Social work, childhood and youth studies

A chance to help the people who need support the most.

What is social work?

Social work is a demanding, crucial, and rewarding profession. Behind every community is a dedicated social worker who supports families in need of assistance, helping with everything from mental health to emotional challenges, to financial aid.

No two days are the same in the life of a social worker, and this goes for your studies too. You’ll combine elements of sociology, psychology, law, care, and many other skills, to equip you to handle a career where you have to react quickly but compassionately. If you love working with people and want to make a real difference, social work could be perfect for you.

Social work course entry requirements

When assessing applicants, universities are looking for the right character and personalities when it comes to social work. Courses like health and social care, psychology and sociology will help, but it’s unlikely that you’ll need to have taken specific subjects to get yourself onto a social work degree.

Instead, you need to be able to demonstrate your care and compassion, your dedication, sensitivity and empathy, resilience, and natural social skills. Experience working with vulnerable groups will be useful, but again not essential.

Take a look at our personal statement advice for social work.

A levels – Entry requirements range from CDD to BBB, with the universities and colleges most commonly asking for BBC.

Scottish Highers – Entry requirements for Highers (the most common qualification) range from BBCC to AABBB, with universities or colleges most frequently requiring BBBB. Occasionally, universities ask for Advanced Highers to supplement Highers. If Advanced Highers are requested, universities or colleges typically ask for AB.

Vocational courses – Other Level 3/Level 6 qualifications (e.g. Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma, or an SCQF Level 6) may be accepted as an alternative to A levels/Highers by some providers. It’s essential that you check alternative entry requirements with universities or colleges.

What you will need to do
  • Apply by the January deadline
  • Write a personal statement
  • Attend an interview
  • Show work experience
What you won’t need to do
  • Submit a portfolio
  • Audition for a place
  • Pass an entry test

Is social work like nursing?

Nursing and social work both call for a lot of similar skills, but social work is not a medical profession. You’ll offer support through your words and actions, rather than medical care.

What can you do with a social work degree?

Most social work graduates will go on to become a:

But your new skills will also equip you for careers in:

What’s it like to study social work?

Most social work degrees are three-year long Bachelor of Arts, with a healthy mix of theory and practical learning. You’ll blend elements of sociology and psychology mainly, developing your interpersonal and relationship skills, learning how to deal with complex situations compassionately.

Like most degrees, you’ll spend your first year learning the basics, concepts, and principles of social work. In your second and third year, not only will you get the chance to choose and specialise in a certain branch of social work, but you’ll also start working on placement. Some degrees call for up to 200 days of placement experience before graduation, meaning you’re not going to be in lectures much after your first year.

You’ll spend between seven and 18 hours per week in the classroom during a social work degree, but normally around 12. While this is slightly fewer than many degrees, don’t forget those 200 days of placement experience you’ll need to build up too.

Studying a social work degree will likely involve:

  • writing reports and essays
  • attending lectures and seminars
  • extensive placement work
  • project, presentation, and group work

Are you considering an accelerated degree? Click here to read more about the possibility of completing your undergraduate course in two years rather than three. 


If you want to combine work and study while earning a salary, you could consider an apprenticeship. Which apprenticeships are available, and how you apply, depends on where you live.

Find out more about apprenticeships across the UK.

Each apprenticeship sets out occupational standards for specific job roles, designed by employers. The standards outline the skills, knowledge, and behaviours required to demonstrate that an apprentice is fully competent in the job role.

Higher apprenticeships (Level 4)

Degree apprenticeships (Levels 5 – 7)

Discover more about apprenticeships in public health, social care or childcare services

Our guide has all the info you need to know about doing an apprenticeship in this industry. Find out what it's really like from current apprentices and decide if it's the right route for you.

Public health, social care or childcare services industry guide

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