Being a Master of Social Work (MSW) student is both exciting and nerve-wracking, especially when you're preparing for your first-year placements. As a newly accepted MSW student, I remember feeling a a ton of emotions, ranging from anxiety to excitement, when I had to do my placement coordination interview. Keep in mind, I am two days out of that anxiety and excitement lol. Based on my recent experiences, I'd like to offer some advice to new MSW students who are looking to get placed into internships for their first year in their program, and even some for those who are currently navigating their placements.
I changed my program from psychology to social work, intending to focus on therapy. My primary concern was that my change in academic focus might lead to an internship placement that didn't align with my aspirations. I had heard about experiences from other students, some having placements they didn't expect but ended up learning a lot from, while others felt entirely dissatisfied because they had trouble communicating with their placement coordinators, and hated where they were placed as well as their experience. The school I chose, however, seems to value student preference highly in the placement process. A student who passed up this school, gave me insight on the differences between the school I declined, and the one I ultimately chose. This was one of the biggest reasons I let go of the convenience on online school, vs 100% in person.
My advice to you is to make sure you find a school and a placement coordinator who are student-centered and open to understanding your personal career goals.
During your application process and interviews, don't hesitate to ask about the school's approach to placements and whether it aligns with your expectations. I passed up on one school due to concerns about their placement procedure and I believe you should feel confident in doing the same if necessary.
Filling out the placement agency application is crucial, and I encourage you to provide as much information as possible. The more detail you provide, the better your placement coordinator can understand your goals and aspirations, and be ready to talk to them about your application. Don't worry about being judged based on the information in the application; it's meant to guide them in placing you in an environment where you can thrive.
In my experience, my placement coordinator utilized the information I provided to match me with an agency that would nurture my growth into a capable MSW, with therapy in mind. She reminded me that the work is ultimately about your connection, trust and relationship with the client, and that can be learned in many settings. She encouraged me to speak up, set boundaries, and communicate with my liaison if I encountered any issues.
A crucial piece of advice I would offer is to advocate for yourself. Remember, this is your education, your experience, and your future career. You have every right to express your needs and desires in this process. However, remember to also keep an open mind to unexpected challenges or opportunities that may arise; these could end up being extremely valuable learning experiences.
If at any point you feel unheard or that your needs are being disregarded, don't hesitate to escalate your concerns, even up to the dean if necessary. Advocating for yourself isn't about being problematic; it's about ensuring that you get the most out of your MSW program.
When you receive your placement options, ask your program coordinator questions about them. If you feel that an option not presented to you would be a better fit, express your thoughts and request to pursue that option. Lastly, if you're unsure about anything you've written in your application, take the time to clarify with your coordinator so they can better understand and accommodate your preferences.
Navigating the placement process in an MSW program can be scary, intimidating and so many things, but remember, you're not alone. By advocating for yourself, asking questions, and maintaining open communication with your placement coordinator, you can find an internship experience that aligns with your career goals and heightens your learning opportunities. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out via email!
Good luck on your journey + I hope that you choose the school that best reflects your needs and supports you as a student and future MSW!
Photo by Anete Lusina