Practicum Learning

Practicum Learning is a vital part of earning an MSW.

It is where students learn how to apply social work theories from the classroom to social work practice. Working in practicum is intense, but students invariably find it rewarding.

Practicum Learning Requirements

Each semester, students work at a placement site three days a week (21 hours)—one day more than the minimum specified by the Council on Social Work Education—usually 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Typical practicum settings include schools, hospitals, courts, substance abuse clinics, prison, international governmental organizations, and community health clinics. Learning opportunities include case management, crisis intervention, program development, and policy intervention and administration. On-campus students have access to a Practicum Learning network of more than 800 agencies and nonprofits throughout New York City (including all boroughs), New Jersey and Connecticut. We also have more than 300 placements in cities nationwide for students attending the online campus. The Office of Practicum Learning matches each student individually with agencies and practicum instructors and then works to ensure that the student’s learning objectives are met through a detailed educational plan. During a student’s first (generalist) year, the focus is on generalist social work practice. In the second (specialized practice) year, the focus is on the student’s chosen method area of concentration and field of practice. At that time, students will work closely with an associate director in The Office of Practicum Learning to find a placement that helps them to develop a specialized skill set. Please note:
  • Two-Year and Part-Time to Full-Time (Extended) Program students complete 1,200 hours at two different placement sites.
  • Advanced Standing and Transfer students complete one year, or 600 hours, of Practicum Learning.
  • One-Year Residency for Working Professionals (Reduced Residency) students complete 900 hours of Practicum Learning.
  • To learn more, go to

Support for Students in practicum

The Office of Practicum Learning works with each student on their practicum placements, as described above. At practicum internship itself, you have a supervisor who assumes primary responsibility for your field instruction, meeting with you face to face once a week. In addition, you have an advisor, who supports both you and your practicum instructor throughout the academic year. The advisor monitors your work at the agency and is responsible for assigning a pass/fail grade to that work at the end of each semester. For more details on the advisement component, please visit our Office of Advising page.

Hear from Your Peers

Columbia MSW students talk about their experiences of practicing social work in practicum.
Stories from the Field: Michele Gehr (CSSW '15) tells us about her field placement.
Michele Gehr (CSSW '15) tells us how she made a difference during her field placement at a school in the South Bronx, in one of the toughest schools in the country.
What is it like to work in the field as a Columbia social work student?
Field is intense--but our students invariably find it rewarding. A couple of them provide testimonials.
How Are You Changing Lives? Marsha Smith (MS'14)
Just before graduation in May 2014, CSSW student Marsha Smith recounted her efforts to change the lives of elderly residents for the better at her first-year field placement, despite the arrival of Hurricane Sandy.