Master of Social Work (MSW) / PGDSWS

Master of Social Work (MSW) / PGDSWS

The Master of Social Work (MSW) and the Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work Studies (PGDSWS) are two-year, full-time, level 9 programmes that combine academic study with fieldwork placements. These programmes are approved by CORU. Successful completion of the programme leads to an academic qualification and will make you eligible to register as a social worker with regulatory bodies in Ireland and Internationally. Social workers practice in exciting contexts that make a difference to people's lives, such as probation, hospitals, child protection and welfare Tusla and community services), family support, community and voluntary groups, hospices, fostering, adoption, older adult safeguarding, and many more! Open now for applications - apply here. Closing date: 6th February 2023. All enquiries to

Click here to download our brochure: MSW Brochure

Why Study for your MSW / PGDSWS at UCC?

  1. Our two level 9 (QQI - National Framework of Qualifications) programmes (MSW / PGDSWS) are offered by a School that is a national centre of excellence in social work education, research and continuing professional development.
  2. Previous external examiners have said that the MSW / PGDSWS at UCC are amongst the best social work training courses in Ireland and the United Kingdom
  3. The MSW and PGDSWS programmes are approved by CORU. Both programmes have international reputations. 
  4. Invaluable professional work placements comprise 50% of the curriculum.
  5. Learn core social work practice skills through a reflective pedagogy and delivered by an inclusive, student-focused, and research-led academic team who are recognised as national and international experts.
  6. We are nationally and internationally recognised for our high-quality teaching and research. Our lecturers have received the UCC President's Award for Excellence in Teaching on seven occasions.
  7. MSW team members have won prestigious research awards: UCC's Research Team of the Year Award and the Irish Association of Social Workers researcher of the year.
  8. UCC is a five star university, is ranked in the top 2% of universities worldwide, top for graduate employability in Ireland, 8th most impactful university in the world (Times Higher Education), 9th university in the world for sustainability, ranked in the top 300 universities in the world (QS World University Rankings), top Irish University in the EU-wide U-Multirank ratings, 2nd in Ireland in the Sunday Times league table, 1st in Ireland and 33rd in Europe in the European Research Rankings
  9. The teaching staff on our modules have a multi-disciplinary base, with staff expertise in social work, social policy, law, community development, psychology, psychotherapy, and addiction.
  10. We provide student-centred teaching and learning supported by small group tutorials, individual tutorials, continuous assessment and placement-based learning.
  11. We provide students with a wide range of practice placements.
  12. We provide opportunities for practice research including action research and community-based research.
  13. Irish and International employers recognise the quality of training on the MSW at UCC and past graduates have been very successful in securing employment.
  14. UCC is a beautiful campus that has been extensively developed in the last number of years with new teaching rooms, sports facilities, library facilities and a broad range of student computer services. Click here to read more about the Campus and take a virtual 360 VR tour.
  15. We have established links with International placement sites in South Africa (Capetown), USA (Chicago), and Malta (ERASMUS).
  16. Cork was voted the third friendliest city in the world in 2018. The Huffington Post identified Cork as one of the 'overlooked European Cities you must visit in your lifetime'.
  17. Your registration fee includes free use of the excellent Mardyke Arena health and leisure centre.

Testimonials from Programme Graduates

"I was in my early 40s when I began the Masters in Social Work programme in UCC and prior to this had worked in the community and voluntary sector for many years. I always had an interest in working with vulnerable older adults and decided to get a social work qualification that would enable me to work in this area. The MSW is an excellent academic and practical programme that really prepares you for a career in a variety of social work settings. I really enjoyed all of the lectures over the two years and found the whole experience to be transformational from a learning point of view. It is never too late to go back to full-time education. My two practice placements were challenging but proved to be great learning experiences that undoubtedly prepared me for professional practice. I received great support from my tutor throughout the programme as well as the various lecturers on the programme who really want you to succeed. For my thesis, I had the opportunity to carry out community-based participatory research with my then employer ALONE on a topic that I was really passionate about. It was a great feeling handing over a piece of research that I knew would be of benefit to the organisation. I highly recommend this programme to anyone wishing to pursue a career in social work. On completing the programme, I was fortunate to secure a Medical Social Worker for Older People (ICPOP) position in St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny". Philip O'Reilly

"I was in my late 30s when I began the MSW programme and I came with a variety of work and academic experience.  I found the MSW programme receptive of all I came with and willing to incorporate it into how I progressed in my professional development as a social worker.  The MSW programme is based on a model of ‘Reflective Learning’ and this is embedded in a variety of ways; learning journal, tutorial groups, structure of practice placements and so on.  I find this model a most necessary and central aspect to how I practice as a social worker in terms of the often complex situations I find myself working with.  The ability to work reflectively means that for the people I encounter on a daily basis they will meet a professional that responds rather than reacts to the dilemmas of their lives.  On completing the programme I secured a full-time social work position with the Bedford Row Family Project in Limerick City.  I left the MSW programme not certain of what the role of social work is (I find this is often an organic and evolving role) but I left with confidence in my ability to enter this profession with a sound theoretical and practice base". Bernie O’Grady.

"The MSW course I participated in used many different forms of study such as group work, individual study, two practice placements and I received regular support from individual tutors. I also had the opportunity to carry out participatory research for an agency that I work for as the MSW participates in Community Academic Research Links (Science Shop). This allowed me to carry out research that I was interested in and also benefited the agency. I felt very supported throughout the research by my tutor. Overall, the MSW at UCC is a great course, I got the opportunity to be part of a great class, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about themselves through reflective practice". Karen McInerney, MSW Graduate.

"While on MSW programme, I met many people (lecturers and students) who supported me and gave me the confidence to complete this course. During the two years, I had an opportunity to learn and practice social work theories and skills required to become a competent social worker. My current work with young people is influenced by a variety of knowledge and training I was able to gain through the MSW (groupwork, cultural competence, International Law, my two practice placements and much more). I’ve learned to think critically about many social issues and deal with them professionally. I gained in-depth knowledge about social work processes and thinking through reflection. Reflection as a tool allowed me to grow academically and professionally and it also made me to think more clearly about myself. The success of the two years of study wouldn't be possible without a great MSW team and my fellow students, who are now friends for life". Zuzana Strbianova, MSW Graduate.

MSW Students 2013

MSW/PGDSWS students on their graduation day

Modules and Practice Placements

Year 1

Practice Skills and Fieldwork Placement 1; Applied Social Research 1; Child and Family Welfare 1; Human Growth and Development; Reflective Counselling; Social Work and the Law (Child Law); Social Policy, Social Exclusion & Anti-Oppressive Practice; Social Work Settings 1; Social Work Approaches 1: Theory and Practice, Groupwork.

Year 2

Practice Skills and Fieldwork Placement 2; Child and Family Welfare 2; Social Work and the Law (The Rights of Vulnerable Persons); Social Work Settings 2; Social Work Approaches 2: Theory and Practice; Community Work; Social Work Dissertation (MSW); Practice Project (PGDSWS).

Fieldwork Practice Placements

Practice placements are an integral part of the programme. Students are required to complete 1,000 placement hours (normally two fourteen-week fieldwork placements of 500 hours each). For at least one of these placements, students will be required to move outside Cork. The course has a wide range of placements within both voluntary organisations and statutory agencies in Ireland and abroad. 

Make an application

The selection process is a multi-part process involving the following elements: (a) application form, (b) two references, (c) written pieces, (d) evaluation of practice experience (min. 420 hours), (e) group and individual interviews, and (f) Garda vetting. 

The course is open to graduates with a minimum second-class honours grade 1 (2H1) Bachelor of Social Science (B.Soc.Sc) level 8 degree or equivalent (e.g. Level 8 BA in Social Care/H. Dip. in Social Policy/Early Years and Childhood Studies). If your course is not listed here, you need a minimum of 20 credits in social policy, and also have ideally studied modules in at least one of the following (psychology, sociology, economics, social work) in your primary degree. Students with a 3H or 2H2 standard degree can apply for the Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work Studies. PGDSWS students who achieve an aggregate grade of 50% in year one and pass their placement, can proceed to year two of the Master of Social Work programme.

Selection decisions are based on the following combined criteria: academic performance and research capacity; certified social work-related experience and initiative; knowledge of social work and motivation, commitment and suitability.

N.B. CURRENT FINAL YEAR BSOCSC / H.Dip Social Policy / Social Care Degree level 8 (OR EQUIVALENTs) STUDENTS, SHOULD APPLY FOR THE MASTERS OF SOCIAL WORK OPTION ONLY, pending their final results. Applicants should NOT apply for BOTH the Masters and Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work options as it is the one selection procedure for both options.

Please note that all students on the MSW/PGDSWS will be subject to the UCC fitness to practise policy and procedures.

International Applicants

Applications from Non-EU citizens are welcome. If you are not resident in Ireland, an online interview can be facilitated. Click here for information. It is not possible to study for your MSW / PGDSWS and be based in another country. You must travel to UCC / Ireland to attend classes and placements.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the important dates in the selection process?
The advert to notify the opening of the selection process is normally placed on the School website / social media accounts during November. The closing date for applications is normally in early February. The interviews usually take place during March. Applicants receive a decision about 2-3 weeks after the end of the interview process. The course normally starts in September.

What award does the MSW / PGDSWS lead to?

The Master of Social Work (MSW) course leads to two possible degree awards. Students whose average grades are 50% or higher on all modules and pass their placements are awarded a Master of Social Work. Students whose grades are less than 50%, and who pass their placements, are awarded a Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work Studies (PGDSWS).

Will classes / placements be online / face-to-face / blended?
The changing nature of the pandemic has meant that modes of delivery have changed at very short notice. For the 2021-2022 academic year, the MSW/PGDSWS is being delivered in a blended format (some online, some face-to-face). However, we won't know about 2022-23 until the summer of 2022. UCC's fundamental principle is that we are a campus-based university in as much as is practicable, subject to public health advice. You can read more about UCC's COVID-19 procedures, protections, and staff/student advice here.

Will I be a professionally qualified social worker when I graduate?
Both academic awards will make you eligible to apply to CORU for registration as a social worker. This is an independent process managed by CORU and successful completion of the MSW/PGDSWS does not guarantee registration as a social worker in Ireland or in any other country. The MSW / PGDSWS are long-established courses recognised by CORU and other international regulatory bodies; however, Irish and international regulatory bodies take other factors into account as well as your academic qualification when deciding on registration. Please see the CORU website for further information.

What degrees/courses are recognised as equivalent to the BSocSc (National University of Ireland) and what subjects would I need to have studied?

The Bachelor of Social Science degree is the primary degree for equivalency purposes for the MSW/PGDSWS. All of the level 8 BA (Hons.) Applied Social Studies (Social Care) degrees, the BA Early Years and Childhood Studies degree (UCC), Bachelor Degree and Higher Diploma in Youth and Community Work, BA Hons in Social Policy, and non-equivalent degrees where the candidate has also completed a recognised Higher Diploma in Social Policy (UCC online and UCC campus-based), are recognised as equivalent to the BSocSc degree for the purpose of applying to the MSW/PGDSWS.

If your course is not on this list, but it contains 20+ credits of social policy, you may be eligible to apply. Students whose degree course does not fit this subject profile would need to complete a H.Dip in social policy to be eligible to apply.

My degree is not one of the degrees recognised -
can I apply?
Prospective candidates who would like to pursue a career in social work, but whose degree is not recognised as equivalent to the BSocSc, can do a conversion course in the School of Applied Social Studies called the Higher Diploma in Social Policy (UCC online and UCC campus-based courses), which, in conjunction with your primary degree, will make you eligible for interview if you have also met the other entrance requirements (such as a minimum of 420 hours social work-related practice experience).

My degree is not a level 8 degree - can I apply? 
If you were awarded a Bachelor of Applied Social Studies (Social Care) ordinary level degree (level 7), you will need to upgrade to a minimum level 8 degree. Please contact your college to discuss your options, for example, to complete an add on year for an Honours BA degree (level 8). Alternatively, you could complete a Higher Diploma in Social Policy (UCC online and UCC campus-based courses) which would also give you the honours year and the required level 8/9 qualification. 

What does social work-related practice experience mean?

To be eligible for an interview, candidates must have at least 420 hours of social work-related practice experience by interview. Examples of practice experiences that candidates have undertaken in the past include: Simon Community, Citizens Information Services, Nightline (UCC), residential care work, observational placements such as Probation and Health Service Executive, access work with the Tusla, social work-related posts, disability services, community and voluntary groups, youth work, SUAS (UCC), Hope Foundation, volunteer programmes abroad, advocacy groups such as Alzheimer's society, Age Action, Amnesty International, and, and, and … (not an exhaustive list!).

It is not expected that these are paid positions, nor that candidates have done the hours consecutively, nor that your role was that of a social worker. As long your social work-related practice experience adds up to at least 420 hours and you can make the connections to social work, then that is likely to be satisfactory. A pre-selection review of the applications takes place by the MSW/PGDSWS course team to assess the relevance of the social work-related practice experience of all candidates. Candidates must provide as much detail about their work experience as possible.

I don’t have 420 hours of social work-related practice experience, but I will have the hours completed by the interview date. Can I still apply?
Yes, we would encourage you to apply if you have 250+ hours at the time of application; please state clearly on your application form how you hope to complete the hours before the interview date (normally March of each year).

Garda Vetting: What if I have a Garda/Police record?
All students on this programme will require Garda Vetting in order to attend student placements. University College Cork has made arrangements with the Gardaí in relation to Garda Vetting procedures.  All candidates who accept places on this programme must complete and sign GARDA VETTING FORMS and return them to UCC. Please note:  All students on the MSW/PGDSWS must have Garda Vetting. Should matters arise in the Garda check form, a student may be asked to delay taking up a placement until the clearance is confirmed or, alternatively, they may be requested to leave the course. The public interest and protection of vulnerable persons will take precedence in our deliberations regarding the nature of a person's record. Some very minor incidents on a person's record from a long time ago may be deemed acceptable by UCC, but this does not guarantee that CORU or a similar international regulatory body will take the same opinion and we provide no warranty in this regard. From UCC's perspective, offences of a recent, and/or sexual, violent, criminal, or recurring nature are very likely to lead to exclusion.

Do I have to provide evidence / certify my practice hours?
We no longer require applicants to certify their practice hours, but it is expected that your hours/roles and responsibilities as listed on your online UCC application are accurate. If there is some doubt, we may ask you to provide further information or to speak with someone in the agency where you completed your hours.

Will interviews be held online or face-to-face?

Due to the current public health advice, all interviews will be held online for 2022.

How do I submit my references?
All applicants have to provide one practice and one academic reference as part of the selection process. For 2022, this will be submitted by your referees through an online form. As part of your online application, you will need to provide the email addresses of your two referees.

Why have I not been offered an interview?
We try to offer interviews to all applicants; however, as there is a limit to the number of applicants that we can interview, a short-listing process may take place. This short-listing procedure examines the presentation and quality of the written applications, whether applicants have included all of the relevant documentation, whether applicants’ academic qualifications are equivalent to the BSocSc, academic ability and the quality and breadth of applicants’ social work-related practice experience is examined. Candidates whose applications are incomplete are not offered interviews.

I have previously applied for the MSW/PGDSWS, but was not successful at interview. Can I apply again?

If you have previously been unsuccessful in securing a place on the MSW/PGDSWS, you may reapply. If you are not offered a place the first time you apply, do not be discouraged; students in the past have come back and reapplied with more experience.

Recognition of Prior Learning
The MSW / PGDSWS programmes recognise that applicants to our programme bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and learning from practice / work / courses. This prior learning will be invaluable to you on the course and as part of the selection process; however, we do not offer exemptions/credit(s) for this prior learning.

I live outside the European Union

International/Non-EU students - apply online also through our online application system. The same supplementary candidate’s statement form and references are also required. If the applicants are from countries where English is not their first language, they also have to submit an IELTS or TOEFL English language proficiency result as a part of their application. The closing date for applications is the same as for EU applicants. A review will be undertaken of the comparability of your degree and grading standards compared to the level of the degrees in Ireland.

Fitness to Practise

As part of their University programme, some students are required to undertake placement and training that involve dealing directly with patients, clients or service users. All students commencing the first year of the MSW/PGDSWS at UCC will be required to comply with the Fitness to Practise Policy and meet the relevant Fitness to Practise standards in order to progress to the next year of their programme.  Students registering on the MSW / PGDSWS are required to read and sign a form to accept the Fitness to Practice requirements at registration and annually at re-registration. Click here for further details on the University's Fitness to Practise Policy and Procedural Guidelines.

Contact the MSW team

Please read the FAQs above before you email us, as the answer may already be on this website! If you have a question that is not answered above, please email us at Best of luck with your application!

School of Applied Social Studies

Staidéar Sóisialta Feidhmeach

William Thompson House, Donovan's Road, Cork, Ireland.