Doing a social work practicum is an important part of getting your Master of Social Work (MSW). Some states require that you have an MSW before working as a licensed social worker or that you finish your degree soon after becoming a social worker. The practicum that you do is a type of fieldwork component that provides you with practical knowledge and experience as you work with real clients. With the right tips, you can land a practicum at a facility you like.
Start Your Search Early
When you enroll in an MSW program, you’ll typically work with your adviser to determine when you do your practicum. During your first year, you might feel like putting off that experience or not thinking about it because you have a lot of time, but this may result in you missing out on a spot you really like. The longer you wait, the greater the risk is that you won’t find a position. You typically want to start your search at least one year in advance.
Scour the Want Ads
Julie Birkenmaier, who has her MSW, recommends that students searching for a practicum scour the want ads. In an article for The New Social Worker, she weighs the pros and cons of paid practicum work and points out that some jobs let you meet the requirements of your practicum. With a paid position, you’ll make money at the same time that you gain experience and complete one of the requirements of your degree. You can check the want ads in your local newspaper, look at classified ads online and keep an eye on professional social worker websites.
Use Your Network
Even if you start searching for a practicum during your first year of an MSW program, you can still use your own network of friends, family and teachers. If you know people working in social work centers, hospitals and other facilities, let them know before you start your search. You can also talk to your professors as well as your classmates. Don’t forget about your undergrad connections either. A professor you had in a BSW program might have the inside information that helps you land a practicum.
Head to Career Fairs
Career fairs are an excellent place to make connections, hear about job openings and apply for positions. The best fairs for those in social work programs are health fairs that have hospitals and other facilities on hand looking for applicants. Before you attend a job fair, take a look at some of the employers who will be there to ensure that there are social work jobs available. You’ll also want to review and update your resume, make copies to bring with you and decide what to wear to present a professional look.
Expand Your Search
Far too many students looking for a social work practicum narrow their search down to just a few facilities or companies. They are the ones left scrambling to find a fieldwork experience. Expanding your search to include both government and private organizations can help you find a good practicum. You should also consider looking at nonprofit organizations that help victims of domestic abuse and others as well as retirement homes and other medical facilities that need social workers capable of helping victims and patients.
Doing a practicum is the best way to gain experience working in the social work field, which is why most colleges that offer MSW programs require that students do a practicum. If your school does not provide you with a social work practicum, you should look for one early and expand your search to include government agencies, nonprofit organizations and other facilities.