Stepping into the world of Social Work

Category Archives: Admissions process

What I did right

Now I’m in the thick of my first semester, I know others are gearing up to the application process for next year, so I thought I’d give some thought to what I did “right” in my application process last winter.

On a personal level, I think an important factor is that I chose the right direction. A few years ago I applied to a school psychology program, but was not admitted. After spending more than a month with this curriculum, it’s a much better fit for me than school psych would have been. Perhaps the program that rejected me also saw that.

While I didn’t start the application process until after Christmas, I did put full energy into it at that point. I made the deadlines at all three schools I wanted to apply for.

I worked very hard on my writing samples/statements of purpose/essays and am still proud of the work I did on them.

Applying to 3 schools was a good decision – not too many, and not too few. I knew one of them was a long shot and not the best match for me anyway, one was an excellent match but expensive, another was the least expensive (and really close) but perhaps not perfectly matched to my needs. I was accepted by two and chose the more expensive option but good personal match in the end. I did have a couple of other Cal States available if something had gone wrong in the other application processes.

All in all, I’m still very pleased with my decision and where I have ended up.

More later on what I would do differently…

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A quiet weekend before the storm….

I’ve got a quiet day today before USC takes control of my life in earnest on Tuesday.  Yesterday, we rescued Lucy from the roof a SECOND time yesterday, celebrated Hubby’s birthday with a dinner at a great Israeli restaurant we had never been to before, and got me a new phone (a Samsung Flight II). Gary is hiking with some friends today, so I’ve got the house to myself.

Last week, the Skirball cohort had our summer welcome reception, which was really nice. We got to see what would be our second home for the next year or two.  Someone posted pictures on Facebook (I didn’t even know anyone was doing that!) including my own ugly face, I just hope nobody tags me in them!

Three of my books have come in from the online sources I bought them from – I think I only made one mistake by getting the wrong edition, and that book cost less than a dollar plus shipping, so I think I can manage to buy another copy of the right one.  I’m still waiting for two of them to come.

I had registered for the USC all graduate student orientation on Monday, but I’ve learned that most of what I would get on Monday will be repeated on Tuesday. So I’m thinking I’ll save myself the trouble and parking fees and skip the Monday event.

After that is our mandatory Social Work orientation and the start of the “Immersion.”  Tuesday (all day)  and Saturday afternoon are at the UPC (University Park Campus – USC speak for the main campus as opposed to the medical school or other locations), Thursday and Saturday morning are out someplace we’ll be directed later. Fortunately, I’ve found a few other classmates in my area to share the ride to the main campus with, so we’ll be sharing gas and parking costs.  What I’ve gathered so far is that the immersion is a visit to a community served by social workers where we are to do some observation as the beginning of our Policy class.  I’m expecting something like a visit to a homeless or women’s shelter.  The policy class syllabus shows group presentations based on this in a couple of weeks, so it isn’t just for show.

Class starts a week from Monday. From what I can tell, I’ll get a couple of class days off in September, one for Labor Day and one for the Jewish holidays – our classes are at Skirball, a Jewish cultural center, so that makes a lot of sense. I’ve received the syllabus from one of my classes, it seems like it is all papers and presentations, no exams are listed!

My student loans were supposed to show up in my account yesterday, but they didn’t. I’m not sure what happened – I hope I don’t have to make any calls or visits to Financial Aid or the cashier’s office next week of all weeks!

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The last details – Student Loans

This week, I’ve been completing the last details of my enrollment at the University of Southern California School of Social Work. I got sticker shock at the $9000 price tag (and that’s only for 6 units!) but as Hubby tells me, it’ll be worth it when I can wave a diploma from such a prestigious school in an employer’s direction.

The most important was completing my student loan documents. I am getting three different types of loans, from two sources, so I had to sign two different “Master Promissory Notes.” I gather these will suffice for the whole three years. I’m not sure when the money will show up in my account, but I imagine it has been coordinated down to the last worrisome seconds. 🙂

I told myself that while I might have to do student loans this year, I’ll take the time to find some grants and scholarships to help next year.  Also, my third year  I am eligible to apply for a couple of stipend programs provided I agree to work in either child and family services or mental health for a year or two. Those have to be in the concentration year because you receive a specific field placement.

I also had to get vaccinated – colleges are trying hard to avoid epidemics of childhood diseases, so they’re requiring immunization against both kinds of measles and mumps. My doctor sent me for titers, but unfortunately I came up “not immune” to mumps. So I ended up having to get the shots anyway. I got one last week and I’ll have to get another at the end of August. Oh well…

It’s starting to seem more real to me…. a week from tomorrow there’s a welcome reception at the Skirball Center, where I’ll be taking classes the first two years, then on the 15 the graduate school orientation. Then Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday I have “Community Immersion.” The next week classes start in earnest.

I’ve been looking at where to buy textbooks – some of them are even available in electronic format now, which would be really great for reading/studying in spare moments here and there. I have an Ipod Touch (basically an Iphone without the phone) which I typically use as a PDA and boredom companion (games, etc.) It will serve nicely for some of my textbooks if they are not too horribly large in file size. I might be able to finagle a Kindle or Nook for Christmas if the print starts to get too small for my eyes.  I am definitely happy to see I can buy them a little cheaper than the prices quoted in my previous post.  I guess I should look at shipping times and consider placing my order pretty quickly.

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Why I chose USC

I mentioned yesterday that I finally got the third notification from the last MSW program I applied to – CSUN. The materials I received from CSUN made me believe that I was held on a waiting list (unofficially, at least) until they heard from those they had initially offered acceptance. They had even already had an orientation session for the new class.

I got the call from CSUN during a doctor’s appointment, so I wasn’t able to give my statements a lot of thought, but the upshot was that she would send me the official form and some other materials and I would contact her later with any questions.

She sent me the form and the presentation from the orientation. I did give it a good looking over, and then faxed her the form declining enrollment. I also e-mailed her and explained my reason and apologized for not having just declined over the phone that morning (I did want to see the materials first).

Others will wonder why I even cared – USC’s program is so highly rated that it should have been a no-brainer. But CSUN is so close and so easy to get to, and I do still have a little bit of pain from being declined by them a couple of years back for school psychology. So having the official acceptance was a little boost to my ego. But I seem to be tempering it with the realization that I was second or even third choice for them.

So in the end, why did I choose the more expensive program?

1. USC is nationally ranked by USA Today and another similar publication ( While such rankings might not be a perfect guide to the quality of a program from any one person’s perspective, it does say something.

2. I’m informed by several people that there is a high degree of loyalty among USC alums. This, plus the high profile of the program, may open some doors for me when it comes time to find a social work position. Admittedly, I expect that the positions I look at will be more interested in my experience than the ranking of my program, but one extra door opened can make the difference.

In my career, I’ve found that my best job opportunities came from relationships with people. The highlight of my online career, GeoCities, was offered to me because I happened to connect reasonably well with the manager at the time (in fact, she couldn’t hire me for the position I applied for, but contacted me months later when a position opened that she wanted me for). My hope is that the high profile of USC will provide other similar opportunities.

3. It appears that USC’s schedule at the Skirball Center (the cohort I’ve been assigned to) is more conducive to my maintaining a full-time job for the next year or so. At CSUN, I would have a long evening one night a week (instead of 2 shorter evenings) and have to make time for a field placement right away. If I were not starting a brand new job next week, I’d have had more room to consider the CSUN schedule, but in this case USC works better for me. If I had  a behavior interventionist position, which would have wanted me available nearly every late afternoon and evening, the situation would have been reversed.

4. I think the USC curriculum is a better match for my long term goals.

5. The Skirball cohort I’ve been assigned to for my first year or two is small, which will benefit me as a re-entry student and as a fairly introverted person.

All in all, even if the decision was somewhat delayed, I think I made the right choice. Now that all three shoes have dropped, I can finally get excited about becoming a Trojan and annoying my husband!

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Eye and MSW program update

Cataract surgery performed, IOL inserted. Note...

Image via Wikipedia

It has been an interesting couple of days!

Yesterday, I had cataract surgery on my right eye. After a rather uncomfortable day and night, everything seems to be fine!

The procedure itself went very well and was not stressful at all. At the surgery center, an LVN checked me in and put tons of drops in my eyes for dilation and numbing, as well as antibiotics. After having an IV started and other things connected to me, I was wheeled in to the operating room. They gave me oxygen and (though I didn’t notice them doing it) a sedative. The next thing I know, they’re almost done.  I’m wheeled back into the area they prepped me, fed an English muffin and coffee (yay! I was starving by that time)  and was walking out the door within two hours of my start time. My eye was heavily bandaged and shielded and I was told to leave that on until I saw the doctor again first thing the next morning.

The discomfort came from a couple of situations. First, the shield and bandage they put on doesn’t really accommodate eyeglasses very well. So I spent the day having a really hard time watching TV or using the computer. Since I can crochet and read without glasses, I spent quite a bit of time doing those things.

Then, towards dinner, as the local anesthetics started to wear off, I started to feel like I had an eyelash in my eye. I took Tylenol as directed, which let me go to sleep. Around 2AM I woke up with that feeling even worse, so I loosened the bandage to check my eye and see if there was anything I could do. The eye looked fine (not even red!) so I took another dose of Tylenol and tried to go back to sleep.

The doctor checked me out and took off the bandage/shield today, told me I have a slight abrasion on my eye (probably from the eye working its way open under the bandage) and that would heal itself (or at least stop causing discomfort) within about 48 hours. Everything else checked out very well! I’ve got another appointment for a week from today, another eye drop prescription to pick up, and instructions to use all three dye drops 4 times a day until I run out.

In an interesting set of circumstances, I also got a call from the last of the three MSW programs I applied to, offering me admission! While I’m 99% likely to decline, it is a shot to my ego that I was at least accepted by 2 of the three schools I applied to.

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Random thoughts including financial aid

I got my financial aid information this week – I’ve been approved for enough loans, at least, to get through the first year. USC is expensive!

Part of the problem will be that my first year will be part time, so I’m not eligible for some financial aid I would be as a full time student. But then again, I’d have to work, and the idea of full time school plus work sounds impossible.

One option I will be looking into for my second year (if I’m eligible) is a grant/stipend program that will give me something along the lines of $18,000 a year with a commitment to work for a county or state agency in a couple of areas for a year or two for each year of support they gave me. That’s fine with me, as I can see myself working for one of these agencies anyway.

Interestingly,  I have yet to hear from CSUN officially about my status, even at this late date. A quick look at gradcafe shows me that at someone else has been called back for a SECOND interview (note: CSUN was the only one that interviewed, despite being a lower tier school than UCLA or USC). I suspect I’m one of those they’re waiting on in case some of their others decline. I think if they call me to offer me another interview, I’ll decline anyway.

I’m spending a lot of time trying to gear myself up for the fall – it’s a scary thing I’ve gotten myself into.  A lot of work, a major commitment of time and money. But I know it will be worth it.

I’m also spending some time thinking about what concentration I’ll choose. I have some strong connection to medical, mental health, and child and family social work. I think I could be comfortable in any of the areas, so it’s a matter of where I’d be happiest, and to some degree which has a better outlook.

I printed out the brochures on each specialty at the National Association of Social Workers Web site, and it appears the outlook is very similar for each.  None of them is collapsing while others will be growing.

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Two of the three shoes….

If this were a month ago, I’d do something to keep up the suspense, but I’ve started this blog a bit late for that.  It has been a suspenseful couple of months for me, though, since turning the applications in (mid-to-late January). I’ve also had a group interview at CSUN and a flurry of requests for documents from USC’s financial aid office.

It appears my hard work paid off, and I have been accepted at USC! I’m really excited about the wonderful opportunity that will bring.  I got that letter on April 9th.

The next week, I got an e-mail directing me to the UCLA website, where I learned I had been turned down. I’m certainly glad the two events happened in that order, or I’d have been a little hurt.  I knew I was not likely to get into UCLA, and with an acceptance under my belt it didn’t seem like a particularly big deal.

I have yet to hear from CSUN, though I expect to over the next week. They’ve been back from spring break for some time, and they indicated they wanted  to have the decisions made by the end of April in order to get everyone situated with field assignments over the summer and all.

My husband and others tell me that with an acceptance to a top 10 program, it should be all over but the shouting, and I shouldn’t care about CSUN because I should turn them down anyway.  To be honest, though, I think I am craving the validation of a second acceptance just for my own self-esteem. And if CSUN has something good to offer in terms of financial aid, perhaps it won’t be such an automatic decision after all.

The program I was accepted to at USC was the three-year program (two years part-time, the third full-time or nearly so), with my first year or two at the Skirball Center. So I should be able to have a regular business hours full-time job for the next year, as the classes are in the evening. Next year I’ll have to find some way to accommodate a part-time field assignment, but there’s time to work that out later.

Hubby and I went to the USC campus last week to visit and soak up the atmosphere.  We walked around a bit, found lunch and watched people. I enjoyed that, and it helped me get myself a bit more excited.

The new worry, of course, is how to fund this wonderful opportunity?