1. Be sure this is the right career for
It sounds obvious, but make sure you do your research before you
take the plunge. Work experience, particularly as a social work
assistant, will give you the best idea of what lies ahead.
2. Choose where to study with care
Find out as much as you can about the quality of the teaching and
research carried out, as well as the pastoral support that is
offered to students – the internet will be invaluable for this.
Speak to as many people as possible – current and former students
are a fountain of knowledge and will generally be reluctant to
recommend an institution where they have had a bad
3. Sort out your finances
Check what financial help is available, whether it is bursaries,
loans or sponsorship, and ensure you receive everything to which
you are entitled. The course will be stressful enough without
additional money worries. It may be worth waiting a year and saving
up first if this is possible.
4. Find reliable child care
This is a must. Playing catch-up on lectures that you have been
forced to miss will only add to your workload and cause additional
stress. Take up all offers of help from family and friends – even
if you are at home you will need child minders so that you can
study in peace. A note on the door saying “Come back later – Mum’s
doing her homework” will not always be enough!
5. Befriend other students
This is something you are likely to do anyway but don’t
underestimate how useful this new social circle is likely to be – a
sympathetic source of support when things get tough and a provider
of lecture notes when you can’t make it in. Forming a study group
can also be useful but choose your members carefully as there are
always people on the lookout for a free ride.
6. Get to know your tutor
Try to build a relationship with your tutor, but be prepared to
feel anonymous until this has been achieved. Persevere even if your
tutor seems uninterested – you will be glad of your efforts later
in the course when you need to rely on them for information,
supportÉ and references.
7. Find your way around the library
University libraries can be scary places if you don’t know how to
use them. Spend time familiarising yourself with where things are –
the social work books, the quiet areas and, of course, where you
can buy snacks. Expect to have to reserve books in advance as
popular books on reading lists disappear fast when essays are due
and exams are looming. Be aware of the fining system for overdue
books and be as charming as possible to the librarians – you will
need them on side.
8. Read as much as you can in advance
It may have been geeky at school, but being ahead of the game at
university will make your life easier and your peers jealous.
Before term starts, find out from the lecturers which books will be
on the reading lists and then read up. Not only will the subjects
be easier to follow when they come up, but you’ll be able to nod
along in knowledgeable agreement with the lecturers.
9. Make the most of your practice placements
Organised properly, practice placements – or practice learning
opportunities as they have been renamed – give you the chance to
make sure you have found the area of social work in which you want
to specialise. However, be prepared to have to fight to get a
placement that you want and is relevant to your future career
choice. Some of the people you work alongside will have years of
experience in social care, so milk them for as much information as
you can get. It’s definitely worth throwing yourself into the
experience – after all, it may lead to a job.
10. Don’t be overawed by other students
They exist everywhere, those know-it-alls who look at you in
disgust when you ask a question. Ignore them – it’s probably all
show and done to cover up their own inadequacies. Chances are that
if you feel small then so do most of the people sat around you, so
keep on asking away.
Ten Tips from Students
1. “Do not start a social work course unless you have a clear
idea of what it involves and where you will be at the end of
2. “Take help and support when provided – don’t be a hero and
suffer. And know when to ask for help.”
3. “Remember that you are just a student and therefore still
only learning, and that your teachers were once students
4. “Make sure you get a statutory placement or apply to work as
an unqualified social worker over the holidays.”
5. “Be strong in placement and know that you are there to learn
and gain experience, not to be put upon by the agency who may be
understaffed and have budget concerns.”
6. “Do just enough work to pass and reserve your energy for the
real thing – it is very, very hard.”
7. “Try not to become too cynical – the training is just the
first part of your life as a social worker.”
8. “If you really do want to help, prepare yourself for how
little you can sometimes do to help.”
9. “Dispose of your car and therefore get a local placement –
this was denied to people with transport on my course.”
10. “Don’t rely on the course to equip you to be a social worker
– it won’t.”
Ten Complaints from Students
1. “I have now qualified but have never worked in statutory
services or met any more than one practising social worker.”
2. “A fellow student found herself in a day centre for her first
placement but, due to a lack of work, ended up serving burgers in
the canteen to the public.”
3. “My first placement was with adults with learning
difficulties and I wanted children and families.”
4. “Our course was understaffed and resourced, lectures were
often cancelled or cut short – 45 minutes on leaving care in two
years was brilliant (not).”
5. “During my studies every social work tutor apart from one
part-time tutor left the college.”
6. “Some of my lecturers have not been working as social workers
for a while. Therefore it is important for lecturers to keep up to
date with changes within the social work profession.”
7. “Children start school at 8.55am and lectures start at
9.30am. This gives little time [for parents] to arrive punctually
at lectures. Lateness is frowned upon. If you are more than 10
minutes late, you cannot enter the lecture.”
8. “I spent most of my time on a placement moving play
equipment, cleaning the carpet, washing toys and making coffee for
9. “My first teacher was swamped with work and too vain to admit
she had taken on far more than she could handle. My placement was
terminated and I had to wait something like nine months for a
second attempt. As a single parent this had dire financial
10. “The matching process is not always thorough. From my own
experiences as a single mother with a child who has learning
difficulties, being placed nearly 100 miles from her school was
unacceptable in my first placement.”
- Take regular breaks – at least 10 minutes every hour.
- Revise in different places – environmental cues can help recall
- Use colours and highlighters. lMake notes – try fitting a
whole topic on to one page.
- Use diagrams and cards.
- Music can help – why not sing key points?
- Change topics regularly to prevent boredom.
- Make up mnemonics – think Never Eat Shredded Wheat.
- Discuss with others.
- Keep testing yourself.
- Practise with past papers.
- Work towards rewards, such as a bar of chocolate, a pint or
watching an episode of EastEnders.