Become a Social Worker in California

California has more social workers than any other state in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with social workers in environments like schools, healthcare and independent practices. If you want to help disadvantaged communities and individuals who need social resources to lead healthier and more fulfilling lives, you might be curious how to become a social worker in California.

In this career guide, learn about education and license requirements, social worker salaries and social worker schools in California. Discover some of the common steps to becoming a social worker in California if you’re interested in this meaningful career.

Steps to Become a California Social Worker

Wondering how to become a social worker in California? The steps required include getting a social work education, gaining work experience in the field and becoming licensed in California, according to the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS). 

1. Earn a CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work. 

To become a licensed social worker in California, you must have earned a Master of Social Work (MSW) from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited school of social work; this includes associate clinical social worker (ACSW) and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) requirements. 

2. Complete additional required coursework.

In addition to an MSW, future social workers in California must ensure that they also have proof of completion for the following courses: 

  • Child Abuse Assessment and Reporting
  • Human Sexuality
  • Alcoholism and Chemical Substance Abuse and Dependency
  • Aging, Long Term Care and Elder/Dependent Adult Abuse
  • Spousal/Partner Abuse Assessment, Detection and Intervention
  • Suicide Risk Assessment and Intervention

3. Complete post-graduate field hours. 

Before you begin accruing post-graduate hours, you must register as an ACSW. While an MSW program will require field work experience to graduate, California requires 3,000 total supervised social work hours over a minimum of 104 weeks in order to become licensed as a clinical social worker. A minimum 2,000 hours overall must be in clinical experience, including a minimum of 750 hours performing in-person group or individual psychotherapy. A maximum 1,000 hours must be in non-clinical experience, in settings like client-centered advocacy, consultation, evaluation, research and workshops.

4. Apply for licensure.

You’ll need to pass a criminal background check, take and pass the California Law & Ethics exam, and take and pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Clinical exam. There are also various fees to pay and applications to fill out throughout the licensure process.

If you want, you can pursue additional certifications and continued education once you’ve become a California social worker.

Learn more on how to become a social worker.

Degree Pathways to Become a Social Worker in CA

The two social work licenses offered in California require a Master of Social Work (MSW) from an accredited school. Learn more about MSW programs in California. There are several other types of MSW programs available:

  • Online Master’s in Social Work (MSW): There are several online MSW programs available, with locations inside the state of California and across the country, that are accredited by the CSWE.
  • Advanced Standing MSW Program: If you have already earned your Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, you may be able to pursue an advanced standing MSW program which builds upon your BSW coursework to graduate in less time than pursuing a full MSW program. 
  • Online Clinical Social Work (LCSW) Program: While a clinical MSW program is not explicitly required to pursue a license as a LCSW in California, it may help when completing the required clinical exam for licensure.
  • Online MSW with No GRE: Some universities offer admissions without requiring the GRE but may still have GPA and other requirements.
  • Doctorate of Social Work (DSW): While a DSW program is not required for licensure as a social worker in California, it is available for social workers who wish to pursue advanced careers as an university instructor, administrator or director of social services.

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


Associate Clinical Social Worker (ACSW) in California

Before becoming an LCSW in California, you must be registered as an ACSW.

  • Education Requirement: Master’s degree in social work from an accredited school of social work and required coursework
  • Field Requirement: None
  • Exams: California Law & Ethics Exam
  • Fees: $75 application fee
  • License Renewal: Registration may be renewed five times in a  six-year time span.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in California

To become an LCSW in California, social workers must meet certain requirements. These include:

  • Education Requirement: Master’s degree in social work from an accredited school of social work, verified by electronic transcripts
  • Field Requirements: 3,000 total supervised hours, over 104 weeks (minimum)
  • Exams: California Law & Ethics Exam (if not applying as a ACSW), ASWB Clinical exam
  • Fees: $100 application fee
  • License Renewal: Every two years

Learn more about how to become an LCSW.

Social Work Salaries for California

The average social worker salary in California depends on your role and work environment.

Social Work CareersNumber of Social Workers in CaliforniaAnnual Mean Salary
Child, family and school Social Workers
Health care social workers
Mental health and substance abuse social workers
Social workers, all other

Information on the above social work salaries in California was retrieved from Bureau of Labor Statistics – State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates California as of April 2021.

Learn more about different social work salaries.

California Social Work Scholarships

There are social work scholarships in California and grants available to aspiring social work students to cover school costs, such as tuition and supplies. Be sure to check with your preferred university for other financial aid options available. Some California scholarships we have found for social workers include:

California Social Work Organizations

Social work organizations in California give students the ability to connect with other social work students, network with social workers and get more involved in the local social work community. The following are some California social work organizations:


Does California have social work reciprocity?

No, there is no social work license reciprocity in California or endorsement licensure. Social workers who have a current out-of-state license must submit a California LCSW application, pass the California Law and Ethics Examination, have an MSW that is accredited by the CSWE and complete California-specific coursework.

What are the social work continuing education (CE) requirements in California?

The social work CE requirements in California for LCSW (PDF, 235 KB) are 36 hours before each two-year renewal period, according to the BBS. Newly licensed individuals must complete only 18 hours of continued education before their first renewal. All licensees are required to complete at least six hours of CE in Law and Ethics for every renewal. LCSWs must also complete seven hours of CE in HIV/AIDS.

Learn more about continuing education for social workers.

What is the best way to look up my social work license in California?

You can search for your social work license verification in California by visiting the California Department of Consumer Affairs license search.

Information on this page was last retrieved in April 2021