Guide for the First Year Social Work Student

Aug 21, 2020

By Emily Glazer

Emily Glazer

Emily Glazer

Congratulations! If you are reading this that means you are probably starting your first year of school as a social work student or maybe you’re currently in social work school, looking into possible careers and majors. Now that we are getting towards the end of summer and transitioning into fall, that means some are going back to school! If you are a first-year social work student what can you expect?

The first day, week, month, even semester of school can bring a variety of emotions. I hope these tips, tricks, and information on social work can help you to feel more relaxed about beginning your journey.

Planning Your Schedule

This is the fun part! You are taking the first steps towards your next chapter in life and these are the first steps towards your future career. You will probably work on creating a schedule with your advisor for tbackpack with notebooks, hand sanitizer, facemask - guide for the first year social work studenthe upcoming semester—and map out a rough plan of how the rest of your semesters will look. Here are some pointers for creating your schedule and just remember, your advisor is there to help you with any question you may have along the way:

  • If classes are on campus, (make sure to read your school’s most updated COVID-19 policy) give yourself a break when you have a full day of classes. You might not think you will need it, but you will.
  • Give yourself enough time to walk to different parts of the campus. If you have a social work class on one end of campus, but then you have a prerequisite on the opposite end of campus, make sure you allow yourself the time to get to your next class. When it comes to walking across campus you want to give yourself a cushion—just in case you stay after your previous class, the weather is bad, whatever it is, having time to get to your classes can help a lot.
  • Choose electives that interest you! Your elective classes are there for you to explore what your school has to offer outside of your chosen major. Some electives will be specific to your major, but the others you choose are up to you, so take the ones that you think you will enjoy the most. Who knows? You might end up double majoring in it or having it become your minor. That is what happened to me. I ended up becoming interested in sociology after my introduction class, took the electives, and continued on that track for a minor.
  • Understand the style of the class in which it is taught. There’s face to face instruction, online, and hybrid. What are all of these? In face to face classes, you’ll meet on a regular basis in the classroom. This is where you will have your lectures, group work, in class assignments, and more. When it comes to online classes, you will never show up to a physical classroom and your professor will present you with Power Points, discussion boards, assignments, and exams all virtually. Hybrid classes are a combination of face to face and online instruction. Your instructor will lay out all the dates you need to be in the classroom and when you are not in the classroom, you will be expected to do class virtually.

Staying Organized

How do you juggle classes, work, and everything that comes in between? Maybe you really want to go to that club meeting at 12:00 but you have a 2:30 class and the paper is due, and you haven’t finished it yet. What do you do and how do you stay organized as a college student?

  • Buy a planner! This will be your best friend. Write down all your class times, work schedule, social plans, and whatever else it is that is keeping you busy as soon as you know them. That way you don’t accidentally double book or miss an important deadline. Having a planner to refer back to makes life a lot easier. (Helpful tip, I also liked keeping a daily schedule in the front that had my class days, times, and room numbers. It really helped me at the beginning of each semester!)
  • Refer to your syllabi and keep printed copies on hand for each class. Your professors will give you a copy of their syllabus on the first day of class and may make it available online before then. The syllabus not only contains all the class rules, procedures, and guidelines for that specific professor, but it has a calendar for the semester. All your due dates will be listed with instructions to that specific assignment. The dates of your exams and possible days off will also be listed. Make sure to go through your syllabi and mark down any date in your planner and highlight the information that you find important. Keep in mind that some details in your syllabi might change as the semester progresses. Reading your syllabi might feel overwhelming at first, but once you get adjusted and really figure out the style of the class it will all become easier.
  • Get your textbooks before the first day of class and stay on top of your readings. Most likely, there will be weekly readings and staying on top of them helps you to come prepared to your classes and have a better understanding of the material.
  • Don’t overbook yourself. College is filled with clubs, activities on campus, friends, and of course classes. Just make sure you are not taking on more than you can handle. You don’t have to be in every club and take part in each and every activity. Just try out what interests you.

Getting a Taste of Social Work

You have your planner, your syllabi, your textbooks, and have already made it to your first club meeting, that is great! Now what?

Your first semester of social work classes are going to be very exciting! These are your classes where you are going to get an overview as to what exactly social work is, how it began, and you’ll get an understanding for all the different types of social workers out there. It might feel as if there is a lot of information to absorb, but by taking it one class at a time and reviewing your notes each week, everything will come together.

There is also no pressure to know what type of social worker you want to become. There are many different types of social workers out there and you are just learning. Chances are, what you think you want, may not be what you go into. Before I started school, I thought I wanted to work in child welfare, but now, here I am getting a master’s degree in counseling on the path to becoming a school-based therapist!

Starting college is an exciting time, this is your first step to becoming a social worker. Don’t be afraid to ask questions along the way. Your professors and advisors are all there to help you. Enjoy the ride!

Here’s to a great school year. I hope it is filled with lots of good vibes and positivity!

Reprinted with permission from Social and Relevant: All things relevant to the modern social worker, by a social worker. You can reach Emily Glazer at and follower her @social_and_relevant on Instagram.