Field FAQs for Prospective Online MSW Students

View all blog posts under News and Articles | View all blog posts under Social Work

The University of Nevada, Reno School of Social Work is accredited through the Council on Social Work Education, which sets the standards for field practicum requirements, and these standards are applied uniformly to both traditional and online MSW programs. While we appreciate your choice of our online MSW due to the flexibility it currently affords you, any CSWE-accredited MSW program would require the same field practicum commitment from you.

 

About Field

Why is field education required for my degree?

Field education is the “signature pedagogy” of social work education and affords you the opportunity to actively observe and experience social work practice, reflect on your experience, construct personal practice guidelines, and then practice these in a guided field setting experience while being supervised. The success of your field education is dependent on the extent to which you are able to translate and synthesize material from the classroom setting to the field setting.

What is the difference in field education at the MSW Foundation and MSW Concentration levels?

MSW Foundation students experience field at the foundation, or Generalist Practice level, learning to act as professional social workers, conducting research-informed practice and practice-informed research, engaging in policy practice, and learning how to assess, intervene, evaluate, and engage with diverse individuals, families, groups, communities, and organizations. MSW Concentration students move to the Advanced Generalist practice level and are expected to demonstrate autonomy, leadership, and the ability to and solve more complex problems in their field placements.

When will I start and end field, and how many hours are required?

You must complete a total of 450 hours over two semesters (225 per semester) to meet the field education requirement for each academic year.

Online students complete two semesters of coursework only, and then two semesters of field plus one academic course. So you will be in a field placement in semesters three (3) and four (4) of each year of your online program.

An MSW Foundation student will complete a total of 900 hours (450 in the Foundation year and 450 in the Concentration year). An Advanced Standing MSW Concentration student will complete 450 total hours.

Example:

Mary Smith, MSW Foundation Student

Foundation Year

Semester 1: Online Courses Only
Semester 2: Online Courses Only
Semester 3:
1) Field at 15 hours/week
2) Field Education Course Online
3) One Online Course

Semester 4:
1) Field at 15 hours/week
2) Field Education Course Online
3) One Online Course

Concentration Year

Semester 1: Online Courses Only
Semester 2: Online Courses Only
Semester 3: Online Courses Only
1) Field at 15 hours/week
2) Field Education Course Online
3) One Online Course

Semester 4: Online Courses Only
1) Field at 15 hours/week
2) Field Education Course Online
3) One Online Course

John Thompson, MSW Concentration Student
Concentration Year

Semester 1: Online Courses Only
Semester 2: Online Courses Only
Semester 3:
1) Field at 15 hours/week
2) Field Education Course Online
3) One Online Course

Semester 4:
1) Field at 15 hours/week
2) Field Education Course Online
3) One Online Course

How will I be oriented to field?

 

Field Placement Process

Can I make up my own field hours?

No. You must complete your 225 semester hours by spending 15 hours per week in your agency (usually two days per week) over the course of the semester and your schedule must be approved by your Field Instructor. Any hours you miss due to illness, etc. may be made up at the discretion of your agency. Your field hours MUST be completed by the last day of coursework for the semester unless there are extenuating circumstances that allow for the approval of an Incomplete grade.

Can I choose to complete my field hours during non-traditional hours (i.e. outside of a Monday-Friday workweek)?

No. These field options are very, very rare. You may seek a placement that can provide non-traditional hours, or discuss this possibility with their agency, but this option is not guaranteed and must be approved and supervised by the field agency.

What if I work full-time?

We understand that you likely chose the online MSW for the convenience it affords in relation to work and personal obligations, but you should understand up front that the 15 hour per week field requirement is non-negotiable. Additionally, there are very few opportunities, if any, in most field agencies for non-traditional hours and it is highly likely that you will need to adjust your schedule to complete your field hours during traditional working hours.

While an organization may be open after 5 pm or on weekends, this does not necessarily mean a student may complete hours during this time due to the availability, or lack thereof, of the Field Instructor and meaningful learning opportunities during these hours. In some cases, a handful of hours each week might be completed after 5 pm, but it is almost unheard of for a student to be able to consistently complete 15 hours per week in a field placement during non-traditional hours.

The Field Education Program cannot guarantee that you will secure a field placement, and cannot provide extraordinary measures to secure a placement that works with your employment schedule. It is recommended that you begin exploring other options, such as approaching your current employer about flexible scheduling, as most often students who are employed can negotiate flexibility with a current employer more easily than a field agency.

What if I relocate to another city during the field?

This is a potential problem and should be brought to our attention immediately.

If you start out as an Online/Local student and leave the area halfway through, you will need to preemptively find a new place in your new community for your second field semester. It may also be a challenge to find a place locally that is willing to only have you for one semester, and then agencies in your receiving community may also not be open to a short placement there.

If you start out as an Online/Remote student, you run the same risks as listed above, and would need to coordinate with us to locate a local place for the second field semester.

In some cases, we can consider block placements (i.e. more than 15 hours per week for less than 15 weeks), but this is only an option if you’re not employed or employed part-time, and they must be agreed to and approved by the agency and the University.

In what types of settings can I complete my field hours?

There are many options for both traditional and non-traditional field placements outside of agencies that have historically employed social workers (i.e. child welfare, clinical settings, and non-profit agencies).  Students interested in non-traditional settings should discuss these opportunities with the Field Education office.

How do I go about finding a field placement?

Can I do my field placement at my current job?

Not in your current position, but maybe with your current employer. Field placements completed at a student’s place of employment must be approved in advance, and the duties, hours, and the supervisor must be different than the everyday employment duties. The field experience must provide the student with specific social work practice opportunities that are aligned with social work competencies as outlined in the Field Learning Plan.

Can I choose any “concentration” for my field placement?

No. The UNR School of Social Work focus is on Generalist & Advanced Generalist Practice. Generalist practitioners creatively and effectively employ a range of prevention and intervention strategies to enhance social functioning at all system levels. While some placements may be more heavily concentrated on micro, mezzo, or macro work, you will be provided with an expected to engage in practice opportunities that allow you to practice and master all nine required social work competencies.

Will the Field Education Office ensure I secure a field placement?

No. There are NO GUARANTEES that you will secure and retain a field placement. The Field Education Office will facilitate the process to identify agencies for you to interview with, but it is ultimately your responsibility to perform well in the interview and be accepted for an internship.

Can I seek out my own field placement?

This depends on where you are located. We categorize online students into two groups:

No. The Field Education Program Office will review your Field Application and forward it, with your résumé to selected agencies for consideration with notification to you of which agencies were selected. You MAY NOT make contact first with the agency unless specifically directed to do so, as typically agencies will contact students to schedule interviews. You should not follow up with agencies after interviews, with the exception of a brief call/email thanking the interviewer for their time.

Are there paid internships available?

Not usually – internship stipends for field students are extremely rare. Few agencies have the budget to provide stipends, but when available, they are permissible. The Field Education Office must be notified if a stipend is offered, and the arrangement must be formally agreed upon by the agency, student, and University via the Organization Agreement. The School of Social Work is not currently offering any stipend opportunities.

Will my financial aid or VA benefits be impacted if I do not secure a field placement?

Possibly. Students receiving financial aid or Veteran’s Affairs/GI Bill benefits who are unable to secure a field placement should be vigilant of the University’s online program drop dates at the beginning of the field semester, as in some cases, students must drop or withdraw from the course if they are unable to locate a placement.

What should I do if I have a criminal conviction or other issues in my background that I think might affect my placement?

You may choose to disclose this in your Field Application and discuss the matter with the Field Education Office during the pre-placement process so that a plan may be made for where you are sent to interview. Once placed, you should be prepared to complete all required training and be satisfactorily screened for any pre-placement background or health checks required by your field agency. In many cases, background checks are accompanied by sworn disclosure statements that require disclosure of charges and convictions. If you are impacted by such an issue in your placement, the Field Education Office may be able to offer some support and assistance, but ultimately you must be able to secure a placement. If you are unable to secure a placement for this reason or incur a new charge or conviction after you are placed, you may be subject to the Remediation Policy.

How should I prepare for the field if I am a student with a disability?

Students with disabilities should contact the Disability Resource Center well in advance of the start of the field placement and once confirmed with the Center, are advised to work with the Field Education Office to identify and discuss needed accommodations to ensure they are in place prior to starting placement. Please note that accommodations cannot be made retroactively but students may request accommodations as soon as they learn of a disability (which may occur at any time during the field experience). 

When will my placement be confirmed?

We will provide a placement process calendar in the Field Education Resource Center. Your first step is to submit your Field Application and resume, and then we will send you out for interviews. We provide agencies with a required response date and will publish a date by which we expect to complete placement confirmations.

What if my placement is confirmed, but then agency becomes unavailable to students before I start field?

In some unfortunate cases, students have been confirmed in a place when the Field Education Office is notified by the agency that they are now unable to accept that student. In this case, the Field Education Office will assist you in locating a new placement but you should be aware that this is a possibility for any placement, and you should have a backup plan for alternatives if a placement cannot be located. Drop and withdrawal may be required, so it is helpful to have a plan in mind to address lost credits or the impact this might have on financial aid.

 

Field Performance Expectations

How often should I meet with my Field Instructor in the placement for supervision?

CSWE accreditation standards mandate that you have one hour of weekly face-to-face supervision with your Field Instructor.

Does UNR insurance cover me traveling to and from the placement and driving for the placement agency?

No. You are responsible for transportation to and from your practicum site and assume the risks associated with transportation and parking. You are not allowed to transport clients and are not covered under most agencies’ liability policies to drive agency vehicles.

Can I log extra hours each week and complete my field placement early?

No. In order to maximize the educational experience by balancing classroom and field experiences, students will not be allowed to “bank” hours, such as working over 15 hours per week in order to complete the field practicum earlier than the semester ends.

How many of the CSWE competencies do I have to demonstrate to be considered successful in the field placement?

You must demonstrate satisfactory mastery of ALL competencies by the end of the second semester of the field placement.

Will my agency have an organized, structured set of tasks lined up for me to practice all of the required social work competencies?

Some agencies will, others will not. Your placement agency cannot cater to your every learning need and will go on without you long after your placement has ended. Many placement agencies who are taking a student for the first time will be developing roles and tasks as the placement progresses. You can enhance your own learning by identifying agency needs and developing projects to propose and run with. The relationship between you and your placement is reciprocal, and you can strive to leave your mark through innovative work.

Do I have to follow all of my field agency’s policies, even though I’m just a student?

Yes, you are expected to follow ALL policies and procedures of your field agency.

Can my field placement ensure my safety?

No. It is important for you to be aware of the risks associated with entering the field placement and choosing social work as a career. Though not typically classified as “dangerous” like other careers – law enforcement, military service, etc. – we as social workers often find ourselves working with individuals, families, and groups that are experiencing instability and dysfunction, and we are often called upon to confront social justice issues that are sometimes controversial. You should always practice and maintain vigilant personal safety awareness.

 

Field Education Course

Do I have to attend the Field Seminar class?

Yes. The Field Seminar is a mandatory core component of the field education process and provides an integrative process where you join your peers to discuss your learning experiences, examine the connection of the classroom material to practice, and reflect on your personal and professional development.

What is the Field Learning Plan?

The Field Learning Plan outlines how practice opportunities are provided for you to demonstrate the identified core competencies and practice behaviors of your Foundation or Concentration year that are mandated by the Council on Social Work Education.

How do I track and report my field hours?

You will submit the Field Time Logs to your Faculty Liaison as assigned. Field time logs capture both the current and cumulative total of hours you have spent in the field setting each week and link your field activities back to your required social work competencies, in an effort to keep learning goals at the forefront of your experience.

What is the Mid-Semester Site Visit?

Each field semester you will have a scheduled on-site meeting with your Faculty Liaison, Field Instructor, and other supervisors as appropriate to assess the placement and address any issues early.

How am I evaluated by my Field Instructor?

At the end of each field semester, your Field Instructor will complete the Assessment of Student Practicum Field Performance to provide input to you and your Faculty Liaison about your performance according to the competencies and practice behaviors and within the context of the current semester.

Will I receive a letter grade for the seminar course?

No. You will receive a grade of Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. It is possible to fail the field course if you are not able to effectively demonstrate the skills, knowledge, and values for every competency. In some cases, students must drop or withdraw from the course if they are unable to locate a placement.

What criteria are used to calculate my final grade?

The following criteria are used: 1) your field evaluation as completed by your Field Instructor; 2) your attendance, participation, engagement, and contribution to the field education course; 3) your completion of required hours; 4) your timely submission of forms and other required materials; 5) your adherence to all policies, procedures, and codes referenced in the field manual and as mandated by your field setting; and 5) your readiness to advance as measured by the level of integration of knowledge, values, and skills to demonstrate the requisite practice behaviors.

A grade of unsatisfactory may be issued in cases including, but not limited to: your failure to keep your regularly scheduled hours with failure to appropriately notify your agency; supervisor, being released from your agency for documented behavior that would be grounds for firing an employee, and conduct which violates the NASW Code of Ethics, the University of Nevada Reno Student Code of Conduct, and agency-specific standards and policies such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Can I change placements if I’m not satisfied with my field experience?

No. Placement changes are never made simply for student preference. If you experience challenges in your placement, you must follow the process outlined in the applicable BSW or MSW Field Education Program Manual to document and report concerns and request a placement change if appropriate.

Placement changes occur very rarely, and usually only as the result of serious and irreconcilable problems. In any case of a concern and/or the need to change a placement, there is a possibility that you will fall behind on the completion of the field hours, which must be made up to successfully complete the field placement requirement.

What should I do if I have problems in my field placement?

If you have problems with your Field Instructor or others in the placement, you are encouraged to handle concerns directly on your own in the field placement and involve the Faculty Liaison and Field Education Office as needed. Please follow the problem-solving steps found in the BSW & MSW Field Education Program Manuals.

If you feel like your placement agency is not well organized and/or the culture and mission is not congruent with your personal values, you may use the opportunity as a learning experience and seek supervision and support from your Field Instructor and Faculty Liaison to critically examine your personal values against the issues you are identifying in the agency.

What if I get sick or have an emergency during field?

Students who experience illness or other barriers to completing field hours must still complete all required hours to pass the field course. Please ensure that you follow your Field Instructor and agency’s expectations for notification of this, and inform your Faculty Liaison as soon as possible so that a plan may be made to make up missed hours.

What should I do if my field placement offers me a job?

If you are approached by your field agency with a job opportunity, you must immediately notify and submit an “Application for Practicum at Place of Employment” form to the Field Education Program Office. Approval is dependent upon how the agency plans to provide experiences for you during your field hours that are significantly different from normal work hours, activities, and duties, and are overseen by a different supervisor.

What happens if my Field Instructor leaves the agency while I’m still in the field?

This happens occasionally. The Field Instructor should notify the Faculty Liaison about the impending change and in turn, the Faculty Liaison will notify the Field Education Office who will explore options for continuing or changing the placement. Every effort will be made to retain you in your current placement, if possible.

Will the field be stressful?

Yes, it can be. You can mitigate these challenges through good time management and utilization of supports such as family, friends, peers, and instructors.

 

Suggested Readings

MSW Field Education Program Fact Sheet

Managing The Costs of a Master of Social Work

University of Nevada, Reno Online Master of Social Work