Do You Need a Degree to Be a Social Worker?
There are plenty of study routes you can take to achieve this and to get to studying at university level. Many higher education institutions offer degree courses in social work. There are also a number of programmes and diplomas you can take to earn social work qualifications and fast-track courses that are equivalent to A-Levels, making them an ideal prerequisite for degree-level study.
Having a career as a social worker is both rewarding and challenging. The role involves helping vulnerable people and families to improve their well-being while making sure their basic needs are met. Social workers meet people from all walks of life, in a variety of settings such as:
- Private homes
- Local authorities
- NHS trusts
- Private sector
- Voluntary sector
Social workers help everyone from babies and children to the elderly, people with disabilities, people with learning difficulties, mental health problems and addiction issues.
What does a social worker do?
Social workers help people with interpersonal and social problems, so that they have a better quality of life. For instance, they can protect both adults and children who may be vulnerable to potential harm.
Being a social worker is a highly rewarding career, but it can also be demanding and emotionally difficult at times. Social workers often work with a number of people at a time, working across various cases they have been assigned to. This is called their ‘caseload’.
The everyday responsibilities of a social worker include assessing a person’s support needs, helping to resolve issues, providing and organising support, making referrals for other services, and keeping detailed records of support and services given to each case.
Problems that social workers encounter are often linked to things like:
- Emotional trauma
- Health issues
- Emotional disadvantages
Social workers, therefore, need to see the scope of a problem when they are faced with it and make important decisions that can improve an individual’s life, where human rights and equality are upheld. Regardless of the social care role you decide to take, you’ll need training and skills to help implement changes where needed, and knowledge of legal powers to protect human rights.
Working with children and families
Social workers spend lots of time working with children and families in particular. This includes children who are at risk of abuse, young offenders, and children with mental health or general health issues.
You may have to intervene when you have child protection concerns. You may also be responsible for managing the fostering or adoption process of children, or may need to give additional support to a child with a long-term health condition or disability.
Working with elderly people
If you are a social care worker working with adults, you may work with elderly people who have physical disabilities, people with mental health problems, or learning difficulties. Your role will involve making their lives as independent and as happy as possible. You’ll be responsible for accessing welfare support to those who need it.
Social worker salaries vary depending on your level of experience and the location or sector you’re working in. A newly qualified social worker’s salary starts at around £25,000 per year, rising to more than £40,000 in time. Some social workers are hired through local authorities, private businesses or charities, while others set up their own companies to offer their services. A qualification in social work can also lead to career paths in education, research, management, and policy-making.
Here’s our guide to the study options you have when considering a career in social care.
What kind of degree do you need to be a social worker?
You’ll need an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in social care or social work to be a social worker. This degree must be approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) if you are based in England. If you’re studying in Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland, your course will need to be approved by the region’s respective social care councils.
In order to qualify for an undergraduate degree programme, you’ll need appropriate A-Level qualifications that are relevant to the subject you want to study, such as a humanities or social sciences subject. You’ll also need at least five GCSE qualifications at grade C (level 4) or above in English, science and mathematics.
Master’s degree in social work
To gain a postgraduate master’s qualification, you’ll need at least a 2:1 in your undergraduate degree programme, as well as appropriate A-Level results in linked subjects and GCSEs in English, mathematics and science at grade C (level 4) or above.
With a Level 3 Health and Social Care Diploma under your belt, you may be able to study at undergraduate level as a Level 3 Diploma is equivalent to one A-Level. Always check the university’s requirements first to see what it will accept for entry onto a course before submitting your application. Many diplomas are accepted by universities as substitutions for A- Levels.
It’s also possible to take social care apprenticeship schemes. For this kind of qualification, you’ll need relevant A-Levels (or an equivalent diploma), and a willingness to qualify on the job while doing social worker training.
What qualifications do you need to be a social worker?
You’ll need five GCSE qualifications with grades A-C, including English and mathematics, and three relevant A-Levels or a BTEC in Health and Social Care to become a social worker. These qualifications lead to a three-year undergraduate degree programme (or a two-year postgraduate course) in social work.
Social work experience
Alongside qualifications, experience is an important part of securing a job as a social worker. You’ll need some form of social care experience alongside academic learning that focuses on ethics, legislation and other theory-based core modules. Your work experience can be paid, unpaid or voluntary, and life experience can also count.
A social care degree will typically contain 200 hours of assessed work experience across a range of different settings, so you can put what you’ve learned into practice and experience working in a range of situations such as schools, care homes, and with charities.
Qualifications relating to social work
Aside from A-Levels and GCSEs, you can also take Level 3 courses in health and social care that are designed to give you a good grounding in the field and to prepare you for a role in the sector. Many institutions will accept diplomas as routes into social care qualifications at degree level. If you’re considering taking a degree in social care, this can give you valuable experience, knowledge and understanding. You may already have social care experience, or you can be a complete newcomer.
Our Accredited Level 3 Health + Social Care Diploma and our Accredited Level 3 Mental Health + Social Care Diploma are both designed to give you theory and knowledge, which you can then apply to practical situations. You’ll learn topics such as human biology, assessment planning, health and safety, safeguarding, the importance of health and well-being, and the law on access to care. Students are also taught how to be self-analytical and reflective, so they can take a critical approach to all aspects of social care.
If you then decide to progress with your studies following a Level 3 diploma, you can go on to a Level 4+5 Accredited Understanding Health + Social Care Practice Diploma, which offers a deeper dive into the role of ICT in social care, human psychology and behaviour, anatomy and physiology, social issues, communication and socialisation, and a whole range of health and safety issues that are important in social care. This comprehensive course can be used to gain entry to a Level 6 Diploma or degree course in social care, or another related field.
Social work jobs you can get without a degree
There are still plenty of jobs in social work and social care that you can do without having a degree. You may still require certain A-Level, GCSE or diploma qualifications (check with the employer before applying to see what they will accept).
Career paths without a degree still require you to work across multiple facilities like hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centres, and nurseries. Here are some examples of careers you can take in social work.
This role is an especially important job, as it requires giving children varying levels of care in different environments. This could be at s nursery, daycare centre, school, or at a private home. A Childcare Diploma might give you the knowledge you need to start a career in this field.
You’ll need to be calm and patient, as you’ll be working with children from all walks of life, including those with special medical or educational needs. In the role, you may be asked to assist with children’s education, transportation and the monitoring of their playtime and behaviour.
As a counsellor, your role is to provide support and help to vulnerable people. You might help someone with a gambling or substance addiction, or assist a person who has mental health issues. Your role will involve helping them to identify their problems, so they can create goals to tackle and cope with them. You’ll also create plans for recovery, attendance of support groups and aftercare. The qualifications needed to be a counsellor can vary depending on the specialism you choose.
Teaching assistants provide vital support to teachers, helping them to plan lessons and monitor behaviour while providing additional assistance to pupils when they need help with tasks. Some teaching assistants are assigned to work with children who have disabilities or learning difficulties, helping them to understand assigned work and complete tasks.