I had a lot of doubt I would ever get into grad school because I started out with a GED and a ton of awful grades and Ws from my first attempt at community college at the turn of the century. I was in active addiction, it was really bad and to be clear that's different from struggling to learn how to balance partying and study time, true addiction is really more of a mental disorder that is chronic in nature, so my life went straight into the dumps for about 10 years. So that was the starting point, I tell this story to anyone who doubts in their ability to turn it around or who thinks they are too old or whatever the rationale that your mind is cooking up that will keep you where you are at.
I got sober at 31 years old, and 6 days later started community college majoring in psychology, and I met a sober friend who was also taking psychology at my CC, she was 4 years sober at the time and in her mid 40's, and we took classes together and helped each other out. I built up to a full time status over a summer and 2 semesters, and proved myself wrong over and over as all the things my head used to tell me about not being able to do well in school or to pass classes like math, or to stay sober, were all really just imaginary. I also started a second AS degree program about half way though in addiction studies so that I could work as a counselor in addiction treatment, but at this point was still planning to pursue an MFT or PsyD program. This addiction counseling program was taught by social workers MSW and LCSWs and was in the Human Services department. Actually the AS degree I got would have counted as the half way point into a BSW, but anyways, the point is I was exposed to social workers and that is when I really started to shift from wanting to go into psychology in graduate school to social work. With an MSW and a license (LCSW) you can do most anything that any counseling psychology or MFT therapist can do, but also can work in many other settings and in a variety of roles.
2 years after starting I finished my AA in psychology and was half way done with my AS in addiction studies, I transferred to UC Irvine majoring in Psychology and Social Behavior along with my sober friend, a great major for anyone going into social work or masters level professional psychology programs. I have loved the program at UCI as it was a good mix of application and research and feel I learned soo much. The end of my first year at UCI I completed that addiction studies program that I was taking at my CC and started working as an addiction counselor part time while completing my degree requirements at UCI for my BA. It was challenging to do both programs at once, which included internships, but it was possible and really helped me to expand my limits,preparing me for graduate programs that require intensive internships at the same time as intensive academics.
I struggled with which graduate program was the best fit for me, but really started looking into it the summer before I transferred to UCI. I knew that you had to apply a year in advance to graduate programs normally which was the end of my upcoming junior year, and I wanted a year to prepare so it was a bit odd transitioning into UCI and already starting to look onward to the future, but that's what I did. I attended all the info sessions for programs in my area that I was interested in, and really researched each one to see what my best options were and how to make myself stand out. I made a point to try and meet faculty when possible, when they had grad fairs I would reach out to them as well and say hello. I also joined all the facebook groups for the grad schools I was interested in, followed key faculty on twitter, and tried to make my name stand out every once and a while by simply liking posts or making very simple comments that showed support.
I was able to look at previous year's MSW program applications and personal statement prompts and started drafts that began to brain storm some of the thoughts I would want to express in my future applications in the summer following my Junior year. I got the best academic and professional recommenders I could, which were my supervisors from 2 internships and the LCSW who was the professor for many of my addiction studies classes at my CC. This way the MSW program would be hearing from people who knew my abilities and personality, and they could maybe get an idea of the kind of student I would be. I had my personal statements revised multiple times, reviewed by friends who were professors and people like that, and even got some help from students who offered to read my statements who were in the current cohort for my top choice MSW program. I really recommend trying to reach out to the current cohorts of the masters program you are interested in, usually they have a facebook group and a little networking, not blowing them up or bugging them, but just making a few contacts can be a huge help.
By the time applications opened for the CSU campuses, in my case CSULB and CSUF and for UCLA all my applications were done, all my recommendations were done, all my transcripts were sent, etc etc so that on day 1 I could just fill out the details on the application, upload my documents and press send. Some schools give preference to early applicants so it's good to show that you can get these things done earlier if possible in my opinion.
I got into all 3 schools, I heard back early from all of them, and I settled on UCLA. When I went to the welcome day event, I met tons of faculty and students I already knew, and they knew me by name as well, and it resulted in just a wonderful time feeling very much at home. I really think it pays off to reach out ahead of time to these programs and get yourself out there, they wont bite, I think they like it when people show interest like that.
Now I'm 1 month away from graduation from UCI, I was notified I will be receiving "summa cum laude" latin honors, and what's really cool is that my sober friend is also graduating summa cum laude. She's heading to an MFT program at a great school and doing very well, and we're going to sit together at commencement, two people in recovery who got a second chance at life. It goes to show you can do a lot better than your head might tell you, if you can believe it. I think the key to my success in school has been always scheduling time to accomplish things and being disciplined enough to actually follow through the majority of the time. It took going to every class and not ditching, or at least keeping any classes that I missed to a minimum, and it took not taking short cuts with the work that had to be done, especially in complicated classes like math. I mean I started out in pre-algebra and had to work my way up to statistics to qualify to get my AA, it took a lot of youtube videos, detailed notes, doing the homework, and sitting there for hours on end till I understood some of those concepts, but now that it's all done... I'm glad and I'm glad I didn't waste that time.
In conclusion I'll share the most important part of this to me is that I found my true self though recovery from addiction and through this academic journey in school. I have been a better person to others, I've made my amends, I've found a profession that seeks to improve the lot of others, and life has taken on a new meaning. Thanks for reading, my best to you on your journey, any questions please PM or ask anytime I'd be happy to share my experience if it might help.