What is Social Work Field Education?

Social work field education consists of a practical experience within a community organization that allows aspiring social workers to complete their social work education programs. In that way, it is equivalent to the "practicum" components of other educational programs, such as nursing.

Social Work Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the educational requirement for most social workers is a bachelor's degree. Some social work positions require a master's degree in social work. Clinical social workers must have a minimum of a master's degree, plus two years of supervised experience. The Council on Social Work Education is the accrediting body for social work education programs at the bachelor's and master's levels.

Licensing and certification requirements for non-clinical social workers vary by state, but nearly all states have some form of license or certification that social workers need to earn. All 50 states require clinical social workers to be licensed.

Program Requirements

Both Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) degree programs may offer field experiences. The master's-level field experience program requires more hours than the bachelor's-level program. For example, at the University of Alaska Anchorage's School of Social Work, MSW students are required to complete 960 hours in the field. BSW students are required to complete 448 hours. This is only an example; the actual number of hours varies by program.

In general, colleges and universities make an attempt to work with local agencies within a relatively close radius to the campus. In some cases, as the Boston University School of Social Work informs its students, students may have to travel up to an hour in either direction to reach their placements.

Examples of placements might include:

  • Addictions treatment centers
  • Adolescent service agencies
  • Case management agencies
  • Child and family services agencies
  • Community outreach programs
  • Counseling services for the hearing impaired
  • Gerontology services facilities
  • International social work programs
  • Mental and behavioral health facilities


The goal of these requirements is to prepare aspiring social workers for the kind of work they'll do once they complete their education, obtain licensing or certification as required, and get positions as social workers. In participating community organizations, social work students apply the theories and knowledge they've learned in the classroom to real-world situations.

A secondary goal of field education experiences is to help aspiring social workers prepare to take the licensing exams they'll need to take in order to work. The Association of Social Work Boards estimates that 69% of students who completed Capital University's field experience program, for example, passed the licensing examination on the first attempt.


Social work field experience is the equivalent of the practicum portion of bachelor's- and master's-level educational programs. These programs require students to work with various organizations in the community surrounding the college or university to build the skills they'll need in the field of social work. A wide variety of community and social work organizations may participate in social work field programs.

See also: The 14 Most Affordable Accredited MSW Programs in the North East 2016