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Social worker: Entry requirements

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Social work is a graduate profession and you will need either an honours or postgraduate degree in social work approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)  in England. Although the diploma in social work (DipSW) and other previous social work qualifications are still recognised as valid social work qualifications, they are no longer offered to new entrants.

Entry for HND/foundation degree holders is normally via the undergraduate degree in social work. The following subjects may improve your chances:

  • politics/government/public administration;
  • legal studies;
  • social sciences;
  • social care.

Most undergraduate degrees are full-time courses lasting three years, although there are some part-time courses.

A minimum 2:2 honours degree is needed for entry to the postgraduate professional training. Some universities will only accept applicants with at least a 2:1, so check with each individual institution. Applicants will also need to have passed GCSE (or recognised equivalent) maths and English at Grade C or above.

You need to have relevant experience in a social work/social care setting before being accepted on to the postgraduate course. Gain as much work experience as possible, either through paid positions in community care settings or by undertaking relevant voluntary work. Some universities specify a minimum amount of time to be spent gaining experience. Details can be found on Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)

Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:

  • patience and the ability to remain calm in a crisis;
  • resilience;
  • flexibility to adapt to new roles, tasks and situations;
  • initiative;
  • strong observation, analytical and listening skills;
  • the capacity to absorb legal/procedural information;
  • the ability to negotiate/mediate/interpret on behalf of service users;
  • good organisational skills to work autonomously and plan meetings for a caseload of clients.

Empathy, combined with a genuine desire to improve the quality of the lives of service users, is essential, as is the ability to think on your feet and make difficult decisions under pressure. An interest/participation in some aspect of your local community is also useful. General administrative skills are also needed.

Use the Do-it  website or contact Volunteering Matters   for details of relevant voluntary work. Your local volunteer bureau may also be able to help you to find opportunities for work experience.

Both undergraduate and postgraduate courses cover the same topics and have a strong practical element with over 200 days (usually six to seven hours a day) of supervised work placements. Approved postgraduate courses are usually full time and last two years, although there are some part-time courses available.

Applications for most courses are made through UCAS. A few part-time postgraduate degrees are available where applications should be made direct to the university. Search for further courses at the HCPC Register of Approved Programmes .

There are different options for training on the job in social work.

A new, accelerated, two-year programme for graduates with a focus on leadership development, Frontline , is an innovative opportunity for exceptional people to become qualified social workers and lead change in society.

Frontline participants will work with police, courts, schools, vulnerable children and families as children's social workers. The programme will give participants the opportunity to develop valuable leadership skills to prepare them for influential careers in social work and beyond. It starts with a five-week summer institute, a year of on-the-job training in local authorities in London or Manchester (possibly being rolled out to other authorities in the future), followed by a year as a qualified social worker with the opportunity to study for a Masters.

The Step Up to Social Work  programme may be another possibility. It's an alternative, accelerated entry route which combines work and study. Check the website for details of future student intakes.

Some students may be eligible for a bursary; see NHS Student Bursaries for further details. This can change from year to year so you should always check with the institution you are applying to.

Further information on how to train as a social worker is available on Skills for Care  and the HCPC website.

Get specific information on entry requirements and paths to becoming a social worker in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland from the relevant social care workforce regulator:

For more information, see work experience and internships and search postgraduate courses.

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Written by Clare Dawson, University of Warwick
December 2013

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