Social work licensure and certificate requirements or standards are set forth to help the public in understanding standards for the safe and professional practice of social workers.
Regulatory boards for social work licensure and/or certification generally require that applicants receive their social work degree from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited school of social work or program.
LCSW vs LMSW Licensure
Most states will call their licensed social workers something different than another. For some, social workers who have obtained their masters degree but not yet completed their post-degree supervised experience will become licensed master social workers (LMSW). Other state licensing boards will not have this level of licensure, however. Most states will have a licensed clinical social work (LCSW) delineation indicating, typically, that applicants have obtained their master’s in social work and completed their post-degree hours. The difference between LCSW and LMSW is state recognition of professional titles and supervised hours achieved.
Are there any tests required to become a licensed social worker?
There are five nationally administered licensing tests depending on the degree you hold. You must pass the appropriate exam before you can become a licensed social worker. The test is administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) and is the definitive standardized test for social work licensure.
Prepare for the ASWB Social Work Exams
Used in the United States and some provinces in Canada, the Associate of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exams are used as a measurement of social work licensure, accepted by many social work regulatory organizations. Rooted in surveys of social workers conducted every five to seven years, the exam are developed in conjunction with other organizations. There are five different categories of exams: associate, bachelors, masters, advanced generalist, and clinical. Your state licensing board may be able to inform you of which level of examination you should pursue based on your licensing application.For the most up to date information on exam fees, scoring, time to complete and more, please visit the ASWB candidate handbook.
Associate’s Social Work Exam
The associates ASWB exam was taken for the first time by 405 candidates with a passing rate of 72.1%. The content for the associates ASWB exam is shared with the bachelors exam. Some states offer an associates level license for those without social work degrees, but this is very limited.
Bachelor’s Social Work Exam
The bachelors ASWB exam has a 2018 pass rate of 69.2%. Candidates who have completed their bachelors in social work may expect to find the following bachelors exam content:
- Human Development, Diversity, and Behavior in the Environment: 25%
- Assessment: 29%
- Interventions with Clients/Client Systems: 26%
- Professional Relationships, Values, and Ethics: 20%
Master’s Social Work Exam
The masters ASWB exam was taken over 16,000 times in 2018 with a pass rate of 75.5% — the highest number of exams and highest pass rate for that year. For those who have completed their master of social work (MSW) program or an online MSW program, content throughout the exam may be based on:
- Human Development, Diversity, and Behavior in the Environment: 27%
- Assessment and Intervention Planning: 24%
- Interventions with Clients/Client Systems: 24%
- Professional Relationships, Value, and Ethics: 25%
Similar to the bachelor’s level social work exam, the masters ASWB exam content may include more concepts of those four content sections.
Advanced Generalist Social Work Exam
The advanced generalist ASWB exam has received the least amount of candidates in 2018 at 146 with the lowest pass rate at 56.2%. However, ASWB indicates that pass rates for groups of 200 or more are most representative of the candidate population. The advanced generalist exam content may include:
- Human Development, Diversity, and Behavior in the Environment: 23%
- Intervention Processes and Techniques for Use Across Systems: 32%
- Intervention Processes and Techniques for Use with Larger Systems: 18%
- Professional Relationships, Values, and Ethics: 27%
Clinical Social Work Exam
The clinical ASWB exam was taken over 15,000 times in 2018 with a pass rate of 73.2%. The content for the clinical ASWB exam may include:
- Human Development, Diversity, and Behavior in the Environment: 24%
- Assessment, Diagnosis, and Treatment Planning: 30%
- Psychotherapy, Clinical Interventions, and Case Management: 27%
- Professional Values and Ethics: 19%
All total number of exams and pass rates for associates, bachelors, masters, advanced generalist and clinical exams was retrieved from ASWB Pass Rates for 2018.
How to Maintain Your Social Work License
Each state board of social work licensure will require different standards for continuing education to maintain social work licensure. More than just licensure retainment, continuing education provides social workers the opportunity to continue abreast of relevant topics, techniques, and processes when working with their populations.
Social workers who are licensed should contact their state’s board to determine the best continuing education plan for them, based on requirements, hours, and types of hours needed.
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Social Work Licensure by State
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
- Washington, D.C.
FAQs on Social Work Licensure
Is social work licensure the same from one state to another?
No, each state has its own regulatory board for licensing social workers. While some regulations may overlap from state to state, it is important to know exactly what your desired state licensing board will require of you.
Can I be a licensed social worker in more than one state?
Yes, you can. Different jurisdictions have different regulatory requirements for licensure, but as long as you meet the basic requirements of both or even multiple states, you can hold more than one license. It’s also important to note that violations of one jurisdiction’s laws concerning licensure may result in repercussions with other jurisdictions’ licensure.
If I have to move to another state, will my social work license transfer?
While it is possible your qualifications will be sufficient from state to state, you will not be a licensed social worker until you re-apply for your social work license with that state’s particular regulatory board and are awarded a new license. Your test scores do transfer between states, however.
Can I obtain a license with a non-social work degree?
There are very few exceptions to this rule. Generally, a regulatory board will not consider applicants who do not have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work. Some states will offer an associate’s license for applicants without either degree, but it is not a common practice. If you seriously intend on beginning a career in social work, you should plan on having an appropriate degree (BSW or MSW).
What can I expect to encounter on the social work licensing exam?
The exam includes 170 multiple-choice questions. Twenty of these questions do not count toward your final score. You will have four hours to complete the test, which is completed electronically. For specific details on the test and special allowances for testers with disabilities, visit the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) website.
Do social work licensure tests vary depending on what state I am in?
The scoring scales used by jurisdictions may differ, but if you have passed the test in one jurisdiction, that will equate to passing the test anywhere. In other words, while some jurisdictions have different ways of describing passing requirements, the actual number of correct answers needed to pass is the same across jurisdictions. You can learn more about scoring the test from the ASWB exam scoring resource.
How do I transfer test scores between states?
If the state uses the exam level you took or are taking, you can have your scores sent to that state so you can avoid resitting the exam. Some states only accept scores up to a certain number of years old. To transfer scores, contact the jurisdiction you desire to be licensed in and review their transfer process.