Social Work Field Placement: Everything You Need To Know About Field Internships
One of the single most important components of your graduate study will be your social work field placement, a required component of any graduate social work program carrying CSWE accreditation.
As you consider a graduate degree and career in the social work field, it’s important to consider the benefits of CSWE accreditation, as well as the knowledge and experience you’ll gain from your social work field placement experience.
How Does Social Work Field Placement Work?
For accredited MSW programs, social work field placement consists of one or two internships, under the supervision of seasoned human services professionals. Many colleges have a dedicated staff member or team who specializes in locating field internships for students. Social work field placement specialists work to find internship opportunities that meet CSWE requirements for supervision and responsibilities, making sure that students will have a quality experience with ample guidance.
In addition, specialists often work directly with students to locate placements that match students’ professional goals. If for example, a student wants to become a school social worker, a social work field placement expert may assist in connecting the student with an internship opportunity at a local school.
In campus-based programs, students complete their social work field placement in the same community where they live and attend school. For online programs, social work field placement internship coordinators network with social work agencies nationwide to find placements in students’ local areas. This gives MSW students a head start in the realm of professional social work, gaining valuable experience – and making a difference in their communities – as they pursue their degrees.
What Will I Need To Do In Social Work Field Placement?
MSW social work field placements generally require between 1,000 and 1,300 total hours of internship experience. Some programs call for students to complete one internship to fulfill the requirement, while others split the internship component into foundational and advanced placements.
MSW programs typically ask students to complete their internships when an agency is active – meaning interns will be able to observe and participate in the usual functions of the agency, working directly with clients (with supervision by an experienced social worker).
This ensures that students gain hands-on experience in the field and are exposed to the kinds of issues and challenges they may face in their careers. It also means that most MSW students are required to complete their placements during normal business hours. The number of hours required each week vary by college; some schools allow students to choose between part-time and full-time placements.
Responsibilities during social work field placement vary based on the setting. Many students work with their social work field placement advisors to find an internship that aligns with their professional goals. While it’s not always possible to find an internship that matches your goals completely, all placements will give you experience that can help to advance your career.
Why Complete a Social Work Field Placement?
There are many reasons to participate in social work field placement aside from the fact that it’s a required part of your degree. Here are a few of the benefits:
- Learn from seasoned social work professionals
- Experience the real-life challenges and successes that you’ll face in the field
- Apply the knowledge you’re gaining in your MSW courses
- Build a professional network and create potential career pathways
If you already have a plan for your area of expertise in the field, a social work field placement internship can help you get closer to achieving your goals. Or, if you’re not sure where your passion lies, an internship is a great way to discover new opportunities and find your fit in the profession.
What Kinds of Social Work Field Placement Are Available to Me?
The type of social work field placement you complete will depend on a few major factors – your location, your educational focus, and your career path.
- Your location – Large, urban locations may offer many options for social work field placement, such as hospitals, schools, or community agencies. On the other hand, smaller towns or rural areas might only have a few qualifying agencies, so placements may be competitive among MSW students. School social work field placement teams work hard to find internship opportunities as close to students’ communities as possible, but students in rural locations might have to commute farther to an agency.
- Your educational focus – Some MSW programs have multiple concentrations or specializations, and these make a big difference in the kind of placement you choose. A clinical MSW will require hands-on work with individuals or small groups, while a macro program (focusing on change at the community level) may emphasize work with policies and activism. And if you’re in a program with a specialization or focus, you’ll likely have a field placement that supports your research and study specific to that program.
- Your career path – Social Work Field placement specialists will often seek students’ input on their placements. If you have a career path in mind, you may be able to request an internship at a specific agency in your community. Of course, specialists will need to verify that each agency meets CSWE requirements, so students’ requests can’t always be guaranteed. However, it’s an important part of the social work field placement process to discuss your goals and requests with a field placement advisor.
With these factors in mind, you may wonder about the specific types of agencies and placements that MSW students find.
Placements are available in many fields of practice, including medical, educational, substance abuse, and family service settings.
MSW students practice under an experienced social worker, so they experience the day-to-day roles and responsibilities that they might encounter as employees of an agency.