This article studies the relationship between students’ perceived competence – operationalised in self-efficacy beliefs – and their competence as assessed by the educational institute. Contrary to previous studies, the current study focuses on competence instead of on isolated knowledge and skills. Students (N = 169) in four subsequent years of a social work bachelor programme filled out a questionnaire. Perceived competence appears to increase during the four-year programme, with a dip in Year 3. This might be due to internships starting in Year 3, offering students a more realistic picture of the complexity of the work. Students appear to overestimate their competence at the start of the course, and underestimate it when leaving school. Because a slight overestimation of one’s competence is favourable to tackle complex tasks and persist during setbacks, curricula could pay more attention to realistic student perceptions of their competence.