1 of 1
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.