A Master of Social Work (MSW) degree is one of the highest paying master’s degrees. To earn this degree, you’re going to need to undertake graduate-level learning both inside and outside the classroom. Field work is a crucial part of a master’s degree program in social work and will take up a considerable amount of the time you spend on your education. Even after you finish earning your degree, you will still need years of additional supervised work experience if you want to obtain a qualification like the licensed clinical social worker credential.
Field Work Accreditation Requirements for MSW Programs
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When you enroll in an MSW degree program, you should anticipate spending hundreds of hours gaining hands-on experience in the field. That’s because the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) requires accredited MSW programs to include a certain amount of field work.
Under the 2015 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards established by the CSWE’s Commission on Accreditation and Commission on Educational Policy, a master’s degree program in social work must include a minimum of 900 hours of field work to acquire and maintain accreditation. Accredited MSW programs can choose to require more than 900 hours, but they can’t keep their accreditation if they require fewer than 900 hours.
Several MSW programs have field work requirements that go above and beyond the CSWE’s accreditation standards, requiring 1,000 hours of field work or even 1,200 hours of field work. In your social work field education experience, you might work settings like child welfare agencies, school intervention programs, health and mental health agencies and facilities, corrections facilities, homeless shelters, domestic violence prevention programs, substance use treatment facilities and disability services agencies.
Field education is so important to college instruction in this discipline that the CSWE considers it the “signature pedagogy for social work.” As such, the CSWE outlines specific requirements for field experiences in social work degree programs. While bachelor’s degree programs in social work should offer students field work opportunities in generalist practice, master’s-level field education experiences should allow for both generalized and specialized practice experience.
Field experience programs in accredited MSW degree programs should include admissions requirements, appropriate training and supervision by qualified practitioners. They should also have in place written policies that govern practices like the selection of field experience sites, field placement, evaluating student learning and performance.
If you enter an MSW program with advanced standing due to having earned a Bachelor of Social Work from an accredited program, you may be able to complete your degree with fewer than 900 hours of field work, because you completed field work as an undergraduate.
Supervised Clinical Experience Requirements After Graduation
If you want to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), your supervised field work doesn’t end when you graduate with your master’s degree. You typically need at least two years of supervised clinical work experience after graduation to become eligible for the LCSW credential, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some states, like New York, may require even more supervised post-graduate experience before you can pursue licensure as an LCSW.
There are, of course, some significant differences between the field work you perform before and after graduating with your MSW degree. For one thing, many field education opportunities for students, especially first-level MSW internships, are unpaid, although students do receive credit toward their degree for participating in them. After graduating with your MSW degree, your subsequent supervised clinical training is usually paid, either in the form of a post-MSW fellowship or a paid social work job. Of course, since you have achieved more competencies than students still working on their MSW, you are also qualified to perform more job functions.
Beyond having a master’s degree from an accredited social work program and the minimum amount of supervised clinical experience, aspiring LCSWs must earn a passing score on a clinical licensing examination, the BLS reported. The content covered on the clinical exam includes human development, diversity and behavior in the social environment; assessment, diagnosis and treatment planning; psychotherapy, clinical interventions and case management; and professional values and ethics.
Aspiring LCSWs whose workplaces do not provide supervision can look into the National Association of Social Workers’ Member-to-Member Supervision Program.