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Hey all! I just joined GradCafe, and I am so stoked but also nervous about the fact that applying for grad schools is just around the corner. Right now I am feeling so nervous because I know my credentials are not where they need to be. I'm graduating early in December, but since most grad schools don't do spring start and heading straight to grad school with no break would be INSANE, I am planning on finishing out my lease here. Then I'll be applying for summer and fall start dates at multiple schools.  I have a few school ideas, which I'll state down below. I plan to earn a Masters in Social Work, potentially with a concentration in mental health. First, I wanted to give you an idea of my stats (no judgment--from the threads I have read so many of you have intensive experience and stellar GPAs :/ ):

  • Undergraduate Degree @ University of South Carolina -- Experimental Psychology major with two minors: Social Work; Counselor Education
  • GPA - 3.0 overall, should be closer to a 3.1 by the time I graduate (Yes, I know, it's low...it's not horrible, but if college had been a little less rocky I could have done super well :(
  • Member of Psi Chi, International Honors Society in Psychology
  • Member of a panhellenic sorority through which I have volunteered and participated in philanthropy events 
    • Was in charge of a philanthropy within my sorority where sisters help a local blind man with every day tasks

This is it so far, however I have a few plans under my belt that I am almost positive I can follow through with:

  • This semester I will be completing at least 45 service hours with a local organization that provides lower-income individuals with housing (definitely happening, it's a part of a practicum I'm taking)
  • If all goes well, I plan to intern in Rome for 8 weeks with a social service organization this summer. I should be working about 20 hours a week.
  • I plan to join Delta Alpha Pi, an Honors Society for people with disabilities (I have severe depression which has contributed to my mediocre GPA).
  • I plan to get involved with the Undergraduate Social Work Student Association at my school.
  • I haven't taken the GRE yet, so it could definitely still be a factor in boosting the impressiveness of my application. I am a strong reader and writer. If anyone has specific tips about the GRE, please let me know!

^^^So this is what I plan to achieve before I have to do applications (in the fall for the summer 2019 start, and in the winter for the fall 2019  start I suppose). For some reason, I have had a hard time finding paid opportunities/internships in the city of Columbia that are geared towards psychology or social work. I am going to keep looking, but the opportunities seem few and far between. 

That being said...what do you all think? What are some things you suggest I do, between now and the time I apply, to make my application as impressive as possible? I know I can't take back my GPA, but I can try to make up for it in other respects. From what I have read on here, those with low GPAs have been able to impress graduate schools in other ways. Again, if yo've got tips, let me know!

Lastly, I wanted to list some schools that I am considering. I am going to rank them in order of my interest right now. If any of you know anything about these school's admission rates or have any specific insider info about a school, PLEASE contact me. I would love to get in touch with some of you and potentially ease my fears about applying for grad school!

Here's my list:

1. University of Denver

2. San Diego State University

3. University of Southern California (the other USC...hehe)

4. Arizona State University

5. Florida International University

and some maybes:

Cal State - Long Beach; San Jose State University; Metropolitan State University of Denver

As you can see, I really want to go far away and preferably out west (I've lived in SC my entire life). I am not sure about the admission rates of these schools, though I have heard that SDSU and USC are more competitive. I would love to hear thoughts on your experience with applying (especially to any of the schools above), selectiveness of these schools, my potential chances of getting in, and their quality of education. 

Thank you for anyone who actually took the time to read all of this!!! Any help at all would be so appreciated, even if it is constructive criticism. ~PeaceLoveSocialWork~

Edited by PeaceLoveSowk
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You'll be fine. Most MSW programs are not super competitive. Having said that, CA schools probably are more competitive than most simply based on population and availability. Look to see which schools may favor in-state students and those which are out-of-state friendly. I think it's better to attend a program in a state you want to live in simply because of the connections you make during field placements. My biggest advice, and I cannot stress this enough, is do not spend a lot of money on an MSW especially if you are taking out loans for it.

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Hi PeaceLoveSowk! Good for you for being so proactive.

Yeah, MSWs are generally more forgiving. They want to see that you have a realistic view of the profession and have expressed interest through work experiences. I agree with louise86 -- I am from California and MSWs there are harder to get into, especially if they're public MSWs, because of the huge population.

I applied to University of Denver last month and got in this past week, with $17,000 total in scholarships. My cumulative GPA is a 3.19, but I had over 2400 hours of relevant social service experience and a good essay.

USC is expensive and the program doesn't have that great of a reputation among my peers in California. I personally wouldn't go there, but that's just my unsolicited opinion!

Edited by stheart
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You have chances. Your GPA is the minimun required for any program so you can be accepted. 

If you don't feel confident with that GPA, then you have to bust your resume and any other document that the school asks you to apply ( statement of intent, reference letter, any research paper you have done...) Try to point out previous experience you have and if you have any volunteer done too. 

The program you applied to isn't the busiest one. I wouldn't think is the hardest to get in, so that gives you more hope.

To finish with, apply to the school you like and also try to google or ask a friend and find out about a university which is more flexible in the admission. That way if your 1st pick doesn't work out, you still got chances with a less recognized university. 

I hope works out for you and good luck!

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Like others said, the GPA isn't going to hold you back necessarily, some schools may consider it more important than others. The GRE isn't always required, but it depends where you apply, I'm in California and it's not required for most UC and CSU programs. About the GPA and your story, and your continued journey coping with and overcoming depression, this is all going to come together in your personal statements. Now I personally started working on my stuff WAY early like you are, and was excited about it and I'm glad I did. You have some time to try and visit some of the campuses, go to the information sessions, and I say join facebook pages for those MSW programs or their cohorts if you can, reach out and see if anyone is open to talking. So I am a recovering alcoholic, that was my deal that I wanted to talk about because it was so central to my purpose and direction going into social work (mental health) but I had to be cautious about how I presented that information in my SOPs statements of purpose. I think the key in these is to tell a story, a "redemption story" of sorts, which is the truth. Share, within the confines of the SOP prompts a story that shows growth, overcoming challenges, learning, and applying of skills.


Your GPA: You say that it isn't ideal, so I'm wondering why you have the 3.0. Was it because you didn't try your hardest, or was it because you did try your hardest and despite all the additional challenges you had to overcome in life at that time you still managed to pull through with a 3.0? I just suggest framing it in a way that clarifies it's not a result of not caring, or being lazy, or not being sure of what you wanted to do, be clear that this was the best you could do at the time and try to show, if possible, improving grades over time. Being in those honor societies means you had at least some semesters with high grades so I'm sure you have a story to tell here. Again though, many people get in with GPAs in the 3.0 range.


Your involvement in other programs, volunteering, clubs etc is all great and will help you.


Your experience with depression: This is very important I believe to carefully share in the SOP. So I think a good rule is to make sure you do it in a way that you DO NOT raise any red flags about your ability to complete the program, handle working with individuals, or that you could become incapable of providing the kind of care people need. Now look, I don't think depression will take that away from you or most people with it, probably just provide insight and empathy, but it's still important not to get too gnarly with stories about how bad it got. When I talked about my addiction I didn't get into the nitty gritty, I spoke about it in less specific ways. I quickly transitioned into talking about how I found hope and a means to recover, and then how I practice self care today to sustain my recovery. Just show them you are stable as a table... Show you have lived experience, but that you have overcome it, and today it serves as a source of hope as you support others in their journey into a bright future. Something like that would be revealing, but not toooo revealing.

Here is an excerpt from one of my SOPs where I talk about my addiction

"My journey overcoming addiction has inspired me to pursue an MSW degree to become like those professionals who helped me see that recovery was possible. Alcoholism manifested in my late teens and was severe for over a decade till the bitter end unexpectedly revealed a new beginning. I am grateful beyond words to have found a recovery program, and the tools to live a healthy, full, and exciting life. I honor this repurposed life by photographing contrasting sights that symbolize this change in trajectory as part of my self care. I desire the holistic lens of social welfare to frame my understanding of individuals in the context of their environment, and I am drawn to the MSW degree for its strengths based focus. My hope is to learn how I can help foster self efficacy and empowerment in individuals as they walk freely, forging a new way forward."


Remember that acceptance or rejection to schools doesn't define you, nor does it foreshadow your future in the field. I suggest applying to multiple schools because MOST IF NOT ALL of us are rejected by some and accepted by at least one, and sometimes it takes applying again during the next cycle. Based on what you have shared though, and your tenacity to engage in this process early on, to overcome so much and soon be walking with your degree and moving on, no matter what, to accomplish your goals in grad school... that says a ton more about you than any number, or some arbitrary grade from the past. Show them you are determined, eager, healthy, prepared, and mature and you will nail this thing. Best wishes to you!!!

Edited by BackNSchool83
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@PeaceLoveSowk Your GPA now is fine for most MSW programs! If you can get higher, it'll be even better. If you look in my signature, I got into the highest ranked socw schools in the nation with just a 3.19! ;)

MSW programs really do value experience that's relevant to social work. It's not just regular ECs, as you know. It's more things like volunteering with a mental health foundation, a hospital, with a social worker, working in a social services organization, joining the campus nighttime hotline org, being a resident assistant or peer mentor, those kinds of things.

You're absolutely right in planning to step it up over the summer and next year. Also, many students take a year or two off after college to do some social services work that boosts their application to social work programs. I've been talking to other admitted students and a good number of them are older than me because they did things like worked in schools, women's shelters, crisis hotlines, and other kinds of similar positions after college. It's good that you have some social services type volunteering at this point in your junior year. I'd say that if you didn't, and you only had the summer, to plan to do this for a year or two after college. You can apply to MSW programs with minimal or no social service work but you wouldn't be the most competitive applicant.

MSW programs don't usually come with much funding. Most students pay for them primarily through personal resources and/or loans. Some programs offer scholarships; they are usually partial scholarships, and they are offered to the most competitive applicants. Right now, you probably aren't competitive enough to be offered any large scholarships. I would strongly recommend applying to MSW programs at the public university in your home state. You could also consider moving to a state that has lots of good MSW programs at public universities and working there for a year or two in social services; that kills two birds with one stone.

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