How to Become a Licensed Social Worker

Social work is a rewarding, flexible career path that offers the chance to earn a living and make a difference at the same time. To practice at the pinnacle of the social work profession, one must become a Licensed Social Worker. Want to know how to become a licensed social worker? Social work licensure requirements vary by state, with each state maintaining distinct education and experience standards.
Why Social Work Licensure?
Though difficult, unlicensed social workers can find employment. Getting licensed opens up a greater number of job opportunities. Furthermore, social work licensure is required to operate at the pinnacle of the field by providing counseling and therapy services.
There’s a difference between a licensed social worker and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Many states offer licensure to social workers who can’t provide clinical social work services. The National Association of Social Workers defines clinical social work as “a specialty practice area of social work which focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness, emotional, and other behavioral disturbances. “

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Education Requirements

“Social worker” is a protected title in 36 out of 50 states. That means, similar to doctors and lawyers, a person cannot represent themselves as a social worker without a degree from an accredited school of Social Work. However, all 50 states require that individuals hold an Associate’s, BSW, or MSW degree to become licensed social workers.
An “accredited school of Social Work” means one that has officially been certified by the Council on Social Work Education to meet the profession’s standards. Those interested can find a list of accredited programs on their website here. The CSWE is responsible for “developing accreditation standards that define competent preparation and ensuring that social work programs meet these standards.”

Many states require proof of specific coursework completed during the social worker’s degree program. For example, Florida requires that candidates for social work licensure prove that they completed at least 24 semester hours in clinically-oriented human behavior and practice coursework.

In terms of continuing education requirements and additional coursework, LCSW requirements vary by state. California requires social work license applicants to complete an 18-hour California law and professional ethics course. Some states require potential social work licensure candidates to fulfill the same continuing education requirements as a social worker renewing their license. In Rhode Island, for example, social work license applicants must complete 30 hours of continuing education.

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Experience/Supervision Requirements

To obtain an independent social work license, applicants must complete a designated number of hours of experience in the field. These hours are ones spent providing clinical social work hours face-to-face with clients. The most common number required is 3000 hours completed over two or more years.
Some states require fewer direct work hours- such as Florida, which requires only 1,500. Other states offer tiers of social work licensing- such as Massachusetts, whose Social Worker 2 license calls for 3,500 hours and whose pinnacle Social Worker 6 license requires 17,500 hours.

You can’t just strike out on your own to accrue hours, though. Each state requires the accrued hours to occur under the supervision of a fully licensed mental health practitioner, typically a licensed clinical social worker. The candidate for social work licensure must meet individually with their supervisor for a designated number of hours throughout their experience. Applicants for social work licensure must document client and supervisor hours.

Examination Requirements

To become fully independent licensed clinical social workers, all social work license candidates must pass the ASWB’s Advanced Clinical Social Work Exam. This test consists of 170 questions and is administered at a supervised, secured testing center over the course of four hours. Test prep materials are available on ASWB’s website, along with practice exams.
Most states offer lesser licenses that don’t require passing the ASWB exam. For example, California’s Associate Clinical Social Worker License doesn’t require a completed exam because ACSW license holders are still accruing hours towards their full LCSW license. Upon completing those hours, ACSW professionals will be permitted to take the exam before applying for their full LCSW licensure.

Miscellaneous Requirements/Exceptions

There are bound to be some outliers in a country with 50 states and 50 sets of social work licensure requirements. South Dakota offers a Social Work associate license that requires only an associate’s degree and completing the ASWB Associate’s Exam. Virginia and Ohio also have an Associate Social Work License but don’t require an exam. Wisconsin has a “social work training associate” certificate that requires a Bachelor’s degree in any subject and one year of human services experience.

Easiest States to get LCSW

Want to know how to become a licensed social worker- the easy way? Since there are different social work license requirements by state, it’s safe to assume that some states will be more relaxed than others. However, keep in mind that there is no trans-state social work license. If you move from a less stringent state to one with higher standards, you may be required to make up the difference.

We went through the social work license requirements by state and found the following to have the easiest path to social work licensure:

Alabama

Alabama is one of the few states that allow Bachelor’s level social workers to practice independently at some point- making it one of the easiest states to get LCSW licensure.

Bachelor Social Worker:

Alabama offers those with a bachelor’s degree in social work the opportunity to become licensed. To do so, they must:

  • Apply, with proof of Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW) degree completion
  • Pass the ASWB Bachelor’s Social Work Exam.
  • Provide a plan for ongoing supervision by a licensed master or clinical supervisor. Once two years of supervision are completed, the Licensed Bachelor Social worker can continue to practice without supervision.

Master Social Worker:

Alabama Master Social Worker applicants need to:

  • Apply, with proof of MSW degree completion
  • Pass the ASWB Master’s Social Work Exam.
  • If the applicant intends to become an LCSW, they must provide a supervision plan for accruing the required hours.

Independent Clinical Social Worker:

  • Apply with proof of MSW degree completion and accrued supervision/work experience hours. Alabama requires 24 months of work experience with four monthly supervision hours.
  • Pass the ASWB’s Advanced Clinical Social Work Exam.

Alaska

When looking at social work license requirements by state, Alaska stands out as another one of the easiest states to get LCSW status. Alaska also offers bachelor-level social work licensure- although bachelor social workers cannot practice clinical social work (i.e., therapy) in Alaska or any other state.

Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker

Alaska LBSW applicants must:

  • Apply, with proof of Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW) degree completion
  • Pass the ASWB Bachelor’s Social Work Exam.

Licensed Master Social Worker

Alaska LMSW applicants must:

  • Apply, with proof of Master’s of Social Work (BSW) degree completion
  • Pass the ASWB’s Intermediate Social Work Exam.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Alaska Clinical Social Work License applicants are required to:

  • Apply, with proof of Master of Social Work (MSW) degree completion
  • Provide documentation of 3500 hours of supervised clinical social work experience.
  • Pass the ASWB Advanced Clinical Social Work Exam.

Florida

Another one of the easiest states to get LCSW licensure is Florida. Florida has the lowest number of experience/supervision hours for those obtaining their full clinical social work license.

Certified Master Social Worker

Florida Certified Master Social Worker license applicants must:

  • Apply, with proof of Master of Social Work (MSW) degree completion
  • Provide documentation of 3000 hours of supervised social work experience.
  • Pass the ASWB Advanced Generalist Social Work Exam

Registered Clinical Social Worker Intern

Requirements for Florida’s RCSWI license include:

  • Apply, with proof of MSW degree completion
  • Provide a supervision plan for accruing the required hours for the LCSW license.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  • Florida Clinical Social Work License applicants are required to:
  • Apply, with proof of Master of Social Work (MSW) degree completion
  • Provide documentation of 1500 hours of supervised clinical social work experience.
  • Pass the ASWB Advanced Clinical Social Work Exam.

Illinois

Illinois has a tiered social work license system, allowing individuals with less experience to obtain their social work license and practice. This makes it another one of the easiest states to get LCSW certification.

Licensed Social Worker 2

Applicants for Illinois’ Licensed Social Worker 2 status must:

  • Apply, with proof of Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW) degree completion
  • Provide documentation of 3 years of social work experience
  • Pass the ASWB Master’s Social Work Exam.

Licensed Social Worker 1

Licensed Social Worker 1 candidates are required to:

  • Apply, with proof of Master of Social Work (MSW) degree completion
  • Pass the ASWB Master’s Social Work Exam.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker 2

To become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker 2 in Illinois, applicants must:

  • Apply, with proof of Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) degree completion
  • Provide documentation of 2000 hours of direct clinical social work experience.
  • Pass the ASWB Advanced Clinical Social Work Exam.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker 1

For Licensed Clinical Social Worker 1 status in Illinois, social workers will:

  • Apply, with proof of Master’s in Social Work (MSW) degree completion
  • Provide documentation of 3000 hours of direct clinical social work experience.
  • Pass the ASWB Advanced Clinical Social Work Exam.

Indiana

Indiana has a specified number of years of experience required for full licensure but not a specified number of hours. They also offer licensure to Bachelor’s level social workers (although LBSWs are not permitted to practice at the clinical social work level). This makes Illinois another one of the easiest states for LCSW licensure.

Licensed Bachelor Social Work

LBSW applicants in Indiana must:

  • Apply, with proof of Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW) degree completion
  • Pass the ASWB Bachelor’s Social Work Exam.

Licensed Social Worker

Licensed social workers in Indiana are required to:

  • Apply, with proof of Master’s in Social Work (MSW) degree completion
  • Pass the ASWB Master’s Social Work Exam.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

For Licensed Clinical Social Worker status in Indiana, social workers will:

  • Apply, with proof of Master’s in Social Work (MSW) degree completion
  • Provide documentation of 24 months working as a clinical social worker
  • Pass the ASWB Advanced Clinical Social Work Exam.

Mississippi

Like Indiana, Mississippi doesn’t have a minimum hours requirement for social work licensure- it has a “years of experience” requirement.

Licensed Social Worker

LSW candidates in Mississippi are expected to:

  • Apply, with proof of Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW) degree completion
  • Pass the ASWB Bachelor’s Social Work Exam.

Licensed Master Social Worker

Licensed Master Social Worker applicants in Mississippi are required to:

  • Apply, with proof of Master’s, Doctorate, or Ph.D. in Social Work degree completion
  • Pass the ASWB Master’s Social Work Exam.

Licensed Certified Social Worker

For Licensed Certified Social Worker status in Mississippi, social workers will:

  • Apply, with proof of Master’s in Social Work (MSW) degree completion
  • Provide documentation of 24 months working as a clinical social worker
  • Pass the ASWB Advanced Generalist or Clinical Social Work Exam. (Note: Only LCSWs who have passed the ASWB Advanced Clinical Social Work Exam can “present themselves as a clinical social worker.”)

Social Work License Requirements by State

The Association of Social Work Boards maintains a database with information on how to become a licensed social worker in each state. Interested people can access the database on their website here. Individuals can search by education and supervision LCSW requirements by state.
If you want to know how to become a licensed social worker, your best bet is to visit the website linked above. Each state has different requirements, and some are more stringent than others. No matter where you are, becoming a licensed social worker starts with a college education. If you want to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), your journey will include a Master’s degree in social work and several years’ worth of supervised clinical experience.

Sources:
https://www.cswe.org/
https://floridasmentalhealthprofessions.gov/licensing/licensed-clinical-social-worker/
https://www.bbs.ca.gov/applicants/lcsw.html
https://health.ri.gov/licenses/detail.php?id=245
https://dss.sd.gov/licensingboards/socialwork/social.aspx
https://www.dhp.virginia.gov/social/
https://cswmft.ohio.gov/
https://dsps.wi.gov/Pages/Professions/SocialWorker/
https://www.aswb.org/regulation/laws-and-regulations-database/

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