This article explores the experiences of work-based learners undertaking social work degrees in the UK. The article is based on research of work-based learners on undergraduate social work degrees based in two universities, a local face-to-face university and a national distance learning university. Based on narrative inquiry methods for data collection, the article presents two case studies from the wider study which provide narratives of ‘becoming’ and ‘being’ a student. Drawing on identity theory, the article analyses how identity is an important concept in understanding the challenges and opportunities for this group of students on their journeys into and through higher education. The paper concludes by considering the implications for current provision of social work education.