Become a Licensed Social Worker in Your State

If you’re contemplating becoming a licensed social worker, becoming acquainted with social work licensure requirements by state is essential. Different states in the U.S. uphold their own requirements regarding experience and social work certification for those who aspire to become licensed social workers.

If you’d like to learn more about what social work entails, the benefits of graduate study, or the requirements to practice as a social worker in your state, our social work license map offers invaluable guidance.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Each State

The minimum educational requirement to become a licensed social worker is a bachelor of social work. An undergraduate social work degree takes four years on average to complete. Following the degree, most states require you to attain licensure to practice as a social worker.

What are the social work license requirements?

There are several types of social work licensure. Individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree can become Licensed Baccalaureate Social Workers (LBSW). LBSWs must work under a clinical supervisor.

Social work graduates with a master’s degree are eligible to apply for a masters of social work (MSW) license. In states that don’t issue provisional licenses or licenses for bachelor degree holders, a masters of social work must be earned before an initial license can be issued. The master’s license requires both experience in the field and the completion of an exam.

Social workers with a clinical license are fully licensed to practise social work. This level of licensure often requires years of professional experience in addition to the successful completion of a standardized exam. LCSW requirements by state may vary.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Licensed Social Worker?

The time it takes to become a licensed social worker depends on the level of licensure you are aspiring to achieve, and the requirements set in place by the state where you wish to practice. Learn more about social work licensure requirements by state.

To become a LMSW or LCSW, you will first need to complete a master of social work, then undertake appropriate supervised work or clinical experience. Most states require you to attain work experience over two years, or fulfil a number of hours over a specified time period.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Opportunities for advanced social work careers are limited if you do not have a master’s degree. While it is possible to obtain employment with a bachelor’s degree in social work, most employers prefer to hire candidates who have completed a master of social work or a doctor of social work. Having a bachelor’s degree in social work can qualify you for an advanced standing MSW program, which allows you to earn your MSW in one year.

Is a master’s degree in social work worth it?

By completing an online master’s in social work, you can expand your chances of finding employment in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, nursing homes, mental health clinics, and childhood intervention programs, all while you complete your degree.

Online MSW programs encompass a wide range of specialized fields, including mental health and administrative practice.

Social Work Careers for Licensed Professionals

Social work encompasses a diverse range of employment opportunities. Licensed social workers enjoy access to even greater work choice, because employers are more likely to hire LMSW or LCSW.

Learn more in our guide on What is Social Work?

Those with advanced licensure receive higher remuneration, and can undertake a diverse array of careers within the social work sphere including the fields of mental health, substance abuse, child, family and school social work, the community, and the military.

Here are some specific roles that licensed social workers can pursue.

Social Work Administrator

Social work administrators work at the macro level, rather than providing direct services to clients. Their work is orientated towards developing highly functional systems, engaging with social policy, and the delivery of social services.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

Mental health social workers work directly with clients by providing support to those living with disorders such as bipolar disorder or depression. A critical role of a mental health social worker is to provide treatment in the form of interventions such as group therapy, psychosocial therapy, or education.

Child, Family, and School Social Worker

Child, family and school social workers support vulnerable children and their families. The role requires engagement with students, parents, school faculty and the community. Some of the specific issues child, family and school social workers address are concerns regarding academic performance, safety, and well-being at school. These social workers also help parents and school administrators access resources for students who may benefit from them.

Community Social Worker

Community social workers address issues that affect the wellbeing of certain communities. They often work with organizations or groups of citizens to improve living conditions, resolve a problem, or capture political attention. Their work can be far-reaching, and may even involve engaging with schools or environmental issues that pose a risk to the community.

Medical and Public Health Social Worker

Medical social workers provide support to those dealing with healthcare issues. They may assist with emotional, social or financial needs that arise as a result of being affected by an illness or health condition. They provide both patients and their families with non-medical support as they deal with acute, chronic, or terminal illnesses.

Military Social Worker

Military social workers support those who serve in the military and their families. These individuals may have psychological or emotional disorders such as PTSD, anxiety and depression. Military social workers are specifically trained to assist them manage these issues. This work is often complex as it spans the treatment of active-duty members, veterans, and civilian clients who are part of military culture.

Three Reasons to Pursue a Career as a Licensed Social Worker

There are abundant benefits for those who choose to become a social worker. Social work is a rapidly growing field that is also a meaningful and rewarding line of work.

Those who pursue careers in social work can engage in a varied range of career paths, from clinical practice, to government, to work with non-profit organizations. Many licensed social work roles allow you to exert autonomy over your work, and your lifestyle.

Here are the top three reasons to consider a career in social work.

1. Enter a Growing Job Market

There is a growing demand for social workers in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overall employment of social workers is estimated to grow by 13 percent from 2019 to 2029. This is a much faster rate of growth than other occupations. As demand grows, so too will the need for different specializations within the field. In addition, as more jobs open up, those with an advanced degree and licensure will have a competitive edge.

Learn more about the average salaries for different social work specializations by state.

2. Establish Autonomy in Your Work

Master’s level licensed social workers are able to enjoy greater autonomy in their work. LSW have the opportunity to create their own work schedules depending on their clients’ needs. This type of autonomy and independence makes it easy to juggle other commitments such as family. Some may even choose to become licensed independent social workers who contract their services to different organizations or agencies, or open their own practice.

3. Make a Difference For Individuals and Communities

Social workers are uniquely positioned to effect positive change in the community at micro, meso, and macro levels. Those working within the field have the power to influence and empower others in need, and help them resolve their problems.

This line of work can be satisfying for those who are passionate about the chance to make an impact and work directly or indirectly to boost marginalized individuals and communities. Social workers also advocate or raise awareness at local, state and national levels about problems or issues present in society.

Child Welfare Social Worker, Cornell Davis III

“Be willing to fail because you’re not going to do the work perfectly. Pick a direction, go in that direction, whether it’s child welfare or hospital social work or school social work or maybe you want to follow a clinical track.”

Licensed Certified Social Worker – Clinical (LCSW-C), Sarah Frazell

“Take a wide variety of classes because you never know what you might end up doing. I now am in a director role, and I never imagined that when I was in school, so I took mostly clinical courses. I wish I had done a wide breadth of things and shadowed or did different types of social work.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Jessica Holton

“I would definitely say go into it with the passion and the hopes and the dreams that you have, but also be open to change. I said that I was going to work with children and families doing art and play therapy. Fast-forward to present time and, even before I graduated, I have worked primarily with adults specializing in trauma, addiction treatment, anxiety, grief and loss.”

Macro Social Worker, Lisa Primm

“If you’re choosing social work, make sure you believe in the social work ethics of the profession and recognize that there is so much to be done in terms of systemic change. I would really, really advise them to be thinking along those lines.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you get your master’s in social work online?

A growing number of accredited schools now offer online MSW programs. These programs offer high-tech learning environments with educational opportunities comparable to learning on campus. Students can pace their workloads according to their needs, build networks with their online classmates and enjoy work-life balance. Online MSW programs are particularly well-suited to students who may already be working full-time, but wish to advance their career in social work.

How long does it take to get a master’s degree in social work?

On average, it takes full-time students two years to complete their master’s degree. Students who have completed a BSW can often fast-track their master’s degree and complete it within one year. Students undertaking an online master’s part-time can stagger papers at their own pace.

Are there social work scholarships or grants I can apply for?

There are diverse ways to finance a social work degree such as scholarships, grants, and fellowships. You can check with accredited universities and national social work organizations to learn more about their funding options. A number of professional and education grants are also available. Additionally, there is a wide selection of scholarships that may help to finance your studies.

What is the Difference Between Micro and Macro Social Work?

Social workers are in engaged in roles at all levels of society. Those who work at the micro level interact directly with the clients they support. Macro social workers, on the other hand, are focused on engaging with programs, structural changes, policy, and delivery systems that affect large numbers of individuals. That being said, there is usually a level of overlap between the micro and macro in any social work role.

How Do I Know if Social Work is Right for Me?

If you are an outgoing, empathetic, community-minded individual, chances are that social work represents an ideal field for you. Social workers should care about social justice and enjoy helping others. Being comfortable with flexibility is also vital. For many who work in the field, the role and location of work may change on a day-to-day basis.