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Am I a Competitive Grad School Candidate?


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Hello, I'm applying to graduate schools this Fall and am very stressed because, while I am competitive academically and have good recommendations, I don't feel like I have the necessary experience for some programs.

I am planning to apply to Masters in Social Welfare programs at UC Berkeley, UCLA, and USC and Sociology PhD programs at Stanford and UCSB.

About me:

  • graduated in 2019 from UCSB with a double major in Communication and Sociology
  • graduated with distinction and Summa Cum Laude in Sociology
  • member of Phi Beta Kappa
  • I conducted a sociology research study and completed a Senior Honors Thesis - also presented this research at a conference
  • 3 Recommendations: 2 professors who were my thesis advisors, 1 professor I took a graduate seminar with - all three know me relatively well and I believe will write me great recommendations
  • GPA: 3.93 
  • GRE: 159 Verbal, 155 Quant, 5 Writing

My issue here is I would really like to do an MSW program, but most of the programs prefer/require 1-2 years of experience in social work. While I currently work at an Education Non-Profit, I have only been working there for a few months and will be quitting this month. I also worked with donors in the university development office for 2 and a half years, but I'm assuming this doesn't count as social work experience despite the fact that the university is a nonprofit. I have been searching for social work employment and volunteer opportunities but have not been successful yet. However, I am planning to volunteer counseling sexual assault victims starting in September, but obviously won't have a year of experience completed by the application deadlines in December. 

So, my main concern is, given my academic accomplishments and the little experience I do/will have, am I a competitive candidate for either the MSW programs of PhD programs? Should I consider applying to schools that are less competitive? I am planning to continue searching for and pursuing social work opportunities, but I don't know if it will be enough given the time frame. plz help.

Also, I've heard about people reaching out to professors in the programs they wish to attend, is this normal? Can it help at all in the admissions process?

Sorry if this is annoying but I don't have anyone I know or in my family who knows anything about grad school, so I feel uncertain.

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If your goal is really social work, I'm not sure that it's worth applying to sociology PhD programs. The focus there is pretty much exclusively on social science research; if you're sure you want an MSW and the career paths that come with it, a sociology PhD will do almost nothing to get you there. That said, you could absolutely be competitive at PhD programs, but only if you're applying with a clear vision of the kind of research agenda you might wish to develop. 

Anyway, chances are that if you write an SOP talking about how you want to use your degree to work in the nonprofit sector, you won't be accepted by the PhD programs. They're looking for young researchers to train (which you definitely have the experience for, if not the desire); their aim isn't to train social workers.

TL;DR: if you want to learn how to develop a research agenda, go for the PhD. Otherwise I'd recommend staying in nonprofits and applying exclusively to MSW programs. A sociology PhD just won't further your career unless you're deadset on being a researcher.


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