Applying to graduate school can be a daunting task, especially if you’re the first among your family and friends to do so. However, getting a graduate degree in social work can bring greater benefits and job opportunities beyond what you can find with a bachelor’s degree. When it comes time to start filling out that application, here are some questions you may have… and the answers you’re looking for.
1. Am I Ready for Graduate School?
Before you apply to graduate programs in social work, you should be sure that you’re making the right decision. Do your research – read about programs online, talk to anyone you know going to graduate school or working in the field. You could even try to do some job shadowing to get a better idea of what a career in social work would look like.
2. Will I Get In?
There is a wide variety of graduate programs available to you and each has different standards for what they consider to be a “good” application. The most important parts of your application are your grade point average (GPA), Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, letters of recommendation, and relevant experience. Your application essay or statement of purpose is also very important.
3. Are My Scores Good Enough?
It’s important to remember that even if you have a low GPA or GRE score, you can be compensated by your strengths in other areas, such a significant amount of experience or a fantastic application essay. In general, a GPA of 3.0 or above will get you into many master’s programs and some doctoral programs, while a GPA of 3.5 or above will get you into most programs, providing that you have strong qualifications in other areas.
4. Do I Have Enough Experience?
Experience is very important for someone applying for a graduate degree in social work. However, your experience doesn’t have to be extensive – volunteering for 30 hours a week at one facility would be better than volunteering at five different places for only a few hours a week. It’s also good if your experience relates to the area in which you want to work – for example, volunteering at a nursing home if you want to work with the elderly.
If you are applying for a doctoral degree, it is essential that you have research experience. You can do this by getting to know your professors at the undergraduate or master’s level and asking if you can become their research assistant. You can even look in other departments, such as psychology or sociology. It’s also possible to find an entry-level research assistant job at some hospitals or treatment centers, especially if you already work or volunteer there.
5. How Do I Write the Application Essay?
First of all, make sure you follow the directions on the application – this is what the selection committee wants to hear, so don’t disregard their expertise by writing about whatever you want. Do everything you can to present yourself in a positive manner. If you have a poor academic record, you can provide an explanation – such as how you were considering a career as an accountant until you failed your first math class. If you are not provided with a specific topic, you should try to write about what made you interested in a career in social work, your relevant experience, your academic and career goals, and why that specific program would help you achieve those goals.
Spend a lot of time planning and writing your essay. Once you have written it, re-read it several times to check for grammatical and spelling errors and general style. Have several other people read it as well, especially those you know who are good writers and will give you honest feedback.
6. How Many Programs Should I Apply To?
You should apply to as many programs as you can – but keep in mind that each application will have a fee. Apply to a range of programs, including a few that are difficult to get into, a few that you are pretty confident about, and a few that you are absolutely sure will admit you. You may want to research school rankings to compare the qualifications of admitted students to your own.
7. How Much Will It Cost?
Graduate school is fairly expensive. Programs at private schools will generally be more expensive than those at public ones. Students in doctoral programs can get research or teaching assistantships that pay for tuition and offer a stipend, but these are usually not available to master’s students. Your cost of living may also vary, depending on where you live. Online degree programs can be cheaper, but if you choose to get your degree online it is important to make sure your program is accredited.
Ariel Stevens is a Social Worker who writes about various topics including social work issues and is the owner of the site Social Work Degree.