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Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research
300 Airdale Road
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010-1697
Phone: 610-520-2600
Fax: 610-520-2655

Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research

Field Education - Real World Experience

Field Education is an integral part of the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research Master of Social Service (MSS) and Master in Public Health (MPH) curriculum. The Field Education component of the curriculum provides students with supervised observational learning and practical “hands-on” social work experience in preparation for professional social work practice.

Field Education is designed to assist students in the integration of theoretical and conceptual knowledge acquired in the classroom with the direct application of the practical knowledge in their field settings. Field Education prepares students for advanced practice through the mastery of the core competencies augmented by knowledge and practice behaviors specific to a concentration. (2008 EPAS, EP 2.0) This competency-based approach is based on the measurement of specific practice behaviors. Students will be able to demonstrate the integration and application of competencies in their field practice.

The development of knowledge and skills in the provision of social work direct services, clinical intervention with clients, and community practice, policy and advocacy takes place under the supervision of a professional social worker or in some instances, a masters level behavioral health, public health, or legal professional. Students are afforded valuable exposure to the full range of social work macro and micro-level functions, diverse populations, clinical and community practice interventions, nonprofit management strategies, evidence-based practice, challenges and opportunities of contemporary social work.

Students will utilize different methods and modalities of assessment and intervention, developing plans and evaluating services. At the core of the field experience, students will also encounter and strategize practical ways to advocate for human rights and social and economic justice while applying social work values and ethics. Foundation-year placements socialize students to the profession of social work, enabling them to engage clients, assess client and community needs, and provide direct service interventions to individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities. The advanced-year placement builds on the foundation skills of the first year. Students in the Clinical concentration will be able to demonstrate advanced understanding of clinical, ecological, developmental and socio-cultural theories to inform and improve clinical practice. Students in the Community Practice, Policy and Advocacy concentration will focus on policy analysis and reform, community organizing, nonprofit management, research and evaluation and the development of knowledge of the policy making process.

Field placements may occur in a variety of settings. This may include but are not limited to inpatient, outpatient or partial psychiatric settings and areas such as community based mental health, child welfare, health care, employee assistance programs, juvenile justice, adult corrections, addictions, education, family services, housing, legal services, policy or research institutes, maternal and child health, neighborhood organizations, physical rehabilitation, public welfare, domestic violence programs and after-school programs, among others. Some second year placements may require evening hours.

Applicants are admitted with the understanding that they must be available for field placements a minimum of 8 hours/week during regular working hours (Monday through Friday, 9 AM-5 PM) and that the availability of a field placement occurring only during evening and/or weekend hours is not guaranteed.

Generally, field placements are found within 1 hour of a student’s geographic location. A student’s previous work and volunteer experience, professional interests, leadership competencies and agency needs are taken into consideration for matching purposes. In some instances, field placements may be highly competitive.


All full and part-time students MUST complete four semesters in their field placement.

Advanced Standing students complete one 10-week semester and two regular academic semesters in their field placement within a one year period. This occurs in the summer, fall and spring semesters. Advanced Standing Students will complete 22.5 hours per week for a total of 225 hours in the summer semester. For the Fall and Spring semester, Advanced Standing Students follow Year 2 hour requirements as outlined below.

Foundation year MSS students are in the field the equivalent of two 8 hour days/week, 7.5 hours/day of which are counted towards a total of 15 hours per week or 225 hours per semester, for a total of 450 field hours in the first year.

Clinical or Community Practice year  MSS students are in the field the equivalent of three 8 hour days/week, 7.5 hours/day of which are counted towards a total of 22.5 hours per week, for a total of 675 hours.


Agencies may require students to apply for clearances and/or background checks as a requirement of the practicum. Some agencies, especially those serving children or serving individuals in health care settings, require child abuse and/or criminal history, including state and FBI clearances. In some instances, agencies also require physicals, specific immunizations and drug screenings. Students must be aware that having criminal backgrounds or negative findings on screenings may delay start of placement or prevent them from being placed in agency settings. This may also impact their ability to obtain licensure as a professional social worker. The student is responsible for all costs associated with these clearances and tests.


The Field Education Office assigns student to their field placement. In assigning field placements, the GSSWSR considers the student’s previous experiences, interests, academic and professional goals, along with the GSSWSR’s knowledge of agency resources and appropriate learning opportunities. It is the GSSWSR’s policy that potential field placements are to be investigated, negotiated, and arranged by the Field Education Office. Students are referred to only one field placement setting at a time. Students do not arrange their own placements and agencies do not interview students in advance of contact with the Field Education Office.

Students have an opportunity to list specific learning goals as they relate to both agency services and professional standards. Field setting preferences will be considered, keeping in mind that there are numerous complex factors that go into the field placement matching process. These factors include, but are not limited to, the agency’s competitive interviewing process, a student’s prior experience working in human service agency settings with clients, and a student’s interviewing and professional skills.


Placement in a student’s employing agency is the exception rather than the standard student option. Students may use a current employment site as a field education setting, subject to approval by the Field Office. In these instances, the GSSWSR works closely with the agency and student to establish a learning experience that recognizes the complexity of the student-employee role while providing educationally rich advanced learning opportunities for the student to apply the principles, knowledge, and practice skills learned in courses. Students are encouraged to have a non-worksite field placement for one of the two years. Students cannot use employment hours for field placement hours. Students must have been employed by the agency in a human service capacity for a minimum of 6 months prior to proposing a worksite field placement.