Social work in Scotland

Social Services | Careers in care | SSSC

Anything is possible

We all face difficulties in our lives. Sometimes these difficulties are complex and can mean we struggle to move forward and make positive choices for ourselves. Skilled and compassionate social workers can help us do this.

What do social workers do?

This is a diverse career and you’ll find social workers in a variety of places like criminal justice services, hospitals, adult or children’s services and education.

It’s impossible to describe everything you might do as a social worker but here are some key examples.

Social workers can:

  • get to know us in the context of our lives, experiences and relationships
  • make sure we are involved in decisions
  • support us to manage and overcome complex issues
  • exercise legal duties if we need help to stay safe
  • promote human rights, equality and social justice across all parts of society.
Profile image of Stephen, a mental health officer.

I was a young carer so missed a lot of school and left at 16 without qualifications. I set up my own business but in my late 30s I injured my back. At that point I thought what am I going to do? I really wanted to do social work and if I had a chance when I was younger that’s what I would’ve done. I first of all did an HNC at college and the following year I applied for a social work degree.

Stephen Horsburgh Mental health officer

Social work roles

There are over 10,000 social workers registered with the SSSC in Scotland. Explore these career stories which show that studying social work can open the door to a world of diversity.

Make a difference with a career in social work

Preparing to study social work

Work experience

We know that most students accepted on social work programmes in Scotland have work experience in social services for example in child care or adult social care. This could be paid employment, volunteering or providing unpaid care to family or friends.

If you don’t have this experience you should consider how to gain it and make sure that it is of good quality, for example where you have held a range of responsibilities and can show you can manage complex issues. Look at the children and young people and social services and healthcare pages for ideas.

When you write your university application make sure you relate your experience directly to the programme and what you hope to gain from becoming a social worker. Show that you have done some research into what practising as a social worker is really like.

Meeting the entry requirements

The entry requirements depend on the university you are applying to. We have included more detail below in Degree routes. In general, for an undergraduate degree (where you don’t already have a degree) you will need some qualifications at SCQF level 6 (for example Highers) or above. In most cases you’ll need numeracy at SCQF level 5 or above (for example National 5 Maths). Useful subjects include English, Psychology and Sociology.

Widening access (flexibility in entry requirements)

We all come with different backgrounds and experiences and if you are the right candidate universities can offer some flexibility in entry requirements. Social work programmes want to attract candidates from diverse backgrounds so look for statements about this on their websites and contact them directly to find out more.

Support with a disability or additional needs

You should speak to the university at an early stage to find out how they will support you if you have (for example) a physical disability, long term condition or learning difficulty that may impact on your study. Universities have a range of support available. Here is a useful page from UCAS about the support available.

Degree routes

Social work programmes in Scotland prepare you to work with people of all ages. This will be of benefit if your career takes you to different settings or even different countries. After all, social work is a globally recognised profession.

Your study will be challenging and diverse and is designed to prepare you for the complexities of working as a social worker. You'll study the law, theory and ethics, and human lifespan development from a variety of perspectives. Other areas of study could include social policy, psychology, politics and social research methods.

During your study you’ll complete 200 days of assessed practice in a social service setting. Assessed practice is where someone would watch and assess you while you are carrying out your work.

Explore the routes to find out what will suit you best and where you can study. Applications open around October each year and close in January.

ali, a social work student, and sybil, practice educator, having a professional discussion


A profile of Rania, criminal justice social worker, next to her quote.

I love that I get to build relationships with and contribute to the rehabilitation and social inclusion of people in the criminal justice system (some of whom are the most marginalised people in society) whilst also contributing to the protection of the public.

Rania Hamad Senior practitioner

Enhanced career pathways for social workers

Social workers can use their social work qualification in other social service roles which need you to be registered with the SSSC.

This includes support workers, practitioners and supervisors across children and young people and social services and healthcare settings.

There are also a range of specialised areas which social workers can progress to, this might mean you need to complete further learning. We’ve included some examples below but there are many more.

a young female social worker who uses a wheelchair looking confidently at the camera

Enhanced career pathways for social workers

MyLearning website

Learning about social services is a good way to show your committment to employers.

If you want to store your learning and share it with others, including new employers, try using MyLearning. It's a free, smartphone-based app provided by the SSSC.

MyLearning is also used by social service workers to record continuous professional learning.

MyLearning website

A learning website mockop on desktop and mobile