How do I get into social work?
You need an approved social work qualification – either a BA undergraduate degree or a postgraduate masters degree – to register as a social worker. You’ll also need to be able to explain why you want to go into social work and what you have to offer, as well as being able to give examples that show you have the emotional resilience needed to do the job.
You’ll need some experience of social work or social care before applying, which could be obtained through paid work, placements or volunteering. Personal experience such as caring for a friend or relative could also be relevant.
You could gain relevant experience by supporting people in care homes, youth clubs, play schemes or after-school clubs, by being involved in mentoring or anti-bullying schemes, or by working with the elderly or people with a disability.
Undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in social work
To get onto an undergraduate social work degree in England, you’ll typically need five GCSEs including English and maths and at least two A levels, or an equivalent qualification such as the NVQ level 3 in health and social care. It may help if you have studied social science subjects at A level or equivalent, or other subjects that have developed your ability to communicate. However, there are no standard subject requirements. Find out more about the skills required for social work from our advice on whether this career would suit you.
As part of your application you’re likely to need to write a personal statement. Steer clear of observations such as ‘I have a passion for helping people’, and instead reflect on how your experience has helped you to develop the skills needed for social work, such as organisation, motivation and the ability to work well with others. Show that you have the ability to analyse situations critically and solve problems.
Undergraduate social work degrees take three years full-time, while a postgraduate masters degree in social work usually takes two years. You can find out more about studying social work and the funding arrangements from our advice on the university route into social work.
Registering as a social worker
Social workers must be registered with one of the following organisations, depending on where in the UK they are based:
- Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the organisation responsible for social care regulation in England
- Care Council for Wales
- Northern Ireland Social Care Council
- Scottish Social Services Council
You are only eligible for registration if you have an approved qualification – either a social work undergraduate degree or a masters degree in social work.
Support for newly qualified social workers
Arrangements for newly qualified social workers vary across the UK. In England, newly qualified social workers can improve and develop their practice by taking part in the Assessed and Supported Year of Employment (ASYE) scheme, but this is not compulsory. However, all social workers are expected to take responsibility for their own professional development and keep a record of this. From time to time the HCPC carries out an audit of a sample of social workers to ensure that this is being done.
In Wales, newly qualified social workers are expected to undertake a year-long consolidation programme, during which time all of their work is under clear supervision and managerial support.
In Scotland, there is not a specific scheme to support social workers in the first year of work after qualification. However, they are expected to undertake 24 days of training and learning within twelve months of registering with the Scottish Social Services Council, and five days of this must relate to the protection of adults or children from harm.
In Northern Ireland, newly qualified social workers must undertake the assessed year in employment (AYE) in order to become fully registered with the Northern Ireland Social Care Council. During the course of the year the employer is expected to provide regular supervision and allocate a range of work that will enable social workers to build on their skills. At the end of the year, social workers must provide comprehensive evidence of their professional development.
Can I get into social work without a degree?
You cannot become a social worker without an approved qualification – a BA degree or postgraduate masters in social work. However, you may be able to find a job as a social work assistant without a degree. Here are some examples of the typical tasks that social work assistants undertake:
- Advising clients and their families about where to go for help and support
- Keeping records and writing reports
- Making appointments
- Visiting people at home to check how they are
- Putting together care plans or following a social worker’s care plan
You could also consider applying for jobs in social care. This is a very broad field including a range of roles in areas ranging from providing personal care to supporting people with disabilities into employment.
There are no fixed qualification requirements for the majority of these roles, so they are potentially wide open to school leavers. You can take care-related qualifications at different levels and your employer may support you to do this while you are working. You can find out more from our advice on jobs and employers in social work.