The MSW Essay

To accommodate our many applicants to MSW programs, this section focuses on the required essay, with a particular focus on admissions to a California State University campus. There are many CSU full-time MSW programs and also part-time and online programs. Most programs ask for an extensive Personal Statement/Statement of Purpose that focuses on particular questions. Some programs require these questions to be addressed in a cohesive essay, others ask for 500 word answers. Once you write an essay for one program, you can usually adapt your answers to fulfill the requirements for another program, but be careful that you are addressing all the issues that any given essay requires. Always check Cal Apply and the program website to make sure you are following their instructions.

OTHER CALIFORNIA MSW PROGRAMS: Of the University of California campuses, only UC Berkeley and UCLA have MSW programs and their essays follow the standard UC graduate school application format using a Statement of Purpose and a Personal Statement, with slight variations for their MSW programs. USC also has a strong MSW program. A page listing the particular requirements for those essays is here, but always check the program website to ensure you are following the instructions.

Below are instructions from various programs to give you an idea of what will be required for an MSW essay at a CSU campus.

CSU East Bay: Personal Statement is not to exceed three pages, double-spaced and answers the following three questions as separate answers.

  1. Please discuss your reasons for wanting an MSW, your expectations for being a professional social worker, and any particular populations or social issues of interest.
  2. Discuss at least two (2) social justice issues (“isms”) you have experienced because of your involvement with and/or membership in a culture with which you identify. Social justice issues often relate to those items listed in our mission statement above, as well as many other experiences that can result in oppression such as health/mental health status, immigration, addiction, poverty/social class, educational access, criminal justice/incarceration, human trafficking, and violence.
  3. Finally, make your “elevator pitch”: what makes you uniquely qualified to be accepted into the CSUEB MSW program?

CSU Bakersfield: Personal Statement/Statement of Purpose Applicants respond to Case Vignettes instead as follows: Please choose two of the following three scenarios, each response should be in one page or less, double-spaced.

  • Imagine that you are working as a hospice social worker. You have been working with a client for about a month who has been given a life expectancy of about three more months. Your client asks you to help arrange a meeting with his daughter, with whom he has been estranged for many years. After obtaining proper informed consent, you contact the daughter who tells you that she will have no contact with her father because of the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse she experienced as a child in her father’s home. How would you respond?
  • Imagine that you are working as a child welfare social worker. Your client is a twenty-three-year-old woman who has three children, ages four, two, and six months. The two older children were first removed about two years ago because of abuse and neglect. They were returned for about six months, but they and the third child were removed at the time the third child was born because the third child was born with a positive toxicity report for methamphetamine and the other two children showed signs of neglect. The mother has not attended any court-ordered classes or counseling and misses about half of her appointments with you. Each time you meet with her, she cries and pleads that you return her children, and she accuses you of having a bias against her just because she sometimes uses drugs. How would you respond?
  • Imagine that you are working as a mental health social worker. Your client is a 47-year-old man who likely has an undiagnosed mental illness and who has a lengthy criminal history for crimes ranging from “drunk and disorderly” to “assault and battery.” He says he comes to see you only because the judge will send him back to jail if he does not attend counseling sessions. He perseverates on the theme that his main problem is not getting enough sex, and he makes many derogatory comments about women and how they mistreat him by not doing what he wants them to do. How would you respond?

Cal State Long Beach: The Personal and Professional Statement will be used to evaluate your critical thinking and help us determine your appropriateness for the program and the profession. Typed double-spaced, 12 pt. font, and 4 – 6 pages in length.  Prompts/questions can be addressed either in one cohesive essay or numbered responses, but don’t include the prompts.

  1. How did you become interested in social work? What motivated you to choose social work as a profession?
  2. Describe some traits and abilities that make you particularly suited for the profession of social work.
  3. Specify your career objectives as a professional social worker.
  4. Describe your professional social work activities. If you do not currently work in the social work field, describe how your work or volunteer experience relates to professional social work activities. Please be as specific as possible in detailing the similarity to social work activities.
  5. Describe a situation in which you were confronted with an ethical conflict. How did you resolve it?
  6. Our School of Social Work has a strong multicultural emphasis and values diversity. Please describe your experience(s) with diverse individuals and/or communities. (Differences can include age, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, physical or mental abilities, sexual orientation, etc.). Discuss how these experiences have: • Shaped your identity and self-awareness • Broadened your understanding of the role of social work in society • Influenced your understanding of and commitment to social justice
  7. Discuss a social problem of interest to you. How do you envision a social worker’s role in addressing the issue?
  8. Read the information about MSW program below and describe your plan to accommodate the class and field internship requirements and expected demands of our MSW program.

Our MSW program is rigorous and requires a significant commitment of time and resources from students. In order to answer Question #8, be sure to review the course schedule requirements for the program plan(s) for which you are applying that are posted on our website. In addition to coursework, students complete 16 hours per week in field internship during regular agency hours. The exact schedule is determined by the student and the agency at the time of placement. Most students complete two full 8-hour days; however, at the discretion of the agency, some students may be permitted to complete the 16 hours in an alternate schedule of one 8-hour day and two 4-hour days.

  1. Is there anything else you would like us to know as we consider your application? Please describe.
  2. Advanced Standing Applicants Only: Please explain why you think you are a good fit for the Advanced Standing (AS) program. In addition to meeting the minimum requirements for the AS program, what do you believe has prepared you to succeed in this accelerated program?

Cal State LA: Personal Statement of approximately six to eight (6-8) double-spaced pages, (one-inch margin all around, 12-point font) in essay format discussing each of the points listed below. Answer the questions in order.  Please do not copy/paste the questions but instead provide the headings.

Professional Information

  • Describe how your work history and related volunteer experiences have prepared you to pursue a master’s degree in social work.
  • Describe how your strengths andlimitations may influence your development as a professional social worker.
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals for a career as professional social worker?
  • Our school has a strong cross-cultural emphasis and values diversity. What attributes and values do you possess that can enrich our school’s cross-cultural orientation?  How do you think your worldview regarding diversity will influence your work in school and as a social worker?
  • Please describe any professional cross-cultural experiences you have had, especially with regard to value conflicts and how those conflicts were resolved.

Educational Plan
Our program is rigorous and demands a great deal of time and attention.  In the two-year program, students spend an estimated 52 total hours per week for their studies (which includes 12 hours of classes, 16 hours of field internship, and 24 hours of reading, studying, and preparing class assignments).   In the three-year program, students spend an estimated 24 total hours per week in the first year, and 37 total hours per week in the second and third years. (Please note these are estimates and a student’s hours may be higher or lower).

  • What is your plan for managing your responsibilities with such a rigorous graduate program? For example, there is no flexibility when it comes to class and internship schedules, as it is a cohorted program; therefore, if you will be working while in the program, please explain how you will reconcile this with such a rigorous program.  Please consider financial and time management issues.

Vignettes/Case Illustrations

  • Discuss a situation in which you were confronted with a difficult value or ethical conflict. How did you resolve it? What were some of the factors you considered in making your decision? How was the person and/or other individual affected by the situation?
  • Please draw upon your own work/volunteer experience to illustrate how you managed the situation described.  If you have not had such an experience in a professional setting, please draw upon a personal experience and discuss how you would manage the situation if it occurred in a professional setting per the questions above.
  • Do not use names or information that might violate the confidentiality of the individuals you decide to use in your descriptions.

CSU Dominguez Hills: Personal Statement must incorporate each of the questions in an essay of 4-6 double-spaced pages (one-inch margins, 12-point, typed font).

  1. Discuss how your interest in social work evolved and the philosophy upon which this interest is based. Illustrate this discussion using examples from educational, vocational, and/or personal experiences.
  2. The social work profession is rooted in a set of core values. These values are: service; social justice; dignity and worth of a person; importance of human relationships; integrity and competence. Explain how your own values are aligned with those of the social work profession. 3. The MSW program at CSUDH emphasizes Critical Race Studies and Intersectionality as frameworks to inform Social Work practice. Please discuss your understanding of systems of oppression (race, class, gender) and how they interact and affect disenfranchised communities (low income, LGBTQ, homeless, immigrant populations, etc.).
  3. Which personal strengths will assist you in your graduate education and as a professional social worker? 5. Please share at least one personal limitation that you are aware of that can be challenging to you as you pursue your graduate education and career as a professional social worker.
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