Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How To Approach Writing Your Personal Statement for Social Work Graduate School

by Jesus Reyes

This post is an excerpt from The Social Work Graduate School Applicant's Handbook, by Jesus Reyes.

I recommend that you perform a thorough self-assessment before writing your statement. Make a list of all jobs, volunteer positions, and internships you have ever held. In short, take an inventory of any experiences that somehow contributed to your interest in social work. Don’t neglect to also list classes that you may have taken that contributed to the development of your interests. For some people, even an individual field trip taken as part of a class may have been significant.

Chances are you’ve had some experiences in settings that you may not have previously considered related to social work. I’ve often met with students who tell me of jobs in research, legal offices, and other settings and then proceed to state they have no social work experience. They are surprised when I mention that certain types of research are very beneficial to aspiring social workers.

Even if the research was not directly related to social welfare issues, the exposure to the act of research is very useful. The aim of social research courses in MSW programs is to make students aware of the essentials of good research and the benefits of good research to an informed professional practice. Applicants seem equally surprised that an experience in a legal aid agency can serve as valuable exposure to clients who are at a crisis point in their lives and very much in need of assistance coping with many social systems around them.

Once you’ve made as comprehensive a list as possible, identify the skills you developed as a result of each particular experience. Keep in mind that the most important aspect in the experience is not necessarily the setting itself.

The most important elements are the skills you develop that are transferable to other settings. For example, the skills developed in interviewing clients are transferable to many other settings. People who seek services at a legal aid agency typically are experiencing financial difficulties, either of a temporary or chronic nature. They are also at a point in their lives when they are experiencing a life event of considerable stress, such as a divorce, eviction, or other event. They require an interviewer who can ease their anxiety and be empathic enough to allow them to express their needs at their own pace. Those skills are transferable to virtually any crisis setting.

 A review of your experiences will be helpful not only in making an inventory of the skills you may have begun to develop, but also in identifying the areas of social work where you may want to go in the future. That awareness can help you immensely in determining which of the programs you are considering can best train you to achieve your goals.

 By this point, you should be in an excellent position to make a strong case in your statement about why your experiences and goals are a good fit with the particular school’s programs. For example, if your experiences have been in a pediatric hospital setting, you have probably begun to develop skills in the areas of assessing the impact of the onset of childhood illness on the family system. A careful evaluation of those skills can serve as a good foundation for assessing a school’s maternal and child health program. In turn, the process can move to making a solid case for the suitability of the program to your educational and professional objectives.

 It is difficult to overstate the importance of presenting a thoughtful and deliberate case of your reasons for wanting to be a social worker and for wanting to attend the particular program in your biographical statement. All other aspects of two applicants competing for a place in the class being equal, the person with the better biographical statement will win out. In the schools with more competitive admissions, most applicants have excellent undergraduate records and stellar references. What often separates them is the biographical statement. It often weighs as much or more than the undergraduate record and the references combined.



This article is an excerpt from The Social Work Graduate School Applicant's Handbook, by Jesus Reyes. The book includes two chapters on writing your personal statement, as well as worksheets to help with the process. The book is available at Amazon.com in print and Kindle formats.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Self-Care and Its Importance for Social Workers and Social Work Students



by Victoria Brewster, MSW

I remember from my own graduate school days, 5 classes a week, 3 hours each, 2 full days of internship, course work, a part-time job, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life.

Staying and being busy is good, but down time is just as important. What exactly is down time? What does that mean for you? As a graduate student in social work or a newly minted social worker, down time equals self-care.

I cannot stress enough the importance of self-care in the social work profession and instilling the concept and importance of it as a student or new professional. Not practicing self-care can lead to burnout. Many students meet with friends to chat or go to parties for needed and important socialization time, and this is a good thing.

Social workers, by their very nature, are nurturing, caring, helpful, want to make a difference, and often put others before themselves. If one wants to still be in the profession in 5, 10, 25, or 30 years, practicing and implementing self-care is a must.

Self-care promotes relaxation, a needed break from work and work related thoughts. I know many helping professionals who do not practice self-care, who lack the motivation, the inclination, the skills, the knowledge, and/or willingness to seek ways to minimize stress. You see it in their interactions with clients and colleagues and by their body language and facial expressions. 

Examples of self-care are: take your lunch break, visit with colleagues and chat about non-work related things, take a walk at lunch, eat lunch outside of the office, engage in hobbies that interest you (i.e. knitting, scrap booking, reading, painting, listening to music, playing sports), take a vacation every 6 months or so (even if it is just a weekend away), practice meditation, and--probably one of the most important--"unplug" every once in a while. No computer, e-mail, Twitter, LinkedIn, or other social media. Institute a no electronics rule--no TV, no iPod or iPad, turn your cell phone to quiet, or better yet turn it off for a few hours. Relax with family and friends, and when you leave work, leave work. 

This means do not take your work home with you, and leave thoughts of work behind. This is difficult for many, and there are times when you have to take your work home to finish paperwork or to prepare for a workshop or presentation. Perhaps you are "on call" for your job after hours or on a weekend. Add some self-care to the mix, and balance your work and non-work life.

A colleague suggested the term "perpetual social work mode." It has to be left behind. As social workers or social work students, often it is part of our nature to be helpful, to assist, to rescue, to say yes even if we are feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and stressed. It is okay to say no.

Many get bogged down with papers, studying, and group projects while trying to perhaps balance a social life and employment. Be supportive of one another, mentor a fellow student, and remember you will leave graduate school behind and enter the professional world. Instill and carry the self-care concept with you into the work world.

Victoria Brewster, MSW, has 16 years of social work experience, 13 of which have been as a case manager and group facilitator with seniors/older adults. Her areas of interest are aging, healthcare, end-of-life issues, improvements in education for youth, advocacy, and social justice. She is is Coordinator of Member Relations and a staff writer at SocialJusticeSolutions.org.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Want To Be a Professional Social Worker? Make Sure Your Graduate Program Is CSWE-Accredited

I was just reading a discussion on a social media site that concerned me a great deal. The gist of the discussion was as follows:  "I just received my master's degree in human services, and I was turned down by the state social work licensing board. They said I have to have a master's degree that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education! But I have a master's degree, and I would make a great social worker."

Yes, original poster (OP), you do have a master's degree. And it may very well be that you received training in topics similar to those taught in an accredited social work program, and that you would be an excellent social worker. But your master's is not in social work, and it is not accredited by the social work education accrediting body, and therefore, you do not qualify to be licensed as a social worker.

There are several reasons this can happen. Among them:

  1. Potential social work students do not have the information they need. They simply do not know to look for a program that is CSWE-accredited, or to find out from their state social work licensing boards what is required to be licensed and/or to practice social work in the state. Therefore, they may think that a program that "sounds like" social work IS social work. They only find out later (as in the above example) that this is not the case.
  2. Schools are misleading potential students. There are schools that advertise on the Internet (and otherwise) that they offer "social work" programs. On further inspection, they in fact are not offering social work programs. These programs may have names like human services, social services, or something else related to the work social workers do. The education one receives in these programs may be good (or not), but the fact remains that they are not social work programs and will not provide one with the qualifications to be licensed in social work or to practice social work in states with practice protection.
The fact is that, as a future social worker, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure you know what you need to know to become a professional social worker.

In EVERY state in the U.S., you MUST have a Council on Social Work Education accredited degree to become licensed as a social worker. (There are exceptions for people with foreign social work degrees that have been evaluated and determined to be equivalent to a CSWE-accredited degree.)  

So, if you are looking at MSW programs right now, make sure the program you are considering is a CSWE-accredited program. If it is not, move on to another program, or go into it with the awareness that you will be receiving something other than a social work degree. (Some programs are "in candidacy" to become accredited. If this is the case, ask when they expect to be accredited, and ask yourself if you are willing to take the chance that they will indeed be accredited before you get your degree.)

I cannot stress this enough. Ask questions! If you see an ad on this or any other site (or on a billboard, in a newspaper, magazine, or anywhere else) claiming to offer a social work degree program, check it out thoroughly and ask whether it is accredited by CSWE and whether it will give you the credentials needed to be licensed in your state (or the state where you wish to practice social work, if that is your goal). Some schools will say they are accredited--make sure they are accredited by CSWE.

If you are currently in a master's program and you don't know if it is accredited by CSWE, and your goal is to practice professional social work, ask!

This previous post explains these issues further.

It is distressing to know that some students, for whatever reason, don't know that this is an issue until they are already in a program, or worse, have already completed a degree. It is more troublesome when some schools purposely deceive students into thinking that they are receiving social work degrees when they are not.

In the example above, upon further inspection, the OP's school stated right up front on its website that the program was not for people who wanted to become licensed, and this was not billed as a social work degree. And the OP admitted that s/he had not done the necessary research.

Before you go back to school, don't forget to do your homework!

For more information, see:

Council on Social Work Education: http://www.cswe.org
Association of Social Work Boards: http://www.aswb.org

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Resources for Grad School Financial Aid

You want to go to graduate school to get your MSW, but how are you going to pay for it? Here are some recent articles and resources to help you navigate your way through grad school finances:


These are just a few resources to get you started. What other resources have you found that you would like to share with our readers?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

GUEST POST: So, You Want To Be a Social Worker?

by Lauren Dennelly, MSW, LSW



You’re a promising young 20-something, ready to forge ahead into grad school, or maybe you’re thinking about a second career. And you want to go to school for social work. Sure, you have your reasons--you have a passion for helping people, have some personal experiences that are guiding you toward the field, or you just think social work sounds interesting. Whatever your reasons, here’s a quick Top 5 guide to what you need to know before you dive in:


  1. Social work is HARD work. Self-care is your new best friend. Make sure you save time for it! This article on burnout and self-care from The New Social Worker can help.  Also check out http://www.socialwork.buffalo.edu/students/self-care/ for some helpful resources.
  2. You are NOT in this for the money. Salary varies based on what agency or specialty you choose, but overall, you will not be living the Donald Trump lifestyle. But you knew that already, right? Donald Trump is over rated anyway.
  3. Not all MSW programs are created equal. Take the time to do some research on the course catalogs of various programs--what specialty coursework do they offer? What kinds of internship opportunities are there? What is the program’s reputation in the social work world? It is important that you choose a program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, and you can find a complete listing of these programs on the CSWE web site.
  4. Choose your field experiences wisely. In this economy, when jobs are hard to come by for new graduates, your internship experiences are increasingly valuable. What have you always been interested in, and what kinds of jobs are out there in that specialty? Look at sites like www.indeed.com, www.idealist.com, and http://www.socialworkjobbank.com to see what kinds of positions agencies are posting.
  5.  NETWORK. This process begins while you are in your graduate program and never stops once you leave it. Talk to other people in the field. Is there someone you know (or someone you would like to know) that has your ideal job? Talk to that person and ask how he/she got the position. What experiences does he/she have? Becoming an NASW member can help link you to other professionals in the field. This organization has a whole section on its web site just for students! (http://www.socialworkers.org/students/default.asp)

Of course, this list could go on. Perhaps the most important thing to remember if you are thinking of a career in social work is that you will meet some of the most interesting and amazing people, both as co-workers and in your work with clients. On my most trying days, refocusing on the work I do with clients helps to center and remind me of what’s truly important in life--the connections we have with one another.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Graduate School Reference Letter from Your Therapist?

Dr. Tara Kuther, of About.Com's Graduate School site, recently addressed the question of whether or not to ask one's therapist for a reference letter for graduate school.

She said, in part:

A letter from a therapist is not a good idea. It will not help your application. Recommendation letters speak to the student's academic competence. Helpful letters are written by professionals who have worked with you in an academic capacity.

Read her full response here.

I am wondering...what do you think?  Is the answer to this question different for those applying to graduate school in the helping professions, or should it be?  What ethical issues might arise for the therapist who is asked by a client to write a graduate school reference letter?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Choosing the Right Social Work Graduate School for You!

Do you have questions about choosing the right social work graduate school?  Chances are, you do!  Your questions might include the following:

  • Does the school have the right accreditation?
  • What concentrations does the school offer?
  • How long does it take to complete the degree?
  • How much does it cost?
  • When should I apply?

THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER magazine published an article on these and other questions you may have.  The article was published several years ago and is still just as relevant today!

Read it HERE!

Tell us what other questions you have that are not addressed in the article, or tell us about your experience in getting your questions answered.