Field Education

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 field education, virtually and in person.

Two Phases of Clinical Training

You will begin your field education with the Virtual Field Practicum (VFP), 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 Field Practicum

210 Hours

Location: Online group sessions in virtual classroom

Guidance: Experienced professor during sessions

Training: Clinical simulations with an actor portraying a client

Required for: Students in the traditional MSW program

Part 2: Community-Based Field Placement

790 Hours

Location: Real-world agency setting

Guidance: Supervisory practitioners during internships

Training: Hands-on, in-person training with real clients

Required for: Students in both the traditional and advanced standing MSW programs

How the VFP Works

The Virtual Field Practicum (VFP) takes place in the MSW@USC’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 37-unit advanced standing program.

Skills and Strategies

Through virtual field 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 field placement and make an immediate impact in the lives of others.

Start gaining the clinical skills and confidence to help your community overcome mental health challenges.

Community-Based Field Placement

Throughout the MSW@USC, you will complete field 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.

Monday through Friday | 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • 790 total hours
  • 3 full semesters
  • 16–20 hours per week

Each week, you will spend 16 to 20 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 field 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 field hours.

How MSW Field Placement Works

When you enroll in the online MSW program, you begin working with a field placement coordinator. The USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work is affiliated with field sites across the United States, which allows us to help you find a successful placement no matter where you live.

  1. Your dedicated coordinator will first get to know you and your goals.
  2. Based on your location and area of study, your placement coordinator will explore placement sites that may be right for you.
  3. Your placement coordinator will set up interviews with sites near you.
  4. You will interview with each site as you would for a full-time position.

At your placement site, a field 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.

For more detail about how field placement works, download the MSW@USC field placement FAQ (PDF).

Skills and Strategies

A community-based field 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.

"The MSW@USC is constantly looking for ways to enhance students’ experiences. The field placement team works extremely hard to place students in internships that will foster our growth."

Destiny Robbins | MSW@USC Student

Take the Next Step

Take the next step toward gaining the hands-on field experience that will prepare you to improve the lives of your clients.