Becoming a Social Worker. Frequently asked questions.

How do I become a social worker?

Social workers do a very responsible job and will have undertaken training at a higher level before going into practice. To become a social worker, you will need to gain a General Social Care Council-recognised qualification. In England, this is the GSCC-accredited degree in social work. This is a professional degree - it is different to many of the other degrees as it is a requirement that students have 200 days working in social care agencies. Your practice while on placement will be assessed by experienced social workers.

What are the entry requirements?

To enrol onto a professional social work degree, you will need good English and Maths - at least a grade 'C' GCSE or equivalent, and be able to demonstrate that you possess the personal and intellectual qualities needed to be a social worker. Many courses require you to have qualifications at advanced GCSE level. Other recognised qualifications are Access courses for mature students offered by further education colleges. Checks will be made on literacy, numeracy, criminal convictions and health. The exact entry requirements will vary, depending on the university you are applying to, so it is best to check with them first.

Universities are keen to widen participation in higher education and in social work to all members of the community. Access and support systems are well established in the majority of universities to meet the study needs of students from diverse backgrounds, including disabled people, those with dyslexia, mature students and those from different racial and cultural backgrounds.

They are keen to recruit people who can demonstrate their concern about issues such as child and elder abuse, poverty, physical and mental ill health, and can demonstrate a commitment to doing something about them. Social work professionals promote social change for people who are experiencing stress due to poverty and disadvantage.  

How long will it take?

The degree course is three years full-time or 4 years part-time, but some universities will offer graduates who have a related degree (sociology, psychology, social studies, etc) to complete a masters degree in two years. Some may run courses on a part-time basis or through open or distance learning. Many universities offer employment-based routes in partnership with local employers.   Some employers sponsor students to study the degree through their local universities or the Open University.

What subjects should I study if I want to do the degree?

Social workers work with a wide variety of people in different settings, so a broad range of qualifications can be a useful background. Good written and verbal communications are essential. Vocational GCSEs and A' levels may offer an interesting route, which combine general education with work on health and social care issues. 'AS' or 'A' level, subjects such as law, sociology or psychology are useful, and demonstrate both ability to study at degree level and a committment to understand social issues.

Where can I study for the degree in social work?

Universities have been licensed to run the degree by the GSCC. Click here for a list of universities in the North West.

Contact the university direct to find out the length of the course, the entry requirements and the start date.

There is also a list of programmes at www.socialworkcareers.co.uk .

What financial help is available for students?

Students studying for a social work qualification may be eligible to receive a non means-tested bursary, with an average of £3,000 per year in addition to tuition, and a £500 allowance for practice placement costs.

Post-graduate students may also be eligible for a means-tested bursary. Once a student has applied for the social work bursary, the GSCC will assess eligibility for the additional graduate bursary. For more information, visit www.gscc.org.uk

Please note: students who are employed and supported by their employer to undertake the qualification will not normally be eligible for a bursary.

How do I apply for the degree?

To apply for the degree, contact:

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)


New Barn Lane


GL52 3LZ.

Phone: 01242 223707

E-mail: enq@ucas.ac.uk

Website: www.ucas.com/getting/before/swas.html

They will be able to provide you with an application form and advice on routes into social work.

What's the difference between the diploma and the degree?

The previous qualification was the Diploma in Social Work. The new degree was developed by the Department of Health and partners, as part of the ongoing modernisation of social care. The degree is aimed at building on the best of social work education and improving the status, image and position of social workers. The degree has a strengthened practical element, with students undertaking at least 200 days of assessed work experience regardless of their previous social care experience.

I've been out of full-time education for many years. How do I go about studying to be a social worker?

Mature applicants are welcome to study social work, and many thousands of mature students have successfully qualified. Social work programmes need to be certain that you will be able to cope with studying at a higher level. The best way for a mature person to demonstrate this is to do an access course and ask the course tutor for a reference. Or, it may be possible to ask an academically qualified person, for example a manager in your place of work (other than the person providing you with your social work experience reference) who can comment on your academic ability.   For further advice on specific requirements, contact the university or college.

You will need to demonstrate that you have the personal and intellectual qualities needed to be a social worker. In addition, you will have to have good English and Maths-at least grade 'C' at GCSE.

I need experience of social care to study a social work course. What counts as relevant experience?

Universities and colleges are looking for people who have some knowledge about social care, what it is and how it works. They will be looking for someone with basic social work skills - listening, assessing, communicating, working well with others - and people who have a non-judgemental attitude, an appreciation of diversity and self-awareness, and people who have flexible attitudes and are open to new ideas.

Working as a volunteer, or as an unqualified worker in social work or social care settings, can be a satisfying and valuable way of finding out more about different kinds of social work and care and helping you to think about your future career.

For people who work full-time or have financial or family commitments, it may be difficult to spend long periods in unpaid employment. There may be opportunities to gain experience and a reference by volunteering in your spare time in the evenings and at weekends. Alternatively, there are often opportunities to work as a care assistant or care worker and you may not need formal training to apply for a job. These jobs are usually advertised in local papers and job centres.

You can find out about opportunities for volunteering from the Council's Social Services Department, volunteer bureau, Citizens Advice Bureau or in public libraries. Newspapers such as The Guardian on Wednesday, or magazines like 'Community Care' or 'Care and Health' sometimes advertise voluntary opportunities and also give valuable information about current practice and thinking in social work.

What arrangements are there for disabled students?

Most universities offer access and well-established facilities for disabled people to study social work. Disabled people are advised to contact the programmes of their choice and discuss their particular requirements before an application is made. There are special allowances for post-graduates studying for social work qualification - visit www.gscc.org.uk for more information.

Can I study social work if I have a criminal conviction?

People with minor convictions are not automatically prevented from studying to be a social worker. Each situation will be considered individually and the final decision will be made by the university as part of its selection considerations. But social work as a profession is excluded from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, which means that convictions do not become 'spent' after a period of years, and any criminal convictions will have to be declared.

Why has the DipSW (Diploma in Social Work) changed into a Degree?

The changes were introduced to make sure qualified social workers are able to meet the changing role of social work and the changing needs of users and carers. The changes were aimed at better equipping social workers to provide high quality services to the public. They will ensure that the qualification provides a sound basis for the registration of social workers by the GSCC. This is a requirement in order to be able to practice.

The degree has a strengthened, practical element, a curriculum, which takes account of the need to develop knowledge, analytical, recording and reporting skills as well as personal skills; and a requirement that students learn about work in inter-professional settings.

What job opportunities will be open to me once I qualify?

Social workers are employed by the local council or private/voluntary organisations. You work closely with other organisations such as Primary Care Trusts, Health Acute Trusts and Education Departments.

Many opportunities exist in a wide variety of settings, your practice placements will help inform you of later career choices.

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