Master’s of Social Work Admission Committees look closely at an applicant’s maturity and motivation to assess fit. Because test scores and grades are not weighed heavily in admissions decisions for these programs, who you are — and how you message yourself — may have the greatest impact on whether or not you get in.

A primary question often asked by MSW admissions officers is, are you ready? Your answer to this question is best communicated through your personal statement of purpose or essays.

MSW personal statement preparation

Before writing these important parts of your master’s in social work application, ask yourself:

  • What are your personal and professional goals?
  • How do you handle boundaries?
  • What are your interpersonal strengths and weaknesses?
  • Are you ready to take on social work in the service of others, knowing that it may be stressful and daunting at times?
  • Can you manage the dual stresses of fieldwork three days a week and rigorous graduate school coursework?
  • What is your personal life like? Can your current lifestyle accommodate this kind of commitment?

Addressing these concerns, and communicating how your life experiences have led you to an interest in social work, will go a long way towards convincing schools that you are ready to earn your MSW.

MSW personal statement examples and tips

With that in mind, here are our tips for composing a winning MSW statement of purpose for graduate social work admissions:

  • Articulate your inspiration for, and interest in social work: What life experiences, including jobs or volunteer positions, have inspired you? Share all positions you have held (if any), and their impacts on your aspirations.

  • Message that you are mature and grounded.

  • Sync up your interests and professional career goals with the school’s offerings and mission: Why do you need this degree? What will you do with it? Why at this school?
  • Share and highlight the skills you will bring to the profession. Discuss the areas in which you hope to further develop your skills.
  • Share and highlight your interpersonal strengths: What will you bring to the program?
  • Briefly discuss where you currently positioned in your life. Address timing and the ability to handle the intense commitment.
  • Above all else, demonstrate good writing and good thinking; this shows your ability to process information intelligently and critically
  • Have a second person read your writing and give you feedback. How we write about ourselves, and how we self-assess, can be very revealing. Make sure that you are in control of your message.

Tell Your Story

Ultimately, a successful application tells a powerful (and truthful) story about the qualities and experiences an applicant is bringing to the field of social work. Good stories have strong beginnings: Start your story with an interesting or compelling introduction. Try to avoid trite or predictable opening phrases such as

"I always dreamed of being a social worker."

You might begin by describing an experience of helping others, or a moment when you had an impact and discovered that this was your calling. Perhaps you were involved in social activism as an undergraduate, and hope to shake up the world. Articulate your desire to professionalize your passion with a degree.

A relatable anecdote is a great essay-starter, and a smart way to introduce yourself. Such glimpses also provides transitions to other themes you may want to touch upon as an applicant. As you weave in the remainder of your storyline, try to demonstrate some awareness of challenging social issues. Let admissions committees know that you are informed and culturally sensitive.

Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.