How to Become a Social Worker in Tennessee 

Tennessee may be known for musical talents from Nashville or the Great Smoky Mountains, but it is also home to over 14,000 social workers and to the third-highest concentration of healthcare social workers in the United States as of May 2021. The Tennessee Social Work Licensure Board offers four different types of social work licensure for those thinking about becoming a social worker in the state. Each license offers different pathways and has different requirements. 

This career guide for how to become a social worker in Tennessee explains educational requirements, licensure,Tennessee-based social work organizations to join and more. Once you complete the steps to become an Tennessee social worker, you can embark on a meaningful, fulfilling career helping others.

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.


Common steps to Become a Tennessee Social Worker 

Becoming a social worker in Tennessee may require completion of an accredited social work program, field requirement practice hours, a social work exam and more. For each level of licensure, an application, criminal background check and fees apply. The following common steps are summarized from the Tennessee Department of Health Board of Social Workers Statutes and Rules.

Information below was retrieved May 2022 and is only meant to be a high-level overview. Requirements may change, always check with the state licensing board for complete and up to date information.

  1. Complete an Accredited Program

A social work degree, accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is often the first step to earning your social worker licensure in Tennessee. If you complete a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, you may qualify for an application to become a licensed baccalaureate social worker (LBSW). If you complete an Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, you have the minimum education requirements for all other license types, including becoming a clinical social worker. 

  1. Apply to the Board for Exam Approval 

Once you obtain the minimum education, exam and work requirements, you can apply to the Board of Social Workers (“the Board”) to sit for the appropriate exam. You’ll have to provide various documentation, like official transcripts, declaration of citizenship, passport photo and practitioner profile. You’ll pay an application fee and a fee for the criminal background check. If you meet all the requirements, the Board will approve you to sit for the exam. 

  1. Pass the Bachelor’s or Master’s ASWB Exam

In order to become an LBSW or a licensed master’s social worker (LMSW) before pursuing licensure as a clinical or advanced practice social worker, applicants must pass an exam from the Association for Social Work Boards (ASWB). LBSW applicants should pass the bachelor’s exam and LMSW applicants must pass the master’s exam. At this point, LBSWs and LMSWs can apply for their license (step 6).

  1. Complete Field Requirements

Post-degree clinical experience is only required for clinical or advanced practice social work licensure in Tennessee. Both of these licenses require licensure as an LMSW first and 3,000 hours of clinical or advanced generalist practice, depending on the license you are applying for, under supervision of an approved professional.

  1. Pass the Clinical or Advanced Generalist Practice ASWB Exam

If you are continuing to pursue licensure as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) or licensed advanced practice social worker (LAPSW), you will need to pass the clinical or advanced generalist practice exam, respectively.  

  1. Apply for Your License

After achieving a passing score on the ASWB, applicants may apply to the Board of Social Workers for their desired license.

Social Work Degree Programs in Tennessee

Tennessee offers more than 20 CSWE-accredited social work degree programs to choose from. You might be interested in a full-time, on-campus program. Or, if you have family and work obligations, you might need something online or part time. The variety of program styles means you can find the one that suits your needs and career goals the best. 

Several associate-level social work degrees are available in Tennessee. The Tennessee Transfer Pathway helps students understand how they can earn their social work degree starting at a community college and then transferring to a public or private university to finish their undergraduate degree. There are currently 17 CSWE-accredited BSW programs in TN and 11 accredited MSW degrees. Earning a bachelor’s degree in social work accredited by the CSWE may help prepare students for licensure as an LBSW. However, an MSW degree is required for any other licenses issued by the state.

For students seeking a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) program, Tennessee is home to a couple: The University of Tennessee, Knoxville and The University of Memphis.

Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs in Tennessee

MSW programs in Tennessee offer various concentrations, curriculum options and certificates. Future LMSWs may choose to focus on direct clinical practice, child and family advocacy, working with adults and families, organizational leadership, gerontology and even veterinary social work.

Each CSWE-accredited MSW program in TN will offer a clinical field experience to apply any skills learned in the field, under supervision.

Online MSW Programs Tennessee

There are several online MSW program options in Tennessee,  all of which offer on-campus counterparts. Some of these programs may require on-campus visits. Be sure to check with your university for more information.

Learn more about MSW Programs:

Social Work Licenses in Tennessee

Tennessee has four separate social work licenses. You can obtain the first license with a BSW. But for the other three licenses, you must graduate from an accredited graduate social work program. Information for the social work licenses in Tennessee below was summarized from the Rules of Tennessee Board of Social Worker Certification and Licensure Chapter 1365-01 (PDF, 297 KB).

Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)

If you have a licensed baccalaureate social worker license, you may be able to work in entry-level positions in many industries, such as a case manager aide, probations officer, human services employee, community outreach worker, behavior management aide and more. To become an LBSW in Tennessee (PDF, 318 KB) you may need the following: 

  • Education requirements: CSWE-accredited Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) 
  • Field requirements: No post-degree field requirement
  • Exam: ASWB Bachelors exam
  • License renewal: Every two years with nine hours of continuing education

Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

With an LMSW, you may be able to move into higher social work positions, though you cannot be a clinical social worker. Learn more about the difference between an LMSW and LCSW license. Career options for an LMSW may include child welfare case manager, social work administrator, school social worker, social service permanency worker, social and community service manager, and aging and disability services case manager. 

  • Education requirements: CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work (MSW)
  • Field requirements: No post-degree field requirement
  • Exam: ASWB Master’s exam
  • License renewal: Every two years with 12 hours of continuing education

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

As an LCSW, you may have the training and experience necessary to assess individuals, diagnose mental health and behavioral conditions and provide treatment. You may be able to also provide therapy to individuals, groups and families in a variety of settings. You might work with a community health department or organization, a hospital or medical facility or in private practice.

  • Education requirements: CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) 
  • Field requirements: 3,000 hours of field work in no less than two years as an LMSW
  • Exam: ASWB Clinical exam
  • License renewal: Every two years with 15 hours of continuing education 

Learn more about how to become an LCSW.

Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)

The LAPSW license may enable you to perform the duties of a social worker independently, including counseling, advocacy, research and case management. You may also work for an agency or organization. But you cannot provide clinical work unless you have credentialed supervision. 

  • Education requirements: CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) 
  • Field requirements: 3,000 hours of field work in no less than two years as an LMSW
  • Exam: ASWB Advanced Generalist Practice exam
  • License renewal: Every two years with 15 hours of continuing education 

Social Work Salaries for Tennessee

When deciding whether a career in social work is the right path, you might want to consider social worker salaries

Tennessee Social Work CareersNumber of Social Workers in TennesseeAverage Mean Social Work Salary
Child, Family and School Social Workers
Healthcare Social Workers
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
Social Workers, All Other
Social Work Teachers, Postsecondary

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

Tennessee Social Work Scholarships

You might be concerned about the cost of earning a social work degree. One way to address this is by pursuing scholarships. Social work scholarships in Tennessee include:

Tennessee Social Work Organizations

As a social work student, you may benefit from joining a state, national or university-based social work organization. These associations can provide educational, networking and mentorship opportunities. Some associations offer scholarships. Once you obtain your license, you might be able to find employment opportunities through job boards or other members. 


Does Tennessee have social work reciprocity?

If you obtained a social worker’s license in another state, then you can pursue a license in Tennessee through reciprocity. You have to apply with the Board of Social Work, pay the application fee, pass a criminal background check and show that your original state’s licensure requirements meet the educational and training requirements for a certain license. 

In addition to your application to the Board, you’ll need evidence of your past training and licensure. Prepare to provide official transcripts, exam scores and verification of your current license. If the Board believes you’ve met the necessary educational and training requirements, you’ll receive a license without taking another exam. 

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

All licensed social workers in Tennessee have to complete CE to renew their licenses every two years. 

  • For LBSWs, they must complete nine hours of CE, including at least four hours in social work and at least three hours in professional ethics. 
  • For LMSWs, they must complete 12 hours each year, including at least seven hours in social work and at least three hours in professional ethics. 
  • For LAPSWs and LCSWs, they must complete 15 hours of CE, including at least 10 hours of social work and at least three hours of professional ethics. Up to two-thirds of the hours can be taken through multimedia courses each year. 

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

All social workers must be licensed in Tennessee, and the type of license dictates the duties they can perform. You can verify social work licenses online through the Department of Health

Last updated in May 2022.