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Practicum Education

Practicum education is a critical component of the MSW degree. It provides a transformational learning experience that allows students to develop, practice, and apply their social work skills. Students have the opportunity to apply their theoretical classroom learning at an agency setting, the practicum placement site. At the site, students grow into professionally reflective, self-evaluating, knowledgeable, and competent social workers under the supervision of a qualified professional.

We welcome those who bring adventurous and curious mindsets to their placements and are open-minded about the broad and diverse world of social work.

The time I spent in my practicum placement shaped my social work lens in every way. As an eighth-grade counselor in the South Bronx, I learned that young people, particularly young people of color, are not here to be ‘saved.’ It was not their privilege to have me there — it was mine to be there with them. All of their strengths, beauty, and resilience were on display every day. It taught me about the strength within communities, particularly those labeled ‘disadvantaged.’

Raana Kashi, Columbia MSW graduate

Hundreds of Practicum Sites Across the United States

The Practicum Education Department collaboratively supports students in identifying and securing placements, regardless of where they live in the United States. They strive to place the students locally and no placement is more than a 90-minute commute.

The Department partners with community agencies that offer exposure to social work practice in diverse settings throughout the country. Our partnerships yield approximately 900 practicum education placement sites.

  • More than 600 placement sites are in New York City (including all boroughs), New Jersey, and Connecticut
  • Approximately 300 placement sites are in other states nationwide

The Department is continually adding new sites across the country and welcomes students’ participation as they expand the areas they serve.

Students also have the opportunity to fulfill practicum hours at our sixteen research centers and programs, including The Center for Prolonged Grief.

Sample Practicum Placement Agency Sites

We place students in a multitude of settings, including schools, behavioral healthcare settings, multi-service agencies, family-based counseling centers, substance use treatment centers, courthouses, and community-based organizations. Here are just some of the many agencies who partner with CSSW:

  • Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado
  • Boys and Girls Club of Harlem
  • Catholic Charities USA
  • Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy
  • Crisis Text Line
  • Garden State Treatment Center
  • International Rescue Committee
  • New York City Department of Education
  • North County LGBTQ Resource Center (San Diego)
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline

Generalist Year and Specialized Year Placements

All students in the Two-Year, Part-Time to Full-Time, and Part-Time pathways complete two practicum placements (Generalist Year and Specialized Year). Students enrolled in the Advanced Standing, One-Year Residency for Working Professionals (Reduced Residency), or Transfer pathways complete one placement (Specialized Year).

Generalist-Year Placement

The first practicum placement is broader in nature so that students can build foundational skills. These placements involve direct practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Students carry out case management, assessments and documentation, advocacy, and other such activities, while also developing their expertise in the nine core competencies of social work.

Specialized-Year Placement

The Specialized Year approaches social work practice within two levels of specialization, based on a student’s chosen method specialization and field of practice. Students have more input into this placement, which begins with a virtual Practicum Placement Fair and includes the completion of a detailed Practicum Placement Form. These students work closely with Practicum Education Department’s associate directors, who spend months coordinating these placements as they consider each student’s individual needs.

Students also have the chance to talk to other students and alumni about their experiences, in addition to attending webinars and forums, so that they have as much information as possible as they go into their second placement.

A Supportive Practicum Experience

The practicum experience is life-changing—and also enrichingly challenging. We make sure our students are supported with training they can use on day one and mentors that they can rely on every step of the way.

Preparation for Your Placement

In addition to courses in direct practice and advocacy, CSSW students complete a motivational interviewing training program, which bridges the classroom and the practicum through experiential learning. Students enter their direct-practice practicum work ready to establish rapport, build relationships, and ultimately empower clients to make their own decisions.

Alongside the power, race, oppression, and privilege (PROP)-based curriculum, motivational interviewing’s emphasis on reflective listening helps CSSW students to interact more productively with clients from different backgrounds, cultures, and health experiences.

Meet Your Team

Every student has at least three staff members — all of whom have MSWs — available to them throughout their practicum placement:

  • Associate directors from the Practicum Education Department guide and support students through the practicum placement process. They consider each student individually and strive to match their interests while providing an educationally sound environment where they can learn and practice social work.
  • Practicum instructors, who represent the agency, guide on-site learning. These instructors are representatives of the agency who are trained and approved by Columbia. They provide guidance to students as they work with clients and communities and also provide weekly supervision.
  • Advisors from the Office of Advising guide and support students throughout the full academic year. They coordinate with their students, the practicum instructor, and any other coordinators to ensure that everything is progressing constructively. They are a link between the practicum experiences and the larger MSW curriculum.

These are just a few of the many people who are dedicated to making the practicum experience a meaningful part of the Columbia MSW.

If you’d like more in-depth information on practicum education, you can review our Practicum Education Manual or contact an admissions counselor at [email protected] or (866) 627-4750.

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