FIELD EDUCATORS FAQS

Here are answers to questions we frequently receive from field educators and prospective field educators:

I’ve never been a field instructor. How do I know if I’m eligible?

  • Field instructors must have a Master of Social Work degree and at least three years of work experience post-graduation.
  • We prefer, but do not require, supervisors to be licensed/certified Master’s-level social workers.
  • Field instructors must also take Seminar in Field Instruction (SIFI) training, but we may make exceptions on a case-by-case basis for instructors with experience.

What qualifies my organization as a field education site?

If your organization provides social services, behavioral healthcare, and/or advocacy, and if it employs social workers and other allied mental health professionals, you could be eligible to host an MSW student. Dedication to student learning and willingness to offer and supervise a robust work experience are musts.

What type of work do we need to provide students?

For first (foundation) year students, organizations should provide broad exposure to the social work profession through direct practice work with individuals, families and groups and, where possible, projects that interface with the community and contribute to program development.

For second (specialization) year students, their selected study concentration will guide the focus of the practicum experience. For example, a student who selects the advanced clinical social work practice specialization will need a caseload of clients in order to hone their clinical skills and provide therapy.

Also, we expect that the student’s time will not focus on clerical or administrative work.

What curriculum do students study while in an internship?

We offer students many study opportunities that include learning clinical practice, administering programs, and developing social policy. The fields of practice we offer include international social welfare, aging and gerontology, school-based and school-linked services, and services to immigrants and refugees or families, youth, and children.

These practices, which prepare students to meet society’s toughest challenges, are taught by professors who are leaders in their fields. Learn more about our program options, curriculum, and fields of practice. For the online campus there are fewer specializations and field of practice options.

How many hours a week does a student work, and on what days of the week?

Students spend 21 hours a week in their field practicum. For foundation-year students those days are Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, and for specialization year students the days are Monday, Thursday and Friday. The other two days are spent in class. Regular work hours for students can be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or another schedule that suits your organization’s hours of operation. Evening and weekend hours are also possible. Students sometimes prefer them so they can manage other weekday responsibilities.

How many hours a week do field instructors spend with students?

Field instructors spend approximately an hour and a half per week. One hour is spent in a weekly supervision session. The rest of the time could be spent on supervision of tasks or other work-related projects and reviewing process recordings.

Do students enrolled in the online campus have different field education requirements?

No, students enrolled in the online campus have to meet the same academic requirements as our students in the residential program. The only differences are that students attend class in our live online classroom at the same time every week with other students and professors from around the country, and that they work in their home communities instead of in New York City. Learn more about our online campus.

What is the Seminar in Field Instruction (SIFI) and why do field instructors need to take it?

We do everything we can to prepare and support our field instructors, whether they are located in the New York City area or around the country. The SIFI trains instructors on topics such as teaching cultural competency, challenges in field education, termination, process recordings, the role of the school in field education, and much more. We offer the seminar through our online classroom or on campus.

SIFI is 12 sessions for those who have never supervised MSW students, or three sessions for instructors who have taken field education trainings from another school of social work. On a case-by-case basis we could consider waiving the SIFI requirement depending on a field instructor’s experience. Check out our SIFI web page for more details.

What if we would like to partner, but we don’t employ MSW professionals, or if our social workers don’t yet meet the field instructor work experience requirements?

We might consider other allied mental health professionals, such as licensed marriage and family therapists and licensed counselors, to serve as field instructors, depending on the circumstance. To do so, we would need to obtain special approval and then evaluate each potential field instructor on a case-by-case basis.

How are students selected and placed with my organization?

We embark on a mutual matching process to ensure that a student is a good fit for your organization and that the student has a chance to evaluate your organization firsthand. For foundation year students, we learn about their study interests and past work experience and then help to arrange an interview with your organization if we believe your internship opportunity is appropriate for them.

For specialization year students, their study concentration and field practice will focus their selection on a relevant field education experience that matches their studies. Again, the interviewing process will determine if they’re a good match, and you are not obligated to accept a student if you don’t believe they would be successful.

What type of affiliation agreement is required to partner?

Our affiliate agreement outlines our mutual obligations in providing field education. Your obligations include following educational guidelines, orienting students, and providing field work. The school’s obligations include providing liability insurance coverage for students and assigning an academic advisor.  If you cannot sign our agreement, we can consider signing an agreement provided by your organization, after it is reviewed and approved by our legal department.

Does CSSW provide professional liability insurance for students?

Yes, we provide coverage for one million dollars per student per incident, and three million dollars in aggregate.

What happens after we sign an affiliate agreement?

The next step is to fill out our field placement request form so that details about your organization can be included in our placement book. Rising specialization year students use the book to evaluate available opportunities, and our field education coordinators use it to place foundation year students. Then we help coordinate interviews with students who are interested in a placement at your organization or who we think could be a match for your internship opportunity.  

When students are accepted by your organization for placement, we confirm the details and assess whether the designated field instructor needs SIFI training. For foundation year students, we make an effort to finalize placements at least two weeks before the semester starts. For specialization-year students, we kick off the placement process in the January or February before the next fall semester starts, and we finalize placements by late spring.

How do we compensate students for the work they perform at our agency?

You are not obligated to provide compensation for students placed at your agency. Students are usually able to earn funds for their internships via Federal Work Study. The way it works is that the federal government funds 75 percent of the student’s compensation on the grounds that the students are providing a valuable service to the community, while the remaining 25 percent is covered by Columbia University. Your agency is not responsible for providing the funding.

What is Federal Work-Study, and are we required to apply for it on the student’s behalf?

Federal Work-Study (FWS) is funding provided by the Department of Education to assist students with financing their education. Eligible students are awarded FWS as part of their financial aid package and are then able to earn those funds via an eligible field placement. You are not required to apply for funding on a student’s behalf. Once a student is placed with your agency, you will receive an email link to DocuSign requesting that you complete the necessary documents. Once the internship starts, you will need to sign the student’s bi-weekly time sheets, verifying the hours they have completed at your workplace. The student will submit these bi-weekly time sheets to the University’s Federal Work Study payroll system to receive their FWS compensation.

My student says she needs to develop an Education Plan. What is that?

As field instructor, you must help your student prepare and write up an Education Plan during the first three weeks of Field for review and approval by the student’s advisor. Then you, the student and the advisor must sign the plan to signify mutual agreement on the soundness of the plan for the student’s education in the field. NOTE: As you work on the Education Plan with your student, you may find it helpful to consult with our Field Education Manual which describes appropriate assignments for CSSW students according to year and method.

I have some issues about my student’s performance. What do I do?

If you need to talk about a student’s performance, please contact the student’s advisor. Advisors are the social work professionals whom CUSSW employs to serve as students’ educational support in both the classroom and the field. The advisor assesses the student’s performance in the field and also meets with the field instructor for input on how to evaluate the student at the end of the term. To get in touch with a student’s advisor, please contact the Advising Office at swadvising@columbia.edu.

I need to complete an evaluation of the student’s work this semester. Where do I find the right form?

Evaluations are completed using an online survey tool. You will be emailed a link to your student’s evaluation form toward the end of the semester. Further information about the evaluation process (including previews of evaluation forms) may be found here.