The Importance of Writing a Memorable Social Work Personal Statement
Although it may seem dramatic to say, your social work personal statement is absolutely one of the most important parts of your social work application. You want to write a personal statement that is truthful, memorable, impressive, and enjoyable to read.
The better you do on writing your personal statement, the better chance you have at being admitted into a college’s social work program, especially if it’s highly competitive. You want to do your best when applying for any program, but when applying for one that is highly sought after by students, you want to give yourself the best possible chance you can. Writing an exceptional personal statement is the way to do that.
What? Who? Where? When? Why?
What Is a Social Work Personal Statement?
A social work personal statement is a personal essay you write about yourself, your past experiences, your educational and career goals, and anything else relevant to applying for admission into a social work program. It is usually a requirement that is part of a larger, more comprehensive application packet.
When applying for a social work program, you’ll be required to provide the admissions department with a whole packet of information. Part of this packet will be the standard application information, such as name, birthdate, social security number, contact information, etc. You’ll likely also be required to submit official transcripts, standardized test scores, recommendation letters, and your personal statement.
Who Will Be Asked to Write One?
Although some students entering into the field of social work might have to submit a personal statement at the bachelor’s degree level, most students won’t have to write a personal statement until they apply for a graduate-level program. If you’ve applied or are thinking about applying to a Master’s of Social Work (MSW) program or another type of master’s or doctoral social work program, you’ll probably be expected to write a personal statement.
Where Will I Find the Prompt for a Personal Statement?
Not every school will have a specific prompt for you to write about in your personal statement. Some schools will leave the personal statement section open-ended and allow you to write about whatever you feel is best. Whether you have a prompt or are just directed to write about yourself, the guidelines will always be found on the admissions guidelines.
Some schools have actual paper application packets they’ll send through the mail when you request information about the program. Most schools, though, have an online application process. For these schools, you’ll be able to visit the “Application Checklist” or “Admissions Requirements” pages on the website to find the exact guidelines for writing your personal statement and for filling out the rest of the application.
When Will I Be Required to Write One?
If you’re applying to graduate school – or certain undergraduate schools – for social work, you’ll be required to write and submit your personal statement before you can be considered for admission into the program. You’ll submit it, along with any other required documentation, to the admissions department. Each school has different deadlines for fall, spring, and summer semesters, so be sure to check out your prospective college’s calendar to ensure you don’t miss the deadline for submission.
Why Do Universities Require a Personal Statement?
The social work personal statement is the best way an admissions department has of “getting to know” you before they’ve met you. Applications, transcripts, and letters of recommendation can give the admissions team an idea of what your work ethic is like, but in order to truly get a feel for the kind of person you are, they want to read what you have to say about yourself in your own voice.
They want to know why you chose the social work field, and they want to know why you think you’d be good at it. They’re interested in your history and experiences and are curious about the kinds of challenges you’ve faced and overcome. Most importantly, they want to read something in your personal statement that makes them confident that you’ll be able to handle the social work program at their university. They want to know you have the ability to succeed.
The Components of a Great Personal Statement
We’ve already talked a little about what types of information you should include in your social work personal statement. Now we want to go into a little more detail.
Ensure Your Statement is Compatible with the School/Program’s Mission Statement
Every university has a mission statement. You can find a school’s mission statement on its website. A mission statement is a formal statement that represents the values, beliefs, and goals of the college. Hopefully, if you’ve chosen a school, you’ve checked out its mission statement, and hopefully, it aligns with your own core beliefs.
If that’s the case, let the admissions team know this in your own personal statement. Tell them the beliefs and values you hold that mirror the ones listed in the school’s mission statement. Express to them the reason you chose that particular school and/or program was because it had views that closely aligned with the things that are important to you in your life. Don’t lie in your statement. Always be honest, but if your views truly do overlap with those of the school, that’s a great thing to mention.
Universities want students who support the same values and beliefs that the school holds dear. This means you’re a compatible student who supports what the college is about and will likely uphold the values and traditions the school has put in place.
Highlight the Traits that Would Make You a Good Social Worker
When you’re applying for college, there are certain traits admissions teams look for no matter your major. These include a good work ethic, intelligence, the ability to work well with others, an innovative mind, and more. However, when it comes specifically to the social work program, there are other qualities and traits that are just as important for a student to possess.
First and foremost, social workers must be caring, compassionate, and empathetic. A huge chunk of a social worker’s job is working with people, usually in less-than-ideal circumstances. Social workers work with abused and neglected children, people with disabilities, veterans – some of whom have suffered trauma or who have PTSD – people from poor neighborhoods, and more. If they don’t have a genuine concern and love for people, they aren’t going to last.
Other important traits include:
- Good communication skills
- Inner peace or balance
- A good sense of humor
- The ability to multitask
- Time management skills
- Creative problem-solving skills
- Discretion and the ability to keep confidential information confidential
- Ethical standards
If you have any or all of these skills, expound on them in your social work personal statement.
Cover Any Relevant Work and/or Volunteer Experience
If you’ve worked in social work or a similar field, you definitely want to include that in your personal statement. It’s great to have a desire and some education to speak to your desire to be a social worker, but nothing beats real-world experience. Don’t be afraid to let the admissions team know you’ve already been involved in the field.
Discuss Your Future Plans/Goals as Related to Social Work
A college’s admissions team wants to know that you have a plan for your future beyond just earning the degree. Getting a degree from an institution of higher learning is an important step in achieving your goals, but it isn’t the goal itself. How do you want to use the degree once you have it?
Do you want to become an actual social worker? Do you want to work with children, veterans, the elderly or some other specific group? Are you more interested in taking your social work degree into prisons or halfway houses to work with people with troubled pasts? Whatever you plan to do with your degree once you have it, tell the admissions team about that. Be specific, and give details. Let them know you have a definite plan for your future beyond the college experience.
Use Excellent Grammar and Punctuation
It doesn’t matter how great you are at telling a story and getting your point across to someone. If you write your personal statement and it’s full of grammatical errors and poor punctuation, you won’t make a good impression on whoever reads it. You’re applying to be a college student, possibly even a graduate-level college student. You’re hoping to go into a professional field.
People will judge you on your grammar and punctuation. As a social worker, you’ll be required to write up incident reports, make recommendations to judges, testify in court, and more. You need to be well-spoken and well-written. No matter how passionate you are about becoming a social worker, a sloppily written essay isn’t likely to get you into the program.
If professional and academic writing aren’t your strengths, don’t be afraid to ask for help from someone. There are people who are behind you 100% and want you to do well. Those people will be happy to proofread your personal statement and edit it for any errors. It’s simply up to you to reach out to them and ask.
Follow the Prompt (If Applicable)
Many colleges just want you to talk about yourself, your background, the development of your interest in social work, your experiences with diversity, or your work experience. They want to learn about you and, more specifically, your interest in social work. In those cases, you just want to answer the questions provided to you as honestly and as thoroughly as possible.
If the college has a list of items they want you to answer, make sure you answer them all. Don’t skip over some or pick and choose the ones you want to answer. Touch on them all at least briefly, preferably with a bit of substance to each.
If the college gives you a specific prompt that doesn’t have to do with you personally, such as one of these odd prompts, just stick to the prompt, and if you can find a logical, on-topic way to talk about yourself or your interest in social work, work that in as well.
With any prompt, whether conventional or not, stick to the prompt! Answer the question or questions asked.
The following are some of the most commonly asked prompts on social work applications:
Prompt 1: Why do you believe this program is right for you, and why are you right for it?- Smith College
This one is self-explanatory. You should talk about why you’re interested in this specific social work program. What sets it apart from other social work programs in your eyes, and why do you think you’d be a good fit for it? This is a great chance to talk about your views and how they mesh with the school’s mission statement.
Prompt 2: What experiences have you had with oppressed populations – racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, persons with disabilities, etc. – and how have they influenced your decision to pursue a career in social work?- University of West Florida
In this section, you’ll want to talk about what exactly got you interested in social work in the first place. If you were in the system yourself, that could definitely be a reason for pursuing social work. Other reasons could include having a love for children and a desire to ensure they’re in good homes, being the child or relative of a veteran, having a disability or having a loved one with a disability, etc.
If you’ve had work, volunteer, or internship experience that opened your eyes to discrimination or other negative experiences suffered by a certain group of people, this is also an excellent place to talk about those.
Prompt 3: What are your career goals in social work for the five years following graduation?- University of Buffalo
The key words in this particular prompt are “five years following graduation.” This is a perfect example of an essay in which you need to stick to the prompt. Don’t talk about your big, long-term plans and all the great changes you’re going to make 20 years down the road.
Focus on the things you could logically expect and hope to achieve in your first five years of employment. Discuss them in detail so that the committee knows you’ve given it some thought. Talk about what demographic you want to serve and in what capacity. Discuss how your education will play a huge role in those plans.
Prompt 4: What are your strengths and areas of your life that need strengthening in relation to the profession of social work?- Binghamton University
This is the area where you bring out those key characteristics that’ll make you a good social worker. (See above.) If you’re weak in a particular area in which the school’s social work program can help you, mention that as well. Just don’t forget to theorize on how the social work program will help you strengthen that area so that it’ll be a new strength by the time you enter the workforce.
Standard Personal Statement Format
The first thing you want to do when writing any type of personal statement or essay, whether it’s for college or something else entirely, is to check the formatting requirements and ensure you’re following them exactly. Some applications will give you detailed instructions on how your personal statement for the social work application should be formatted. If so, follow those guidelines. If not, the following are general formatting rules that work on most occasions:
- Margins: One-inch at the top, bottom, and both sides.
- Double-space your entire essay with no added lines in between paragraphs.
- Font – Times New Roman, 12-pt.
- If no word count is given, keep “short statements” to between 250-500 words and “long statements” to 500-900 words.
Once you have your formatting set correctly, you’ll want to draft an outline of what to say. A lot of people skip the outline step because they feel like they don’t need it, but outlines can be effective tools when it comes to organizing your paper in a logical or chronological way.
Beyond the outline and the formatting, a general social work personal statement is set up like this:
Step 1: Introduction
When writing a social work personal statement specifically, your introduction should catch your reader immediately. English teachers and writers call this “Having a Hook.” Yes, it should tell the admissions department who you are, why you’re interested in social work and those types of things, but you want to catch their attention first. There are a few ways to do this.
A great hook can be a rhetorical question, a beautiful, detailed setting of a scene, something surprising, a shocking or ‘WOW’ing statistic or a contradictory statement. Anything that someone would read and immediately take interest in is considered a great hook. If you catch them in the intro, you’ll usually keep them through the end.
Step 2: Body Paragraphs
The body paragraphs of your personal statement are where “the meat” of your writing should be. These are the paragraphs you’ll use to go in-depth about yourself, your experiences, your aspirations, etc. Here are some of the things you’ll definitely want to include:
- Your own personal experience with social work or the system.
- Any relevant work, intern, or volunteer experience in social work or a closely related field.
- Your core belief system that causes you to have an interest in social work.
- A specific area of focus within social work you hope to pursue.
- Your social work career aspirations.
- Any achievements, awards, or recognition you’ve received.
- Reasons why you’ll make a good social worker/do well in the social work program.
- Your strengths.
- Reasons for choosing that particular school and/or social work program.
- An acknowledgment that you understand the demands a career in social work will put your life, emotions and heart.
These topics should be covered in any general social work personal statement. If you’re given a prompt that doesn’t include these types of things, follow the prompt instead.
Step 3: Conclusion
Your conclusion is where you bring everything together and sum it up. Unlike what you learned in freshman English class, you don’t need to restate everything you’ve already said. Instead, explain in one or two sentences why this program is the right fit for you and how you’ll use the skills you learn from it in your future career goals. Then, if appropriate, thank the admissions team at the college for considering your application for admission and bring it to a close.
Sample Social Work Personal Statements
In order to give you an idea of what works and what doesn’t, we’ve included a few actual personal statements written by potential social work students. Use these for inspiration if you’re having trouble getting started, but more importantly, use them to pick out the good and the bad, so that you can write your own personal statement accordingly.
Sample Personal Statement 1
“[…] I worked at the Center for Students with Disabilities as both a note-taker and a personal assistant. These opportunities gave me firsthand exposure to the difficulties faced by students with a variety of different disabilities […] and the barriers [they] must overcome. The assistance I provided […] enabled them to live independently and thrive academically, which wouldn’t have been possible without individualized support. Becoming familiar with individuals with disabilities afforded me significant insight into the treatment of individuals with disabilities by society and the frequent misunderstanding regarding “invisible” disabilities. This realization motivated me to advocate for equality and resources for individuals […] in need of support and to increase awareness of the stigma facing those with all types of disabilities.”
Read more of it here.
Here, we’re starting off with an excellent example of a great social work personal statement. This paragraph was found about halfway through this particular essay, and in it, the writer is talking about her experience working in her college’s Center for Students with Disabilities. It’s a well-written and easy-to-read paragraph. Grammatically, there’s nothing wrong with it at all.
Beyond that, though, the paragraph does a great job of showcasing the writer’s experience with working with people with disabilities, which is one subset of the social work field. In one short paragraph, the writer shows that she has relevant job experience that can help her succeed in the program, explains her goals and the reasons she wants to work in social work and establishes herself as someone who is caring, empathetic and able to relate to one of the target social work demographics.
Sample Personal Statement 2
“I would like to study Social Work at degree level as it is an area of great interest and personal significance to me. Having gained experience in this sphere and a strong desire to learn more about it, I feel I would be well suited to such a course.”
Read more of it here.
This particular personal statement is more an example of what not to do than what you should be doing. First of all, it’s much too short. The student wrote this as his introductory paragraph. The intro is where you catch your reader’s attention and make your first impressions. There isn’t enough here to make any type of good impression. A short intro also seems lazy. The intro is usually the easiest part of a personal statement because it’s all about you.
You use the intro to introduce yourself. You may add a little extra information, but mostly, it’s about you, and it should be full and well-written. If you don’t have a lot to say about yourself, it looks as though there isn’t much to tell. It leaves the reader wondering if you were either just too lazy to do a good job or if you simply aren’t that interesting. Neither option is great when you’re trying to stand out and be memorable.
The grammar in this introductory paragraph is also bad. It reads as though it was written in another language and then translated into English using Google Translate. If you’re trying to get into a particular program, especially at the graduate level, it’s important you use excellent grammar. This paragraph, short though it is, could have greatly benefited from some editing.
Sample Personal Statement 3
“As a social worker, I know there will be challenges, but I also believe that the sacrifices are more than justified. Each child that I can remove from a negative situation is one more child that can be free to choose their own path in life. My passion for helping and supporting those who cannot do it themselves has driven me towards social work my entire life. I believe further studies in the field of a social worker will provide me invaluable skills that I can use to better the entire community I am a part of.”
This particular example isn’t quite as exceptional as the first one, but it’s much better than the second. The paragraph is a good length and discusses the writer’s reasons for choosing social work as an area of study and subsequent career. She also does something that no one else in these examples does: She admits that the field of social work is challenging, which is a point in her favor.
If you talk to anyone who pursued a degree in social work and then ultimately changed careers later in life, they mostly say something similar. They tell you they changed careers because social work just “got too hard” to handle. It takes a special kind of person to work in some of the circumstances in which social workers find themselves. Meeting and working closely with children whose parents are on drugs or who abused them, sometimes sexually, can be an extremely difficult thing to have to witness.
The fact that the writer of this personal statement acknowledges the field is challenging upfront shows that she knows what she’s getting into, has accepted it, and still wants to pursue this calling. She also shows a lot of passion for working with children in her community. People passionate about their careers tend to stick with them much more often than people who just work because it’s their job.
There are some grammatical mistakes and some oddly worded sentences (“further studies in the field of a social worker” rather than “in the field of social work” for instance), but these aren’t bad enough that they distract from the overall message of the paragraph. Still, the paragraph would have been even more impressive if she’d had someone edit her statement before she sent it to the admissions office. Always have a fresh pair of eyes read your work before you finish the editing process completely.
Sample Personal Statement 4
“Having decided on a career in social work early on, I have steered my studies towards this field, taking sociology, psychology and geography at A-level. While the geography may not seem immediately relevant, the issues discussed in this subject do have a genuine impact on people’s lives. I enjoy the lively debates that arise in all these subjects, especially sociology, and this has led me to establishing a debating society at my school, which I currently chair.”
Read more of it here.
This is another example of an essay on which you shouldn’t model your personal statement. Grammatically, this paragraph is fine, but it doesn’t have much in the way of substance. The writer mentions that she took classes like sociology, psychology, and geography early on in her education because she already knew that she wanted to be a social worker, but she doesn’t give us any detail.
For example, she tells us that even though we may not understand, geography has a lot to do with social work. Then she moves on to something else. If you’re going to mention that something is relevant to your field of study, but it’s odd enough that you have to put a qualifier with it, you need to explain its relevance. Otherwise, we only have your word that it’s relevant and absolutely no information to back that up ourselves.
She doesn’t explain how any of those classes helped her in her pursuit of a social work degree. Then she changes subjects entirely to talk about her love of debate. She likely did this to showcase the fact that she was the chairperson of her school’s debate team, but it isn’t relevant and doesn’t make sense in that spot. Debate has little, if anything, to do with the field of social work.
She should have used this paragraph to tell us why she wants to work in social work, how specifically those classes helped her decide on the field, or what past experiences she’s had that drew her to it, but instead, she jumps straight to talking about her extracurricular activities. It doesn’t make logical sense for that to be in the introduction, and she hasn’t given us anything of substance.
Sample Personal Statement 5
“The rapidly growing elderly population is becoming a serious social problem in many countries. Some countries have been successful at finding solutions for this problem but others have not. Japan is one of the latter countries. Although Japan has one of the highest life expectancy rates and a reputation for good quality of life for its elderly population, it has been unsuccessful at addressing this problem. Compared to other industrialized countries, Japan lags behind in programs for elders who are physically disabled, bedridden or in need of long term care. The current economic crisis is exacerbating this situation as the government is cutting funding for elder programs. This problem resonates deeply with me, and I hope to someday work on finding a solution. It is for this reason that I am applying to the graduate program in social work at Boston University: I seek the skills and knowledge I need to return to Japan and work for a social work service.”
Read more of it here.
Overall, this is an example of an excellent introductory paragraph for a social work personal statement. It does have a couple of grammatical flaws, such as the missing comma before the independent clause “but others have not” and the missing hyphen in the phrase “long-term.” The biggest flaw in this sample, though, is its length. For an introductory paragraph, this is too long. It contains eight sentences, several of which, themselves, are compound or complex and quite long.
Despite being much too long, though, the organizational style and information the writer packs into the paragraph is perfect. He jumps right into the statement with something interesting that catches the reader’s attention immediately. Additionally, he provides the reader, who otherwise may be unaware of Japan’s social climate, customs, and problems, with evidence-based information that explains why he feels a calling towards the social work field.
The amount of factual information he provides about the elderly population’s situation in Japan also shows that he’s intelligent and knowledgeable about the subject. It also showcases his passion for the field. Finally, if he’s willing to research and provide factual information for his admissions personal statement, the admissions department can be fairly certain he’ll also be willing to work hard if accepted into the program.
Wrapping It Up
When it comes to writing a strong social work personal statement, remember “the Bees”:
- Be specific.
- Be thorough.
- Be honest.
- Be grammatically correct.
- Be relevant.
- Be entertaining.
Remembering the Bees will go a long way towards ensuring your statement is well-written, easily read, enjoyable, effective, and memorable, and a memorable personal statement will give you a much better chance of being accepted into a competitive social work program.
Don’t be afraid to praise yourself a little. You can comment on your strengths, achievements, and experience without sounding proud or boastful. There are times to be modest and times to shine a light on yourself. Your social work personal statement is definitely a time to shine.