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Seeking Advice! - Applying to Portland State MSW w/o formal social work experience


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Hello everyone! As the title says, I'm applying to PSU's fall 2016 MSW program looking towards the Practice and Leadership with Community & Organizations concentration. I think I have enough experience to show that I'm committed to community/organizational practice, but on PSU's "What we're looking for page" it says that they're looking for people with experience in human service settings like schools, homeless shelters, child welfare, etc. which are areas I don't have experience in since I'm not interested in direct service. I'd really like their program and have two guaranteed academic recs + am confident I can get another from one of the staff members at the community organization where I volunteer.

About Me: I didn't study social work or anything related to it in college (BSW isn't even an option at my school), and didn't think about MSW programs until I was complaining to a friend about not being able to find a graduate program that combined my passions and she suggested I look at social work schools. I'm interested in the intersections of environmental justice and social justice (esp. economic justice, housing, prison abolition, and racial disparities) since I think the two are intimately related and must be tackled together. I'd like to approach the two from a POV of community based policy/advocacy and community organizing, which is the type of work I'd like to pursue professionally.

I want to go to PSU for 3 main reasons: 1. Price: Even though I moved away from home 5 years ago, I still have Oregon residency and would pay in-state tuition; 2. Location: I was raised in Portland and can live at home while going to school/would appreciate reconnecting with old friends; and 3. Program: I like that there's a community practice option and I'd have the chance to do my practicum or at least volunteer with organizations in the city that are doing the type of intersectional work I'm interested in; also, it's the only place I've found where I can do both social work and environmental studies without having to do a dual MSW + MPA/MPP degree since they have a graduate certificate program in sustainability.

Anyhoo, here are my details. If any of you have honest advice or impressions of my chances, please respond! Current/admitted students or alumni of PSU appreciated, but any advice is much needed!

Education: Graduated in 2014 from top 20 school with majors in International Studies and History and a minor in Spanish, 3.61 GPA

Work Experience

  • Admin & Logistics at our regional Fight for $15 campaign (4 months)
  • Development Assistant at a housing development non-profit (7 months)
  • Documentary intern for an anti mining in Central America campaign (summer)
  • Trainee as part of a community organizing fellowship/program, apprenticed in community outreach for an urban farming/job training hub slated for a neighborhood (3 weeks/staying on as a volunteer for org bottom-lining outreach)
  • Student mobilization lead for national protest (1 month contract)

Volunteer Experience

  • Volunteer at a local community organization on campaigns around racial justice, anti-prison industrial complex, challenging corporate/elite status quo (1 year/ongoing)
  • Student organizer for divestment campaign during last semester of senior year of college
  • Member of Latin America solidarity organization, working on Central America solidarity, immigration reform, and anti-militarism (8 months/ongoing)
  • Member of African American advocacy/community organizing group - helping with communications and feminist sections (1 month/ongoing)
  • Founding member of collective that fundraises bail money for and tracks people who've been arrested at protests (1 year/ongoing)

Next Steps (experience-wise)

  • Currently applying to potential internships as my (not career related) part time job is adequate for me to pay bills and save for my move [I'll be going back to Portland regardless of if I get in or not]: Please let me know if these make sense!
    • Communications intern for food justice program at local environmental advocacy organization (Spring) - Top Choice
    • Policy intern at local ACLU (Spring)
    • Civil/legal advocate intern at local nonprofit law firm for indigent residents (Summer) - Top Choice
    • Group facilitation intern at domestic violence prevention/education organization (Spring or Summer)

**Do you all think I still have a chance even though I don't have the experience they listed?** -- Thanks and sorry for the super long tome!

Edited by MeepMeep
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  • 1 month later...

Hey! By any chance, have you heard back from PSU yet? I received an e-mail on Monday saying decisions have been made, that we should be receiving notifications over the next 2-3 weeks. I'm in a similar boat as you. I just graduated college with my BSW and only have an internship in the human services area. I've presented 10+ research projects at national conferences and led an organizing committee within my internship's agency. I'm extremely nervous about PSU. 

On a side note: I do think you have a chance. The experience weighs heavily, but you have valuable experience elsewhere and a strong academic background, as well as strong community-based skills. They do not accept a lot of students, but from what I've heard it all depends on the applicant pool and what each applicant has to offer. A PSU student informed me that the personal statement could get you in if you don't have tons of SW experience. Best of luck! 

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I also received the "we made our decision but you'll hear about it in a few weeks" (I'm dying PSU please)

 

As for your chances, I second what BrendenSW said... It's all about the pool. I've read a lot about how big colleges let a lot of individuals in but in the smaller programs such as PSU, it makes it much more competitive. It's really hard to gauge what they are looking for when they have people from all walks of life. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi there! I also applied for the 3 year MSW program at PSU, the online one which only takes 40 people per year. Yikes. I'm a newbie here and not sure how it works but today I got an email from the Graduate Housing division that said "Congratulations on your acceptance to the MSW program in the fall of 2016 have you thought about where you're going to live?" It wasn't from the MSW department, Admissions, or the Graduate division so I think it's an error. I checked the online application checker link and it still says "submitted" not "accepted". Emailed the email sender as well as the MSW admissions contact, hopefully will get some info soon. 

For what it's worth, I think your experience looks interesting and unique. I think they'll appreciate that. :)

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1 hour ago, Mommy2boox2 said:

Hi there! I also applied for the 3 year MSW program at PSU, the online one which only takes 40 people per year. Yikes. I'm a newbie here and not sure how it works but today I got an email from the Graduate Housing division that said "Congratulations on your acceptance to the MSW program in the fall of 2016 have you thought about where you're going to live?" It wasn't from the MSW department, Admissions, or the Graduate division so I think it's an error. I checked the online application checker link and it still says "submitted" not "accepted". Emailed the email sender as well as the MSW admissions contact, hopefully will get some info soon. 

For what it's worth, I think your experience looks interesting and unique. I think they'll appreciate that. :)

I don't think it's an error. Everyone who's been accepted so far has gotten that email first. If so, congrats!!!! When did you submit your application?

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Hi Brendon--do you mean they've gotten a housing email first? Why would they do that? I submitted for the early admission deadline which was supposed to notify in January, but got extended to mid-February. So, I want to say pre-Thanksgiving? Here's what the email said exactly: It's all about housing, that's why I think it's an error.

Dear ***,

Congratulations on your admission to Portland State University as a graduate student starting fall 2016! Have you figured out where you will live next year? The reason we ask is that we'd love for you to live on campus.Graduate students may choose to live in any of our buildings, each housing a diverse community of PSU students. I think that you might be particularly interested in our graduate student community in Blumel Hall, one of our modern apartment-style living options. Eligibility requirements to live in our Graduate Residential Community are as follows:

  • Admitted to a PSU Masters or Doctoral program for Fall of 2016
  • Maintain enrollment of at least 4 credits per term

There are many advantages to living on our campus. Our prices are competitive--and often lower--than local landlords and property management companies. You will live in our thriving University district, only steps away from the PSU Library, the Campus Recreation CenterStudent Health and Counseling Services, your advisor or faculty mentor’s office. You’ll also be among friends; peers and scholars who share in your academic and PSU experiences along with our trained Residence Life staff to help support you along the way.PSU housing is convenient. All housing fees are billed to your student account and include utilities such as water, gas, and electric, along with high-speed wireless Internet access, local phone and, in many buildings, cable TV with premium channels. You receive only one bill and you can easily apply financial aid, grants, and scholarships. The PSU Payment Plan will allow you to pay your student account balance in three installments per term.For more information, please call 503-725-4375, email housing@pdx.edu or visit our graduate student housing page.

Again, we welcome you to Portland State University. Our mission is your success!

Yours sincerely,Michael Walsh
Director of Housing and Residence Life

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  • 1 month later...

Hey everyone! I am currently in my undergrad with 1 more year to go. In a few more months I will be starting the application process. I have done quiet a bit of research and so far the schools i'm interested in are:

Portland State University 

UC Berkeley

Smith College

University of Michigan

University of Denver

University of Washington

 

If you don't mind me asking, those of you that have been accepted to PSU what are your stats? What do you feel helped you stand out? 

 

Thanks so so much :):):) 

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On 4/4/2016 at 6:04 PM, paigesparky said:
If you don't mind me asking, those of you that have been accepted to PSU what are your stats? What do you feel helped you stand out? 

Thanks so so much :):):) 

I was admitted to Portland State for fall 2016, it was the only program I applied to as I work in the field in Portland and did not want to relocate or leave my job :) I would like to think that I was a well rounded candidate but honestly I think it had everything to do with my experience in the field. My undergrad major was Political Science from a second tier state university with a 3.78 undergrad gpa, university and departmental honors. I started working in domestic violence intervention after graduation and had 2.5 years as a victim advocate at two different nonprofits when I applied. My statement of purpose focused on my commitment to working with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and highlighted the things I hope to gain from my MSW studies to improve my capacity to make change. I'm doing the Practice and Leadership of Communities and Organizations track so I kept things fairly macro in my statement even though my experience is mostly micro. 

Are you doing a BSW? I can't speak to the advanced standing admissions process but I know that their standard MSW admissions put an emphasis on experience. My advice would be to get your volunteer hours and focus on clearly articulating what you want out of the program and how your education/work/volunteer experience illustrates your commitment to your goals.  Best of luck on all of your applications and I hope to see you at PSU :) 

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@paigesparky my understanding of PSU is that they put more weight on the amount of experience. I actually have a natural sciences background and a relatively low GPA (3.1). Not below the 3.0 mark, but obviously nothing that communicates I rocked undergrad. 

I am 30 now and in the last 8 years have gained diverse experience in more macro level community outreach and program management. I have been living and working in Thailand and China for the last 5 years as well which (might?) be a unique addition to my application. It's easy for me to answer those, "tell us about a time you've worked in a multi-cultural setting?" questions. At the same time, I don't have traditional socialwork/human services experience in the US. I thought this was going to set me back from the pool, but I have gotten into PSU, UW-Seattle, Michigan and Denver so I can only assume my experience got me there. I played that up a lot in my application.

 

 

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On April 7, 2016 at 8:07 PM, AmandaN said:

 

I was admitted to Portland State for fall 2016, it was the only program I applied to as I work in the field in Portland and did not want to relocate or leave my job :) I would like to think that I was a well rounded candidate but honestly I think it had everything to do with my experience in the field. My undergrad major was Political Science from a second tier state university with a 3.78 undergrad gpa, university and departmental honors. I started working in domestic violence intervention after graduation and had 2.5 years as a victim advocate at two different nonprofits when I applied. My statement of purpose focused on my commitment to working with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and highlighted the things I hope to gain from my MSW studies to improve my capacity to make change. I'm doing the Practice and Leadership of Communities and Organizations track so I kept things fairly macro in my statement even though my experience is mostly micro. 

Are you doing a BSW? I can't speak to the advanced standing admissions process but I know that their standard MSW admissions put an emphasis on experience. My advice would be to get your volunteer hours and focus on clearly articulating what you want out of the program and how your education/work/volunteer experience illustrates your commitment to your goals.  Best of luck on all of your applications and I hope to see you at PSU :) 

Thanks so much, Amanda! This was so incredibly helpful. CONGRATS ON YOUR ACCEPTANCE! 
I will be graduating next april with a BA in Sociology. I just recently switched from Elementary Education after realizing that although I have a passion for working with student, a classroom setting didn't fit the description of what I hoped to do for children in my field of work. I turned to sociology with the main purpose of deciding I definitely would like to go on to get my MSW and aside from a BSW this degree seemed to align most closely to what I would be pursuing in the future in a graduate program. My plan with an MSW is to pursue a specialization in School Social Work - but I am also interested in global social work, but still with a focus on working with children.

As someone who started out in education I have had many experiences in schools, which I feel would support my application if I am declaring that School Social Work is where I would like to end up. I have worked as a mentor for low-income, first generation students applying to college, as a literacy tutor for an America Reads program, a substitute teacher in Detroit Public Schools, and I have also worked as a camp counselor for two consecutive summers. At my school, I am the Vice President of a student organization that provides professional development opportunities to future educators and other school personnel. In this position I have worked one-on-one with school administrators and teachers to create different events in underserved districts (things like literacy nights, Family Fun Nights, and tutoring services). My concern is that these experiences don't exactly align with the "Social Service" description. Is it bad that I have put most of my eggs in a single subgroup. Are schools looking for someone who has the best idea of where they want to end up (For me in a school working with students, or something more globally centered - advocating for educational equity) OR do they want someone who is more well-rounded, with a variety of experiences in a handful of settings?

 

I love that with PSU you can specialize in the more "Macro" concentration but still add the School Social Work Licensure. Many other schools only offer School Social Work with the interpersonal option (I too am interested in the Practice and Leadership of Communities and Organizations track) . I've never been to Portland but the city as a whole seems like a great fit for who I am. I think that it is a city I could truly see myself growing in. As for PSU campus - is it built up completely into the downtown area or does it have it's own central campus within the city? Even with reading and pictures it's hard to tell. I plan to talk to an admissions counselor over the next couple of weeks to see if I would be a strong enough applicant for the program - if they feel I have a good shot, I plan to visit the school and city by the end of the summer! I'm so excited to learn more about it and see where this journey takes me.

Thanks again for all of your feedback :):):) 

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17 hours ago, KatieJaiYen said:

@paigesparky my understanding of PSU is that they put more weight on the amount of experience. I actually have a natural sciences background and a relatively low GPA (3.1). Not below the 3.0 mark, but obviously nothing that communicates I rocked undergrad. 

I am 30 now and in the last 8 years have gained diverse experience in more macro level community outreach and program management. I have been living and working in Thailand and China for the last 5 years as well which (might?) be a unique addition to my application. It's easy for me to answer those, "tell us about a time you've worked in a multi-cultural setting?" questions. At the same time, I don't have traditional socialwork/human services experience in the US. I thought this was going to set me back from the pool, but I have gotten into PSU, UW-Seattle, Michigan and Denver so I can only assume my experience got me there. I played that up a lot in my application.

 

WOW KATIE! That is literally what my list of schools looks like right now. I am from Michigan and love the U of M campus and program, but would love to experience a new place. I feel it would help me grow as a person and professional. By the way... CONGRATS ON ALL OF THOSE ACCEPTANCES! Each of those are wonderful programs.  

My concern is that I will be graduating right out of undergrad and aside from a few part-time jobs working with youth, and some volunteering I don't have any real professional experiences. After reading about other peoples backgrounds I'm starting to think it might be best for me to take a year or two to gain these experiences before applying but in reality it is my goal to go right away. I feel I am already in the groove of being a student and I can't imagine having an income for a few years and then going back to being a full-time student. I guess it doesn't hurt to apply but when comparing yourself to everyone on this website the whole process becomes even more intimidating. 

Thanks so much for your feedback and I wish you the best of luck with your future goals! 

:):):) 

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@paigesparky It really depends on you. Are you studying social work in undergrad? I had different experience in that, I studied natural sciences and I knew coming out of undergrad that I didn't want to to continue and had NO idea what I wanted to be doing. I launched into work and it felt necessary for me to explore many different things before I knew that social work was for me. This might not be the case for you so follow your intuition!

I think in general it is never a bad idea to enter the workforce for a bit. It could set you up to even establish residency in a new place outside of Michigan.

In short, there is no right answer! You shouldn't feel intimidated by other people though as you bring your own unique, background to programs. It's just a matter of communicating your readiness and vision for how your background connects to the social work profession.

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On April 8, 2016 at 5:47 AM, KatieJaiYen said:

@paigesparky It really depends on you. Are you studying social work in undergrad? I had different experience in that, I studied natural sciences and I knew coming out of undergrad that I didn't want to to continue and had NO idea what I wanted to be doing. I launched into work and it felt necessary for me to explore many different things before I knew that social work was for me. This might not be the case for you so follow your intuition!

I think in general it is never a bad idea to enter the workforce for a bit. It could set you up to even establish residency in a new place outside of Michigan.

In short, there is no right answer! You shouldn't feel intimidated by other people though as you bring your own unique, background to programs. It's just a matter of communicating your readiness and vision for how your background connects to the social work profession.

Thank you so much @KatieJaiYen I honestly think this is exactly what I needed to hear. This site brings so many positive connections but the downfall is you can really start comparing yourself to other applicants when in reality everyone is different and like you said brings something different to the table. 

For undergrad, up until recently I had been pursuing a degree in Elementary Ed. until I realized that although I want to advocate for education and be a voice and resource to students, the classroom is not the place for me. I hope to specialize in School Social Work. I just recently switched my major to Sociology in purpose of going down a path to Social Work (MSW in mind). 

Thanks for all of your feedback! Best of luck with everything in the future :) 
 

Edited by paigesparky
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11 hours ago, paigesparky said:

Thank you so much @KatieJaiYen I honestly think this is exactly what I needed to hear. This site brings so many positive connections but the downfall is you can really start comparing yourself to other applicants when in reality everyone is different and like you said brings something different to the table. 

For undergrad, up until recently I had been pursuing a degree in Elementary Ed. until I realized that although I want to advocate for education and be a voice and resource to students, the classroom is not the place for me. I hope to specialize in School Social Work. I just recently switched my major to Sociology in purpose of going down a path to Social Work (MSW in mind). 

Thanks for all of your feedback! Best of luck with everything in the future :) 
 

The only reason why it's an advantage coming from a BSW background to a MSW is that the coursework is just a continuation of your undergrad. I majored in a sociology and philosophy, entering a MSW program and I don't feel I'm at a disadvantage. If you wrote decent research papers and have decent writing you should be more than prepared on the academic side. Remember, this is social work. Social work. I'd be more concerned with a BSW wanting to enter a terminal degree for, say, philosophy. He'd probably cry and drop out.

In my program there are at least 60% of us who have not majored in social work; we have those that majored in psychology, elementary education, history, engineering etc. Social work doesn't necessarily call for a specific background in terms of one's undergraduate major since many of the theories and concepts applied aren't difficult to grasp - there's nothing too abstract to "get."

(A little secret for those that haven't majored in social work: You're just taking classes that the undergrads took alongside policy classes. That's why they ask if you've taken statistics and research methods when you apply. Non-finance, accounting, math, econ majors are in a similar situation when they enter an MBA program. In fact, a good MBA program is most likely more intense than even the most intellectual MSW program.)

Edited by UrbanMidwest
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@paigesparky I think you sound like a strong candidate who will only get stronger with more experience :) I completely understand the urge to compare yourself to others but agree with  @KatieJaiYen that you bring your own awesome background and insights and shouldn't be intimidated by anyone else. The only advantage I see to a BSW is that you can finish your MSW more quickly. To me, having the broader perspective of a sociology degree strengthens your application and indicates that you have really given thought to pursuing an MSW.

I also think that it would be wise for you to reach out to the schools on your list and talk to them about what you are looking for in a program and in your career. Some, like PSU, place a heavy emphasis on experience, but many others will be looking for something different. Honestly, based on what you have written here, whether you choose to take a year or two and work in the field or to apply to start a program fresh out of undergrad I think you will be successful :)

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Thank you to all of you! This is so helpful and speaking with you guys has really eased my mind! I am like months away from even beginning the application process and I already can't wait for it to be over haha.  @AmandaN @UrbanMidwest @KatieJaiYen  :):):) 

How far in advance did you start preparing your apps? Do most schools have similar if not the same questions? 

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Hi all,

So I was just accepted into the Fall '16 2-year MSW program. I have a 2.85 GPA and will be getting my General Science w/Biology minor degree in June. I'm also volunteering two different places, but have only about 1 year of relevant work/volunteer experience. When I went to the orientation, I asked if my medical experience counted as relevant and was told "It depends how you word it on your application, that will tell us how much you understand what social work is about." I'm pretty surprised I got in, but I think the program looks at your application as a whole. Remember that they want a diverse cohort, so even though you may think your non-social work experience hindrance, it can be a strength. Hope this helped!

Josh

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