How to become a social worker


There are five levels of education that provide preparation for a career in social work:

  • Diploma - Diploma of Social Work
  • Undergraduate Degree - Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)
  • Graduate Degrees - Master of Social Work (MSW)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
  • Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

The level of education required for a career in social work varies with the type of work and work setting. In most provinces, the BSW is the minimum educational requirement for entry into the profession. In Alberta, the minimum requirement is a Diploma in Social Work.

Athabasca University does not offer any diploma or degree programs in Social Work. However, most universities require you to do either one or two years of pre-professional studies before applying to their Social Work program. You can take many of these courses at AU.

Some BSW programs will admit students who already have an approved Bachelor's degree. You can do a BSW as a second degree, which usually takes an extra two years. A few programs require an undergraduate degree for admission and may take an additional one to two years to complete. See AU’s undergraduate bachelor degrees.

In general, entry into Social Work programs includes the following:

NOTE: This information is general in nature. Admission requirements to Social Work programs vary from university to university. It is your responsibility to ensure that courses or degrees taken at AU will be accepted at the university you wish to attend.

Next Steps

1. Research career information on Social Work

The following links contain useful information on duties, working conditions, skills, education, salary, employment:

2. Social Work programs at various universities to determine entrance requirements and transferable credit information

For information about social work education

See the following examples of Bachelor of Social Work Distance Education programs offered at the following Canadian universities. Consult directly with their websites to confirm current requirements:

University of Calgary

View the information for the BSW Online, BSW Learning Circles, and other location-based U of C Social Work Programs. Virtual Learning Circles This program is designed for students in rural, remote and/or indigenous communities across Canada. The program has a small on-site requirement; one week in early September each year. The admission requirements vary between the different routes; University Transfer Route, After-Degree, and Post-Diploma route. See the respective web sites for details regarding admission requirements.

Dalhousie University

The Dalhousie BSW is delivered online with the exception of a 2-week residency. See their website for details of admission requirements.

University of Manitoba

University of Victoria

The program requires completion of a minimum first two years of undergraduate studies, in addition to other requirements.

Other useful sites for researching Social Work education options:

3. Contact your provincial or national association of social workers for registration requirements

To become a practicing social worker in Canada, you usually need to be registered. The educational requirements for registration may vary from province to province.

For more information on registration requirements:

4. If you are considering completing an AU undergraduate degree, contact an AU Counsellor for information on selecting the best pre-professional program

Contact a counsellor by e-mail at, book a telephone appointment by calling 1-800-788-9041 ext. 6723 or use the online appointment form.

5. Become an AU Student

Once you are ready to become an AU student, apply online.

If you have further questions regarding this career path or wish to book a telephone appointment to speak with a counsellor, please contact us.


Dalhousie University, School Social Work
Canadian Association of Social Work Education (CASWE-ACFTS)  
University of Victoria, School of Social Work

Updated January 29, 2024 by Digital & Web Operations (