May 22, 2011

UCLA MSW Program: Learnings from the 2nd Year Placement Process

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to address the lack of knowledge exchange among prospective students and professionals within the social work field. I hope to continue this exchange by providing some experiential information and advice I believe is crucial for students who embark on the second year internship placement process. While this post is primarily for prospective UCLA students, I believe a candid student perspective can help MSW faculty create a more equitable and seamless process for their students.

As mentioned in a previous post, the UCLA MSW program assigns students to their first year internships. Fortunately, students are permitted to choose the agencies they wish to interview and intern with for their second year. While I am privileged that there are so many incredible agencies and organizations to work with in the Los Angeles area, I must admit that I am frustrated with the way UCLA structures and regulates the second year placement process. I won't go into every bone of contention, however, I want to bring up a few issues I was particularly bothered by.

I found it incredibly aggravating that UCLA students are only allowed to select two agencies to interview with, while USC, in addition to other Cal State programs, allow their students to select up to five. If for no other reason, all MSW students should have an equal opportunity to interview with the same number of agencies. Furthermore, this creates a sticky situation for UCLA students who do not receive either internship, as they have to search for new agency internships that are not necessarily preferred. Secondly, UCLA started their interview process weeks after USC and other programs. I was told by a few sources that a gentleman's agreement existed among MSW programs about the time students could start interviewing with agencies. It makes me concerned that USC/other programs did not honor this agreement. Lastly, a handful of agencies offer open-houses, an opportunity for prospective interns to learn about an agency and engage with current staff members. However, faculty at UCLA created a rule that if you choose to attend an information session, you must select this agency as one of your two choice agencies. As someone who believes open-houses are an opportunity to decide whether the agency is the right fit or not, it seems backwards to force students to commit to selecting an agency prior to attending an open-house.

I realize that due to nature of MSW programs, the above frustrations might not be addressed in the near future. In order to help students avoid disappointments with the second year placement process, I offer the following advice:

  1. Strategize: Because UCLA students are limited to two agency selections, it might be in a student's best interest to select a "reach" agency and a "backup" agency. Just as college-bound seniors strategize with counselors to maximize the probability of receiving acceptances, MSW students should devise a plan to maximize their ability to secure an internship at an agency of their choice.
  2. Investigate: Find out the number of students from UCLA, USC, Cal-State, C-SUN, and other programs that are vying for the internship you want. Field liaisons can look to historical data for this information. It also helps if you have friends in other programs to investigate this information for you.
  3. Question: Equally important to the number of students applying for the internship, is the number of slots available at the agency. I interviewed at an agency that historically accepted five students, while this year, they only ended up taking two. Also, some agencies "reserve" 1-2 slots for UCLA, while others have no such school preference. Asking your field liaison for this information prior to agency selection is key to evaluating your chances of securing that internship.
  4. Know your strengths and limitations: When an agency states they have a preference for bilingual (English and Spanish) students, take this at face value. If you happen to be bilingual, know this is an incredible advantage.
  5. Be firm about your interests: Regardless of where field faculty believes you should interview, it is ok to say "thanks, but no thanks" if the agency doesn't jive with your interests.

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