I will be finishing a BA in public service management in December, and would like to go into social work, but I have been told a Masters degree is the only way. Is this right? Or does my (relevant) degree give me a shortcut?

Unfortunately, although your BA will be a useful foundation, if you don’t have an undergraduate qualification in social work, you are now required to take a Masters in the subject. The majority of students do this on a two-year full-time programme, which includes substantial and varied work placements. If the prospect of two more years in academia is deterring you, you’ll be relieved to know that varied and practical placements form a large part of the course and that these are paid. Grants and bursaries are also likely to be available for some students.

The only way to circumvent this process is to secure a role as a trainee social worker, in which case you will be seconded to a relevant course and will be learning while earning a reasonable salary.

Both options are very competitive. University admissions tutors and potential employers require substantial applied experience, usually on a voluntary basis, before considering your application. The General Social Care Council’s website, gscc.org.uk, is a useful one, and has links to relevant sites in each of the home nations, where training arrangements are slightly different.

A good overview of what the job involves can be found at the socialworkcareers.co.uk website.

Is there a Clearing-type process for postgraduate courses at UK universities? I’ve just done a science degree at an Irish university and would like to go into dietetics. But my degree is only a “pass”, so I think I may find it hard getting on to a course, and a Clearing-type route may be my best option. Failing that, it appears that I may have to do another three- or four-year undergraduate degree, which seems a bit repetitive.

While there are clearing houses for certain vocational courses in the UK, such as law and teaching, and also for MSc qualifications in the clinical sciences, most Masters programmes involve direct application to the universities concerned. In the case of dietetics, your choice of such courses is limited to fewer than 10 universities across the UK. These vary from diploma to Masters level. Your class of degree would be taken into account and you would have to provide evidence that your undergraduate study contained sufficient high-level content in key subjects, such as physiology and biochemistry.

If you can’t get on to one of these postgraduate courses, then you’re right that your best route is to do an undergraduate degree in dietetics. But this might not “waste” as much time as you think, because it will include lengthy relevant work placements and will take you straight into potential employment as a dietician, avoiding the need to do a Masters. The British Dietetic Association website ( bda.uk.com ) lists all undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

I’m seriously considering doing a Masters in planning at a British university in September, but my main long-term ambition is to go and live and work in Canada or the USA. Can you tell me if a Masters in planning would be relevant in North America?

There are 580 postgraduate planning courses of various kinds in the UK (not all at Masters level), and, assuming you want to start work in the UK, you need to study the course information closely to ensure that it meets the professional requirements of the Royal Town Planning Institute ( rtpi.org.uk ). Accredited courses are listed on their website. To gain status as a chartered town planner, you will also need to complete two years of relevant work experience.

The RTPI website does refer specifically to working abroad and shows case studies of people aiming for work in both the USA and Canada, so it’s clear some courses are relevant to a planning career across the Atlantic. For more detailed guidance, you need to ask individual course tutors, and perhaps also seek advice from the institute’s international affairs officer.

A starting point for information for the long term is prospects.ac.uk, where there’s a section on working and studying abroad. The relevant professional bodies across the pond are the American Planning Association ( planning.org ), the American Institute of Certified Planners ( planning.org/aicp ) and the Canadian Institute of Planners ( cip-icu.ca ).

Thanks to Liz Hagger and Gill Sharp, careers consultants for Domino Careers ( dominocareers.co.uk ).

Send your queries to Steve McCormack at steve.mcc@virginmedia.com