Pauline Ashworth, undergraduate admissions tutor for social work at the University of York, explains what universities are looking for in potential social work students.
Social work degrees are extremely popular, and the competition is fierce. To make sure your application stands out amongst the crowd, there are several things you need to think about.
The academic requirements may vary a little depending on the university so you will need to check with the individual institution, but all of them ask that you have Maths and English at GCSE Grade C – or their equivalents. The usual ‘equivalents’ that are accepted are Level 2 Adult Numeracy and Level 2 Adult Literacy which can be taken at your local further education college. Universities tend to accept applications from candidates who are in the process of gaining these qualifications, so don’t be put off applying if you haven’t already got them.
What experience do you need?
With regard to experience, the crucial thing is not only that you have some relevant experience but also that you are able to present clearly what you believe you have gained from it that will stand you in good stead to begin the training.
The kind of experience that we are looking for is direct work with what, in social work terms, are known as ‘service users’. Such people are often vulnerable, in difficulties and in need or trouble, and the work that you will have done will have involved taking care of them, supporting or advocating on their behalf, befriending and helping them to get what they need. By ‘direct work’, I mean that you will have been directly responsible for some aspect of their care. This ‘hands on’ experience is vital as it will demonstrate that you have the aptitude and the commitment to pursue a career in social work, to yourself as much as to the admissions officer reading your application.
Standing out from the crowd
This brings me to your application and how you need to ‘stand out from the crowd’. A key element of the UCAS form is the personal statement in which you ‘set out your stall’; this is where you need to try to convince the various admissions officers that you are worth meeting – interviews are a must for entry.
We are a picky bunch, so you need to demonstrate to us that you understand what social work is about and that you have done some homework to find out what it involves and, importantly, how your experience, qualities, skills and personality are suited to the task. Thus, rather than simply listing the various voluntary or paid social-work related jobs you have had, you need to present what you believe they have taught you about social work and about yourself as a budding social work student.
As a social work student, you will be expected to reflect on your practice, to question what you do and to ‘think outside the box’. Your personal statement is a chance to demonstrate that you have the capacity and willingness to take on the challenge. Social work is a challenge – a demanding yet exciting and rewarding one. Social work admissions officers are looking for people willing to accept that challenge.
Do you have questions about social work courses? Speak to other social work students on CareSpace.