How to get a place on a social work degree course

University of Birmingham tutors Dawn River, Joy Fillingham and Rosie Littlechild explain what they are looking for in prospective social work students

What is social work?

Social work covers a broad range of areas but is primarily concerned with working to support, protect and empower vulnerable, excluded and marginalised members of society. While the profession may be going through a time of change, the essential qualities of social workers – to listen, support, to advocate on behalf of others and see people in the context of their whole lives – does not change.

It is essential then that we recruit students to the programme who are committed to these principles and who have the insight, experience and capability to work effectively with service users and their families, as well as with communities and allied professionals.

What we are looking for

If you are considering studying for a degree in social work start by thinking about what has motivated you to want to take on this challenge. Let’s face it – a degree in social work is more challenging than a non-professional degree and will require you to complete two extended practice placements alongside the academic work you will be doing at university.

You will need to explain in your personal statement your reasons for choosing the course and your understanding of social work generally. You will also need to detail any experience you have of direct work with people in need of support. This could include a variety of things but should illustrate your ability to care for, advocate on behalf of and/or befriend.

You would then need to explain what you have learned from these experiences – about yourself, and any skills or knowledge you might have gained. You will also need to say something about how this has prepared you for studying for a professional qualification in social work.

As well as your practical, emotional and psychological aptitude for the programme, you will also have to evidence your academic ability. Different universities have different admissions criteria, for instance we will be asking for an ABB (or equivalent) for entry into 2012, but all unis require English and Maths GCSE grade C or above or the equivalent, e.g. Level 2 Adult Numeracy and Literacy. In line with our commitment to widening participation we will also consider alternative routes, e.g. ACCESS and Btec.

The admissions process

If you feel you meet the criteria, have researched the role of social work and  have decided this is the profession for you, you should complete and submit your UCAS application form, making sure you have included a relevant academic or practice-based reference.

Your application form will be screened to ensure you meet the criteria and the strongest candidates will be invited to the next stage. At the University of Birmingham this process includes a written entrance exam and interview, developed with service users, carers and practitioners.

What does the course involve?

Practice placement: we provide a wide range of practice placement opportunities within statutory, voluntary and independent social care settings.

Blended learning: Recognising that different people learn in different ways our methods include group work, case studies, skills development through role play and DVD, lectures, reading and research, interactive web-based study and joint work with practitioners and service user and carer colleagues.

Service user and carer involvement: Good social workers recognise the individuals they work with have unique skills and experiences. By working closely with colleagues directly in receipt of services, we ensure our students recognise these insights. Contributors are involved in admissions, teaching, preparation for placements, assessments, and programme reviews.  


The social work programme is both challenging and rewarding. Upon successful completion you will have achieved a degree (BA or MA) as well as a professional qualification and will be eligible to register to practise as a professional social worker.

Dawn River is an admissions tutor, Joy Fillingham is service user and carer co-ordinator and Rosie Littlechild is strategic lead on service user and carer involvement for the University of Birmingham’s social work programme.

More information

Social work degree admissions: what universities are looking for

Speak to other prospective social work students on CareSpace

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.