Field Education

Field education 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 the field is intense, but students invariably find it rewarding.

Field Education 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 field 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 field education 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 Field Education Department matches each student individually with agencies and field 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 Field Education Department 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 field education.
  • One-Year Residency for Working Professionals (Reduced Residency) students complete 900 hours of field education.
  • To learn more, go to

Support for Students in the Field

The Field Education Department works with each student on their field placements, as described above. At the field 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 field 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 the field.
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.