How Long Does It Take to Become a Social Worker?

Becoming a social worker typically takes 3-7 years, including a Bachelor's, optional Master's, and one year of supervised practice.

Are you considering a career in social work? Understanding the time it takes to become qualified is a useful first step in understanding if it's the career choice for you. 

Becoming a qualified social worker involves several stages of education and training, each designed to equip you with the skills needed to support individuals and communities effectively. 

From obtaining a Bachelor's degree to completing practical field placements, becoming a social worker is structured to build your expertise comprehensively. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through each step, explaining how long each part typically takes and what you can expect along the way. 

Whether you're starting fresh or looking to switch careers, this overview will help you plan your path into this rewarding profession.

Understanding the Path to Becoming a Social Worker

Becoming a social worker in the UK is a structured process that involves several key steps. 

Firstly, you will need to complete the necessary educational qualifications, typically starting with an undergraduate degree in social work. 

This Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree generally takes three years of full-time study. Some universities also offer part-time study options, which can extend the duration accordingly.

After obtaining your BSW, you may choose to further your studies and specialise by pursuing a Master's degree in Social Work (MSW). 

This is particularly useful if you wish to move into more specialised roles or advance in your career. 

An MSW usually requires an additional one to two years of full-time study, but like the BSW, can also be pursued part-time over a longer period.

Each educational path is designed not only to provide you with the theoretical knowledge needed for social work but also to ensure you gain practical experience through placements. 

These placements are integral to your training, allowing you to apply your learning in real-world settings under supervision. 

This combination of academic learning and practical experience ensures you are well-prepared to meet the diverse needs of those you will help as a professional social worker.

Social Worker Educational Requirements

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW)

A Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW) is the foundational qualification required to begin a career in social work in the UK. 

This degree typically spans three years of full-time study. The BSW program is comprehensive, combining classroom-based education with practical training. 

You would cover a wide range of topics including social work ethics, psychology, social policy, and law, which are essential for effective practice. 

Importantly, the course includes placements in various social work settings, giving you hands-on experience in real-world environments. 

These placements are crucial as they help you apply theoretical knowledge in practice and develop essential skills under the guidance of experienced professionals.


Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW)

If you want to advance to specialist roles within social work, a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW) is highly recommended. 

The MSW program can typically be completed in one to two years of full-time study, although part-time options are available and can extend the duration to three or four years. 

This advanced degree builds on the BSW foundations with deeper exploration of complex issues such as mental health, child protection, and therapy techniques.

MSW programs often allow you to specialise in areas like clinical social work, community development, or social work administration. 

Specialising means you can tailor your skills to specific sectors of social work, making you more adept at handling the unique challenges of your chosen field.


Licensing and Certification Requirements

In the UK, becoming a registered social worker requires you to be licensed by the appropriate regulatory body, which is Social Work England (SWE) for England, with equivalent bodies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. 

After completing your educational qualifications, you must register with these bodies. The registration process involves proving your qualifications and fitness to practise, which includes background checks and a declaration of health and character.

Once registered, social workers must undertake a period of assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE). 

This typically lasts 12 months and provides newly qualified social workers with structured support during their first year of practice.

The ASYE aims to help new social workers consolidate their practice, building on what you learned during your degree.


Gaining Relevant Experience

Internships and field placements are integral components of both BSW and MSW programs. These placements usually last between 70 to 100 days depending on the specific requirements of the program.

They are crucial as they provide aspiring social workers with the opportunity to gain firsthand experience in the field, apply their academic knowledge, and develop professional skills under the supervision of experienced social workers. 

These practical experiences are carefully designed to prepare you for real-life challenges you will face in your social work career.


Continuous Professional Development

Continuous professional development (CPD) is essential for social workers throughout their careers. 

In the UK, registered social workers are required to record and report their CPD annually to maintain their registration. 

This ongoing education ensures that social workers stay up-to-date with the latest theories, practices, and regulatory requirements, enhancing their skills and knowledge base continually. 

CPD can include attending workshops, seminars, further courses, or engaging in reflective practice and supervision sessions.

The journey to becoming a social worker involves substantial time commitment and dedication.



Bachelor's Degree in Social Work (BSW)

3 years

Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW) - Full-time

1-2 years

Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW) - Part-time

3-4 years

Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE)

1 year


From completing a bachelor's degree and gaining registration to engaging in continuous professional development, each step is designed to prepare you for the complex demands of social work. 

This career is not just about meeting educational and licensing requirements; it’s also about a continuous commitment to learning and personal growth. 

For those passionate about making a difference in the lives of others, the rewards of a career in social work far outweigh the time and effort invested in becoming qualified.

Social Care People are here to help! Register today and our expert team will help you find your perfect role in social care. 


Social Care Jobs Blog