According to University Campus Suffolk social work admissions tutor Martin Fookes, talking about your personality should not be the dominant feature of your personal statement. It’s your understanding of what social work is all about, and how you reflect on your experiences, skills, and prior reading that will indicate whether or not you are sufficiently well-prepared.
Here are some more tips gathered from tutors (with special thanks to staff at Anglia Ruskin, Leeds, Portsmouth, and Sheffield Hallam Universities, and University Campus Suffolk). You won't be able to cover them all, but they will help you to focus your application, or perhaps to see what you need to do to strengthen it.
- Your statement should demonstrate an understanding of what social work as a profession is all about – along with the skills, knowledge, and experience you will bring to it.
- Discuss what you’ve learned or what's inspired you from relevant books, magazines, websites, documentaries, or social issues reported in the media, but perhaps steer away from talking about popular literature.
- Going to university open days or conferences and talking to students and tutors will offer you some extra insights into the course.
- It’s okay to talk about personal experiences that shaped your interest in the degree, especially if you’re a mature applicant, but be prepared to talk openly about it at interview.
- Don't focus your interest on a narrow or specialist area of social work, but show a willingness to engage with issues that span the entire spectrum of society, including the elderly.
- Make the most of every opportunity to gain experience of supporting people: in care homes, community schemes, youth clubs, play schemes, holiday clubs, after-school clubs, nurseries, mentoring, anti-bullying schemes, or working with the elderly or people with a disability.
- Always demonstrate what you’ve learned from your experience, and how it has helped you develop appropriate skills or qualities.
- Talk to social workers about the work they do, what they like about it, and what recent developments have impacted on their work, and reflect on this in your statement.
- Relevant transferable skills from employment or extra-curricular activities could also be worth mentioning.
- Demonstrate your resilience and the ability to analyse situations critically.
- You should also be able to show values of non-discriminatory behaviour and an understanding of the effects of disadvantage in society.
- Do also reflect on an aspect of your academic learning, and explain what it has taught you about social work, or any appropriate skills it has helped you develop – and if it’s relevant to you, perhaps mention barriers you've overcome yourself.
- Think about solid illustrative examples of your skills in action, especially if those skills are relevant to social work – organisation, committment, motivation, being able to work effectively with others, and so on.
- Try to avoid clichés – say more than just 'I have a passion for helping people' or 'I am a people person,' by demonstrating how and why. This is a career that will require you to work objectively within professional boundaries.