When I chose my university for social work, I had no idea where the places were. Pardon me.
As a young 21 year old with no idea about the U.K. beyond Mr Bean, it was hard to figure out where these places even were.
But if you’re considering a university in the U.K. for social work, you’ve come to the right place.
I eventually studied in the University of Nottingham and had one of the best experiences.
More than that, it built for me a career that went beyond social work.
Don’t just choose based on rankings
Whilst it can be easy to go to the Times list of the top-ranked universities for social work, it may not always be the best. Because if you don’t know, these rankings are paid for by universities.
Yup, you got that right.
They are paid for by universities.
Thus, they may not always give the complete, unbiased picture.
Secondly, if you go to the rankings, you may get a biased picture that prioritises research power, over teaching.
Universities always have this tension between research and teaching. Whilst students make them a lot of money, the research professors do also add a lot of value to universities.
But your best research professors may not be good teachers.
In my first year at university, I remember being under professors that were research powerhouses, but could hardly teach. They would show us movies in class, which made me think,
Are you kidding me?
We paid £14000 a year (this was because I was an international student) so that I could watch movies?
Look at how good their teachers are
But my second year was better because I finally got a professor that was there because of his prowess at practice.
Here’s two that might work better.
When you visit the university, ask a random social work student,
hey, what’s the most challenging part of studying here?
He’s not likely going to lie.
Would you move for university?
But another question you need to ask yourself is also whether you’d move for university.
At Nottingham, I was one of the few who moved to Nottingham for university. Most of them were Nottingham locals. It meant they were very familiar with life there, and therefore had less of a tendency to be surprised.
It’s what I call the home ground disadvantage.
For example, if you stayed in Nottingham for some years, and went to university there, there might be little surprise.
But if you stayed in a busy place like London, and ended up moving to a quieter city like Nottingham, you might have liked the calmer pace of life.
Moving might have contributed to a more positive experience.
Would you have time for student life?
Almost 60% of my cohort were mature students. This is what the university classes as those above 25.
This also meant that most of them had families, or part time jobs, to put them through university.
It may mean that much of your experience of university will be hampered by these commitments you have at home.
For my classmates, it meant that the experiences that made university great for me, were not readily available to me.
I like to say that
I was a part time university student,
and a full-time everything else.
That was because I had the time to just be a full time student, with no other major commitments.
Focus on quality of teaching if you have other commitments
It’s no use lying to yourself that you’re going to get a great student experience when you’re not going to have all the time to commit to life on campus.
If you’re just going to be there for the academics, and then swiftly scoot home after that, that’s okay too.
You just have to make sure that the quality of teaching is higher.
Ask them how they help with your placements
One of the most important things of sacrificing 3 years of your life at university, is to eventually get a career.
And one of the most important markers at Nottingham was the ability to place people in a statutory placement at least once over the two compulsory placements.
A statutory placement is often seen as a ‘premium’ placement because of how hard it is to secure one.
And because it’s in the local government, it also means that one has better job security.
I screwed up my placement many times during my final placement, and was fortunate to still pass. Else, I may have ended up needing to repeat my year. I repeat,
It was the hardest part of my student career.
But it was made easier because of my tutor. He personally coached me and helped me to pass.
This is the kind of support you need when you’re going through a placement.
See how they value add to your academic career
There were three major things that added to my academic career at Nottingham.
- Joining the public speaking society, which allowed me to build skills in public speaking
- Being part of the Nottingham Advantage Award, which gave me the chance to teach public speaking
- Being a student trustee, which taught me how to do good charity governance
To be clear, I didn’t go into the university of Nottingham thinking that I would have these experiences. They were things that I found along the way.
But as you search for the right university, you need to also know what you’re looking for.
Because if you’re just looking at a university to get a degree, doing these extra things may feel like a drain. For me, I enjoyed it because I loved meeting new people and having a challenge.
Ultimately, it’s your decision
This is not going to be the easiest decision, but as we’ve seen over the past few paragraphs, it’s vital to ask yourself:
- What are you in university for? Is it primarily for the degree, or for a student life?
- What time can you commit to university? If you’ve a part time job, or family, you might be able to do less.