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The basics
Study abroad : Subject Guides

Why study social work?

Would social work be a rewarding and fulfilling degree and career for you? Find out with this guide.

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Are you an empathetic, caring and patient person with a desire to help others facing difficult personal situations? If yes, then social work could be the right degree and career for you. In this guide, we’ll be exploring this rewarding profession and what you need to do to become a social worker. You’ll find information on salary expectations, courses, study duration and more.


What is social work?

Essentially, social work aims to improve people’s lives by supporting individuals, families and communities with a variety of issues. This profession seeks to increase overall well-being by protecting children and adults from harm. A social worker will manage a range of cases at one time, known as a caseload. This can be highly demanding and emotionally challenging work but also hugely important for the proper functioning of society.


What does social work involve?

One of the great things about social work is that you are directly helping people and the work can be incredibly varied. Day-to-day responsibilities may include:

  • Writing assessments
  • Meeting and interviewing individuals and families to assess their needs
  • Organising support
  • Making referrals to relevant agencies/charities
  • Responding to crisis situations
  • Liaising with local councils, doctors, schools, police etc.


How to become a social worker

There are a few different routes you can follow to become a practicing social worker. Firstly, you can choose to study a Bachelor of Social Work at undergraduate level. Or alternatively, if you have already studied another subject at this level, you will then be expected to study a Master of Social Work. You should be able to demonstrate that your previous course was related to social work, or that you have completed relevant work experience.


Bachelor’s degree in social work

If you’re interested in studying social work at undergraduate level, check out the following bachelor’s courses in different parts of the world:


You might be wondering why these qualifications are assigned different titles such as BSc, BA or BS. These basically referring to the type of degree classification you will be awarded when you graduate. You can find out more about the meaning of degree classifications with our guide to bachelor’s degrees.


What will I learn in a social work degree?

A bachelor’s degree in social work will typically take three to four years to complete, depending on your chosen study destination and university. During this time, you can expect to learn about:

  • Mental health
  • Legislation
  • Disabilities
  • Social policy
  • Ethics
  • Safeguarding
  • Working with children
  • Working with adults



Of course, the modules your study will differ according to each university, but the aforementioned topics are generally covered.


Master’s degree in social work

As mentioned, you don’t have to study social work as your undergraduate degree. You can pursue another field and then apply for a postgraduate degree in social work. Of course, this will mean paying for two programmes and more studying. However, a postgraduate course will boost your cv and provide you with greater knowledge of the subject area. Many students choose to do both a bachelors and a master’s degree to succeed in the field.


Find out more about a social work courses at master’s degree level:


What will I learn at postgraduate level?

A master’s degree in social work will cover similar topics to a bachelor’s degree course, but there tends to be a greater focus on research and practical fieldwork. This could involve a placement at a hospital, school, substance abuse clinic and so on.

Social work at this level will usually involve a module where you can specialise in one particular area such as mental health or child protection. There are many benefits to studying a postgraduate degree abroad such as gaining specialist knowledge, meeting new people and experiencing a new culture. Most social work master’s degrees will take two years of full-time study to complete, but you can also request to go part-time, although this will take longer.


How long does it take to become a social worker?

It really depends on which route you decide to follow, but generally it can take five to six years to qualify as a social worker. This includes an undergraduate and postgraduate degree, both studied on a full-time basis. Some positions may also require your qualifications to be certified by a specific board. For example, in the USA this would be the Council on Social Work Education. You can enquire with the university about whether their courses are accredited if not already outlined in the course description.


What do social workers earn?

As a newly qualified social worker you can expect to earn between GBP 25,000 and GBP 30,000 per year, depending on your location. With further experience this can increase to GBP 40,000 and more for senior positions. However, it’s important to note that social workers can be expected to work unsociable hours as they may need to be on call to manage certain situations.


With a greater sense of what social work involves, what you need to study and why social work is a rewarding and challenging profession you’re in a better place to make informed choices. If you’re still unsure about which course, university and destination to choose, use our course matcher tool to find what’s right for you.

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