Masters In Social Work Admission Essay

Application Deadlines

  • MSW Advanced Standing Program Priority Deadline: September 30, Final Deadline: November 1
  • MSW Advanced Standing Program (St. George) Priority Deadline: September 30, Final Deadline: November 1 (every 3 years, beginning in 2019)
  • MSW Program Two Year Full-Time Program Priority Deadline: November 1, Final Deadline: December 15
  • MSW Program Three Year Evening Program (SLC & St. George): Every 3 years; next admissions cycle will be 2019
  • MSW DCFS Employee Program: January 15, 2017 (every 3 years)
  • MSW DCFS Distance Program: January 15, 2018 (every 3 years)

Minimum GPA:
In order to be accepted into any graduate program, the University of Utah requires a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 from a regionally accredited institution. If the applicant has attended more than one institution, the GPA is a weighted cumulative GPA of all institutions. Applicants with a weighted cumulative GPA below 3.0, must also calculate the last two years’ GPA (60 graded semester hours of undergraduate work or 90 quarter hours). If both are significantly below 3.0 applicants should consider earning a second undergraduate degree or completing a minimum of 30 hours of post-graduate study in order to strengthen their applications.

However, applicants with lower GPAs may still be considered for admission and should consult with the MSW Admissions Coordinator, Lena Al-Rayess, at prior to applying. Please note that the University of Utah’s Graduate Admissions Committee is unlikely to approve admission for an applicant with a cumulative GPA under 2.8.

Prerequisite Classes:
Admitted students must complete the following prerequisite classes before beginning the MSW Program:

  • Human Development Across the Lifespan (birth through end of life) or HBSE
  • Research Methods – must be a social and behavioral sciences class

Click here to see a list of commonly accepted courses from Utah universities.

The classes need to average a “B” grade across the two. No grade lower than a “C” in either class will be accepted.

Applicants can address their prerequisite questions with the MSW admissions coordinator and should scan and email a copy of their transcripts or electronic student report to as early in their application process as possible.

These courses do not need to be complete at time of the application deadline, but must be complete with proof of grade submitted before beginning the MSW program, if admitted. Please note that a final official transcript must be submitted to the University’s Office of Admissions by the first day of class to verify receipt of an academic degree and/or any prerequisites in progress at the time of application.

International Students
International students should review the University of Utah International Graduate Admissions Office requirements for information regarding English language proficiency, financial documentation, and other pertinent information needed. Please note that the University of Utah does not accept 3-year Bachelor degrees from all countries. Please contact International Admissions for details on acceptable international degrees. The University of Utah requires a minimum TOEFL score of 80 IBT or 550 PBT or a minimum IELTS score of 6.50. The College of Social Work, due to the intensive need for excellent communication skills, requires a minimum score of 100 IBT or 600 PBT, or an IELTS score of 7.0 to 7.5.

There is no specific financial aid to support international students at the College of Social Work MSW Program. Students may pursue scholarship opportunities through the College of Social Work and the University of Utah Financial Aid and Scholarships Office.


Transfer Students and Life Experience
The MSW Program does not grant social work credit for life experience, previous work experience or another master’s degree program. The College of Social Work cannot accept transfer students from any other MSW program into any of its MSW Program options.


Application Instructions
The University of Utah/MSW AY application and MSW application instructions undergo yearly changes and updates. Applicants should wait to begin an application until after August 1 each year. Please do not submit an application before August 1. There is no benefit to submitting an application before the deadline.

The University of Utah Graduate Admissions office and the College of Social Work use a combined online application, “Apply Yourself” (AY). A review of the MSW Apply Yourself Instructions to assist applicants with information required for Social Work MSW application is mandatory, as it contains critical information found nowhere else. Please follow all instructions in this document as well as in the actual Apply Yourself application.

It is the applicant’s responsibility to upload all required documentation prior to submission by the deadline, and to ensure submission of a minimum of four recommendations. Documents or recommendations received late will significantly delay the application process, and may make candidates ineligible for admission. NO LATE APPLICATIONS will be accepted. Applications cannot be processed or evaluated until the applicant has submitted his/her application and paid the Office of Admissions fee. This is the final step in the Apply Yourself program and must be done by 11:59 pm MST on the application deadline date.

The College of Social Work and the University of Utah seek to provide equal access to their programs, services and activities for people with disabilities. If you will need accommodations in the application process, you will need to provide reasonable prior notice to the Center for Disability Services (CDS). The Center’s contact info is: 162 Union Building, 801-581-5020, The Center for Disability Services will work with you and the MSW program to make arrangements for accommodations.

Click here for the Apply Yourself Instructions and Application.


Admissions Criteria
The Admissions Committee engages in a holistic review process, drawing information from the following sources:

  1. Official transcripts from all universities/colleges attended
  2. Four professional recommendations (see below)
  3. Autobiographical Essay (see below)
  4. Clinical & Ethical Case Study Analysis (see below)
  5. Timed Social Issues Essay (see below)
  6. Resume (see below)

Occasionally, the Admissions Committee will request an interview with an applicant. Applicants may not request interviews.

Four Professional Recommendations:
Formal letters of recommendation are not needed. Recommendations must be requested through the ApplyYourself application system. Recommendations must be professional in nature and be from an individual who has supervised applicant in some capacity. Supervisors and anyone who has been directly responsible for assessing the applicant’s human service-related work/volunteer experience are suggested, particularly licensed mental health professionals. Personal references from friends, family members, personal therapists, and acquaintances will not be scored.

Autobiographical Essay:
The MSW Admission Committee wants to know (a) why the applicant wants to be a social worker, (b) if the applicant has a sound understanding of the social work profession, and how it differs from other mental health disciplines, and (c) how the applicant’s life experiences have prepared him/her for graduate studies in social work. Formatting: length should be between three and four double-spaced pages.Please do not exceed four pages. Use Times New Roman 12 point font with one inch margins. If the work of others is used or referenced, APA format must be followed. (Please reference the American Psychological Association Publication Manual, 6th edition for information on how to format work appropriately.) Please do not use headers. The autobiographical essay should consider the following elements:

  • What led the applicant to choose social work as a profession and what his/her career goals are
  • Life experiences, family background, and educational experiences as they relate to the applicant’s choice to become a social worker
  • Work and volunteer activities (provide details on social work or human services-related experiences)
  • Leadership abilities and notable achievements
  • Social welfare areas of interest, including how obtaining an MSW would enable the applicant to professionally address these.

Clinical & Ethical Case Study Analysis:
Social Work practice is unique in that person-in-environment is the focus, taking into account the complexity of human experience at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels that either support well-being or provide barriers to individuals’ or families’ abilities to function at optimal levels. The NASW Code of Ethics addresses these complex issues and provides guidance for practice and a framework for resolving ethical dilemmas. There is rarely only one answer or one course of action in the dilemmas social workers face.

Choose one of the four case study options and write an essay identifying factors that should be considered if the applicant were the social worker in the case, including how the NASW Code of Ethics would bear on the case.

Consider the following in writing the essay:

  • Which factors of the client’s case should be considered and why.
  • How would the applicant prioritize competing demands or resolve ethical dilemmas?
  • If there is missing information, how would the applicant go about gathering this information?
  • Focus on the Preamble and Purpose of the Code of Ethics, and then under “Ethical Standards,” reference and cite specific codes from “Social Workers’ Ethical Responsibilities to Clients” section. Reapplicants must choose a different case study in their new applications.

Click here for Case Study options (choose one).

Formatting: the essay should be between four to five double-spaced pages, created in Microsoft Word using Times New Roman 12 point font, with one-inch margins. If the work of others is used or referenced, APA format must be followed.

Timed Social Issues Essay
As part of your application materials, you will be required to complete a timed 60-minute essay on a current social topic. You will be randomized given a list of three topics to choose from and will be asked to argue both for and against the topic. The timed social issues essay is a mandatory part of the MSW application, but has a different completion deadline than the ApplyYourself application. This essay must be completed after submission and independent of the ApplyYourself application.

Within approximately one week after submission of your Apply Yourself application, you will receive an email from Instructure Canvas with a link to the timed essay website. Please add Instructure Canvas to your list of safe senders and also check your spam folder periodically. If you still cannot find the email after about a week of submission of your application, it is your responsibility to contact the MSW office ( Do not call the Canvas Help Desk for assistance.

The email sender and subject line will show as follows:

Note that the Instructure Canvas email will be sent to the email address you used to create your ApplyYourself application. Use the Guest Log In to register and log in with this same email address, unless you created the application using your University of Utah uNID email address. If you did not use your U of U UMail address to create the application, do NOT log into Canvas with your uNID or password. Do not try to access the essay through CIS. The timed essay can only be accessed using your application email address.

You may register for the essay in Canvas first, and return to complete the essay another time to avoid last minute issues. Please note that the initial invite link only works once. Future logins must be done from the Canvas Guest login page

You will have 14 days from the date of the Instructure Canvas email to access the site, read the instructions there, and complete the timed essay. If you have not completed the timed essay within the 14-day period after the Instructure Canvas email was sent to you, your application materials will be considered incomplete. Late essay submissions are not accepted. Having an incomplete application will negatively impact your chances for admittance into the MSW program. Please notify us of any potential scheduling conflicts once you have submitted your application in AY.

Your essay will be graded by our Admissions Committee members on the quality of writing, the clarity of arguments, and the presence of well-written arguments both for and against the proposal.

If you are requesting accommodations on the timed social issues essay, you will need to contact the Center for Disability Services (CDS) prior to submitting application materials. The Center’s contact info is: 162 Union Building, 581-5020 (V/TDD), The Center for Disability Services will work with you and the MSW program to make arrangements for accommodations.

Applicants exhibit their understanding of, preparation for, and commitment to social work through their application materials, including a resume. The MSW Admission Committee is particularly interested in the applicant’s paid work and volunteer experience in human services. Click here to see What Counts As Related Experience.

Click here for MSW Resume Instructions & Template.


MSW application decisions are sent via email and are followed by a separate University of Utah decision, which is posted in the applicant’s AY application after final application review by the Office of Admissions. The university will then send an official acceptance letter containing the applicant’s university ID number in the mail.

Admitted MSW applicants who do not satisfactorily complete the following requirements for admission to the MSW Program will be removed from the program and not allowed to begin or continue the MSW studies, and will need to reapply the following year: Bachelor’s graduation, completion of prerequisite courses, and for Advanced Standing MSW Students, successful completion of all BSW program requirements, including practicum.

Pay your MSW seating fee here.


Admission decisions are based on the professional judgment of the MSW Admission Committee. Applicants with questions or those interested in reapplying and wanting guidance may contact the coordinator for MSW Admissions, Lena Al-Rayess at All admissions decisions are final.


Background Check Information
Applicants should be aware that the College of Social Work does not conduct criminal background checks; however, many human service organizations and agencies require individuals to pass criminal background checks before entering field placements (practicum). Practicum is required for completion of both the BSW and MSW programs. In addition, the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL) may ask about criminal history in the application for licensure and may request an explanation. In some instances, candidates with extensive criminal backgrounds may be unable to secure a license. Questions regarding licensing should be directed to DOPL:


Seating Fee
If admitted, a $150 non-refundable deposit is required by the College of Social Work to confirm acceptance of admission and to hold the student’s place in the MSW Program.


Financial Aid
Applicants should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to the University of Utah by the priority deadline for the year they are seeking admission, even if they have not been notified of admission status by that date. The link can be found on the College’s Financial Aid and Scholarships page. Please contact the University of Utah Financial Aid Office if you have questions relating to the FAFSA form. The form is available October 1.


Scholarship Opportunities
Applicants are encouraged to apply for scholarships through the College of Social Work between February 1 and April 30 of the year for which they are seeking admission, even if they have not been notified of admission status by that date. Students interested in need-based scholarships must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by April 1 to be considered for such funding awards. The scholarship committee will ensure that all students selected as scholarship recipients have been admitted to MSW Program prior to the awarding scholarships. Scholarship decisions are usually made in July. Please see the College’s Financial Aid and Scholarships page for additional information.

Reapplication Process
Reapplicants must submit a new Apply Yourself application, using a different email address than was used for the previous application. Prior applications cannot be resubmitted. Submit all materials as described above, with the following modifications:

  • The autobiographical essay should be updated with what has been done to prepare for reapplication.
  • Submit a new case study analysis essay about a different case.
  • Recommendations can be the same individuals from the original application, but they cannot resubmit their previous recommendation forms.
  • An updated resume, which clearly outlines the number of hours per month and duties for both work and volunteer experiences, is required.
  • At the time of reapplication, applicants should have completed all the prerequisite classes listed in their initial application as needing completion, and any new current year application requirements, such as the timed social issues essay, must also be completed.


Admissions FAQ

  1. Is the GRE/MAT required for admissions? No standardized test is required
  2. Do prerequisites need to completed before I apply? No, they just need to be completed before beginning the program.
  3. Is it necessary to have related experience in order to apply? Lack of related experience is a significant disadvantage. Related experience strengthens applications in many ways and it gives applicants the opportunity to become more familiar with the social work field and to learn how it is different from other mental health professions. Click here to see What Counts As Related Experience.
  4. I have already started an MSW program. Can I transfer? A request to transfer from another MSW program into the Advanced Standing MSW program may, under very specific circumstances, be approved. For details, please contact Lena Al-Rayess, Admissions Coordinator at
  5. Can I transfer credit from courses I have already completed? Regardless of how many related credits have been taken at another institution, the university will only accept up to 6 transfer credit hours. Transferred courses must have a grade of “B” or higher.
  6. I have an unrelated bachelors degree. Would getting a BSW increase my chances of getting admitted to the MSW program? Gaining relevant experience, whether it be paid or volunteer, is more likely to strengthen an application than returning to school for another bachelors. However, in some cases (such as a low undergraduate GPA) completing a BSW may be helpful. If you are interested in discussing the BSW program, please contact, the BSW Advisor.
  7. How much does the program cost? Please see the Tuition Schedules found on the MSW Tuition page. Tuition schedules show cost per credit hour. Students in the Advanced Standing and Two-Year Program can expect to take approximately 15 credit hours a semester. Students in the Three-Year Program will between 6 and 10 credit hours a semester.
  8. Can I start taking MSW courses before officially beginning the program? No, only students currently enrolled in the program can take MSW courses.
  9. Can I start the program in the spring? Because of the sequence of courses the program can only be started in the fall.
  10. Are MSW courses offered online? At this time, all of our courses are offered on campus only.
  11. How can I make an appointment with an advisor to discuss the MSW program? MSW Admissions Coordinator Lena Al-Rayess can be contacted at or 801-581-4428. An appointment can also be scheduled by clicking the “Book Now” button below.

By: David C. Prichard, Ph.D.

This article focuses on the central role that the personal statement plays in the MSW application process. Strategies are presented for writing an effective statement that will highlight and emphasize applicant strengths congruent with the values of particular Schools of Social Work. The author has chaired the MSW Admissions Committee at the University of New England (UNE) over the past three years, and has assisted in the review of several hundred MSW application packages. During this period, the application procedures were completely revamped, and UNE was subsequently acknowledged in 1995 by the Council on Social Work Education in its Site Visit Report for reaffirmation of accreditation as having developed an admissions process that is "one of the more elaborate, perhaps, in social work education," and for using " . . . as primary sources of decisions, its applicants' personal statements and references." It is from this background that the author offers practical insights and suggestions for writing a personal statement that will increase the likelihood of a good match between student applicant and MSW program.

The Admission Process

Admission policies and procedures among Schools of Social Work vary widely; so too, do the criteria used to evaluate MSW applicants. In general, schools use GRE scores and academic transcripts as quantitative measures to predict academic success. The personal statement, letters of reference, and the application form (including employment and other social work-related experience) are qualitative indicators that may be used to suggest the "fit" between the applicant and the particular school. As the validity of GRE scores comes under increasing criticism (Donahoe & Thyer, 1992), Schools of Social Work, like UNE, are increasingly relying on the personal statement as a qualitative measure of the likelihood of an applicant's "success" with a particular MSW curriculum.

UNE may be representative of a more heavy emphasis on narrative to evaluate MSW applicants. In this approach, two faculty review each student application on the following 6 criteria:

  • work-related (paid and volunteer) and life experiences;
  • meaning attached by applicant to work-related (paid and volunteer) and life experiences;
  • previous academic and professional training;
  • composition and content of personal statement;
  • experience with and understanding of human dignity, empowerment, social justice, and oppression.

GRE scores are not considered, and the use of undergraduate GPAs is minimized. The faculty reviewers are made familiar in advance with the application materials, particularly regarding where data related to each of the six evaluative criteria may be located within the materials. Reviewers are instructed to consult the student's personal statement for data in all categories but references; the data in all categories are in turn measured against the School's mission statement. Given this approach to evaluating MSW applications, applicants should craft their personal statements carefully, keeping the School's mission statement in mind.

The Personal Statement and the School Mission Statement

The personal statement should reflect careful consideration of the schools to which the applicant has chosen to apply. It gives applicants the opportunity to highlight experiences and reasons for their interest in the field, and allows the school's Admissions Committee to evaluate the compatibility between the values and goals of the applicant and those of the school, while maintaining and assuring diversity within the student body. Without question, well-developed personal statements have contributed to the acceptance of many applicants; poorly written ones to the non-acceptance.

The values and goals of Schools of Social Work vary greatly, and applicants should seek schools whose mission statements fit well with their own values and goals for practice. What are the values and principles that form the foundation of the school? Applicants should reflect upon these carefully. What do they mean? If a school emphasizes the concepts of oppression, social justice, empowerment, dignity, compassion, and respect, what do these mean and how has the life of the applicant been affected in these areas? One of the tasks of the applicant is to tap into her internalized experience of these values to allow the richness of her life to come alive.

The purpose of a well-written personal statement is three-fold. First, it should describe how the applicant's interest in social work developed; second, it needs to consider the applicant's perception of personal strengths and areas in need of development in relation to becoming a professional social worker; and third, it should describe an understanding of the school's mission statement in relation to the applicant's experience and vision of professional social work.

What events in her total life experiences have led the applicant to the field of social work? What is her story, and how did it lead her to apply to this specific school? This is the opportunity to show the link between what may appear on the surface to be disparate life experiences. It is the chance for the applicant to narrate her story and come alive to the faculty reviewer and become a living, thinking, feeling human being with a life full of meaningful experiences.

A Case Example

Using the values of the mission of the UNE School of Social Work, let's examine how an applicant might incorporate the values of the School to carefully craft a summary paragraph in a personal statement. The mission statement of the UNE School of Social Work states, in part, a commitment ". . . to the values of human dignity, individual and cultural diversity, individual and collective self-determination, and social justice . . . to struggle against oppression including all forms of discrimination, social and economic injustice, and violence . . . assessment of social, psychological, economic and organizational oppression, (and) their impact on people's lives, and the strengths people have developed to endure, resist, and change . . . and to promote human relationships grounded in mutuality, compassion, and dignity."

An applicant might present her life and professional experiences using the language and terminology consistent with the values of the stated mission of the School. A paragraph in the personal statement, then, might read as follows:

The values that the School presents in its mission statement are not just words for me. As a lesbian, I have lived the oppression of a society grounded in heterosexist patriarchy, and have experienced firsthand the social and economic injustices suffered by my women and lesbians friends, as well as the working poor. A quiet person by nature, I have discovered a voice that I did not know I had. I have added my voice to those seeking equal rights for same sex partners and continue my struggle to receive health care benefits for my partner of 15 years. I have come to recognize and value the strengths and resiliencies I have developed by necessity to survive the neglect and abuse of my childhood and use these in my ongoing struggle against the discrimination and societal injustices that I experience as a woman and as a lesbian.

Notice how this excerpt from a fictional applicant allows the applicant to come alive to the reader in a passionate, enthusiastic manner while clearly using the language and the values presented in the mission statement of the School. It should be clear that the values of the School and those of the student appear compatible and that there might be a good match here.

In the following fictional excerpt, note the apparent incongruence between the values and goals of the applicant and those of the School, suggesting a poor fit between the School and applicant.

In conclusion, I have always been intrigued by psychological issues, and have actually done quite a lot of reading in the field. I feel that I am an excellent communicator and that I would be able to help clients deal with their problems. My ultimate goal is to become part of a group private practice, and although I am concerned about the current insurance problems and third party reimbursement concerns, I believe that there continues to be a need for MSWs to help people with their psychological and social problems. I believe that the MSW is the most powerful degree to have to provide psychotherapy to clients, and that we will become increasingly recognized by HMOs and managed care companies as the most effective providers. This is the degree that will most aptly enable me, as a psychotherapist in private practice, to help those afflicted with mental illness to become more productive members of society.

Either of these excerpts may be acceptable and, perhaps, even appropriate, depending on the School to which the applicant is applying; however, given the summary of the values of the above School, the first excerpt clearly represents a better fit than the second. In the first we experience a strengths-based perspective and a genuine sense of the struggles and of the "voice" of the applicant-the person behind the words; in the second, we see a more traditional pathology-based perspective and an emphasis on the career ambitions of the applicant.


Four general recommendations are offered to applicants. First, they need to come to a clear understanding of their own values and career goals, and how these are informed by their total life experiences. Second they should come to a clear understanding of the values and goals of the School of Social Work to which they plan to apply. This may be accomplished through faculty, field instructor, and alumni interviews, review of mission statements, review of past core curriculum syllabi, and a library search and review of the literature produced by current faculty. Third, they need to determine which Schools have values that are compatible with their own. Fourth, they need to develop personal statements that reflect the influences in their lives that contributed to an interest in the profession of social work. These statements should reflect a clear understanding of the mission statement of the particular school.

In summary, the purpose of the application process is to give the applicant and the school the chance to screen one another. Applications should be completed only after careful examination of the mission and goals of particular schools, and personal statements need to show a clear understanding of and connection to the values and goals of the school and its curriculum. Perhaps the most useful recommendation for potential applicants is to take the time to reflect on and write out the values and beliefs that guide their lives, inform their behavior, and provide meaning to their life experiences, and to seek out schools that are compatible to these. This done, the personal statement should flow naturally and genuinely, because it will be based on the knowledge, truth, wisdom, and authenticity of personal life experience.

David C. Prichard, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Social Work and Chair of the MSW Admissions Committee at the University of New England.

Copyright © 1996 White Hat Communications. All rights reserved. From THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER, Fall 1996, Vol. 3, No. 2. For reprints of this or other articles from THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER (or for permission to reprint), contact Linda Grobman, publisher/editor, at P.O. Box 5390, Harrisburg, PA 17110-0390, or at

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