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How to Prepare to Apply For Your Master of Social Work (MSW)

Updated: Jan 3

I was lucky to have help with applying to graduate school. I stressed over how to get the necessary experience and advertise myself in my application essays. Here are some tips that I have learned over time.

1.Where are you in the process of finding your passion/niche?

Social work is a flexible line of work. Some social workers work with adults, some with children, some do macro work (ie running charities). Do you know what you are passionate about? You will need to talk about it in your application essays. If you already know, seek out experience in the general area you care about. If you do not know, spend some time reflecting on the experience you already have (any little job you have had let’s you know where your skills lie). Otherwise,

2. Getting experience

  1. With social work, almost any job can teach you valuable skills. It’s all about how you advertise yourself.

  2. Worked in a daycare? You interacted with children of varying ages and managed crises by minimizing risk and debriefing with parents! (probably).

  3. Worked as a flight attendant? You maintained composure when faced with obstacles like turbulence or engine trouble. Interacted with from varying ages and backgrounds to ease their stress and address concerns. (probably)

Of course, you can always search for jobs or volunteer opportunities to give you

  1. Department of Mental Health or other county mental health work (even the minimal amount of experience… just seeing county paperwork can be an advantage).

  2. Volunteer… almost anywhere… The nature of SOCIAL work is that you need to have experience interacting with others.

  3. Search “Mental health” or similar terms to finds jobs you can apply to. Getting experience writing notes, interacting with clients, etc is of course very useful

3. Picking Schools to Apply to

  1. I wrote a post called How to Pick the Best School for an MSW. Click here to see the article.

  2. When interacting with prospective schools (asking questions over email, speaking on the phone, going to an information session), pay attention to how they talk to you. Are they nice? Do they try to help? Some of these people will be the very people who will help you in your journey throughout grad school. Being in a supportive environment is extremely valuable for social work.

4. Application Tips (Essays)

  1. You care… but you don’t need to say it to show it. I once asked a Clinical Psychology PhD student how I show I care without being cliche and saying it outright. He told me that my experience shows I care. You don’t need to say you are the friend that your other friends went to for advice. Sadly, that doesn’t make you special in this field. Show them you care in your essay by telling them where you worked and volunteered, the extra work you did to help others while volunteering or working, the accomplishments you made.

  2. Your essay should bring readers on a journey. It should be a mix of personal and professional. You can bring up personal struggles, but do not dwell on them. Walk your readers through a timeline. Here is a very condensed version of my essays:

  3. In undergrad, my health psychology and health sociology classes stuck with me. I saw how unfair it is that low-income families tend to have greater struggles with their health.

  4. Also in undergrad, I worked in a study where I

  5. Again in undergrad, I taught mindfulness to students, realizing the benefits of mindfulness and teaching me how much I like to work in groups.

  6. ALL LEADING TO… One of my long term goals is to create a program to teach mindfulness to low-income families to reverse or prevent the long-term health risks for these families.

5. Self-Care Planning

  1. How will you take care of yourself throughout school? Before starting graduate school, I asked a student at the school for her biggest tip. She said, “make sure you’re okay, because this work is hard.” She. was. Right. In basically every class, my professors have stressed the importance of self-care.

  2. Self-care is about making decisions to care for yourself. It’s not necessarily taking a bath or buying yourself something nice.

  3. Bond with others, manage your finances, read a book, find a good podcast. See a therapist, find a workout plan you like, plan to have lunches with friends, start a journal, make a budget.

  4. Whatever works for you.

  5. Here the thing: Social work, and similar work, will bring up things in you that you did not expect. Whether learning about a topic in class, speaking to a client, or doing a self-reflective assignment, things will come up that are painful. Clients will have similar sad stories that you do. You will recognize pain you have been pushing down. What will you do to take care of yourself so that you can continue to care for others?

  6. Self-care is not selfish. It helps you care for others long-term.

Any other tips ideas? Please comment and let me know! I may add a part 2 or edit this blog post. Either way, I will incorporate new info as best I can!

Follow my Instagram account @eagersocialworker for post updates!

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