At the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, we know that offering students the chance to gain hands-on experience in a range of settings is the foundation of an effective social work education. Online MSW students spend a large portion of their time in the program completing practicum education, virtually and in person.
Students are required to complete a minimum of 1,100 practicum training hours plus a minimum of 100 practicum hours through attendance and participation with their practicum class, orientation and evidence-based intervention training (if applicable).
Agencies and students are expected to create a schedule of 16 hours per week in SOWK-591 and SOWK-593 and 24 hours per week in SOWK-691 and SOWK-693. (Summer Semester: Students enrolled in SOWK-691 or SOWK-693 during the Summer will need to increase their weekly practicum hours an additional 4 hours per week.)
Per alignment with CSWE, if students exceed the minimum number of practicum hours through full attendance they are still expected to maintain a consistent schedule for practicum and are not allowed to end their practicum placements prior to the last day of practicum education.
For more details, you can view our FAQ sheet here.
Two Phases of Clinical Training
You will begin your practicum education with the Virtual Practicum (VP), an online experience that allows you to hone your practice and gain confidence in a controlled, secure environment.
Once you have established a foundation online, you will complete in-person, community-based placements that develop your clinical skills and prepare you to work in a range of settings.
Part 1: Virtual Practicum
Part 2: Community-Based Practicum Placement
The Virtual Practicum (VP) takes place in the MSW’s intimate virtual classroom. In small group sessions, supervised by a USC professor, you will work in real time with an actor who plays the role of a client in crisis. You will consider strategies of practice in a safe, supervised setting and receive in-the-moment support from faculty and classmates.
You will spend 210 hours in the VFP setting before beginning your field education requirement in a community-based setting. The VFP is not required for students who qualify for the 24-unit advanced standing program.
Through virtual practicum education, you will gain evidence-based training to master the following:
- Clinical case-management skills
- Client risk assessment
- DSM-5 diagnosis
- Ethical decision-making skills
- Professional code of ethics
- Interventions, including motivational interviewing, problem-solving therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy
Through the VFP, you will build the confidence you need to begin your community-based practicum placement and make an immediate impact in the lives of others.
Throughout the MSW, you will complete practicum internships in or near your own community. Under the guidance of an experienced practitioner, you hone your knowledge and demonstrate your skills in a real-world setting. Placement is crucial to your success as a social worker — it is when your class learning and clinical skills come together.
Understanding Your Commitment
Your placement requirement is a significant commitment; you will spend 50 percent of your time in the program working with clients in the field.
Each week, you will spend 16 to 24 hours working directly with clients in a supervised environment. You must complete your placement hours during regular weekday business hours: Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Most students visit their placement sites two or three days per week.
Because the practicum component requires a substantial amount of time each week, we recommend that you do not work full time during the semesters in which you are completing practicum hours.
How MSW Placement Works
When you enroll in the online MSW program, you begin working with a placement specialist. The USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work is affiliated with practicum sites across the United States, which allows us to help you find a successful placement no matter where you live.
- Your dedicated specialist will first get to know you and your goals.
- Based on your location and area of study, your placement specialist will explore placement sites that may be right for you.
- Your placement specialist will set up interviews with sites near you.
- You will interview with each site as you would for a full-time position.
At your placement site, a practicum instructor will manage your progress and offer guidance as well as provide feedback on your performance. USC faculty will ensure you are meeting program and professional milestones throughout your internship.
You can access the MSW Practicum Education Manual here (PDF, 899 KB).
Skills and Strategies
A community-based placement allows you to gain professional experience and grow your clinical skills. During your placement, you will master the following:
- Commitment to the values and ethics of social work
- Direct services to clients
- Self-awareness and sensitivity to issues of human diversity
- Methods and modalities of intervention
- Assessment, development and evaluation of services
You will also have the chance to build invaluable, long-standing relationships in your own social work community.