A Day in the Life: Tips for First-Year MSW@USC Students

Congratulations! You are officially a student of one of the top 10 social work graduate programs in the country! Your commitment to this program will teach you to help people and change lives, and this is something to be celebrated. As students in the MSW@USC, we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, and I encourage everyone to seize the opportunity to take pride in your work as you help shape the future of social work. Make friends. Ask questions. Reach out to your fellow classmates. Stay positive, and don’t sweat the small stuff! As I near the end of my second semester, I can tell you that you’re in for an amazing adventure, and I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned along the way that might help you get the most out of your experience. I wish I’d thought about a few of these things before I started the program!

Tip #1: What NOT To Wear

Smile … you’re on candid camera! My first words of wisdom are about what to wear while attending class in the Virtual Academic Center. I know, a girl writing about clothes … shocking! But, as my momma used to say, “Darlin’, presentation is everything, so dress for class.” The truth is, you could be sitting in your underwear, and no one would know, just as long as you look professional from the bellybutton up. So put on a nice shirt, maybe even a jacket. A collared shirt is ideal for men or women, and ladies … choose your jewelry modestly! Always remember: Your professors and classmates can see you, so make an effort to present yourself in a professional manner. Wearing pajamas to class doesn’t make a positive impression or suggest to everyone that you take your studies seriously. And, if you simply can’t stand the thought of dressing up for class, wear USC Trojan clothing instead. It says, “I belong at USC,” and it’s more appropriate than pajamas or sweats!

Tip #2: The Importance of Peace and Quiet

Set your computer up where there are no distractions. I learned this the hard way. I don’t know if it’s because my house is built of lead or kryptonite, but for some reason, I have a terrible Internet connection everywhere except at my dining room table. As a result, I’ve had to set up my workstation with the refrigerator and the kitchen in the background. Unfortunately, this means I frequently see my kids opening the fridge while I’m logged in, giving a birdseye view of the contents of my kitchen to my professors and classmates. Note to self … my classmates are there to learn, not to watch my kids rummage around in the kitchen fixing a snack. If you set up in your bedroom, make your bed. If you set up in an office, clean up the space behind you. An office with stacks of paperwork and unorganized books reflects badly on you. Again, remember what mom says, “Presentation is everything.”

Tip #3: Avoid Distractions

It was difficult in my first semester to get the labradoodle, the cat and the two boys to understand that my computer is a two-way mirror into our home whenever I’m logged into the Virtual Academic Center, but they are learning. My kids have even made a sign for the front door that says, “Mom is in class online.”

Put the kids and pets away!

Tip #4: Pace Yourself!

Life is crazy these days, and it seems “emergencies” pop up every time I have a paper due. I admit I have stayed up all night to finish a paper, and it was awful. I highly recommend telling yourself that your paper is due 24 hours before the actual due date, so you have a cushion when life inevitably hits the fan! Dedicate small amounts of time each day to your schoolwork, and you won’t find yourself burning the midnight oil in a panic. And if you do make the same mistake I did and end up writing all night, ice works great for the bags under your eyes prior to class! The best way to avoid these mistakes is to get plenty of rest. You’ll feel better, look better… and you won’t make one of those oh-so attractive faces trying to stifle a yawn while you’re on camera!

Tip #5: Academic Writing

Learn APA style ASAP! As a “non-traditional” student (code for older female), I had not written a formatted paper in almost twenty years. My first semester, I spent hours writing and researching a paper I felt was really good. But the truth is, I didn’t take the time to learn how to do APA style properly, and my grade suffered because of it. YouTube has lessons to watch. USC has tutoring available. Purdue Owl has great resources for APA. Learn APA!

Tip #6: Record Your Successes (and Failures)

Keep a journal of your experiences as you progress through the program. Post about your successes on your profile page in the Virtual Academic Center. You never know who might be looking at your profile … such as a prospective future employer.

After all, before you know it, you’ll complete the program and be ready for an opportunity to help shape the future of social work!

Learn More about MSW@USC and how it can help you become a social worker and make a difference in your local community.