Social work: an amazing profession where you can really notice the difference you make on a day to day basis. But how do you become a social worker?

A degree qualification is a must but there are several routes you can take. You can study a full time undergraduate degree in social work which can take 3 to 4 years to complete as a student.

In addition, some local authorities partner up with their local university to offer a part time social work degree while you work for the local authority in a social care setting. This can take up to 6 years to achieve, but can save on costs as the local authority may sponsor your degree and pay you to work, thus significantly reducing your student debt

It’s worth a chat with your local authority to see what they offer.

If you decide to take this route, take a look at Studential's library of social work personal statement examples to help you complete your UCAS application.

Alternatively, if you’ve already studied an undergraduate degree in a non-related subject e.g. art history, geography etc., you can then take a two-year full time postgraduate degree in social work to allow you to swap careers into this field or you can study part-time while working for a local authority in a social care role.

Extra specific initiatives include Step up to Social Work, an intensive 14- month postgraduate programme and Frontline a two-year work-based programme focused on children’s social work.

Many universities offer social work degrees and it can be hard to decide which one to choose.

Firstly, you need to ensure your degree is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and you’ll also need to pass background checks via the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service).

According to The Complete University Guide's Subject Tables 2017, the top universities for social work degrees are:

  1. University of Stirling
  2. University of Edinburgh
  3. Lancaster University
  4. University of Bath
  5. University of Birmingham
  6. UWE Bristol
  7. Swansea University
  8. Robert Gordon University
  9. University of Kent
  10. Queen's University Belfast

You can look for other social work courses via UCAS, using their search tool.

Once you have found programmes that you like the look of, you'll then you’ll need to find the time to research and visit the individual university to discover the course that best suits you. 

Entry requirements for an undergraduate social work degree are varied as no particular subjects are required at level 3 (A-level or equivalent), but A-levels in psychology, sociology and law or a level 3/4 vocational qualification in health and social care should give you a head start on gaining a place on your undergraduate course. You will however need at least 5 GCSEs including English, maths and a science as well.

Social work degrees are distinctly practical affairs, with over 200 days of work placements in a variety of settings to give you experience in as many areas of social work as possible.

From residential homes, refugee/asylum seeker centres and hospitals to people’s own homes, children’s care homes and adoption and fostering centres.

Social work degrees can also focus on homelessness, physical and learning disabilities, mental health issues and drug, alcohol and substance use with people of all ages from babies and teenagers to adults and elderly people.

As social workers can be on call at night or working as part of a 24-hour service team in a health centre, your work placement will not be in a 9 to 5 office environment.

The good news is that you may be eligible for funding for your social work degree (undergraduate or postgraduate) either through your employer or as a bursary through the NHS.

It’s worth noting there are 2 types of bursaries; social work bursaries where your degree is 100% social work and NHS bursaries if it’s a joint social work degree with nursing or an equivalent subject.

These bursaries can support both your course fees and your living costs and although the bursary won’t cover 100% of your costs it should reduce your student debt considerably. You can then apply to Student Finance England for further financial support just like other students.

Once you complete your undergraduate degree you will still need to complete your first 12 months in work with the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) and continue with annual CPD (Continuing Professional Development) to keep your skills and knowledge current.

Further information

For more help and advice on getting into social work as a career, and the responsibilities involved, check out these online resources:

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