Field Education in the MSW@USC

Does the Virtual Field Practicum (VFP) apply for every student in the Virtual Academic Center?

No. Advanced Standing students do not participate in the VFP. The VFP model only applies to traditional full-time and part-time students. 

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What is Virtual Field Practicum?

The Virtual Field Practicum is an intensive skill-building experience that will serve as your field practicum for the first semester of your foundation year and offers training in:

  • Clinical case management skills
  • Client risk assessment
  • DSM-5
  • Evidence-based interventions (motivational interviewing, problem-solving therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy)
  • Ethical decision-making skills
  • Professional code of ethics

This cutting-edge teaching method is designed specifically to prepare you for your three-semester, community-based field placement.

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How does the Virtual Field Practicum benefit me?

The VFP is an innovative teaching method that standardizes practice skills, offers a supportive environment for learning new skills and can better prepare you to meet with real-life clients. You will hit the ground running when you start your community-based field placement and maximize your learning since you will be at the agency for a longer period of time over three semesters.

Over the past few years, distance therapy and telehealth have become a new practice model for social workers. Using the VFP model, you will be on the cutting-edge of this practice mode. The VFP experience will be an asset to your education as it will give you experience using innovative technology to meet with clients.

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Does the Virtual Field Practicum replace traditional field education placement?

No. The VFP does not replace your community-based field placement at an agency; it prepares you for it. You will arrive at the agency with significant practice skills to maximize your learning. You will still have an intense field experience at an agency, which is vital for earning an MSW degree. Your agency placement will begin a semester later, and you will be more confident and have greater skill when you start.

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Why is USC offering a Virtual Field Practicum when no other school of social work is?

USC’s prestigious field education faculty and administration have examined our field education model and determined that we can do more to comprehensively prepare students for their field placements and for future employment. USC believes the VFP provides the best preparation for our students to succeed. In addition, by remaining in one placement site for three semesters, you will maximize extensive learning opportunities from client relationships and agency trainings.

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Is the Virtual Field Practicum approved by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)?

Yes, the Virtual Field Practicum is approved by CSWE and supports meeting the required 900 hours of field education to earn a Master of Social Work degree.

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How is the Virtual Field Practicum provided?

This practicum is provided in the Virtual Academic Center online classroom where you will meet with fellow classmates and professors in real time to receive training in the above-mentioned areas. In addition, you will practice your clinical skills by working with a “client” — a professional actor who simulates the concerns and issues that your clients may face in the everyday life— and receive on-the-spot critiques from professors. Upon completion of this practicum, you will complete the remainder of your 1,000 field hours in a community-based field placement.

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How many hours a week do I need to be available for the Virtual Field Practicum?

The VFP takes place during the first semester and begins in the first week of classes. You are required to complete coursework in the Virtual Academic Center and attend two-hour live sessions twice a week. You may spend approximately 12–16 hours each week in the VFP but the amount of time will vary. Upon the successful completion of the VFP, you will earn up to 210 field hours.

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When does field education begin?

The VFP will begin in your first semester of field practicum (Semester 1 for full-time students; Semester 3 for part-time students). Your community-based field placement begins the second semester of field practicum (Semester 2 for full-time students; Semester 4 for part-time students). Confirmation of your community-based field placement may be delayed due to your geographic location, relocation, submitting a late placement application, change of cohort, special circumstances, limited availability for field or choosing the military sub-concentration.

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How does the concentration placement selection process work?

You must select one of the concentrations offered. The deadline for selection will be provided upon enrollment. This concentration selection cannot be changed without the approval of the registrar and your regional director. The Field Placement Team will identify appropriate placement options and will coordinate the placement process with you. The number of options offered is limited by the availability of agencies in your community.

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Community-Based Field Placement Requirements: Traditional and Advanced Standing Students

Can I choose my community-based field placement?

The Field Placement Team will match you with a qualified community-based field placement where you will apply core practice skills and develop advanced skills and knowledge within your designated concentration’s scope of practice. The number of options offered depends on and will be limited by the availability of agencies in your community. There is no guarantee that even a qualified site will have a slot available for your start date. Under no circumstance should a student contact an agency to solicit or confirm field placements.

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How will I be notified about my community-based field placement site?

You will receive an email notification during your time in the Virtual Field Practicum when a community-based field placement site has been identified. (Advanced Standing students will receive this email notification while completing the bridge courses.) This notification will have the placement information and a request to contact your assigned agency for a pre-placement visit. After receiving your notification, your responsibility is to immediately contact your field instructor to schedule a preliminary meeting to discuss the hours of your internship, orientation and trainings, and to begin satisfying the specific agency requirements and clearances. In most cases, all agency requirements and clearances must be completed prior to working directly with clients.

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What is the time commitment for the community-based field placement?

Upon successful completion of the VFP – Virtual Field Practicum (586a), plan to be available 20 hours per week. You are required to maintain a schedule that includes a minimum of one eight-hour day during these regular business hours (Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm) to be available for field practicum activities. If the approved agencies cannot offer qualified supervised evening and weekend hours, you will be required to maintain a schedule of two eight-hour days during regular business hours. Students who require evening/weekend hours may not only be delayed in placement, but may be required to take a Leave of Absence.

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Are there weekend and weeknight community-based field placements available?

Community-based field placements most often occur on weekdays during regular business hours (Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.). Students must make adjustments to accommodate a weekday schedule. If you require evening/weekend hours, your placement may be delayed due to the limited number of agencies that provide appropriate supervision during those hours. We cannot guarantee placements at alternate times.

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What happens if my community-based field placement begins late?

Sometimes due to unforeseen circumstances with the student, agency or field instructor, you may begin a placement late in the program. Delayed notification and placement can also occur due to a student’s geographic location, relocation, submitting a late placement application, change of concentration, change of cohort, military sub-concentration, special circumstances or limited availability for field. In these circumstances, you will receive updates from the Field Placement Team and are expected to work with your field liaison and field instructor to determine how you will meet their required hours for their practicum. In some circumstances this might mean additional hours per week or an extended length of time with the agency.

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Can I do my community-based field placement where I work?

If approved, an agency of employment may be considered community-based field placement. A consideration for an agency of employment request must meet the following criteria:

  • All of the required field hours must take place under the supervision of an MSW field instructor who is not the student’s employment supervisor and meets the standards of our program.
  • The field instruction assignment must be different from the student’s regular work assignment.
  • The activities themselves must constitute new learning for the student: i.e., a new population, utilizing new treatment methodology and/or in a new field of practice.
  • The student’s educational goals should be the primary focus of this request, not simply the needs of the agency.
  • The location of the assigned work space for the field placement should be a different location than the assigned work space for the role of employee.

An administrative review and approval is required for such requests. Additional information may be requested; however, we are unable to guarantee that your agency of employment can serve as your placement. If you are interested in learning more about whether your agency could serve as a field placement, please contact VACDEV@usc.edu, and a member of our placement support team will contact you to discuss your specific situation.

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How far am I required to travel to my community-based field placement?

The first semester of your field education experience is through the Virtual Field Practicum, so no travel is required. For your community-based field placement, we make every attempt to locate an educationally appropriate placement as close to your residence as possible, and we seek to place you within 30 miles from your home. At times, the best placement match is farther from your home than you may prefer. You are required to be able to travel up to 30 miles to your placement site. If you have travel restrictions or need special accommodations, contact the university’s disability office for assistance.

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If I do not have a car, how will this impact the selection of my community-based field placement?

The number of options for students who do not drive is limited, and not having a car may delay securing your placement. If you have travel restrictions or need special accommodations, contact the university’s disability office for assistance.

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What specific requirements must I complete prior to starting the community-based field placement?

You must complete the requirements in the Virtual Field Practicum (not required for Advanced Standing students). Many agencies require fingerprinting, criminal clearance and tuberculosis (TB) testing. Some agencies require proof of car insurance, a good driving record, a medical evaluation and/or drug testing. These are additional costs that may be incurred by the student. Please discuss the clearance requirements and any required trainings/orientation with your agency during your pre-placement meeting.

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If I have circumstances that impede my community-based field placement in certain agencies, will that affect my field placement?

It is imperative that you alert the Field Placement Team of any special circumstances as soon as possible so they can make appropriate placement assignments without jeopardizing your confidentiality or the agency requirements. Examples include lack of transportation, limited hours of availability for the field practicum/internship and felony convictions. If you are not forthcoming about this information or the nature of your special circumstance, it may impede or significantly reduce placement options available in your community and create a delay in securing your placement.

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Where will I be placed if I select the military sub-concentration?

 A range of placement options are available to students interested in learning more about working with military personnel, military retirees, spouses and other military dependents. Students will complete 550 hours of an internship in one of the following approved settings:

Schools (early childhood through higher education programs)
  • Veterans courts
  • Faith-based social service programs
  • State correctional facilities
  • Community college vocational programs
  • Older adult agencies
  • Family service agencies
  • Homeless shelters
  • Drug and alcohol rehabilitation and counseling centers
  • Hospitals
  • Veterans services organizations
  • Salvation Army
  • VA outpatient centers
  • Vocational rehabilitation centers
  • Adult care facilities
  • Hospice
  • Community mental health centers
  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • University student counseling centers
  • Military correctional facilities
  • Base/installation (only available for students residing on base)
  • Veterans Affairs
  • Veterans centers
  • Other approved community-based agencies serving military families and veterans

    Practicum sites are based on the availability of the agency to accept a student and a field instructor to provide supervision; therefore, no guarantees are extended to students on a specific type of agency that would be arranged. Please note that only students residing on base are candidates for placement on base.

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    What happens if a military sub-concentration placement cannot be identified in my geographic area?

     The active duty and veteran population varies greatly by geographic region across the United States. In some geographic areas, it may be challenging to find appropriate agencies that can guarantee a military-affiliated caseload. In these cases, the agency development team will identify a placement site in your concentration focus, and the military learning experience will be supplemented with a mandatory Virtual Clinical Experience (VCE). Facilitated by a military sub-concentration faculty member, VCE offers a cutting-edge, guided learning experience with a simulated military client. This will provide you with very realistic exposure to the unique challenges experienced when working with military clients. In addition, you will be supported to build service capacity in an agency setting for an unidentified military population through Internship with a Military Lens (IML).

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    Can international community-based field placements be secured?

    Yes. With more than 5,000 field placement partnerships around the world, we will make every effort to secure your field placement no matter where you live.

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    Can international field placements be secured if I move overseas?

    If you relocate outside the United States, we will make every effort to find a placement; however, unusual flexibility and/or additional expense may be required on your part. If there is a delay in securing a viable placement, you may be required to take a Leave of Absence until you return to the United States. Please consult with the Field Placement Team to discuss international placement or relocation.

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    Will I receive payment in placement?

    The Virtual Field Practicum and most of our community-based field placement agencies do not provide a stipend or salary for students. While some agencies offer stipends for language ability or other special circumstances, we do not select agencies based on whether a stipend is provided, but rather on the type of learning opportunities available to students. Since we do not require agencies to compensate students, a stipend or salary is never guaranteed.

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    Will I receive a grade for field education?

    Yes. You will be evaluated by the field instructor and field liaison and will receive a grade for each semester of field practicum (including your semester in the VFP).

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    What happens if I defer or take an LOA?

    You must notify the registrar’s office of your return a minimum of eight weeks prior to the start of the semester in order for the Field Placement Team to secure a community-based agency placement. We cannot guarantee that your initial interview sites will be available upon your return to placement.

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    Who do I contact if I have questions about field education?

    MSW@USC students can contact your regional director. Prospective students can reach out to your Admissions Counselor to address questions.

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