Field education, also referred to as field experience or field practicum, is an essential part of your study in the MSW program. You will have the opportunity to apply what you are learning in the classroom to a social work setting. The field experience allows you to develop key social work skills in a supportive environment where you are encouraged to lean outside your comfort zone and learn from your mistakes.

The field education experience requires 952 hours of fieldwork over two placements, a generalist placement and a specialized placement. Generalist field placement requires 448 hours of fieldwork (16 hours per week)  and focuses on the development of core competencies such as utilizing ethical principles to conduct practice. Specialized field placement requires 504 hours of fieldwork (20 hours per week) and emphasizes development of skills in advanced generalist or clinical settings.

Terminology you need to know

Generalist Year.
The initial portion of your MSW program that includes foundational coursework and fieldwork. In the traditional full-time two-year program, this is the “first year” of the program. For part-time students, “Generalist Year” will extend beyond a one-year period.

Specialized Year.
The second portion of the MSW program that includes advanced coursework and fieldwork. This is when you will learn advanced skills such as crisis intervention, treatment planning and evaluating psychosocial functioning.

Director of Field Education.
The MSW department staff member who works to identify field placement opportunities and match students to sites to complete their field education experiences. We have two Directors of Field Education, one for West Chester and one for Philadelphia.

Field Agency. Also known as field site or field placement
The place where you will complete your field education experience. This may be a hospital, school, government agency, etc.

Field Liaison. Also known as faculty field liaison
The faculty member who is the bridge between the student and the field instructor during the field experience. The faculty field liaison leads the corresponding classroom practice course associated with your field experience, conducts site visits, and is a key component of the learning process.

Field Instructor.
The individual at your field site who provides supervision, mentoring and evaluation of your field experience.

What is the procedure for matching students with field sites?

The identification of a field placement is a collaborative process between the student and the Director of Field Education, who meets individually with each student to explore placement possibilities. Students submit a resume and complete an application providing information about career goals, experience, strengths, challenges, and other details that guide the placement process. Students are asked to be flexible and open to a variety of learning opportunities.

The Director of Field Education discusses possible placements taking into account the student's:

  • Learning needs and professional interests
  • Level of professional development based on life and social service experience
  • Course work in the program
  • Geographic location and available transportation
  • Unique circumstances

Evening and weekend-only placements are not available. Students are required to have some weekday hours at field sites to participate in learning activities that are only available during the day such as case consultations, staff meetings, and professional training.

Students who have satisfactorily completed their generalist field practicum are required to update their field practicum application before meeting with the Director of Field Education to guide the selection of the specialized placement. Students must also renew their liability insurance. All students completing a field placement must fulfill any additional requirements specific to the site where they are placed.

Can I complete my field hours where I work?

Employment-based field placements may be approved if the workplace is able to offer the student:

  • New assignments different from the student's role as an employee, which will meet the student's learning needs
  • A Field Instructor who has an MSW (with two years post-MSW experience) and is someone other than the student's work supervisor
  • A signed Affiliation Agreement with West Chester University

To maintain the integrity of the student/Field Instructor relationship, dual relationships should be avoided. For example, the student and field instructor should not be friends or socialize outside of the work environment.

The student, in consultation with the employer, must submit a written plan  to the Director of Field Education for review.

To ensure that all parties are in agreement about the employment-based field practicum and that there will be no conflicts of interest between a student's field practicum assignments and work assignments, or between a student's Field Instructor and work supervisor, the plan must be signed by the:

  • Student
  • Student's employment supervisor
  • Proposed Field Instructor and proposed Task Supervisor (if applicable)
  • Director of Field Education

The proposed plan must be submitted to and approved by the Director of Field Education prior to the start of the semester. The plan is also submitted to the student's Faculty Field Liaison as an attachment to the student's Learning Agreement.

Can I reduce the number of hours per week I am at my field site?

Students who are employed full-time or have other extenuating time commitments that prevent them from completing the standard 16 or 20 hours per week of field, may be approved for Extended Field hours. Extended hours enable students to complete the same total number of required hours, but over more weeks, to reduce the average number of hours per week. 

What will extended hours look like?

Generalist Year

  • Total of 224 hours per semester for field practicum courses (SWG 596 and SWG 597)
  • Average of no fewer than 12 hours over 20 weeks = 224 hours
  • Includes field hours over breaks, including winter break between semesters and/or after the end of spring semester

Specialized Year

  • Total of 252 hours per semester for field practicum courses (SWG 598 and SWG 599)
  • Average of no fewer than 13 hours for up to 20 weeks until 252 hours completed 


What should I know about extended hours?

  • A written plan for extended hours must be negotiated with the proposed field site's Field Instructor when the student interviews for the placement to ensure that the placement organization is in agreement with and willing to accommodate the extended hours plan.
  • The student must submit all required documents to the Director of Field Education before beginning any field hours.
  • The Director of Field Education must approve the plan for extended hours.
  • Acceptable activities before classes start include participating in orientation, job shadowing, and learning about the agency and its policies.
  • Field practicum extended hours continue through WCU's winter and spring breaks and into the summer until all required hours are completed.
  • The total number of hours per semester must be completed before the student can begin the next practicum course.
  • Student must maintain an accurate log of completed field hours, signed by the Field Instructor and submitted to the Faculty Field Liaison. 
  • The Director of Field Education serves in lieue of the Faculty Field Liaison during extended hours outside of the scheduled semester. Students with a plan for extended hours will typically receive a grade of NG until required hours are completed and the Faculty Field Liaison assigns a final grade.
  • A written plan for extended hours, separate or combined with an employment-based plan, must include:
    • Proposed start date for the field practicum hours
    • Projected end date for the completion of the required number of hours (224 or 280)
    • Days, specific times/hours, and total number of hours projected each week
  • The extended hours plan must be signed by the:
    • Student
    • Student's employment supervisor (if applicable)
    • Proposed Field Instructor and proposed task supervisor (if applicable)
    • Director of Field Education
  • The written plan must be submitted to and approved by the Director of Field Education before the start of the semester. The plan is also submitted to the student's Faculty Field Liaison as an attachment to the student's Learning Agreement.

How will my performance in field practicum be evaluated?

Student performance in field practicum is evaluated through a variety of measures designed to be supportive and collaborative. Both the Field Instructor and the Faculty Field Liaison contribute to the student's evaluation including:

  • Student's self-reflection in Learning Agreement
  • Direct observation of student
  • Process recordings (only required in the first field practicum)
  • Practice vignettes and self-reflections in the Learning Agreement and the Final Evaluation

Additionally, Field Instructors will evaluate:

  • Reports of direct observation of student from other team members
  • Weekly supervision and ongoing consultation
  • Collaborative assessment of mid-semester and end-of-semester performance

Additionally, Faculty Field Liaisons will evaluate:

  • Field discussions in practice class or field seminars
  • Ongoing consultation with student and Field Instructor
  • Ratings and comments from the Field Instructor on mid-semester and end-of-semester evaluations

The Faculty Field Liaison has sole responsibility for grading student performance in field practicum. While s/he may rely on insight from the Field Instructor, the grade is ultimately the decision of the Faculty Field Liaison in accordance with the course syllabus.

What should I do if I have a significant concern related to my field placement?

Students who have concerns about field such as practicum assignment, conditions of placement, quality or frequency of supervision, educational needs, evaluation, grading, social work values and ethics, or any other related issue should:

  • First try to resolve the issues directly in meetings with their Field Instructor.
  • If resolution with the Field Instructor is not possible, notify the Faculty Field Liaison. The Faculty Field Liaison will mediate differences among students, Field Instructors and other practicum site staff.

If the problem is still not resolved to the satisfaction of the student, the Field Instructor and/or the Faculty Field Liaison, the student may request a meeting with the Director of Field Education. The Director may serve as a mediator between the Liaison, student and Field Instructor or site representative as requested. When the grievance involves an educational issue, the Director of Field Education may refer the matter to the Program Director for discussion and a decision.

If the issue is still not solved to the student's satisfaction, a final appeal may be directed to the Program Director. If the issue is in regard to an assigned grade, the student must follow the appeal procedure as stated in the West Chester University Graduate Catalog. 

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