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What Is a Practicum?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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A practicum can be defined as a learning experience that is usually undertaken at the college level, and often in master’s or other post-graduate programs. These provide both college credits and a real-life opportunity to work in a chosen field. Ordinarily, the practicum must include some kind of class meeting or formal recognition by a university in addition to providing work experience. A number of post-grad or master’s curricula require some sort of practicum in addition to the formal courses that complete a program.

There are a number of settings where students will almost always complete one or more semester of practicum. Those students studying for teaching credentials generally must complete a certain number of hours of student teaching. They are under the supervision of licensed teachers while they complete this work, and many have to teach in a number of different grades and different schools to receive full credit for their practicum. Training teachers may also have a classwork component to this formal internship, and have an instructor that they meet with, along with other students, on a weekly basis to help round out and reflect the learning experience.

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Similarly, many licensed professional counselor students or those earning their marriage and family therapy degree, also have a practicum requirement. A number of these students participate in on-campus counseling programs, or occasionally in community programs, and give counseling to other students that is supervised by licensed faculty. They may meet in small or large groups to reflect on what they are learning through their practice. Journaling or paper writing could be part of earning the units, in addition to participating for a set number of hours as a training counselor.

Some of the most rigorous practicum requirements exist in accredited master’s in social work programs. In addition to completing 40-50 graduate units, students must complete 1000 or more hours of work. This is usually accomplished in one to two years of formal field placements, supervised by licensed clinical social workers or master’s in social work graduates. It includes a classroom component, so students can reflect on their field experiences and grow from them.

Other education programs that offer some variant of practicum occur in nursing school, medical school, dental school, and some business school models. While these trainings take time to complete, they have advantages. They help students actually practice what they are learning so they don’t begin a profession without real experience. They also can be the beginning of building a professional network and they can create much stronger resumes for people beginning a career.

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