The field placement experience is a critical training ground for students to learn the techniques and practices necessary to become professional social workers. Unlike similar professions such as psychology, which take many years of education and training, social work education ramps up quickly. In just two years, graduates are expected to fulfill a variety of roles and duties. For this reason, MSW training is intense and rigorous, and benefits from hands-on experience.
Fieldwork allows students to take their classroom learning and apply it to real-life settings with clients. Importantly, as MSW candidates transition out of being students and into their professional roles, the fieldwork setting helps them learn to manage anxiety and the personal impacts of their. Social work can involve a variety of potentially upsetting tasks, such as working with the homeless or navigating clients through end-of-life planning. The fieldwork experience teaches MSW about self-reflection and other skills for coping with such tragic circumstances.
Most importantly, fieldwork allows students to specialize in a particular area, and draw upon that expertise when they graduate and seek their first job.
How Much Time is Spent in the Fieldwork Placement
Typically there is one fieldwork placement for each year of schooling. MSW students must spend approximately 900 – 1200 hours total in their fieldwork agency. In a full-time, traditional MSW program, students typically spend two to three full days working in their fieldwork setting each week. In an online or part-time MSW program, students may spend only one to two days each week. This will vary by the program.
During the first year of study, the fieldwork assignment may be more random or generalized. The second year placement is typically more focused, reflecting the area of interest or practice a MSW wants to develop as professional.
Where Will You Work?
What kinds of settings and agencies offer supervised fieldwork positions? Again, this will vary by school. But you should not be shortchanged in your training by a too few (or too low in quality) fieldwork options.
Some online Masters in Social Work programs may require you secure or identify your own fieldwork setting. That can be a very difficult task. Other online programs boast a nationwide network of placements. Whether you are just learning about all the exciting places you might work as a student, or need to be inspired in your own search, below is a sampling of the agencies and organizations that host MSW students in their fieldwork experience.
(Note: in some cases, we have provided you the specific name of the organization/employer – for example, the American Red Cross or Hope for the Warriors. In other cases we have listed a narrow category, such as in-hospital neonatal care. We have also provided broader categories, such as Hospice and Medical Hospitals, so that you may research those kinds of settings in your own geographic area.)
- AmeriCorps – VISTA
- American Red Cross
- Adult Probation/Parole Department
- Aids Task Force
- Animal Medical Center/Veterinary Hospital
- Catholic Charities
- Centers for Victims of Domestic Abuse
- Center for Autism
- Children’s Aid Society
- Eating Disorders Treatment Programs
- HIV Prevention and Outreach
- Legal Aid
- Local Colleges and Universities
- Big Brothers, Big Sisters – United States
- Big Brothers, Big Sisters – International
- Boys and Girls Club
- Hope for the Warriors
- School Counseling and Guidance Offices
- Jewish Family and Children’s Services
- Hillel Jewish Center
- Project Star
- Foundation of Hope
- Urban League
- United Way
- Medical Hospitals
- In hospital/community outreach – Maternal and Child Health
- Public Defenders Office
- Veterans Hospitals
- Long Term Care Facilities – Medical, for the Elderly, Alzheimer’s
- Rehab Facilities
- In-hospital Transplant Departments
- In-hospital Neonatal Care Departments
- In-hospital Oncology
- Community Outreach Centers, Healthcare or Community Based
- Behavioral Health Centers
- State Division of Youth and Family Services
- Substance Abuse and Drug Treatment Centers
- Salvation Army
- SEAMAAC, Inc. – Immigrant and Refugee support
- YMCA and YWCA
- Visiting Nurse Association