Social work internships play an integral role in any Master of Social Work (MSW) program. Performing field work within community agencies provides MSW students with an opportunity to apply their academic training to the service of real-life clients.
Practicing under the guidance of a seasoned social worker allows you to gain valuable experience through exposure to the responsibilities and challenges that professional social workers face on a daily basis. As an intern, you will apply previous life and work experience while developing new areas of professional competence needed for becoming a social worker.
Social work internships are typically served in social service agencies, hospitals, schools, nonprofits, or businesses that provide human services to individuals, families, groups, and communities. An internship allows you to learn core practice skills related to assessment, case management, clinical evaluation and treatment while working with clients who represent a broad spectrum of racial, economic and cultural backgrounds. You’ll gain insight into social work careers that will help guide your post-graduation job search.
Master Of Social Work: Field Education
All MSW programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) must incorporate field education into their curriculum to adequately prepare students for careers in social work. MSW programs work with local social service agencies, government organizations, hospitals, schools, or businesses to place students in an internship. If you are a distance learner, meaning you are completing your MSW degree online, the school will work with agencies that are conveniently located for you.
Geographic location is just one of the factors that go into placing students with social work internships. When partnering students with agencies, schools generally consider the following:
- Your previous work and volunteer experience
- Your professional interests
- Your intended career path
Sometimes a school will consider where there is a high demand for interns when placing you—for instance, in agencies where there is a shortage of staff, or in communities that are underserved. This is a good way to prepare you for helping meet the needs of communities in which you may work throughout your career.
In order to become accredited, an MSW program must meet the CSWE’s minimum requirement of 900 hours of field education. Internships may occur during the summer, but are often completed during the academic terms throughout both years of the program.
For the first year, during which you’ll take general courses that introduce you to the foundations of social work, you will likely intern in an introductory setting that familiarizes you with basic skills and tasks. During the second year, when you declare a concentration and take more specific career-related classes, you’ll hold an internship that helps you develop an advanced understanding of a specialized area.
How To Find Social Work Internships
Remember, all accredited schools of social work must incorporate field education into their curriculum. Keep this in mind when searching for the MSW program that is right for you. Because internships are a fundamental component of your education, the school is responsible for your placement. Be wary of schools that place the bulk of the responsibility on you and ask that you find your own internship.
You should certainly be proactive when the school is placing you in an internship—voice your preferences, mention organizations you might like to work with, and be vocal if you’re not comfortable with your placement. It’s important to work closely with faculty, advisors, and counselors to secure an internship, but it is through the school’s network, expertise, and resources that you will attain a successful and meaningful placement.
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