So you want to go to grad school?
Future grad students of the world unite!
Is this personal statement okay? 
16th-Dec-2012 11:32 pm
I had my English professor review it, and want to get opinions from all of  you as well. My main concern is my first paragraph. How can I make it more interesting?

These are the questions:

1. What are your reasons for applying to the Rutgers University School of Social Work?
2. Discuss your personal values, philosophy, knowledge of social issues,
and the professional and community experiences that have influenced your
decision to enter the profession.
3. Comment on your skills, strengths, and weaknesses.
4. Describe your reasons for choosing a particular focus in the field of social work.
5. Discuss your plans for a career in social work.

Here's the essay after making a few quick changes based on peoples' comments: 

           

I’ve known that I wanted to go into the field of social work and psychotherapy since my first year of my undergraduate studies. It was then that I knew I wanted to help people, not only by providing them with psychotherapy, but also by finding resources that they would have trouble finding on their own. My first choice for a graduate school of social work was Rutgers University, for a few reasons. Rutgers University’s Social Work program prepares its students to be Licensed Clinical Social Workers, which I am planning on becoming. Also, I already know the university’s teaching curriculum and am very pleased with the education I’ve received at the university. I’ve learned many things at RU, and I have no doubt that I will learn a great deal more by continuing my education at the university. Finally, I like the different positive aspects about the sizes of the campuses. Though I attended Rutgers-Newark, I have visited the New Brunswick/Piscataway campus a few times, and enjoyed both the Newark and New Brunswick campuses.

            During my freshman year as an undergraduate student at Rutgers University–Newark, I decided to take a Principles of Psychology 101 course as an elective. I realized I wanted to go into a career of psychotherapy during my time in that class. My professor spoke with such passion about the subject of psychology and psychotherapy, and soon, I found myself sharing his passion for the subjects. I wanted to help people that needed the help, especially after hearing people say that they personally wouldn’t want to help those seen as “crazy.”

I began thinking about how difficult it must be to try to function in the world with a mental disorder. In addition to the fact that I would ideally be helping people in the field of therapy, I found the human mind interesting. Specifically, I found it interesting that the human mind is so powerful as to be able to completely control mental disorders in people. I also found it interesting that the mind is powerful enough to rid humans of some mental disorders, usually with help from a professional. Once I had made up my mind about wanting to major in Psychology, I began speaking to one of my psychology professors about the steps to take to become a psychotherapist. My professor informed me that if I got my Master’s Degree in Social Work, I would be able to become a psychotherapist, as well as help people who needed assistance with finding resources in their lives, such as a place to live. I also began thinking about teaching psychology at a university level.

            Since I initially wanted to take up psychotherapy to help people, I knew an MSW would be the ideal choice to simultaneously help people with their disorders and help those that needed to find resources. I know the professors at Rutgers University will help guide me in my profession. I am specifically looking forward to working with Mr. Doug Behan and Dr. Kristen Gilmore Powell, Mr. Behan works with mental health and domestic violence, and Dr. Powell works with mental health and substance abuse prevention. They have both integrated social issues with mental health, and in addition to the benefits of studying at Rutgers, working with them would be an amazing opportunity.

            I consider my genuine love of learning and the drive I have to continue studying the connections between social issues and mental health as one of my greatest strengths. I am internally motivated and very organized, as I believe these are very important attributes to reach goals. I also have a natural way of approaching people that I have been told makes them feel comfortable and willing to open up to me. I will work on making my strengths even stronger to excel in the field of social work and psychotherapy. At the moment, a weakness I want to work on is that I do not know as much about the area of social work as I'd like to, and I know going into a Master's program in Social Work will of course help with this weakness. Another weakness is that at times, I expect too much of others, and expect them to have the same level of dedication I do, especially when working in a group. However, my expectations of people help me to push them to their full potential.

            The more I study psychology and the issues connected to the field, the more I see how much mental health is linked with social issues. Though some might say that people that are in bad social situations deserve it, I believe that a person does not deserve to be in a poor social situation, such as those in which the person cannot find a safe or functional place to live or work. I also believe that people with a mental disorder do not choose to have a disorder. The connection between social work and psychology works both ways. A mental disorder can lead a person to be unable to function in their everyday environments – such as school, work, or their homes – and vice versa. An unfortunate social situation or negative environment can lead to a mental disorder in a person. For example, financial problems in a family can lead to depression, or a person who constantly abuses cocaine can develop bipolar disorder.

            I have seen the connection between social issues and psychotherapy in a few personal experiences. These experiences have inspired me to pursue a career that deals with social work and psychotherapy simultaneously. As I had mentioned before, certain situations at home may lead to mental disorders. I have a few close friends who have eating disorders, problems with substance abuse, and a friend who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. All of these people struggle with their disorders on a day-to-day basis, mainly because their lives at home have played a role in the development of their disorder, and they still live in those homes. However, they have all seen a psychotherapist for help, and have learned coping skills to learn to function with their disorders. Seeing my friends use what they’ve learned also pushes me to get my MSW, while focusing on the clinical aspect of social work and becoming an LCSW. This has played an immense role in motivating me to enter the field of social work and help people that may need help but do not know where to find it.

            After initially looking into psychotherapy, I wondered if I would be interested in the research aspect of psychology. I became a Research Assistant (RA) in the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University during the summer of my junior year. In that laboratory, I assisted in a study that was conducted to research hoarding in rats to see which conditions (internal and external) increased and decreased hoarding. It was interesting to see the behavioral changes in rats, and how those behaviors could be generalized to humans. I enjoyed it and stayed an RA until I graduated, but decided that I definitely wanted to go into the clinical field of psychotherapy.

            During my senior year at RU, I was a Teaching Assistant (TA). Being involved as a TA gave me even more incentive to get an MSW, become an LCSW, and additionally, teach psychology at a university level. Since the Principles of Psychology course I took during my freshman year influenced me so greatly, I decided to become a TA for that class, for the same professor I had when I was a freshman. As a TA, I taught a recitation class once a week and proctored students during their exams. While teaching the students, I began to delve into social work and psychotherapy once again, especially when the students would ask me how psychology was relevant to everyone’s lives.

            In addition to the familial and friendship experiences and my experiences at Rutgers University, my time spent as an intern and volunteer at Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) has also greatly influenced me to go into the profession of social work. During my internship at HUMC’s in-patient Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, I worked alongside two social workers that were licensed as Clinical Social Workers. I attended the department’s team treatment meetings, helped the social workers conduct group therapy sessions, fill out paperwork for and discharge patients, and find out-patient rehabilitation centers or homes for the patients. After my internship, I began volunteering at HUMC’s geriatrics unit for a program called Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP). I am currently volunteering with the program, where I work on a one-on-one basis with patients regularly. I speak to the patients and work with them to make sure their minds and bodies stay stimulated, make sure they don’t get confused and they stay in the right state of mind. I enjoy dealing with patients very much, because I get to speak to them and help them with what they need.

            In the field of social work and psychotherapy, I specifically want to work with people whose ages range from children to middle-aged adults. I want to work with children because quite a few mental disorders begin at childhood. I also know a few friends who were diagnosed with mental disorders as teenagers. Treating a disorder as early as possible will increase the chances of recovery significantly. I knew I wanted to focus on middle-aged adults when I saw the problems my family was, and still is, facing, and while I was an intern at HUMC. There were quite a few adults at HUMC’s psychiatric department, and seeing them struggle gave me a greater drive to help them find jobs, homes, and teach them how to cope with their disorders. I want to focus on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). While I was an intern, I chose the type of therapy for our group therapy sessions with the patients, and I found myself choosing CBT more than other methods. Cognition and physical and mental behavior are very strongly connected, and I believe that a person with a disorder will benefit by working to develop both his/her cognition and behavior. Specifically, in the field of CBT, I want to focus on substance use/abuse, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders.

            After getting a Master’s Degree in Social Work, I plan on becoming licensed as a Clinical Social Worker. After becoming an LCSW, I plan on teaching a psychology course, working at a psychiatric ward in a hospital to gain experience as a social worker and a psychotherapist, and then opening up a private practice for psychotherapy. Ultimately, I want to obtain a Doctorate Degree in Psychology (Psy. D.). During my studies at Rutgers University and in my career, I want to focus on the research of anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse. By focusing on these fields, I can utilize psychotherapy and social work into my career, because as I've stated before, mental disorders may lead to social problems, and vice versa.

Comments 
17th-Dec-2012 04:42 am (UTC)
I couldn't be bothered to read the whole essay because the first paragraph was so uninteresting. I imagine I won't be the only person with that reaction...
17th-Dec-2012 05:08 am (UTC)
thanks,
i have to find out what to put in to make it more interesting
17th-Dec-2012 12:40 pm (UTC)
Same here. There wasn't a hook -- there wasn't something that drew me and made me want to keep reading.
17th-Dec-2012 04:49 am (UTC)
A few really major things I'm seeing:

100% get rid of the paragraph about people asking you whether you're afraid of being attacked by someone who is mentally ill. That whole section is kind of gross and stigmatizing.

The first paragraph is very blah and boring. The people reviewing your application do not care that you have friends at a particular campus and you like how it feels and that there are ~activities~, so axe anything about that. I think you want to reword the whole paragraph. Definitely talk about your reasons for pursuing the degree, but to set it up as, essentially, "I have two reasons. First, reason one. Second, reason two." sounds like 2/3 of a 5 paragraph essay.

The "I want to work with both children and adults" section seems weird and awkward to me. I would focus more perhaps on what kinds of work and therapy you want to do rather than saying, "kids and middle aged people, sure, but not old people", which is kind of how it comes off.

I've heard other people in pysch say that talking about mental illness in the family can come off badly, but I'll leave comment on whether discussing issues in your own family is a good or a bad strategy, but I'll admit it made me feel a little uncomfortable to read you diagnosing your mother in this.

Overall, this reads like an essay - you keep making statements, like naming the specialties of the professors you want to work with and explaining life situations that can precipitate mental illness, that are obvious and not information the committee needs to know. I think what you really need to do is rework this majorly, focusing tightly on who you are, what you want to study, and how you will do that at this particular program, including methodologies and mentors. Cut out most of the personal anecdotes and all of the informative statements about the study and treatment of mental illness.
17th-Dec-2012 05:12 am (UTC)
thank you for commenting in-depth. they ask what personal experiences have pushed us to pursue this degree, but i'll definitely take out the whole part with my mom and just leave in the part with the friends. i thought a bunch of parts of the essay sounded awkward, and i'm glad you say they were
17th-Dec-2012 06:30 am (UTC)
Reading your edits, the sentence in the first paragraph "Finally, I like the different positive aspects about the sizes of the campuses." makes no sense. Again, let me emphasize - grad school application committees do not care whether you like the campus. Only comment on the program's strengths and why it appeals to you.
17th-Dec-2012 06:35 am (UTC)
Thanks, I don't even know why I left that on there. Clearly, I rushed. The first paragraph is what I'm most worried about.
17th-Dec-2012 06:16 am (UTC)
This comment sums up my reaction too
17th-Dec-2012 07:52 am (UTC)
- The first paragraph can go entirely. The first two sentences repeat the content of the second paragraph, and the rest is not information they care about.
- The second and third paragraph is on the same topic. It could be combined. Ditto for the three paragraphs about TA, RA, and volunteering.
- I specifically want to work with people whose ages range from children to middle-aged adults - This is not specific. It's like, the opposite of specific.

This is very rambling and disjointed, and it's confusing to read. I'd suggest a total rewrite, basically. Make an outline. Use the questions as a guide and write a single paragraph that succinctly answers each of the questions. Don't worry about word count, just get it on paper. After you've got that as a basic framework, then decide where you need to elaborate. For the "Why [program]" question, I would suggest focusing on faculty and academics, not your personal comfort or knowledge of the campus.
17th-Dec-2012 04:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I wanted to narrow the people I want to work with to only children, adolescents, and teenagers, but thought maybe they'll think I'm not covering enough ground. I realize now that it's better to focus on a narrow topic than a broad one. However, I do want to keep some detail about my experiences (TA, etc.), so I know I will write more than a paragraph for those.

Any suggestions on what to include in my intro? I wanted to begin with why I want to attend the school, so I should I write about the academics and professors as a second paragraph?
17th-Dec-2012 04:46 pm (UTC)
For who you want to work with I would suggest focusing on kinds of people (those with eating disorders, say) rather than a specific age group, unless you really have a specific age group in mind. It's not so much about narrowing your discussion, but more about organising your thoughts and picking out what's really important to you. Focusing on your experience in some detail is good, but make sure that you can both tie it together and really show how it reflects on your future plans. This isn't really about the cool stuff you've already done (which should be explained in some detail on your CV anyhow) - it 's about showing how that stuff has informed your desire to go to the program you're attending. You need to focus on that.

As for what to include in your intro, I would suggest focusing only on the academic and professional benefits of the school and give a brief statement about what you bring. It's like writing the introduction to a paper - you need to both summarise (briefly) what you're going to talk about and draw the reader in. Be specific, be concise, and be relevant to the program. I'd suggest not trying a "hook" unless you have a really compelling reason to - just be straightforward.
17th-Dec-2012 06:54 pm (UTC)
IA. This SOP is simply unfocused. I understand why: you're directly answering the questions. Instead, try answering these questions:


  • What do you plan to study in the program? In other words, what are your research interests?

  • How are you prepared to study these research interests in the MSW program? How has your background informed your decision?

  • How can Rutgers MSW program help you study your research interests and prepare you for your intended career?



I don't have personal experience applying for an MSW, so you should probably talk to someone who successfully has or a professor in the program. That's because I'm not exactly sure how focused you need to be in your research interests. I'm also not sure about how much of your personal background is alright to bring into an MSW statement.

After you address the questions I listed, then check whether you also address the questions in Rutgers' prompt.
17th-Dec-2012 08:52 pm (UTC)
Remember the MSW is a professional degree, not a research degree - the usual advice here is to focus on what the applicant wants to do in practice instead of particular research interests. That said, I agree it doesn't need to step down each question in sequence, especially if that makes it repetitive or boring.
20th-Dec-2012 07:14 pm (UTC)
thanks, i'm working on not repeating myself too much int he paper. do you think it matters if i choose two women as professors i want to work with, instead of one man and one woman? it might sound like a "stupid" question, but i wouldn't eb surprised if universities looked at things like that
20th-Dec-2012 07:28 pm (UTC)
I don't think that'll make a difference.
28th-Dec-2012 10:17 pm (UTC)
I just wanted to say, I'm looking at Rutgers too! I'm moving with my bf (military) to northern Delaware so trying to find the closest commute haha. Either there, temple, or university of maryland-baltimore. Where are you applying? Good luck!
10th-Jan-2013 11:27 pm (UTC)
i'm trying to stay on the east coast too lol. good luck!
11th-Apr-2013 10:03 am (UTC)
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