Social Work

Shine The Right Kind of Light on MSW Applications: Tips For Crafting Your Statement Of Purpose

Shine The Right Kind of Light on MSW Applications: Tips For Crafting Your Statement Of Purpose
Communicating how your life experience has led you to an interest in social work will go a long way towards convincing schools that you're ready for social work graduate school. Image from Unsplash
Nedda Gilbert profile
Nedda Gilbert May 13, 2018

Most applicants are excited to apply to a Master’s of Social work (MSW) program, but dread the written portions of the application. In particular, they may be unsure of how to answer the essay questions or how to develop a statement of purpose.

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Master’s of Social Work Admission Committees look closely at an applicant’s maturity and motivation to assess fit. Because test scores and grades are not weighed heavily in admissions decisions for these programs, who you are — and how you message yourself — may have the greatest impact on whether you get in.

A primary question often asked by MSW admissions officers is: Are you ready? Your answer to this question is best communicated through your personal statement of purpose or essay.

MSW personal statement preparation

Before writing the essays for your master’s in social work application, ask yourself:

  • What are your personal and professional goals?
  • How do you handle boundaries?
  • What are your interpersonal strengths and weaknesses?
  • Are you ready to take on social work in the service of others, knowing that it may be stressful and daunting at times?
  • Can you manage the dual stresses of fieldwork three days a week and rigorous graduate school coursework?
  • What is your personal life like? Can your current lifestyle accommodate this kind of commitment?

Addressing these concerns, and communicating how your life experience has led you to an interest in social work, will go a long way towards convincing schools that you are ready for social work graduate school.

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“I Want to Be A Social Worker!”

There are a couple of significant practical considerations:

- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification

Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:

- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. (source)

A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. (source)

- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees

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MSW personal statement examples and tips

With that in mind, here are our tips for composing a winning MSW statement of purpose for graduate social work admissions:

  • Articulate your inspiration for, and interest in social work: What life experiences, including jobs or volunteer positions, have inspired you? Share all positions you have held (if any), and their impacts on your aspirations.
  • Message that you are mature and grounded.
  • Sync up your interests and professional career goals with the school’s offerings and mission: Why do you need this degree? What will you do with it? Why at this school?
  • Share and highlight the skills you will bring to the profession. Discuss the areas in which you hope to further develop your skills.
  • Share and highlight your interpersonal strengths: What will you bring to the program?
  • Briefly discuss where you are currently positioned in your life. Address timing and the ability to handle the intense commitment.
  • Above all else, demonstrate good writing and good thinking; this shows your ability to process information intelligently and critically.
  • Have a second person read your writing and give you feedback. How we write about ourselves, and how we self-assess, can be very revealing. Make sure that you are in control of your message.

Tell Your Story

Ultimately, a successful application tells a powerful (and truthful) story about the qualities and experiences an applicant is bringing to the field of social work. Good stories have strong beginnings: Start your story with an interesting or compelling introduction. Try to avoid trite or predictable opening phrases such as

“I always dreamed of being a social worker.”

You might begin by describing an experience of helping others, or a moment when you had an impact and discovered that this was your calling. Perhaps you were involved in social activism as an undergraduate and hope to shake up the world. Articulate your desire to professionalize your passion with a degree.

A relatable anecdote is a great essay-starter, and a smart way to introduce yourself. Such glimpses also provide transitions to other themes you may want to touch upon as an applicant. As you weave in the remainder of your storyline, try to demonstrate some awareness of challenging social issues. Let admissions committees know that you are informed and culturally sensitive.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


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