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How to Apply to Social Work Grad School

If you want to have a successful career in counseling or social work, you need to go to grad school. A Master in Social Work (MSW) is essential for almost all social work jobs. But how do you put together a successful social work grad school application – especially if you are changing careers, or have a less-than-stellar undergraduate GPA?

The grad school application process is competitive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a place at a program that’s right for you. You’ll need to research programs so you can apply to those that best meet your needs. You’ll need to gain relevant work or volunteer experience for your resume. You’ll need to get strong letters of recommendation from professors or others who can speak to your academic or professional capacities. Finally, you’ll need to craft a personal statement that can convince admissions committees that you’ll be a good addition to their program and their alumni rolls. 

how to apply to social work grad school

Find the Right Program

Before you start putting together your social work grad school applications, you’ll need to decide which program or programs to apply to. Most prospective MSW students apply to multiple programs, expecting that they may not get in to all of them.

There are lots of factors to consider when deciding which programs to apply to. For example, you’ll need to demonstrate in your application that you’re familiar with socioeconomic factors affecting at-risk populations in the area in which your program is located. For this reason, among others, programs may prioritize applications from students who live in-state or in a neighboring state.

You should also consider the cost of living in the area where your school is located, and other financial factors, such as tuition, whether the program offers graduate assistantships that pay students a stipend for living expenses, or whether you can find a decent part-time job in the area to help offset the cost of school. You may even consider getting an online master’s degree in social work, so that you can keep your full-time job, stay in your home, and avoid the costs of moving and uprooting your family.

Build Experience

While you don’t necessarily need paid work experience in human services in order to gain admission into a great social work grad school, many programs’ admissions committees love to see this on an applicant’s resume. The next best thing is volunteer work. Whether you’re an undergraduate student hoping to apply to social work grad school after finishing your bachelor’s, or an adult looking for a career change, there are plenty of options to get volunteer experience in social and human services.

For example, you could volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters, work as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), or volunteer with a medical organization like the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. This experience will show admissions committees that you’re serious about your passion for social work, and will help you decide whether a career in social services is really for you.

Get Letters of Recommendation

Most grad programs ask for two or three letters of recommendation, and these should be written by people who can speak to your academic and professional abilities. If you’re an undergraduate student or have recently finished your bachelor’s, ask your professors for recommendations. If you’re an older applicant with several years of work experience, ask your supervisors and colleagues to recommend you. Make sure you’re following the recommendation guidelines for each program to which you’re applying. Some have forms that need to be filled out, while others simply ask each recommender to draft a letter.

how to apply to social work grad school

Craft Your Personal Statement

Your personal statement should clarify to the admissions committee why you’re interested in this program and why you’d be successful in it. Remember to tailor your statement to the specifics of each individual program to which you’re applying. Don’t be afraid to reach out to schools of your choice to find out what admissions committees seek in successful applicants. Talk about your professional and volunteer experience in social work, and use jargon that demonstrates an understanding of the field. If you’ve had a spotty undergraduate academic record, talk about how you’ve overcome your academic difficulties and how they’ve shaped you into a better person. Demonstrate that they won’t hamper your ability to succeed in graduate school.

Applying to graduate school is always stressful, but try not to let thoughts of what you’ll do if you don’t get in keep you up at night. Do your best to craft your applications with thought and care, and soon you’ll be matriculating into a great social work grad school program.

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