What Does Social Work Mean to You and What Specific Branch of Social Work are You Particularly Interested in?
Since my childhood, I have been interested in the framework of a given society: how it operates. Through history and sociology classes in high school, I gained a deeper interest in this aspect of sociology. When I entered The Evergreen State College, I also took psychology courses, learned more about the interaction of people in social groups around the world, as well as the inner conflicts that everyone of us encounters, and ways of dealing with them. Later, at Seattle University, I decided to expand my interests beyond psychology and took a class called Social Work: An Introduction to the Ethics and History of Development. I later came to think of this decision as a revolutionary step that turned my attention to what I now am determined to make a calling, and a profession, for a lifetime.
Social work is diverse, since there are many groups of clients with their individual needs, issues, and hardships. Sure, there are basics and principles that any social worker puts into the foundation of their work. However, through what I have already learned about social work, I also realize that as a practical discipline, social work is about the particular and specific experience of working with a certain group of clients. For me, the branch of social work to which I would like to dedicate myself fully is working with the elderly. It may seem surprising, since some may think that the problems that elderly people are facing are rather typical and not so serious compared to what people living with AIDS, or children born with terminal diseases, or people facing cancer are going through. However, I strongly disagree. Issues of the elderly may be typical, and somewhat universal, but it does not in any way lessen their importance, or give objective reasoning to discount their problems.
Being an elderly person in the USA might not be as challenging as it is in Africa, or Kazakhstan, for example. Yes, we do have decent quality medical services and social security programs. Nevertheless, people tend to underrate, or close their eyes to many issues that individuals face when getting older. Elderly persons have to give up their job, which completely changes the lifestyle they have been used to for much of their lives. Feeling neglected, useless, and inactive in community life causes many elderly people to face depression after retirement—not forgetting the numerous health problems and psychological changes that everyone faces when getting old.
It is great if one has a supportive, caring family, friends, and an engrossing hobby with which to occupy oneself to help reevaluate one’s life and find a new purpose. And of course, the financial side of the issue is always not to be neglected. Overall, I believe that the elderly deserve just as much attention in terms of social work practice as any other suppressed and discriminated group does. I would love to work with the elderly as a social work specialist to implement and introduce innovative models and methods of social work with the elderly, based on the psychological and the sociological notions I studied at Seattle University, and plan to study more about, during a graduate program. I have lots of ideas which I am determined to develop in relation to social work with the elderly. For example, I want to each elderly client that I work with to gain a sense of leadership, teaching them to become natural leaders. But most importantly, I have a strong desire to help people that deserve our attention, respect, and care, since they contributed so much to American society, and deserve to be appreciated.
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Related Writing Guides
Writing a Personal Statement
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.