No matter which path you choose, becoming a LISW will start you on your way to achieving your career goals of helping people through social work, either by working with people directly or indirectly.
But before you can apply for LISW jobs, you need to make sure you have the right college degree, skills, and licensing for this position. It's also a good idea to learn how long the degree program will take and which job options you'll have access to once you're done. Read on to learn the basics of how to become a LISW.
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|School and Program Information
MSW - Social Work
No GMAT or GRE Required
Advance your skills to help be an effective leader, researcher, educator or practitioner in the social work field. Capella’s CSWE-accredited MSW program offers a strong focus on leadership, advanced practitioner skills and using technology to expand the reach and effectiveness of social service programs. No GRE required.Learn More
MSW: Social Work
100% online, 8-week courses
This program offers a general cognate and an individual and family clinical cognate. No matter which option you choose, you’ll receive advanced generalist training in social policy, research, and practice — as well as the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned in your field. Online and on campus. Training Champions for Christ since 1971.Learn More
|Case Western Reserve University
Master of Social Work
No GRE Required
Lead lasting change in your community. With no GRE required, you can earn a CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work online through Case Western Reserve University's top-10 ranked school of social work and prepare to pursue licensure. The online program curriculum offers three paths of study: Children, Youth and Families; Community Practice for Social Change; and Mental Health with Adults. Complete in as little as 2.5 years for the traditional track or 1.5 years for students with advance standing.Learn More
Master of Social Work
Accredited by the CSWE.
Fordham’s top-ranked Graduate School of Social Service offers a future-focused online MSW program, preparing students for integrated practice with all populations. Bachelor's degree required.Learn More
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Syracuse University’s CSWE-accredited online Master of Social Work program is preparing the next generation of social work leaders through an emphasis on digital innovation and social justice.Learn More
|University of Denver
Master of Social Work
CSWE accredited. Designed to adhere to CACREP standards.
✔ Campus, Online
No GRE Required Minimum GPA 2.5
Earn your CSWE-accredited MSW online from Denver's GSSW, a top-15 school of social work. Gain a strong foundation for social work practice with a concentration in Mental Health and Trauma or Health, Equity and Wellness. GRE scores are not required. Students with a BSW can earn their MSW in as few as 12 months in the online advanced-standing track; students without a BSW can earn an MSW in as few as 21 months.Learn More
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|Northern Kentucky University
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|Our Lady of the Lake University
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Bachelors, Masters, and Dual MSW/MBA CSWE accredited
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What Does LISW Stand For?
To start, you should understand the LISW meaning. Simply put, it stands for “licensed independent social worker.” When you have this title, you can work independently — such as at your practice — rather than under the supervision of someone else. You can also specialize in a certain population, such as children or the elderly.
How to Become a Licensed Independent Social Worker
Becoming a LISW will require you to complete a program geared toward this career path. But to qualify for such a program, you’ll need to meet some educational requirements, such as getting an undergraduate degree, first. You’ll also need to get certifications or licensure for this career. Here’s a summary of how to get started on the process of becoming a LISW.
Get a Bachelor’s Degree
To work on becoming a LISW, you’ll need to get a bachelor’s degree. Preferably, it would be best if you earned a Bachelor of Social Work or BSW degree. By majoring in social work, you’ll take classes that provide you with the knowledge you’ll need to help people in your future career. Your classes might include social welfare policy, human behavior, social work case management, and more.
If the school you’re attending doesn’t offer a BSW degree, you can earn a related one, such as a Bachelor of Social Science. Other subjects that may be helpful for you to study for this career include human development, psychology, and sociology. A BA in any of these may be acceptable if you want to become a LISW in the long run.
Get Accepted to a Master of Social Work Program
To become a LISW, you’ll need a master’s degree in social work. Once you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in this field, you need to apply and get accepted to a Master of Social Work (MSW) program. To increase your odds of acceptance, you should get a BSW from a college that’s been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
You’ll also need to show that you had a high GPA in college, usually at least 3.0. If you have lower than a 3.0 GPA and no experience in social work, you might need to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) to get into an MSW program. Having work or volunteer experience in social work and a good entrance essay will help your chance of an MSW program accepting you as a student.
Licensing for a LISW
Once you graduate with your MSW, you must apply to your state board to get a license in social work. This requires you to pass the Association of Social Work Board exam or ASWB. Once you pass this test — along with a criminal background check — you’ll get an LSW.
To earn a LISW, you’ll need to complete at least 3,000 hours of supervised social work experience spread over about two years. At that point, you’ll take another test from the ASWB, specifically the advanced specialist test. After you pass this, you’ll be licensed as a LISW and can start practicing.
What Do You Study in a LISW Program?
When you get into a Master of Social Work program, you can expect to spend the first year taking courses that will introduce you to social services basics. These might educate you on human behavior, social policy, and clinical practice. You might have taken similar courses during your undergraduate years as you studied for a BSW, but in the master’s program, you’ll likely take a deeper dive into these subjects.
During your second year in an MSW program, you’re likely to study specialized areas of social work, depending on your interests. These might include older patients, children, teenagers, or families. Some common courses you might see in the typical MSW program include:
- Couples therapy
- Family therapy
- Human behavior
- Substance abuse
- Death and dying
- Testing and diagnosis
How Long Does It Take to Become a LISW?
Your path to becoming a LISW will vary depending on how quickly you complete the educational requirements and licensing steps. On average, it takes four to five years to get a Bachelor of Social Work degree. In addition, it takes about two years to complete an MSW program.
Once you’ve completed about six years of school getting your BSW and MSW, you might spend a few months studying for the ASWB test to get your LSW license. Then you’ll spend about two years earning over 3,000 hours of social work experience to get your LISW license. This means it typically takes eight to nine years to become a LISW.
LISW License and Certifications Process
To practice as a LISW, you’ll need the right licensure. You can also choose to get one or more certifications if you want to specialize in a subfield of social work. Here’s what you should know about licensing and certification in this field.
To start practicing as a LISW, you need a license from your state first. Fortunately, your MSW program should prepare you to take the ASWB test so you can become an LSW. The ASWB also offers practice tests you can take to ensure you feel ready to pass the exam.
Once you’re an LSW, you can start getting the social work hours you need to take the LISW test through the ASWB. You can work as a social worker in a school or clinic to get these hours. As long as you have supervision from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a professional with an LCSW or LISW, you can provide therapeutic services to patients in a clinic or school.
After completing 3,000 hours of social work of this kind, you can pass another exam to get your LISW. This licensure will let you work without supervision — such as in your practice.
As a LISW, you don’t need certifications to practice in this field. But getting one or more can show that you’re specialized to practice in a certain subfield of social work.
So if you want to work with a specific population or in a setting — such as with the elderly or with children at a school — you can take a short course and exam to get a certification for this. Note that you’ll need to take continuing education courses to keep these certifications current as you progress through your career.
LISW vs. LCSW
Another fact to know before you start studying to become a LISW is the difference between this title and LCSW. After all, as you research this job, you’ll likely see many references to LCSW, which stands for “licensed clinical social worker.”
In some states, LCSW is a term that describes LISWs or LICSWs. That’s because the two are interchangeable. So the term that’s used depends on where you’re located.
What’s the Difference Between LISW-CP and LISW-S?
As you start studying to become a LISW, you might notice similar acronyms, such as LISW-S and LISW-CP. You should learn what they mean as you search for programs that include these acronyms.
A LISW-S is an independent social worker with a training supervision designation. You must work as a LISW for at least one year to get this designation. This means you can work as a LISW, but you can also supervise social workers trying to gain experience in this field.
In some states, such as South Carolina, LISW-CP refers to a licensed independent social worker-clinical practice. This title lets social workers provide clinical help, including therapy and diagnosis. It’s essentially the same as a LISW or LCSW in other states.
Career Options for a LISW
When you earn your LISW, you can work as a social worker in just about any setting. This means you can work in corrections facilities, hospice care, fertility clinics, schools, hospitals, and more. You can even open your private practice, which is not an option for social workers with a LISW.
If you decide you don’t want to work with people one-on-one, you can help them in other ways aside from counseling. For instance, you can spend your career researching social work to find better ways to improve patient outcomes through therapy. You can also teach college social work courses in BSW programs. Additionally, you might choose to take on an advisory role as a consultant for executives of companies or elected officials who need help using social work theories to improve outcomes.
Regardless of which path you take when you’re a LISW, you can expect to enter a career path that’s growing faster than average. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for social workers will likely increase by 12% between 2020 and 2030. This means you’re likely to find a job in this field once you earn your LISW, or even after you earn an LSW and start completing your work experience hours in social work.
In addition, the median salary for a job in the social work field was $51,760 as of May 2020, which is higher than the median for all occupations. So whether your title is a LISW or LISW-CP, you can expect to earn a decent salary.
You can increase that salary further by working with the local government, specializing in working with a specific population, or opening your practice. This means when you become a LISW, you’ll be entering a field that will likely be in demand for years and has a competitive salary for most positions.
Top Skills You’ll Use as a LISW
To be successful in social work, you should feel called to help people improve their lives through better mental health and more stability. This is often accomplished through making assessments and counseling, which means you’ll be talking to many people on the job every day.
As such, your communication, listening, and interpersonal skills should be above average. You’ll also need to try to understand the emotional needs of the people you talk to, so your empathy, patience, and emotional abilities should be good.
Of course, there are some practical considerations to make too. For instance, you’ll be managing several cases at once, often dealing with a lot of paperwork that you can’t lose or mix up. This means you need to multitask and stay organized in this job. You should also be good at problem-solving since your clients will look to you for answers when they need help improving several aspects of their life.
To start a career as a LISW, you should already display most of these skills as you enter a BSW program. You should also have an interest in some of the building blocks of social work, such as sociology and psychology. You don’t necessarily need to have deep knowledge of these topics, as you’ll learn more in college. But it would help if you had some natural interest in them, as this means you’re attuned to trying to understand and help people of all walks of life.
Get Started on Your Path to Becoming a LISW
If you think you have the skills and interest in becoming a LISW — and you’re prepared to spend time getting the necessary education and licensure — you should look into programs that will prepare you for this career. This means you should look for online or in-person BSW programs.
Once you finish your undergraduate work in this field, you can move on to an in-person or online MSW program, at which point you can take the licensure exam. If the idea of helping people through social work interests you, get started on your path to becoming a licensed independent social worker today.