Best Social Work Courses in Australia

Social worker counselling a young family.

Australia's best degrees in social work prepare you for a career helping others.

  • A 4-year Bachelor of Social Work degree qualifies you to be professional social worker.
  • If you already have a degree, you can do a 2-year Master of Social Work course.
  • Other degrees are available which train you for different community roles.

Degree programs are offered by universities across Australia.

  • Study opportunities are enhanced by regional campuses and online learning.
  • All professional courses require you to do supervised field education.
  • The best courses receive high satisfaction ratings from students.

Why Study Social Work?

A desire to help is the number one reason why people study social work and take up a career in the field.

  • According to PayScale, social work is among the top 10% of US college majors for making a difference. Most social work graduates surveyed felt their work makes the world a better place.
  • On the flipside, the same US survey found social work to be among the lower paid professions.

Helping people

Social work is personally rewarding. If you want to help people in a direct way, social work can bring tremendous satisfaction.

  • Social workers help individuals and families find solutions, bring communities together, and advocate for fairer policies.
  • With the right temperament and interpersonal skills, you can help people help themselves and feel satisfied yourself at the end of the day.

Flexibility

Getting a social work degree also allows you to potentially work in many different areas, often with flexible hours. Opportunities to do meaningful work arise wherever people face challenges.

  • Social work graduates often try different types of work until they find the ideal niche for them.
  • A growing sector is aged care, where the client population continues to expand (My Aged Care).

Make sure you figure out what you are passionate about and how you want to try to make a difference. At the end of the day, social work is a career that speaks to the basic desire to really help others. It isn’t easy work, but it can be so rewarding, impactful and meaningful to so many communities that need open-minded listeners to help solve problems.

∼ Kate Abramson (Support Services Manager, LCA)

Social Work Careers

Career opportunities in social work are rich and varied. The field suits people who are open-minded, and willing to try different jobs and interact with different groups.

Most professionals regularly do one or more of the following essential roles:

  • Case management
  • Counselling and therapy
  • Community and program management
  • Public policy development.

People in need

Anyone could potentially need the help of a social worker. It depends on your life stage and circumstances.

Some of the groups most in need of social services (including help to navigate welfare systems) are:

  • families in conflict
  • children and youth who are at risk or unsupervised
  • people with disabilities and the aged
  • individuals who have experienced trauma
  • economically disadvantaged groups, such as the homeless
  • refugees and migrants
  • people suffering mental health or substance abuse problems.

Job examples

Social work is a diverse sector with many different niches.

Some of the more common jobs are:

  • Charity Officer or Volunteer Coordinator
  • Community Development Officer
  • Counsellor (e.g. Drugs, Rehabilitation)
  • Family Support Worker
  • Health Promotion Officer
  • Mental Health Worker
  • Special Care Worker
  • Welfare Case Manager
  • Youth Worker.
Counselling session for a man in need of therapy.

— Accreditation —

Professional social work degrees are accredited by the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW).

Accredited courses (listed here) meet program requirements set out by AASW standards.

Once you have graduated from an accredited course, you are eligible to become a member of the AASW. Being eligible for membership is the benchmark for qualified practice in Australia.

 — Field education —

Course accreditation requires that students successfully complete a minimum of 140 seven-hour working days (at least 980 hours) in at least 2 field education subjects.

In practical terms, you may be required to work in social welfare facilities for 17-18 weeks in both the 2nd-last and last years of a course (assuming you work 4 days a week).

Top 6 Work Areas

Where social workers are located and who they work with depend on community needs.

Here is a list of the top 6 sectors for social work.

  • We've drawn up the list based on the University of Southern California's Career Guide.
  • It includes aged care, which is an expanding sector in Australia.

1. Medicine and community health

Demand for social workers to help people with medical problems is growing. It is part of the broad expansion of health care system.

  • Social workers support patient care in hospitals, nursing homes and hospices, rehab facilities, and with assisted living.
  • Care professionals work with patients to ensure their needs are met in terms of treatment and living conditions.

2. Substance abuse

Substance abuse is an ever-present problem in society. Each user needs help and social workers can be critical for effective recovery and rehabilitation.

  • Counsellors and other care givers can be found in rehab facilities, private medical practices, prisons and juvenile detention facilities.
  • It is one of the tougher fields. Patients are often unstable, experiencing mood swings, anger and depression, and relapses.

3. Mental health (clinical)

Clinical practice is one of the most technically demanding social work fields. Clinicians support mental patient therapy on a day-to-day basis.

  • You assess your client's mental health, diagnose disorders, develop treatment plans, and assist with daily living and social integration.
  • Clinical social workers are active in mental health treatment centres, specialist and general hospitals, private practices and schools. 

4. Child welfare

Child welfare workers act when children are reported to be abused or neglected, in an unsafe environment or otherwise not cared for.

  • The job requires meeting with children and families to assess home conditions and the care a child is receiving.
  • Child welfare workers facilitate positive change and, when required, passage of a child to a safer environment.

5. Schools

Teachers, parents and children turn to social workers when schooling issues arise.

  • As a school social worker, you should be good at communication and problem solving.
  • You may need to address issues such as bullying, truancy, learning difficulties, and emotional health.
  • Roles could include guidance counsellor, or working with special needs children to help them join mainstream classes.

6. Aged care

For many social work fields, the fastest growing client group are older Australians. They rely on social workers when mental or physical abilities decline.

  • Social workers should be confident in dealing with older people, and sensitive to their emotional and social needs.
  • This is in addition to addressing tangible problems associated with ageing, such dementia or immobility.

Top Bachelor and Masters Degrees

University degree.

A good social work course provides an enjoyable study experience while preparing you for professional roles.

We've used student satisfaction rates to identify the best social work degrees in Australia.

  • The most reliable indicator of course quality are student satisfaction ratings. 
  • Course satisfaction is measured by the % of recent graduates who had a positive experience overall.
  • For social work, graduate salaries do not measure course quality well. Job availability depends a great deal on where you live.

For further detail about program stats and rankings, see Uni Reviews.

Curtin.

Bachelor of Social Work
Curtin University

WA (Perth)
ATAR: 70 (indicative), Years: 4

Curtin University's social work program gets excellent ratings in the Australian Graduate Survey.

  • Students satisfaction with courses is above 90%.
  • Graduates also do well in the job market, with an indicative starting salary of $50,000+.

Social work students benefit from purpose-built teaching spaces and resources. ... READ MORE

UniSA.

Bachelor of Social Work
University of South Australia

SA (Adelaide, Mount Gambia, Whyalla)
ATAR: 60 (indicative), Years: 4

UniSA has one of Australia's biggest social work schools. Satisfaction rates are high, with better than 9 in 10 graduates happy with their course.

  • The BSW degree has 4 study areas: theory, social work practice and skills, social policy, and research.

Overseas work placements are available in India, the Philippines and Canada. ... READ MORE

UNSW.

Bachelor of Social Work
University of New South Wales

NSW (Sydney)
ATAR: 80 (indicative), Years: 4

UNSW has the top social work program in Sydney. Course satisfaction is above 90%.

The BSW degree is good for overseas study or work.

  • You can spend a semester with a partner university (of which there are 200 worldwide).
  • You can also complete your final work placement in India, Canada or Sweden. ... READ MORE

UniSA.

Master of Social Work
University of South Australia

SA (Adelaide)
Years: 2

UniSA has a Professional Qualifying masters for uni graduates who want to become social workers.

  • As per AASW requirements, the course includes 1000 hours of field education.

Issues covered include mental health, Aboriginal culture, cross-cultural practice, and child wellbeing and protection. ... READ MORE

QUT.

Master of Social Work
Queensland University of Technology

QLD (Brisbane)
Years: 2, Quota on places

QUT has a highly rated social work program which includes postgraduate study.

The masters course is for uni graduates wanting to become qualified social workers.

Study areas include casework, intervention, policy making, ethical and legal contexts, child wellbeing and mental health. ... READ MORE

Alternative Study Options

Online Study / Distance Education

Online / distance learning is available for social work. It may be useful if you can't (or don't want to) attend a campus regularly.

  • Because social work is a people-orientated job, you can't qualify to be a social worker just through online study.
  • But courses are available which allow you to minimise time away from home or work.

How it works

With distance education courses, on-campus learning is confined to occasional residential schools. For example, you may be required to attend campus for 1 week per semester.

For the field education part of an online degree, you may be able to organise placements near where you live.

Further information: Courses are listed here (Online Study Australia).

Community Welfare and Human Services

An alternative path to qualify for social work is to do a 3-year degree in community welfare or human services.

The Australian Community Workers Association (ACWA) provides course accreditation in Australia.

Accredited courses are listed here. The programs have different titles, including:

  • Bachelor of Community Welfare
  • Bachelor of Human Services
  • Bachelor of Social Science (with relevant major).

ACWA accreditation and membership requires students to complete 400 hours of supervised work placements.

Graduates are eligible to do many of the jobs (but not all) which qualified social workers are able to do.

Follow Andrew Lancaster:

Education writer

Andrew Lancaster produces course guides for students through his company, UniCurve.com. He studied and tutored at the University of Tasmania and the Australian National University.

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