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Learning the Social Side of Social Work

Social workers often learn as much from their clients as their clients learn from them. Finding the opportunity to make a difference in peoples’ lives, however, often seems daunting for students of social work, particularly those in online degree programs.

Some have called for a reduction in the hands-on requirements for online degree programs in social work, but classwork alone cannot replace the benefits and insights gained by working in the field with real people. Simply put, hands-on experience hones students’ professional judgment and ethics.

Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) understands that. The school’s online Master of Social Work (MSW) includes field work courses working at OLLU-approved agencies. In this case, that means agencies with a high percentage of Hispanic clients, because the OLLU degree program is one of only three in the U.S. focused on serving Hispanic children and families.

Growing need for Hispanic-focused services

Identifying appropriate agencies is becoming easier. With the growth and dispersion of the Hispanic community, a growing number of social services agencies require their workers to have expertise with this population. In 2015, there were 41 million native Spanish speakers in the U.S., up from 30 million in 2002i.

The opportunities to work with the Hispanic population are varied and are available throughout the U.S. While the most opportunities generally are in cities, many ruralii areas also are in dire need of social workersiii.

Field work opportunities

To gain hands-on experience, students should approach social work employers in their area to identify field-work opportunities. Online internship searches also may reveal available positions, and OLLU can help students find work.

Two useful places to look online are the National Association of Social Workers’ job bank and Both sites list some available field work.

MSW students may arrange field work with private clinics or hospitals, welfare agencies, mental health or substance abuse facilities, retirement homes, schools, state and local governments, and other organizations that meet the criteria for the degree.

Opportunities include working as counselors, case managers, community coordinators, family therapists, human services counselors, life skills counselors, job coaches, outpatient health specialists, mental health counselors, social workers and public health workers. Actual responsibilities during internships may include such activities as liaising with local service providers, providing crisis intervention and support, mentoring former foster children or even taking at-risk youth campingiv.

Before beginning field work, students should talk with the instructor and with the employer to identify skills to be mastered during the internship. This sets clear expectations for both parties, and helps the employer ensure students have relevant and valuable experiences.

In selecting field work, students should also be aware of the financial implications. Some field work does not include a salary. Some employers provide a stipend upon completion, while others are strictly voluntary with no remuneration at all.

To learn more about opportunities in social work through an online Masters of Social Work degree, contact Our Lady of the Lake University.

iDiaz, Maria Sanchez. “By 2050, the US could have more Spanish speakers than any other country,”

iiForce, Paul, Emery Mackie, “Behavioral Health Workforce Policy Issues: A Rural Perspective.”

iiiRiebschleger, Joanne, Debra Norris, Barbara Pierce, Debora L. Pond, and Cristy Cummings. "Preparing Social Work Students for Rural Child Welfare Practice: Emerging Curriculum Competencies." Journal of Social Work Education 51, no. sup2 (2015): S209-S224.

ivYoung, Sharon, “8 Tips for New Social Work Interns,” The New Social Worker, page accessed March 9, 2016