, and by whom.
Some programs only accept references online, whereas others require them to be mailed in with the application. An 8½ x 11 envelope for mailing is a better choice than folding multiple pages into a legal size envelope.
Realistically, the graduate school application process is competitive, and you may not get in the first time you apply. Don’t give up! Sometimes graduate programs will offer you feedback—ask! Attend another information session, if available. Talk with a mentor about how to improve your chances. Talk with the admissions person about classes you can take at a graduate level to demonstrate your readiness and improve your GPA. Work and get additional experience. Developing a relationship with a social work program in your area can help you know if it is a good fit. If you have a BSW/BSSW, consider becoming a field instructor for an undergraduate student. Don’t give up! Rework the application and reapply! Many successful social workers did not get into graduate school with their first application!
Robin R. Wingo, MSW, LISW, joined the Department of Social Work at Minnesota State University, Mankato faculty in 2001. She received her MSW from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She annually reviews applications for admissions to the MSW program.
This article appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER. Copyright 2012 White Hat Communications. All rights reserved.
If anyone could please give me some constructive feedback it would be GREATLY appreciated!
1) Experiences and/or relationships that have influenced your selection of social work as your professional career (family, education, volunteer involvement, employment, recipient of social services, etc.)
2) In what way do you believe a social work education and career will be of value to you?
3) The values that are intrinsic to the profession of social work and personal experiences that demonstrate your understanding and acceptance of such values.
4) Your understanding of the responsibilities of the social work profession and the role and responsibilities that you wish to assume as a professional social worker.
5) Describe your experience with people of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles.
6) As you know, field work involves 16-20 daytime hours per week. Please discuss the plans you have made to accommodate this, especially if you are going to be a working student.
7) Your reasons for selecting the MSW program at BLANK.
8) What plans have you made for completing the program? Consider finances, time management, etc. Indicate your access to a computer and your plan (if necessary) to learn word processing and the use of the internet before you begin the program. Include a plan for the full time or part time program showing that you understand the time demands of the program and how you intend to deal with them.
My interest in the social work profession became apparent during the fall semester of my junior year when I was enrolled in two Women's Studies courses and my first Psychology course. I had finally found subjects that I thoroughly enjoyed and academically excelled in. My study of Psychology taught me to understand human development along with how a person's social environment reflects their outlook and the choices they make in life. It was through my education in Women's Studies that I learned about society through a feminist lens. I became encouraged to challenge societal norms and bring awareness to those groups oppressed based simply on their race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality. I was provided with effective tools to dialogue across difference and take part in the process of social change.
After graduating with a baccalaureate degree in Women's Studies and a minor in Psychology, I began putting time and energy into volunteering for different social service agencies. I began taking the necessary training classes to become certified as a sexual assault counselor and advocate with XXX. I chose to volunteer with the organization because I felt I would be good at counseling people who had just experienced a traumatic event in their life. Taking the hotline crisis calls strengthened my interpersonal skills, and my ability to focus and address a person's needs. I am empathetic to victims and validate their feelings; I remind callers that they are not alone.
Working with other volunteers at XXX introduced me to the organization YYY. At that organization I started working one on one with foster children, and youth who have been abused and neglected. I was able to counsel my assigned YYY child on how to view the future with excitement, by setting and reaching goals. It is extremely unfortunate that many foster children and youth are set up for failure because they have a limited support system and/or no role models in their lives. They need to develop new coping skills so they are not hindered by past negative experiences. Over half of all foster youth end up homeless, drug addicts, and/or incarcerated. Preventing this outcome will not only improve their lives, but help community welfare and progression. Foster youth need special attention and guidance; this is essential in order to stop the cycle of violence, and drug and alcohol abuse in families. Working with YYY made me realize that abuse and neglect toward children and youth is always going to be a societal issue, and I want to devote my professional career to helping youth overcome internal and external challenges they face.
While carrying out my duties and responsibilities for the YYY organization I found it very similar to what a social worker does for foster children and youth. I embraced my role as a child advocate and truly enjoyed what I was accomplishing. I was not only a child's mentor, but her voice in court. The most important role of a YYY advocate is to assess the child's needs and make sure they are being met. In doing so I maintained open lines of communication with the child, foster mother, social worker, teachers, and the attorney to assure that goals were being addressed. I facilitated her enrollment in therapy to address anger problems and assisted her with public funding to participate in Taekwondo classes. The aforementioned experiences and personal exposure gave me the insight to realize I want to earn a Masters in Social Work with a specialization in child welfare.
I have a compassion to help people who are struggling with hardships and who are overcoming obstacles in their life. I am motivated to help people and I find it extremely rewarding when a person realizes their potential to make successful changes in their life. I find the strengths in every person. The key aspect of the social work profession is enhancing the needs of an individual which in turn promotes the welfare of society as a whole. One of the social worker's core values is social justice; this is achieved by providing people who are oppressed or vulnerable necessary information and services to improve their quality of life. In order for social justice to be achieved, social workers must hold social institutions responsible and accountable. Along with this, an imperative value to uphold as a social worker is to bring service to others using knowledge, experiences and skills. While counseling sexual assault victims, I learned to assess their needs and make referrals within the community using my knowledge of resources. This included in person counseling by licensed therapists, hospitals, shelters, police stations, government and legal offices, food pantry's, free clinics, and other organizations tailored to their needs. In addition to helping sexual assault victims on a personal level, I have brought awareness to my community through XXX by educating children on sexual assault. I perform puppet shows at various institutions to demonstrate to children the difference between a "bad touch" versus a "good touch," and what to do when faced with a situation in which you are being sexually violated.
Practicing the values of service and social justice in the social work profession is not enough; a social worker must encourage the client to want to make change is their life by helping them understand their potential. Change cannot be effected until the individual learns to address what needs to be done in their own life. It is important that the social worker be conscientious when helping a person identify their needs because each individual is different. The differentiation is based on situational, cultural, ethnic diversity, and intellectual abilities. Volunteering as a YYY I approached my foster child's case with sensitivity. The more visits with her enabled me to assess that she always used aggression in problematic situations. I discerned that she would have angry moods following visits with her biological family. She was projecting anger as a defense mechanism to avoid pain or insecurity. I wanted her to acknowledge the way she dealt with anger towards others. I didn't want to blatantly address the issue in fear that she would put her guard up, so I instead indirectly asked questions of how she felt when seeing her biological family. As a result of making it comfortable for her to talk about what she felt, she began to understand that she was taking her anger and lack of self-confidence out on other people without realizing it.
A social worker must exercise the essential value of recognizing the importance of human relationships. Society will not rise above prejudice and achieve equality until people understand that their actions and beliefs affect the wellbeing of others. People act on misrepresentations of others because they believe what they perceive to be true, which is often not the case. It is not until people embrace the subjective nature of relationships that they will find it easier to relate to other people. We must find strength in human interaction and use these it to our advantage to fight and bring awareness to causes that improve the social welfare of all.
A social work professional must believe in the core values in order to properly carry out their role and responsibility on a macro level pertaining to society at large and the client relationship. As a social worker I will take on the role of being held responsible for connecting people in the community to all the possible resources available. Thus, I will do research and be knowledgeable of all the resources and also network with organizations and advocate on their behalf. I will prove my competence by continually working on improving my skills and information important to the profession and applying them in practice. As a YYY advocate I stay abreast on new information by attending monthly in-service training sessions. The sessions have guest speakers from social service professions that provided me with new perspectives on how to handle situations and offer information on resources for foster youth. Along with carrying out competence in the profession, it is important to execute the value of integrity in order to be consistent in actions and believe wholeheartedly in the profession's principles and capability to make change. A social worker must not only have commitment to the profession, but to the client. My most important role will be assuring the wellbeing of the client and protecting their confidentiality. A social worker must use their judgment and realize that what the client wants may not be in the client's true best interest. It is the responsibility of a social worker to promote the client's self determination in setting goals, unless their actions put them self or others as risk.
A social work professional can only perform to their best ability when they are culturally knowledgeable and educated on social diversity. I learned about many cultures and lifestyles through Women's Studies and through YYY, but I have also learned from many personal experiences with people of diverse backgrounds. I was exposed firsthand to Japanese culture as I became very close with a college friend. Upon my initial visit with her parents I thought they were cold and distant because they rarely talked to me and when they conversed with my friend in front of me they only spoke Japanese. It became evident to me that they were very nice people, but as Japanese natives they had been socialized differently than American culture. As I frequently visited her home where she grew up I realized how different Japanese customs and norms were. Just as I was exposed to different culture, I had the pleasure of learning about different backgrounds and beliefs other than my own through a college roommate. My roommate taught me much about her religion, Judaism. She explained history and traditions and I was always involved when we hosted Jewish holiday parties and special dinners. I enjoyed learning and appreciating her background. An experience that stands out the most to me is my childhood friend coming out that she is a lesbian. Coming out about her lifestyle choice to her parents and family was extremely difficult, I was her support system. It upset me that people close to her looked down upon her simply because of her sexual orientation.
It is imperative to value diversity and embrace it. I believe it is not enough that people accept others, but they must try to really understand and respect their background. Society must disassemble stereotypes and perceptions of people and groups in order to move past prejudice. Every person is equally entitled to their beliefs and opinions. I appreciate and find interesting other view points and perspectives pertaining to cultures and beliefs. Learning about others, you in turn learn about yourself. Having relationships with others brings joy to my life; I never stop learning from people.
Working in the social service field, I have come to realize my career options are limited in the sphere of child welfare without being a licensed professional and holding a Masters in Social Work degree. Not only will a MSW equip me to serve my client population, but it will be invaluable to me because it will teach me what I need to know about the field in order to be the most effective social worker I can be. Not only will the course material and assignments be of value to me, but having hands on experience out in the field will be vital.
I chose to attend BLANK because of the many positive experiences others who have attended have shared with me. My choice was confirmed further after I attended the informational meeting about the Masters in Social Work program. I was impressed with the overview and the national standing of the program. For many years BLANK has been responsible for educating social workers who now serve the community and make a difference. I look forward to the courses that will give me tools and teach me how to be a leader in my community also.
I am fully committed to focusing solely on my Masters of Social Work education and field work. I am able to do this because I am fortunate to have parents who are supporting me and letting me live with them while in school. I will be applying for financial aid and taking out student loans in order to afford tuition. I am able to accommodate the 16-20 hours for field work a week because I will not be working while I attend school. I have excellent time management skills that I perfected while obtaining my bachelors degree. I do not get overwhelmed when I am stressed. I'm always on top of my school work and responsibilities because I plan out my tasks and allot myself the necessary time to complete everything. I will dedicate every night of the school week to studying and completing assignments. I will always put my full energy into my field work twice a week. I will do everything possible to excel in this program, and I look forward to embarking on this educational opportunity.
I think it's better not to use geneder bias language in your SOP. It's better if you can modify your this sentence because you are talking against some kind of bias that you would like to fight. But, the moment you are talking like this you are also creating same mistake of biasness, and it shows that you are not having a rational thinking on the issue. I would like to quote Gandhi, "Violence should not be fighted with violence." Now, it's your decision how you want to put yourself in the front of admission comitte.
It was through my education in Women's Studies that I learned about society through a feminist lens.
a social worker must encourage the client to want to make change in their life by helping them understand their potential.
Volunteering as a YYY, I approached my foster child's cases with sensitivity.
This whole paragraph is messed up, please try to recast it because meaning is not clear-
The differentiation is based on situational, cultural, ethnic diversity, and intellectual abilities. Volunteering as a YYY I approached my foster child's case with sensitivity. The more visits with her enabled me to assess that she always used aggression in problematic situations. I discerned that she would have angry moods following visits with her biological family. She was projecting anger as a defense mechanism to avoid pain or insecurity. I wanted her to acknowledge the way she dealt with anger towards others. I didn't want to blatantly address the issue in fear that she would put her guard up, so I instead indirectly asked questions of how she felt when seeing her biological family. As a result of making it comfortable for her to talk about what she felt, she began to understand that she was taking her anger and lack of self-confidence out on other people without realizing it.
I think you modify this sentence little bit-
I will dedicate every night of the school week to studying and completing assignments. Something like- I am ready to take the rigour of the course work.
I think overall your SOP is very good, but you need to address the counter-arguments that will come against your writing and it's bit too large.
Feel free to discuss your view points.