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Clinical Focus

The Penn State MSW program is a clinically focused program grounded in social work ethics and values of diversity, equity, and the pursuit of social justice. Students gain practical skills in engaging, assessing, intervening, and evaluating individuals, families, groups, communities, and organizations. Theoretical and conceptual skills covered in the program include trauma informed therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, play therapy, family and group therapy, holistic therapy, and telehealth/digital practice.

Utilizing a learning continuum, the Penn State MSW starts with classroom learning, then transitions to clinical simulations and further skills-based learning during an applied field education experience. These learning opportunities culminate in a capstone project designed to demonstrate skills and knowledge in social work across a diversity of areas.


The 60-credit, online coursework examines social work across the life span and emphasizes cultural competence in effectively working with diverse populations across varying geographic settings.

The curriculum is divided into two levels -- generalist and advanced. The generalist curriculum includes knowledge, values, processes, and skills essential for the general practice of social work. It includes generalist social work methods, human development theory, social policy, research methods, and field education. The advanced curriculum builds on the generalist foundation and provides advanced knowledge and practice skills in either the Children and Families or Mental Health and Substance Use specializations.

Students will also be required to complete 12 credits of field education practicum courses.



What is the field education practicum experience? icon-olus-circle

Field education and classroom instruction hold equal importance in social work education. The field education practicum is where social work students apply the concepts, skills, and techniques learned in the classroom into actual clinical practice. The field education practicum will occur in a social service agency, hospital, school, or other appropriate facility in the student’s local region. 

How many field education practicum hours do I need? icon-olus-circle

The Council on Social Work Education and the Penn State MSW program requires a minimum of 900 hours of field practicum. Full-time MSW students will complete their 900 hours across four semesters; 225 hours per semester at approximately 15 hours per week.  Part-time students can complete their field education experience in either one-credit or two-credit increments per semester, spending 5-10 hours per week (depending on their credit load).

How do I find a field education practicum site? icon-olus-circle

Whether students have focused goals for their field placement experience or are struggling to identify a field placement, students will work in partnership with the field director to identify a placement site that aligns with the program standards and the student’s educational and professional goals. This process may involve students presenting ideas for placement or the field director suggesting placement sites.  

There are two types of field practicums: foundation and advanced. The foundation field practicum in the first-year is a generalist placement experience, while the second-year advanced field placement provides specialized experience. 

Can I use my current job as my field education practicum experience? icon-olus-circle

The Council on Social Work Education and the Penn State MSW program do permit field placements in an organization in which the student is also employed. Student assignments and employee tasks may qualify as field hours when directly linked to the nine social work competencies and level of practice (generalist or specialized). The field director will meet with the student and their employment supervisor to determine if the student’s job responsibilities are educationally appropriate as a social work field education placement.


The online MSW program provides students with a quality education through a flexible schedule that fits demanding employment and family schedules.

Student Engagement

While the online courses for the program are delivered asynchronously, MSW faculty are fully committed to advising and mentoring students and fostering supportive relationships that will continue post-graduation.

Cutting-Edge Instruction

The MSW program utilizes advanced clinical computer simulations and instructional techniques to prepare students for social work practice. The program uses multiple supportive mechanisms to ensure the technology is accessible to all.

Experienced Faculty

MSW faculty offer combined social work experience in clinical treatment, child welfare, mental health, substance use, trauma, policy, and research. The program was collaboratively developed by faculty for consistency across the curriculum.