What Is a Practicum? Everything You Need to Know

Learn what a practicum is, how to stand out in your practicum, and how to apply what you've learned in class to your practicum.
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  • A practicum allows students to apply what they've learned in class to a real environment.
  • Practicums help provide you with professional skills related to your field.
  • Practicums can be tied to certain courses and are often required for certification.

Certain academic programs may require a practicum in order to receive certification. But what is a practicum?

A practicum allows you to apply what you've learned in class to your field of study. Having a field placement can be an invaluable component of your career preparation.

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The purpose of a practicum is to gain experience in your field. Commonly, practicums are used in sectors like education, nursing and medicine, psychology, and social work.

Depending on your field, a practicum may look different. Some practicums require more observation and documentation, whereas others encourage direct participation. For example, an education major would likely observe classroom management and pedagogies, as well as lesson planning.

What Professional Skills Can You Gain in a Practicum?

During a practicum, you can apply the theoretical material you've been studying in class to the real world. This allows you to see what your future career holds by combining theory and practice.

You'll gain many skills during your practicum, including the following:

  • Effective Communication: By clarifying expectations with your supervisor during your practicum, you can hone your communication skills. You can also do this by practicing giving and receiving feedback.
  • Collaboration: Many practicums require you to work with others. Use this as an opportunity to sharpen your collaborative and teamwork skills.
  • How to Dress Professionally: A practicum student must be familiar with their workplace's dress code. Depending on the field, learners may be expected to dress more formally or in uniform. In some sectors, there is no dress code.
  • Punctuality: Your practicum supervisor expects you to be there on time and ready to learn. Arrive five minutes early so that you can begin the day prepared, not just on time.
  • Time Management: It's important to manage your time during your practicum effectively. Tools like digital calendars, calendar blocking, time-management apps, and a digital to-do list can help you stay organized and on top of your tasks.

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Practicum vs. Internship: What's the Difference?

While similar, practicums are typically more structured than internships. There are specific requirements set by the college and state where you're seeking certification in your field. Normally, a practicum supervisor and college supervisor oversee your work.

Students may need to meet certain requirements before they're eligible for a practicum, such as a minimum GPA. Practicums can also be associated with a specific class and have certain competencies or a certain number of hours that are required to be documented.

Practicums vary greatly in length and location depending on your field of experience. The length of a practicum depends on the qualifications for the field, the college, and the state in which you're seeking certification. Some practicums take place a few days a week, while others take place every day for a semester.

It is common for practicums to be unpaid as well. These experiences give you an inside look at a day in the life of a professional in your field and are more hands-off.

An internship, in contrast, is more likely to be paid and more closely resembles on-the-job training. Internships can be completed during the school year or over the summer. Some internships are set up through your college or university, whereas others must be found on your own.

How Do Practicums Differ by Field?

Depending on the school you attend and the state you live in, your practicum requirements will vary. You need to complete a certain number of hours in some practicums, but most have specific competencies you must meet by the end of the experience.

Here's a brief look at some common requirements for practicums in education, nursing, and social work.

Practicum in Education

A teaching practicum is designed to give students experience in teaching. You'll practice planning and delivering content, assessing students, engaging students in the learning process, and reflecting on your teaching experience.

Practicum in Nursing

A nursing practicum involves working in an acute care setting under the supervision of a course instructor and clinical supervisor.

Practicum in Social Work

A social work practicum focuses on developing students' competencies. You may work with families, organizations, agencies, or individuals during your practicum. The student's responsibilities may include observation and documentation.

6 Tips for Succeeding in a Practicum

What can you do now that you're beginning your practicum to set you apart from other students? In what ways can you set yourself up for success in your field?

Consider the following tips.

  • Keep an Open Mind: You'll likely receive plenty of feedback from your supervisor throughout the practicum — use this to get better in your field and identify weaknesses you can improve.
  • Stay Organized: All your documentation from your practicum placement should be organized in one place, such as in a folder on your computer or Google Drive.
  • Get Involved From the Beginning: Don't just sit back and watch — try to engage with your environment and take every opportunity during this learning experience. For example, if you're doing a teaching practicum, you could greet students at the door or ask your coordinating teacher how you can take the lead in lesson design that week.
  • Reflect on What You've Learned: You'll learn a great deal through your practicum about what it means to be a professional in your field. Journaling can help you reflect upon this experience. You can include what you learn each day, something you'd like to try in your own practice, or a reflection on your professional development.
  • Send a Thank-You Note: At the end of your practicum, be sure to thank your supervisor for all they did with a personalized thank-you letter or email. Remember that making a good impression is key if you ever want to ask this person for a letter of recommendation in the future.
  • Keep a Digital Portfolio: Make sure to track your learning progress in your practicum so you can note your biggest accomplishments and goals.

How to Write a Practicum Placement Request Letter

Your college may assign you a practicum or you may have to find one yourself. If you must find a placement on your own, you'll need to send an email to an administrator of the workplace where you wish to do your practicum.

Prior to sending the email, ensure that the workplace meets the requirements set forth by your college regarding practicum placements.

Here are a few tips to help you craft an email to send to an administrator:

  • Start by politely introducing yourself, who you are, and where you attend college
  • Describe your practicum requirements and course
  • Provide a specific timeline of when the practicum begins and ends
  • Clearly define any requirements for a practicum supervisor (for example, three years of experience)
  • Provide your full name, email address, and phone number to follow up

If you don't hear back from the administrator after a week or two, call to follow up.

Remember that a practicum is the opportunity to transfer what you've learned in your college courses into the field. Take advantage of this learning experience to enhance your skills and continue to grow in your field.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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