MSW Program Specific Policies

Technical Standards

The MSW program at SP2 prepares students for professional social work practice. Embarking on the journey to become a professional social worker involves commitment, the ability to accept constructive feedback, self-reflection, and resilience. Penn’s MSW program is fully committed to educating and supporting students as they prepare to enter the profession. In tandem with the ethical responsibilities of the Social Work profession, Penn’s MSW program has established Technical Standards, which focus on academic performance as well as abilities and attributes essential for the profession. It is expected that MSW students entering, progressing through, and graduating from the School of Social Policy & Practice embrace the School’s values of equity, inclusion, and social justice. It is required that MSW students abide by the NASW Code of Ethics.

All MSW students must satisfy the following Technical Standards, with or without reasonable accommodations, for entrance to, continuation in, and graduation from Penn’s MSW Program.  These requirements are not exclusive to the classroom; rather they also apply in field placements, in the School and University, as well as in societal context.


Students must be able to:

  • Communicate effectively, responsibly, clearly, and in a timely manner in interactions with other students, faculty, field instructors, staff, clients, and client systems, and other professionals with whom they might come in contact within their student role.
  • Use effective verbal and nonverbal communication skills, including the ability to listen objectively and to perceive and interpret nonverbal communication.
  • Recognize and respond to emotions.
  • Convey information (verbal and written) about clients as needed to direct or counsel them or others involved in their care.
  • Communicate clearly through written work in the classroom or field at a level appropriate for the stage of education.
Intellectual and Cognitive Skills

Students must have the ability to:

  • Think critically and apply problem-solving skills.
  • Acquire knowledge and process experiences to inform practice.
  • Demonstrate a willingness to continually reflect on own values, attitudes, beliefs, emotions, biases, current and past experiences, and consider how these factors affect thinking, behavior, interactions and relationships.
  • Take responsibility for actions and consider the impact of these actions on others.
  • Be punctual and dependable, prioritize responsibilities, manage time, and attend class and field in accordance with relevant policy.
  • Observe deadlines and conscientiously arrange and keep appointments.
  • Navigate transportation to attend field and classroom requirements.
  • Integrate new and changing information obtained from the classroom and practice environment.
  • Accept and integrate into practice constructive feedback received in both the classroom and field settings.
Emotional and Behavioral Readiness

Students must be able to:

  • Manage and seek appropriate help to ensure that personal issues do not interfere with professional and academic performance.
  • Maintain respectful relationships with peers, faculty, field instructors, staff, clients, and client systems, and other professionals.
  • Show the capacity to successfully complete required field practicum hours during the semester and meet the required social work competencies in the field and classroom settings.
Professional Performance Standards

All MSW students must meet required standards of behavior for professional social work practice. The following standards, along with related skill areas and required behaviors for each, are delineated in the SP2 Student Handbook.

Procedures for Corrective Action

As outlined in the SP2 Student Handbook, the Corrective Action Plan is a written document that describes how an MSW student’s professional behavior violates one or more Core Professional Performance Standards, and identifies corrective action to be taken and time frame for completion. The problematic behaviors must be behaviorally described, using examples.


  1. Depending on the nature of the problem(s), the academic advisor or field liaison develops the Corrective Action Plan.
  2. The Corrective Action Plan is submitted to the Dean of Students for review and signature. The Associate Dean of Student Affairs returns the signed form to the originating individual (academic advisor or field liaison).
  3. It is the responsibility of the academic advisor or field liaison to closely monitor the student’s performance and evaluate the student’s compliance at the end of the specified period.
  4. If the student satisfactorily improves, the plan is signed by all respective parties at the end of the specified period and forwarded to the Associate Dean of Student Affairs.
  5. The Associate Dean of Student Affairs may arrange a consultation with the academic advisor or field liaison and student before rendering a recommendation regarding the student’s continued matriculation in the program. It is the responsibility of the Dean of Students to ensure that the student has had access to due process throughout the review process.
  6. The MSW Program Faculty Director reviews the recommendation, makes a determination, and informs the Associate Dean of Student Affairs of the decision.
  7. It is the responsibility of the Associate Dean of Student Affairs to ensure that all related documents are made a part of the student’s file.
Exceptions to the Corrective Action Plan Procedure

A student may be dismissed from the program without having first engaged in the corrective action plan in the event that:

  • The student’s behavior poses an imminent danger to clients, other students, faculty/staff, and/or self and others (e.g., abuse of clients and/or colleagues, violence or threat of violence).
  • The student’s behavior represents an egregious breach of core performance standards and ethics (e.g., drugs on the premises, theft, bizarre, dishonest, unethical, and/or disruptive behavior).
  • The student fails to receive the minimum acceptable grade (B-) in a required course, after the second attempt. In such cases the policy governing dismissal from the program for failure to meet academic requirements supersedes the corrective action plan procedure.
  • The University decides to place the student on an involuntary leave of absence with conditions specified for return to the program, according to the conditions and procedures described in the Pennbook. The University may place a student on an involuntary leave of absence or require conditions for continued attendance under the following circumstances when the student exhibits behavior resulting from a psychological, psychiatric, or other medical condition that: harms or threatens to harm the health or safety of the student or others; causes or threatens to cause significant property damage; or significantly disrupts the educational and other activities of the University community.

Revised on 3/16/2009

Procedure for Termination as a Result of Failure to Meet Professional Performance Standards

When the student fails to improve satisfactorily after implementation of the corrective action plan, the following procedures are followed to determine if the student may continue matriculating in the program. It is the responsibility of the Dean of Students to ensure that the student has had access to due process throughout the review process.

  1. The Associate Dean of Student Affairs arranges a consultation with the student, educational advisor, field faculty, and current teaching faculty. Based on the outcome of the meeting, the educational advisor forwards a recommendation regarding the student’s continued enrollment to the MSW Faculty Program Director.
  2. The MSW Faculty Director reviews the recommendation, makes a determination, and informs the Associate Dean of Student Affairs of the decision.
  3. It is the responsibility of the Associate Dean of Student Affairs to inform the student of the determination in writing and to ensure that all related documents are made a part of the student’s file.

Degree Completion Requirements

All requirements for the MSW degree must be completed within five years of the date of the student’s first admission. Generally, the requirements are completed within two consecutive years (full-time) or three consecutive years (part-time). Students who leave the program for a year or more must contact the Associate Dean of Student Affairs, who, in consultation with the Associate Dean for Enrollment Management, will determine whether the student will need to reapply for admission before returning.

The MSW degree is awarded to candidates who:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree from a recognized institution of higher learning;
  • Have been duly admitted to the School of Social Policy & Practice;
  • Have satisfactorily completed the prescribed program of study according to the regulations in force at the time of the student’s completion of the program, within five years of the date of his/her first admission to the School; and
  • Have been admitted to the program as a MSW transfer student from an accredited program and has completed eight credits at this school.


  • Full-time and Part-time students must complete 16 credits in order to receive the MSW degree.
  • Advanced Standing students must complete 10 credits in order to receive the MSW degree.
  • Be aware that some courses in other schools at Penn may only be .5 credits, or may translate to less than 1 CU
    • (e.g., Law School courses that are 2 SH translate to .67 CUs).
    • Students are responsible for registering for additional partial-credit courses to ensure they have the required number of CUs to graduate.
  • In order to be considered for federal student loan eligibility, students must:
    • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen
    • Successfully submit a current and completed FAFSA
    • Be enrolled at least half-time in the term for which loans are being used (this applies to students taking classes in any term: fall, spring, or summer)
    • Be registered with Selective Service, if you’re a male (you must register between the ages of 18 and 25);
    • Maintain satisfactory progress towards degree completion
    • Any deviation from the standard course of study for the student’s program should first be discussed with the student’s academic advisor, then discussed with SP2’s Office of Financial Aid for guidance regarding any financial aid implications.

Evaluation of Field Instruction

Field instructor evaluations for students in the MSW program use the following grading system: Pass/Satisfactory, Marginal Pass, or Fail/Unsatisfactory. The core practice instructor has final responsibility to assign a letter grade for the course.

Problems Securing a Field Placement in the MSW Program

In the event of three unsuccessful field placement interviews, the Field Department will reassess the student’s appropriateness for the field placement. Planning for another placement at that point is at the discretion of the Director of Field Education, in consultation with the MSW Program Faculty Director. Possible outcomes are:

  1. Recommend dismissal from the program if an appropriate graduate level social work internship appears unobtainable.
  2. Student will postpone field placement and be withdrawn from practice class until the following year (re-entry review required).
  3. Student will be recommended to another field placement for interview.
Termination of Field Placement in the MSW Program

If a student is terminated from their field placement due to problems identified by the agency, the decision to provide another placement will be made at the discretion of the Director of Field Education and the student’s practice instructor. The Director of Field Education may request consultation with the Field Education Committee which consists of the Director or Associate Director of Field Education, the student’s practice instructor, the student’s academic advisor, the Associate Dean of Students Affairs, and the Practice Faculty Chair. If the student is subsequently terminated from a second field placement, the student will not be assigned to a third placement site until a review is conducted by the Field Education Committee. Possible outcomes are:

  1. Re-assignment to a third placement.
  2. The student is not assigned to another field placement and is withdrawn from the practice class. The student may be given the opportunity re-take the practice class when it is offered again.
  3. If it is determined that the student has violated professional conduct standards, a plan for remediation will be implemented per the procedure specified in the SP2 Student Handbook.
  4. The student may be terminated from the MSW program.

Minimum Grades in Required Courses

The MSW required courses are SWRK 601, 602, 603, 604, 614, 615, 713, 704 or 708, and 714 or 718. A student must receive a grade of C- or higher in these courses. A grade below a C- in any of these courses will be posted by the instructor as an “F”, and the student will not receive course credit for it and will need to retake the course. If the course is a prerequisite for another course, the student cannot proceed to the next course in the sequence until a grade of C- or higher is earned in the prerequisite course. If the student obtains a grade of F in one of the above-listed courses, he or she may retake that course once as long as his or her non-academic performance (see subsequent section) is acceptable. Students who earn a grade lower than C- in any two core practice courses (604, 614, 704, 714, 708, 718) will be dismissed from the MSW program.

Academic Advising

An academic advisor will be assigned to each student. The advisor is available to help plan the student’s course of study, assist in course selection, provide consultation on academically related concerns, and monitor academic performance and progress. Group advising conferences with students may be held during the academic year and students will be notified of the dates and times. Students may also request individual advising meetings.

Required Non-Credit Courses

Advanced Standing Integrative Practice Seminar

All advanced standing students are required to take the Integrative Seminar in the summer immediately preceding their first year of field placement. The seminar meets weekly during the second summer session. In order to enroll in the fall, students must achieve satisfactory performance in the Integrative Practice Seminar and summer field placement.

Employed Practitioners Supervision Seminar (Field Lab)

Students the Employed Practitioners Program are required to take this non-credit seminar in the fall and spring terms of their second year of study. The class meets every-other-week.

Macro or Clinical Concentration Supervision Class

In a limited number of cases, advanced-year students may be placed in agencies where there is no available MSW field instructor. In such instances, the student is required to attend the Clinical or Macro Supervision Seminar (depending on their concentration), which meets every-other week during the academic year. Students who are required to participate in the clinical or macro supervision seminars will be given two hours of compensatory time off from their field placement every other week.

Waiting Lists

We do not maintain waiting lists for courses that have reached their maximum enrollment (excluding global study abroad courses). If a course is closed, students may monitor Penn in Touch to see if a seat becomes available due to an enrolled student dropping the course. If a seat is available, students may register for it on their own at any time while the registration system is open.

Taking Courses in Other Departments

SP2 MSW students are permitted to take up to two electives in other Penn schools and departments. Courses taken in other schools or departments may not be counted as practice electives. Courses must be approved by the student’s academic advisor as relevant to the student’s educational plan and must have a value of one credit unit. Courses in other degree programs at the School of Social Policy & Practice (e.g., MSSP and NPL programs) are not counted towards the two-course limit.

Joint Lectures

Several sequences in the MSW program schedule sequence-wide lectures for all sections. These lectures feature experts in the field and all students are expected to attend. Joint lectures are scheduled on Monday evenings (6:30 – 8:30 PM) and students are expected to attend. Students who have extenuating circumstances that prevent them from attending joint lectures must make arrangements with their course instructors to receive the lecture content in another way.

Transfer Credits

Read the policy on Transfer Credits.

Independent Study

Independent studies provide a flexible opportunity for standing faculty and students to work together in pursuing a topic of special interest that is not sufficiently covered by other courses in the curriculum. The content of independent studies is highly specialized and, as such, requires a plan of study developed jointly by the student(s) and the supervising standing faculty member. Part-time faculty members are not eligible to offer independent studies.

Plans for independent study should include: a statement of the issues(s) to be studied; a rationale for why the identified issue(s) should be pursued via an independent study; a statement of how the independent study fits into the student’s overall educational plan; a summary of the independent study’s major learning objectives; the methods to be used in carrying out the study; a workable plan; the educational “products” that will result from the study (normally a written report or paper); and the expected date by which the independent study will be completed.

The process for arranging an independent study requires approval of the student’s academic advisor, a standing faculty member who has agreed to conduct the independent study, and the MSW Program Faculty Director. The procedures to be followed are:

  • The student discusses interest in doing an independent study with the academic advisor.
  • If the advisor concurs with the student’s submission, the advisor and student will discuss potential standing faculty sponsors.
  • If a standing faculty sponsor can be located, the student and standing faculty sponsor craft the specific plan, including learning objectives, content, and structure for the course.
  • The academic advisor informs the registrar that an independent study for the student has been approved.
  • The Independent Study Course Approval Form must be signed by student, faculty sponsor, Academic Advisor, and MSW Program Faculty Director and then returned to the Registrar.

On the rare occasions that a student is unable to schedule a regular School course, the educational advisor makes a recommendation to the MSW Program Faculty Director who will try to identify a standing or adjunct faculty member able to supervise the course delivered as an independent study.

Waiver Exams

All students are eligible to take waiver examinations for SWRK 601: History and Philosophy of Social Work and Social Welfare, SWRK 602: Human Behavior in the Social Environment, and SWRK 615: Introduction to Social Work Research prior to enrolling in those courses. The waiver exams are designed for students with prior coursework in these subjects; they offer an opportunity to students who believe they have already mastered the foundation content covered in these courses to demonstrate this. Students who place out of SWRK 601, SWRK 602, or SWRK 615 by successfully passing the waiver exam must take an elective course in its place.

Waiver exams are offered once per year. SWRK 601 and SWRK 602 waiver exams are offered in August. The SWRK 615 waiver exam is offered in October. There are no makeup opportunities to take the waiver exams at other times. Advance registration is required for the waiver exams and details about the registration process for SWRK 601 and SWRK 602 are emailed to incoming students over the summer. Information about the SWRK 615 waiver exam is communicated to all students early in the Fall semester.

The waiver exam cannot be used to place out of retaking a course. Students who do not receive a satisfactory grade in SWRK 601, SWRK 602, or SWRK 615 after completing the semester-long course must retake the course and cannot substitute the waiver exam for a satisfactory course grade.

The school does not provide study guides or review sessions for these exams, but students may wish to review the most recent syllabi of the corresponding course to understand what content is covered. Syllabi are available with a PennKey login on the SP2 website. Students may choose to review required readings listed on the syllabus in order to prepare.

Class and Field Attendance

Courses meet once a week. Classroom learning is a fundamental component of professional education. If a student is unable to attend either class or field for other reasons, he/she should notify their class instructor(s) and/or field instructor.

Most instructors have a strict absence policy; excessive absences can result in a lower course grade or course failure. Students who need to miss classes due to medical or family emergencies or other extenuating circumstances should contact their Academic Advisor as soon as possible.

Return from Voluntary Leave of Absence

Students notify the SP2 Registrar with the request to return to their studies.

For a fall semester return, requests should be made before the end of March. For a spring semester return, requests should be made in September. Late requests to return from leave may result in limited course selection.

Students must contact their academic advisor prior to registering for courses.

MSW students who need a field placement should notify the Field Office well in advance to assure placement options.

Student Handbook

The SP2 Student Handbook outlines the policies pertaining to grading, registration, leaves of absence, tuition, finances, and more.

Go to the Student Handbook.

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