Become a Licensed Social Worker in Your State

If you’re contemplating becoming a licensed social worker, getting 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 be 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 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 (BSW). An undergraduate social work degree takes four years on average to complete. After receiving the degree, most states typically 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. For example, someone who holds a bachelor’s degree can become a licensed baccalaureate social worker (LBSW). LBSWs must work under a clinical supervisor.

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

Sponsored online social work programs

University of Denver


Master of Social Work (MSW)

The University of Denver’s Online MSW Program is delivered by its top-ranked school of social work and offers two programs. Students can earn their degree in as few as 12 months for the Online Advanced-Standing MSW or 27 months for the Online MSW.

  • Complete the Online Advanced-Standing MSW in as few as 12 months if you have a BSW; if you do not have a BSW, the Online MSW Program may be completed in as few as 27 months.
  • No GRE Required
  • Customizable pathway options include Mental Health and Trauma or Health, Equity and Wellness concentrations

Fordham University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

Fordham’s skills-based, online MSW program integrates advanced relevant social work competencies, preparing students to serve individuals and communities while moving the profession forward. This program includes advanced standing and traditional MSW options.

  •  Traditional and advanced standing online MSW options are available.
  • There are four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy.
  • Pursue the degree on a full-time or part-time track.

Hawaii Pacific University


Master of Social Work

The online Master of Social Work prepares aspiring social work leaders to develop a multicultural social work practice, advocate for social and economic justice, and empower diverse communities affected by systemic inequities within civilian and military-focused areas. 

  • Learn how to develop a multicultural social work practice.  
  • Pending accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
  • Complete in 18 months full time, or in 36 months part time on the traditional track.
  • Complete in 12 months full time or 24 months part time on the Advanced Standing Track. 

Simmons University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

Aspiring direct practitioners can earn their MSW online from Simmons University in as few as 9 months. GRE scores are not required, and the program offers full-time, part-time, accelerated, and advanced standing tracks.

  • Prepares students to pursue licensure, including LCSW 
  • Full-time, part-time, and accelerated tracks 
  • Minimum completion time: 9 months

Howard University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

The online Master of Social Work program from Howard University School of Social Work prepares students for advanced direct or macro practice in culturally diverse communities. Two concentrations available: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice. No GRE. Complete in as few as 12 months.

  • Concentrations: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice
  • Complete at least 777-1,000 hours of agency-based field education
  • Earn your degree in as few as 12 months

Syracuse University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

Syracuse University’s online Master of Social Work program does not require GRE scores to apply and is focused on preparing social workers who embrace technology as an important part of the future of the profession. Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks are available.

  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks
  • No GRE required
  • Concentrate your degree in integrated practice or clinical practice

Case Western Reserve University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

In as few as a year and a half, you can prepare for social work leadership by earning your Master of Social Work online from Case Western Reserve University’s school of social work.

  • CSWE-accredited
  • No GRE requirement
  • Complete in as few as one and a half years


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

The level of licensure you are aspiring to achieve can determine the time it takes to become a licensed social worker and the requirements of the state where you wish to practice. Learn more about social work licensure requirements by state.

To become a licensed master social worker (LMSW) or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), you will first need to earn an MSW, then complete the appropriate supervised work or clinical experience. Most states require you to attain work experience over two years, or fulfill a number of hours over a specified time period.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Opportunities for advanced social work careers can be limited if you do not have a master’s degree. Graduates with an MSW can pursue clinical social work, and those with a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) can pursue teaching careers. Having a bachelor’s degree in social work can qualify you for an advanced standing MSW program, which may allow 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 with childhood intervention programs.

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 range of employment opportunities. Licensed social workers may have access to a wider array of work opportunities as certain jobs are only available to LMSW or LCSW professionals.

Learn more in our guide: What Is Social Work?

Professionals with licensure may receive higher salaries and can pursue specialized roles in 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, meaning they do not provide direct services to clients. Their work is oriented toward 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. Child, family and school social workers may address issues involving academic performance, safety and well-being at school. They also help parents and school administrators access helpful resources for students.

Community Social Worker

Community social workers address issues that affect the well-being 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. It can include engaging with schools or addressing environmental risks 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. They help individuals who may have psychological or emotional disorders such as PTSD, anxiety and depression. Military social workers specialize in helping manage these problems, and their work may span the treatment of active-duty members, veterans and civilian clients who are part of the military community.

Three Reasons To Pursue a Career as a Licensed Social Worker

There can be benefits for those who choose to become a social worker. Social work is a rapidly growing field, and many professionals in it consider the work to be both meaningful and rewarding.

Those who pursue careers in social work can pursue a range of career paths, from clinical practice to government roles to employment within nonprofit organizations. Licensed social work roles can allow you to have autonomy over your work and your lifestyle.

Here are 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 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overall employment of social workers is estimated to grow by 7% from 2022 to 2032. This is a 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 may 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 may enjoy greater autonomy in their work. LCSWs have the opportunity to create their own work schedules depending on their clients’ needs. This type of independence can make it easier to juggle other commitments, such as family. Some licensed social workers may choose to contract their services 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, mezzo and macro levels. Those working in the field can have the power to influence and empower others in need and help solve 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 help individuals and communities in need. Social workers also advocate for specific populations and raise awareness at local, state and national levels about problems or issues 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.”


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

A growing number of accredited schools now offer online MSW programs. These programs offer virtual learning environments with educational opportunities comparable to learning on campus. Students can pace their workloads according to their needs, collaborate with their online classmates and build their network 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.

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

There are diverse ways to finance a social work degree. You can check with accredited universities and national social work organizations to learn more about available funding options. Professional and education grants, as well as fellowships, may be available to students. Additionally, there are scholarships that may help to finance your studies.

What is the difference between micro and macro social work?

Social workers hold positions at various 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. There may be overlap between micro and macro in certain social work roles.

How do I know if social work is right for me?

If you are an outgoing, empathetic, community-minded individual, you may find a career in social work rewarding. Social workers typically care about social justice and enjoy helping others. 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.

Last updated October 2023.