How Does a Social Worker Obtain a License?
Every state requires social workers to be licensed in order to practice. Like most other professional licenses, the purpose of a social work license is to regulate social work practice and protect the public. Although the social work licensure process varies from state to state, the steps outlined here are generally followed across the country. If you’d like more information about your state, please refer to the Social Work License Map.
Social Work Education Requirements
A bachelor’s degree is the minimum education requirement for social work positions in every state. Many positions require a bachelor’s degree in social work, but a degree in sociology, psychology and similar fields may also be acceptable. For advanced licensure, a social worker must have a Master of Social Work (MSW) or doctoral degree. An MSW generally requires one to two years to complete and should be earned at schools accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Social Work License Requirements
There are several types of social work licenses, reflecting various levels of education and training. With each type of license, social workers can obtain additional certifications and credentials through the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). According to NASW, obtaining a credential is the next step after licensing in the progression of a social worker’s professional development. A credential signifies that a social worker has completed additional education, training and supervision.
These are some of the most common type of social work licenses:
Many states require entry-level social workers to become a Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker or Licensed Bachelor’s Social Worker (LBSW). In addition to holding a bachelor’s degree, an applicant for an LBSW must have completed a minimum amount of social work experience under the supervision of a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). After obtaining an LBSW, a social worker will often be required to work under the supervision of a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).
Social workers with an LBSW who have earned a master’s or doctoral degree in social work can be licensed as a master-level social worker, also known as a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). Requirements for this license usually include completion of a standard exam and a minimum number of hours of post-graduate social work experience.
Social workers who have earned an MSW degree, completed several years of supervised professional experience and passed a standard exam can become Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW). Social workers with an LCSW can provide services for clients in a clinical setting.
License Renewal and Transfer
Every state requires social workers to renew their license and pay renewal fees. Some states require social workers to complete continuing education as a condition of renewal. There is currently no reciprocity mechanism for transferring a social work license from one state to another, although some standard test scores may be transferable. Each state requires applicants to reapply for licensure.
Social Work Careers
Licensed social workers are prepared to provide meaningful services to individuals, families and communities. Earning a graduate degree and obtaining an advanced license will allow you to work directly with clients with mental, behavioral and emotional issues as a clinical social worker or clinic administrator. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary for social workers was about $42,500 in 2010. The top 10 percent of social work earners are paid more than $70,000 per year.