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School sees historic 10-year high in MSW applications

Sharon Holmes Thomas
Sharon Holmes Thomas, MSW

Interest in the UNC School of Social Work’s MSW program hit a 10-year high with nearly 735 applications submitted for the 2021-22 academic year, a 27% jump over last year.

This year’s submissions also amount to the third consecutive year the School has experienced an increase in applications, which School leaders still largely attribute to the elimination of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) from the admissions process. Until the fall of 2018, Carolina’s MSW program was among the last of the nation’s Top 20 schools of social work that still required candidates to take the standardized test to be considered for enrollment.

The GRE’s removal has certainly helped the School attract students who initially saw the test as a barrier for enrollment, said Sharon Holmes Thomas, assistant dean for recruitment, admissions and financial aid. At the same time, this year’s group of applicants have included many more professionals who are ready for a career change, she said.

For some, the push to return to School followed the COVID-19 pandemic’s severe damage to the economy and decimation of various employment sectors. For others, there’s a need to be a part of the change they want to see in the world, Thomas said.

“I think that part of the impact we’re seeing in applications is from the racial reckoning and the social justice movement in our country, which revitalized with the George Floyd murder, the Black Lives Matter movement and the Me, Too movement,” Thomas said. “I think people are really reassessing their careers and wanting to pursue their areas of interest and their passions.

“These last 12 to 14 months at home have given people time to think about their priorities,” she continued. “So, I think we’re seeing a lot more interest in the field from people who want to make a difference.”

The School has offered admission to more than 25% of its total applicants, with a goal of enrolling nearly 180 students into the full time, advanced standing, 20-month advanced standing and 3-year programs this fall, Thomas said. The result is an impressive cohort of new students, she added.

“I am amazed by the talent, the dedication and the commitment already demonstrated within each of these applicants, and I am excited for what they’re going to bring to the program,” she said. “I am excited for the faculty to meet them, and I’m excited for them to meet each other and to start this journey together. It is a really outstanding group.”