Internships and Practicums
All accredited social work programs require field placement, although the specific types of placement and hours required vary by program and degree level. Field experience enables social work students to practice skills learned in their coursework and observe professionals at work. Social work field placements give students a leg up in their profession, providing them with practical work experience and practice dealing with challenges and issues they are likely to face on the job. Social work interns also give back to their communities while they hone their skills.
Social work field placement may be either a practicum or an internship. During a social work practicum, the student follows and observes a social worker on a limited basis, usually once a week. The student may take on some responsibilities under the close supervision of a trained social worker. A practicum is generally part of a course that requires reporting and reflecting on experiences in the field to combine theory and practice. Students typically begin social work internships after completing all, or a significant amount of, their coursework. Internships can be completed on a part-time or full-time format. Interns take on more responsibilities independently as they put their classroom learning into practice.
Typically, program staff help students find field placements that match their area of interest or specialization within social work so that they are better prepared to find their desired job after graduation. According to a NACE Journal report in 2017, recent studies show that students graduating with internship experience are more likely than those without it to find employment.
What to Expect From Your Social Work Internship or Practicum
What Will I Get to Do for My Social Work Internship or Practicum?
Social work interns work under close supervision of on-site professionals in the agencies where they are placed. Interns also receive ongoing guidance and support from off-site educators who supervise their field placements. During a social work practicum or internship, students observe and assist professional social workers. They learn to apply their academic training to the real world as they observe trained professionals and practice skills.
Interns have little discretion, but they do act independently for some tasks. They may assess client needs and help them obtain needed resources. In a school setting, for example, an intern might work with a group of students on identified skills or help the school social worker find resources for families. A clinical social work intern may provide counseling to clients, collect medical histories, and help maintain client records.
In What Type of Setting Will I Work?
Social work students gain field experience in many settings, such as schools, hospitals, community service agencies, correctional facilities, and therapy practices in their local community. Colleges place students in social work internships that match their professional goals. A student wishing to specialize in substance abuse counseling might complete a social work practicum or internship in a social service agency, hospital, or therapy practice that offers drug and alcohol counseling to clients.
How Long Will My Internship or Practicum Last?
Social work field placements generally last one semester or one year. A practicum requires less time per week than an internship. Students completing a practicum typically work for a few hours once a week, while interns usually work full-time or part-time. Simmons College School of Social Work requires bachelor’s-level students to complete a 100-hour practicum during the spring semester of their junior year and a 425-hour, year-long practicum during the senior year. Master’s-level students must complete internships three days per week during both years of the program. Because required hours vary by program and degree level, it is important to research the specific field experience requirements of programs that interest you.
Will I Get Paid for My Social Work Internship or Practicum?
Because a social work practicum is part of an academic course and supervised by a professor, placement agencies do not pay students for their work. Some internships are paid. Whether social work programs allow paid social work internships varies by school, so it is essential to research policies at schools that interest you.
Will I Get Academic Credit for My Internship or Practicum?
Students who complete field placements as part of the curriculum for their social work program receive academic credit for their practicum or internship. A social work practicum is an integral part of an academic course, and professors build these classes based on student experiences in the field. Students are expected to turn in assignments and meet benchmarks related to their field placement and share their experiences. Internships operate in much the same way although the requirements may be more rigorous. A social work internship may require research on the field placement agency, submitting treatment plans or client case studies, and completing other detailed reports.
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How Will My Social Work Internship or Practicum Help Me?
Social work field experience enable students to apply what they learn in the classroom to real people and communities. A social work practicum or internship allows the student to see how practicing professionals handle the situations they read about in class and then practice using these skills. Because social work involves interpersonal skills, practice is essential. During an internship, students become more aware of the challenges faced by those they plan to serve. They also become more skilled at designing interventions to help clients and more adept at implementing treatment plans.
The goal of any field placement is to help the social work student become more confident, competent, ethical, and professional. Field placements serve as the bridge between the classroom and the workforce. Students come to understand what it means to work as a professional social worker, so field experience is an important first step to becoming a licensed, employed social worker.
How to Find Social Work Internships
There are many ways for social work students to find internships in their area. Start with your program’s website or field placement office and continue your search with services such as those listed below.
- Your School’s Career Center: Check out your school’s career center website and job boards for internship opportunities in your area. Ask a career counselor to match you with the right internship.
- Job Fairs: Employers seeking interns often attend local job fairs and offer interviews and information. Bring your resume and seek out agencies and field placement opportunities that match your career goals.
- Recruiting Events: Local employers such as government agencies and hospitals may hold recruiting events near you. These events are opportunities to speak with potential employers about internship opportunities.
- Alumni Network: Your school’s alumni network is a great place to look for internships. Check with your school’s career center or alumni office for ways to access this network and search for internships.
- Job Boards and Internship Databases: Often, employers seek interns by posting opportunities to an online job board or database. Check your school’s website or career center, or see below for suggestions.
Social Work Internship Opportunities
- Internships.com: Students enter their desired internship location, and a list of internships appears. Students can refine their search by distance, employer type, and compensation.
- Linkedin.com: This social networking site provides job descriptions for the prospective social work intern. However, the advanced search features are only available for LinkedIn members.
- Indeed.com: This is one of the largest job sites in the world. The seeker needs only a job description and location to search for unpaid and paid social work internships.
- SimplyHired.com: This website uses a two-column approach. On the left are all the internships that fulfill your search criteria. Selecting an internship displays a detailed job description on the right.
- WorldInternships.org: This website allows students to set up internships all over the world. Locations include China, India, Nepal, and Vietnam. There is a cost to create such an internship.
- Projects-Abroad.org: Projects Abroad is a leading international volunteer organization with projects in more than 50 countries. There is a cost associated with these internships.
8 Tips for New Social Work Interns: This article is written for the undergraduate in social work by a field placement coordinator. It provides insights into the types of emotions and experiences a student might have during their internship.
Advice for MSW Students Completing Field Education: This resource provides information to students working toward their master’s in social work (MSW), including advice from four social work professionals and several external links for further reading.
Field Placement: What Students Need From Their Field Supervisors: A Student’s Perspective: This article is written from the perspective of the MSW student, focusing on what was missing and needed during their internship.