Challenging, fascinating and rewarding – my master’s in social work was the best thing I have ever done. It was also the toughest. Now as I begin employment, I look back on university and reflect on how to use the experience to best prepare for a career often described using the same words above. Key to getting the most out of university is understanding the purpose of the degree. These two years are designed to build and develop the skills to help you become a capable and effective social worker.
Don’t worry about marks. Instead, concentrate on nurturing the skills that will best help you advocate social justice and effect change in people’s lives. Skills such as the ability to demonstrate empathy, break bad news sensitively, contain the anxiety of others and knowing how and when to assert your authority won’t get you marks in essays but they will enable you to work effectively in a host of real-life social work situations.
Adaptability is essential and it is crucial that you develop yourself into a practitioner who is competent working in different and constantly changing environments.
Make the most of your tutors, lecturers and guest speakers. Their vast experience should be tapped into as much as possible. No one will help you link social work theory and practice better than your university lecturers. Attend every class you can. Social work is an immensely broad field; you may only have one two-hour session on the Mental Capacity Act before you join an adult disability team. Speak to your teachers regularly and ask questions if you are unsure about anything.
Exams and Assessments
Don’t be daunted or overwhelmed by the course. Being able to manage an overflowing caseload is a stark reality of the job.
Don’t worry about assessments, get stressed by essays, presentations or role-plays.
Don’t obsess about word counts, deadlines or references.
If you are committed and apply yourself properly, you will pass and become qualified. Focus on expanding your knowledge and deepening your ability to think critically. To do this, don’t write essays on the same topics, you’ll finish university with a narrower knowledge base. Push yourself to explore new areas and topics as much as possible.
Remember that you are on placement to learn and gain experience. The organisation knows this; you are not expected to be the finished article. Don’t be scared of placements. Instead, be brave and push yourself by putting yourself in new situations. Reach out to different teams, take on different types of cases and explore a wide range of intervention methods. There is no better way to develop than by facing new challenges in the field.