What to do now so I can get into a top-ranked MSW program next year?
June 23, 2013 12:47 PM   Subscribe

I applied to one of the most competitive MSW programs with hopes of becoming a clinical social worker. I didn't get in. I'd rather not lower my standards and go to a less competitive school. This particular school is the one where I want to get my degree. What can I do now to boost my application for next year or the year after that? I know the obvious answer would be to volunteer. More specifically: Where should I volunteer? In what capacity? How do I write an awesome essay and get great recommendation letters? Also: what are some resources for the MSW application process?
posted by sunrisecoffee to Education (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What, specifically, do you think held you back in your first application? As it stands, this is kind of a broad question, and narrowing it down a little might help gather more useful answers.

Volunteer in a place that will let you do something that can be described using verbs like organize, design, create or supervise, and that will also produce a valuable recommendation. Awesome essays are prepared far in advance and evaluated by multiple experienced readers. Great recommendation letters are written by people who are well-regarded in their fields, who know you and your work, and who have unqualified positive things to say about you.
posted by box at 12:57 PM on June 23, 2013

Get a job at a psych facility working with patients. With a bachelors degree you can be a Mental Health Tech or maybe Case Manager, something like that. It gives you hands on experience and if you befriend and start learning from the therapists there one of them can write a recommendation letter talking about your demeanor with patients and your work ethic. It will also teach you more about what client population you want (or don't want) to work with. The experience may also help you with your essay or letter of intent.
posted by MultiFaceted at 1:11 PM on June 23, 2013

Determine the work and educational background (with LinkedIn) and GRE scores of students at the school with your gender, ethnicity and approximate age (the competitive cohort you will be in). That may help you understand if you're in reach and if so what you can do to get over the top.
posted by MattD at 2:05 PM on June 23, 2013

It has been my experience that the best person to speak to about this is the admissions department for the school of social work at the university. We can all speculate, but they will be able to give you very good general tips.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:31 PM on June 23, 2013

Unfortunately, I hate to say that where you went to school for your social work degree does not really matter so much. It isn't like applying to undergraduate programs were the Ivies were always considered to be the top and rankings (such as US News) don't really provide any meaningful information about the program itself. Since clinical social workers don't make that much, I wouldn't count on just opening up an office and trusting that you'll see enough people to make money to support yourself. (If the program is expensive: There are a considerable number of people who are struggling with the debt that comes from going to a costly program and so I must suggest that you consider applying to less "competitive" programs to save yourself money and stress later on. Of course, this doesn't apply to you if you are independently wealthy.)

However, I think that if you want to get into a social work program, it would make sense to raise your GRE score since that is the easiest way you can make it impact on the admissions department. It would also help to get clinical experience in the field. If you want to write a good essay, make sure that you write many drafts and give them to one or two professors that you trust, maybe even a friend. Don't give your work out to too many people otherwise the additional feedback may confuse you and you may lose your original idea by trying to account for everyone's thoughts. In terms of recommendation letters, the key is to find people who know you well and who would be willing to write a strong letter for you that highlights your educational, personal, and clinical background. All information about the MSW process should be on the program website.
posted by satine at 2:50 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

This comment from a closely related question on AskMe (along with the question itself) sounds relevant to your predicament.
posted by deanc at 3:22 PM on June 23, 2013

One thing I'd recommend is making sure that your proposed plan of study is a topic on which at least faculty member is qualified (and interested) to supervise you. Read up on faculty interests and try to connect those somehow to your plan. Also, volunteer and work in the field if you can. And in your application, some self-disclosure (re: life challenges faced etc.) is a good thing, but not so much that the committee may have concerns that any potential vulnerabilities would mean that you couldn't make it through the program. Other things - no typos on the application, and reference research/literature that has contributed to your own research interests.
posted by analog at 6:25 PM on June 23, 2013

Shouldn't you be asking this question of admissions people and professors at that university? It seems they would be in the best position by far to answer your question.
posted by Dansaman at 6:30 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have an MSW, I hire MSWs, I associate with MSWs. I went to the best clinical program in the country (says me), and while it was great, it was longer and more expensive than other programs. There are certain schools in my area at which I cast a jaundiced eye, but most schools are just fine and I really judge social workers by the work they do and how they talk about it.

I do believe that volunteer experience showing your commitment can help with these types of applications.
posted by OmieWise at 5:14 AM on June 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was recently admitted to the #1 MPH program in the country, so hopefully this will help.
1) Determine if your stats are competitive enough for admission at your top choice schools. Did you earn a standardised test score above the median? Is your GPA in the range of admitted students?
2) Determine if your personal statement and/or resume brag sheet was lacking. If so, use Essay Edge or another essay editing service to clean things up. Remember that if you aren't selling yourself to a particular school by using their mission statement, you probably won't get in.
3) Determine if your recommenders said good things about you. If not, get different recommenders and/or work with the ones who wrote good but not good enough letters last time and basically help them write the letter for you. When I was applying to top colleges way back when, I literally gave my letter writers a packet of information about me, a sample letter that they could alter, and a list of what kinds of things I wanted them to focus on so that all of my letters would give different examples of why I'd be the perfect student for X school and would fit in.
4) Determine if your extracurriculars/work experience is lacking. If so, fix it.
posted by lotusmish at 7:44 AM on June 24, 2013

My Dad was an MSW from UC Berkeley, I got my Masters from a private school. You get out of grad school what you put into it.

From a Return on Investment standpoint, you will NEVER earn back the difference in cost of your degree on an MSW's salary. Never, never, never.

So were I you, I'd just look for admission to the next, nearest state university and go there. Why stay out a year, traumatize yourself and postpone your education to attend a "prestigious" school, when there is no actual monitry benefit?

Some of the best teachers and best internship experiences are with the state schools anyway.

But, if you're hell-bent on doing this thing, ask to meet with someone on the selection committee or the department head to discuss how best to update your application to insure admission next year. Also, ask them to be honest, "Is there anything I can do to improve my application? If not, please be honest with me."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:53 AM on June 24, 2013

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