In the following blog entry, I will be describing some key steps in becoming a social worker in Finland. I will be discussing some things to think about before, during and after studying social work at university. I will also give some insight into the path that I have taken to reach the point that I am currently at in my career.
Selecting my path
I first had the idea of becoming a social worker when I was 19 years old. I was on a gap year in Australia at the time. Prior to this, I did not have a specific idea of what I wanted to study. We have all had a time in our lives when we have had to make a big decision, but we cannot be sure of where this decision will take us. At that age, the selection of future study plans is one of those big decisions, and with so many options to choose from, it is often a difficult one.
Initially, when the idea of social work came to me, I had a school counselor in mind. A person who helps guide young people through their academic lives whilst facing an array of issues that may not directly relate to their schooling. I thought of being a person that young people would feel comfortable to talk to for assistance or guidance. I started researching the steps I would have to take to enter this sort of profession. I found that a number of universities in Finland offered a master´s degree program in social work which would open the door to a number of fields of social work. I have included a list of universities that offer a Master’s Degree of Social Work at the end of this blog along with the applicable website links.
University Entrance Exam
Obtaining the required mark for entry into a Finnish University is difficult but achievable with the right levels of discipline and ambition. You must be motivated to succeed when you start studying for the entrance exam as it is a long process and you are competing against a large pool of students. Here are 3 important steps to prepare for your university entrance exam:
1) Make a study plan once you know the amount of material that must be studied for the exam and the time for which you have to prepare. The time for which you have to prepare for the exam depends on the course you intend to enter. This preparation time can range from 3 months to 1 year. For me, the preparation time for social work was around 6 months.
2) Be specific with your study plans. How much, when and in what format you will study. Make a plan based on your prior experiences but also be open to the advice of others for guidance on possible studying techniques that you may not have previously considered.
3) Focus on the goal and do what is required to succeed. It is not an easy path but if you are smart and disciplined in your preparations you have a much higher chance of success. My last blog on goal setting may be of assistance on this subject.
What is covered at University
After receiving acceptance to a university, the process starts. For the next several of years of your life, you will have the chance to concentrate on studying subjects that will hopefully interest you and help you launch the career you envisage. Looking back on it now, these years go fast. Try to enjoy this time in your life where you will most likely have less responsibility, more freedom, and a range of options that will diminish as we grow older and life becomes more complex.
I would like to briefly explain what is generally covered in the university studies for social work. The structure of the studies has changed slightly since I did my bachelor’s and master´s degree at Helsinki University but essentially, the bachelor’s degree (180 credits) is more concentrated on the general studies of social science. Trying to keep it as broad as possible, we learnt for example about statics, specific areas of law such as public law, wide studies and theories of society, parts of social psychology, sociology, social work and its function in society, social development policy, communication, public health, practical and professional skills, academic writing, languages and the process of writing a research Bachelor´s Thesis. You are also able to select alternative minor studies. I did mine in social psychology and media studies.
For the master´s degree (120 credits), the studies were generally more focused on social work itself as a profession. We learn about social work and human rights, structural social work and assessment of operations, social and health services management, social work opportunities in life, international social work issues, migration, welfare states, social research, qualitative methodology of social research, reflective interviewing and development management, qualitative discourse and relational social psychology, discussion analysis and interaction infrastructures, content analysis and interaction study in practice. We also did a long internship and optional studies on our areas of interest. Last but not least, the program is completed with a master´s thesis.
After finishing my studies, I had an in-depth understanding of how social work fits into society and the benefits it provides as a profession. If you are interested to work with people to try and solve social and personal problems whilst creating social change, social work is possibly an option for you.
Post-Graduation & Work life
After graduating, the first step is to find work. It´s important to start getting active while you are still studying but post-graduation is the time when your pool of options becomes larger. The more open you are to different types of work opportunities, the more options you will have.
There are many potential career paths in social work. Social workers serve clients dealing with a range of challenges including physical and mental health issues, poverty, addiction, and family problems. They may provide clinical services, such as counseling or therapy, and connect people to resources in the community to help them overcome challenges. Here are some options where you can apply after graduating:
– Different types of Hospitals and medical clinics (mental hospitals, city hospital etc.)
– Community mental health agencies and substance misuse clinics
– State and local governments including child welfare agencies and departments of health and human services
– Schools and other youth-serving organizations
– Private practices
– Family clinics and other therapy departments
My journey becoming a social worker
I completed my bachelor´s and master´s degree at Helsinki University. I also studied one period as an international student at the University of Sydney. This period oversees was one of the most productive and eventful times of my life. I highly recommend doing an exchange period. It can expand your knowledge and widen the perspective of your studies. Wherever you go, there will always be differences, small or large, in the style and content of the studies compared to how things are in Finland.
At the beginning of my studies, I was a full-time student. I recommend concentrating full-time on your studies during your first years of university. Your chances of eventual graduation increase with the more time you commit to full-time studies, and of course, you can complete your studies faster.
I recommend trying to pick up some casual or part-time work in your industry as early as you can. I held my first paid summer traineeship in a hospital as a social worker after completing my first year of studies. I ended up holding the same position for the next two summers. Later, whilst writing my master’s thesis, I held a part-time position in the child protection department.
These early work experiences were eye-opening. I was exposed to many areas of the profession which helped my learning process and allowed my confidence to grow. Do not be afraid to apply for jobs in the early stages of your student career. Entering the workplace forces us to apply our knowledge and learn from experiences that can’t all be taught at university. Experimenting with different places will also help you see how wide the field of social work is.
After graduating with a master’s degree in social work, I obtained my first full-time job in a family therapy department. I have always been interested in the counseling and therapy side of social work. I continue to find myself satisfied, passionate and motivated in my role within the department. I am currently working as a family social worker and family mediator. My plan is to continue my studies with the goal of becoming a psychotherapist. I find satisfaction in personal development and I look forward to the next stage of my studies. As with all industries and occupations, there is always something new to learn in order to advance our careers and improve performance.
If you have any further questions regarding the studies of social work, please send me a private message. I am happy to help and share more about my journey.
Finnish universities that offer “Master´s Degree of Social Work”:
– Social Work, University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Science: https://www.helsinki.fi/fi/valtiotieteellinen-tiedekunta/tutkimus/tieteenalat/sosiaalityo
-Social Work, Svenska social- och kommunalhögskolan vid Helsingfors universitet (Soc&kom): https://www.helsinki.fi/fi/svenska-social-och-kommunalhogskolan/126.96.36.1992.10.73307006806
– Social Work, University of Tampere, Faculty of Social Science: https://programmes.uta.fi/sosiaalityon-tutkinto-ohjelma/
– Social Work, University of Turku, Faculty of Social Science: http://www.utu.fi/fi/yksikot/soc/yksikot/sostyo/Sivut/home.aspx
– Social Work, University of Jyväskylä, Faculty of Humanities and Social Science: https://www.jyu.fi/hytk/fi/laitokset/yfi/oppiaineet/sosiaalityo
– Social Work, University of Lapland, Faculty of Social Science: https://www.ulapland.fi/FI/Yksikot/Yhteiskuntatieteiden-tiedekunta/Opinnot/Sosiaalityo
– Social Work, University of Eastern Finland, Faculty of Social Science: https://www.uef.fi/web/yhteiskuntatieteet/sosiaalityo