A few months ago I applied for the social work program at the university I attend. It’s a two year program, and they only take in 20 – 25 students each semester. I filled out my application, got two letters of recommendation, wrote a resume charting all my volunteer experiences, sent in official transcripts, and wrote a personal statement summing up who I am as a person, and why I should be accepted into the social work program in 3 – 5 pages. I turned in my application and have been waiting impatiently ever since. I frequented the mailbox 3 – 4 times a day in the hopes that my golden ticket to the world of other people’s problems and dismal pay would be waiting for me. I imagined how they would tell me that I got into the program.
Dear Captain Oats,
We are pleased to announce that you have greatly exceeded our rigid standards for acceptance. We have never had an applicant who exhibited such charm, such intelligence, such empathy, or such brilliance. We would be honored to have you study in our institution. Don’t worry about tuition; your qualifications are such that we’ve got that covered. Don’t worry about grades either; we understand that your level of social genius is immune to the lame-brain structures of tests and a grading scale.
Top echelons of social work
Certainly my greatness would not warrant a generic response, and I could not wait to get my personalized letter of acceptance. Every day I would get home from work, race down the drive-way and check the mailbox only to find catalogs and bills addressed to my parents. My excitement and anticipation for a letter of acceptance was suddenly replaced with a slightly more desperate need for a “we messed up, you really got in” letter. I didn’t get into the program, and I’m pretty sure I know why. My personal statement was dreadful. I wrote it about 5 minutes before I turned in the application, I was limited to only five pages, and I had the balls to end it with “Taylor the social worker, it just sounds right.” The essay was cheesy, unfocused, and hurried, which is perfectly acceptable for a lame blog, but not so for an application that will be read by people who don’t care about cutesy and topical, and whose decision will shape your future. I was crushed when I read the words “We are not able to accept your application at this time.” I cursed and threw the paper back onto my desk with enough force to change the word order into sentence that says “We are able to accept your application at this time.” I was pissed that they only took a limited number of students, I was pissed that I’ve busted my butt to get good grades, I was pissed that they couldn’t see past my lame personal essay and see that I really do belong in the social work program. I felt discouraged and lost because I was so certain that social work was what I am going to be doing as a career.
Monday night I was where you will find me every Monday night, at Kids Book Club in The Road Home. The theme of the day was fish, and I had just gone down to the copy room to make some copies of coloring pages. I was walking back to the room when I noticed the mother of a child exiting the room, then stopping at the door to continue observing the boy she had just reprimanded. She noticed me coming, and realized that she was blocking my path and she said “Sorry, I’m just watching Mark. They’re supposed to be reading, right? They’re not supposed to be messing around?”
“Yeah” I replied “But we don’t really have much luck getting them to focus on books for the full hour that they’re supposed to be reading. I usually make a deal with them, that if they read a certain number of books, then they can color or play.”
“I worry about Mark, he’s been getting some bad habits. He’s been getting into trouble.”
”At school?” I asked
“Yes, he’s been hitting and kicking other kids. I worry that he’s hanging around with a bad crowd of boys.”
“I see, well I’ll keep an eye on him and make sure that he’s behaving himself tonight.”
“Thanks, I just worry that he’s getting in with a bad group of kids.”
Hearing this mother’s concern for her son, Mark, reaffirmed to me that social work will one day be my career. This mother taught me a lesson: both mothers in poverty, and mothers like my own are striving for the same goal - get your kid a better life than your own. How easy it is for everyone to attain that goal is debatable, but the desire is there. It’s little lessons like these that I learned in Ghana, and that I continue to learn in my current work with the homeless children of Salt Lake City. These lessons are much more valuable than any theories that I could read from a text book or hear from a professor. This is reality. Real people living with real situations with no real solutions at their disposal. There will always be real people living in real situations, and if I can write an intelligent, reasonable personal essay, maybe then I will be accepted to the social work program, and eventually come up with real solutions for the people and situations I work with. I’ll take this failure into stride, learn from it, and try again next time better equipped to convince them of my brilliance. Taylor the social worker, it just sounds right.