LICSW – Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker Guide

Professionals in the field of social work help clients overcome challenges and lead more productive, fulfilling lives. Licensed independent clinical social workers (LICSWs) practice social work in a range of capacities to assess, treat and diagnose clients with mental, emotional and psychosocial ailments. 

Becoming an LICSW calls for commitment, and there are many factors to consider as you determine if it’s the right career choice for you. This guide will provide those interested in pursuing a career as an LICSW with an overview of the process for obtaining certification, as well as the associated career opportunities and outlooks.

States That Offer an LICSW License

Not every state offers an LICSW license. If you wish to work as an LICSW, it’s important to take this into account—especially as you choose where to conduct your training and subsequent job search. 

The states and jurisdictions that offer LICSW licenses, as of September 2020, are:

For these states, the title of LICSW may be used in place of licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Be sure to check with your state’s board for more information:

For those who wish to practice clinical social work in a state that does not offer LICSW licensure, other options—such as becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)—are available. In fact, the majority of states offer LCSW licenses. While many of the roles and responsibilities of LICSWs and LCSWs are similar, the requirements and scope of practice may differ. Given the state-by-state differences in certification options and licensure requirements, it’s important to conduct state-specific research as you pursue your career.

Should I Obtain an LICSW License?

Obtaining an LICSW license may be challenging due to the advanced level of education required, the amount of training and clinical experience necessary, and the licensing examinations you’ll need to pass. But for some people, it’s still a fulfilling path. 

Obtaining an LICSW may provide a variety of opportunities for professionals who wish to help patients overcome mental health issues and lead healthier and happier lives. 

The education and clinical training you’ll complete will provide valuable learning experiences and will teach you key theories, skills and competencies needed for a role in the field. States that offer LICSW certifications generally require you to work directly with an LICSW before obtaining licensure, which may give you an idea of what your future as an LICSW could look like.

Obtaining your LICSW can also provide you with the opportunity to practice individually, potentially giving you a wide range of options and work settings for your practice.  You may even end up supervising other social workers. As you decide whether you want to pursue the path to becoming an LICSW, be sure to keep in mind the education required, the career options available and the responsibilities you’ll take on in the field. 

Path to Becoming a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)

Though the requirements for becoming an LICSW vary by state, understanding the basic process for obtaining this license may help you plan your career path. If you are interested in becoming an LICSW, here are some steps you can expect to take to get there:

1. Obtain an Accredited Master of Social Work Degree 

There are a few social work degrees you can pursue if you’re interested in a career as a social worker, such as a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). While earning a BSW provides you with foundational knowledge of the field, obtaining your master’s in social work degree (often called an MSW) is the first step to becoming an LICSW and is the minimum education requirement for certification

To fulfill this educational requirement, you must receive your MSW from a program that’s been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). You might choose to obtain your MSW in-person or as part of a master’s in social work online program. You may also become an LICSW if you have completed a doctoral degree in social work.

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


2. Fulfill Clinical Training Requirements

While clinical training requirements vary by program, most MSW programs incorporate clinical training into their curricula. Often, these hours can be applied to help meet licensure requirements. However, the total number of clinical training hours required for licensure varies by state, so be sure to research the specific requirements of the state you wish to practice in to confirm that you’re on track. 

3. Complete Training Under the Supervision of an LICSW

Specific requirements vary by state, but generally, you’ll be required to complete at least two years of postgraduate practice under the direct supervision of an LICSW—all of which must be documented and accounted for according to state guidelines. 

4. Pass Your State’s Examination

States that offer LICSW licensure require you to take and pass an official certification exam. Once you pass the exam, you must follow renewal guidelines as well as meet continuing education requirements. The specific requirements for keeping your license active after passing the certification exam vary by state.  

Educational Requirements

As previously stated, the minimum education requirement for an LICSW is an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program. Though, you may also choose to complete a Doctor of Social Work degree to obtain your LICSW.   

Selecting a program with accreditation is important to ensure that you gain the knowledge and professional skills necessary to operate in the field. Accredited MSW programs consist of a combination of coursework and in-person training. If you wish to pursue social work in a clinical capacity, you’ll generally need to meet additional coursework and training requirements. Because of this, it’s important to research the degree options offered by the different programs available to you—and what each of them requires.  

Admissions requirements for MSW programs vary by program. Generally, you must also have a bachelor’s degree—although it does not necessarily need to be in social work. However, having a bachelor’s in social work may prove helpful. The BSW can qualify you for advanced standing programs, which typically allows you to earn your MSW faster than those in a traditional program. 

Clinical Experience

When pursuing an LICSW, carefully research your state’s clinical experience requirements. Though specific hour requirements vary, states generally require you to document and submit verification demonstrating that you have completed the appropriate amount of clinical experience, down to each clinical hour under the direct supervision of an LICSW. 

Some states may also require you to clock a certain number of clinical hours in specific knowledge areas such as differential diagnosis, clinical treatment planning, clinical intervention methods, evaluation methodologies, social work values and ethics, and culturally specific evaluation and assessment. 


Obtaining your LICSW requires mastering skills that you’ll utilize in your career in social work. If you choose to pursue an LICSW, you may expect to learn how to use evidence-based practice to help clients overcome mental health issues. Since LICSWs often practice social work from a clinical standpoint, you’ll learn how to assess, treat and diagnose mental illness as well as provide counseling and comprehensive care to those suffering from mental illness, trauma, addiction and other issues that require professional support. You can also expect to learn how to work both independently and collaboratively, as you pursue your LICSW. 

Careers Opportunity for LICSWs

Becoming a social worker may open up a wide range of career options to you. So can obtaining your LICSW. With your LICSW license, you can practice social work independently in both clinical and non-clinical settings. LICSWs may pursue roles that involve working with individuals, families, couples and groups. 

Additionally, as an LICSW, you may be able to operate your own private practice. LICSWs are also qualified to act as a supervisor to other social workers, which may further broaden the range of career opportunities available to you. Though some LICSWs take on positions that are related to mental health social work, or psychiatric social work, they are qualified to work in other related capacities as well.  

Put simply, obtaining your license may present you with the ability to pursue several social work careers. It’s up to you to decide what interests you most.

Salary Expectations for LICSWs

Social work salaries may be one of the many factors you consider when deciding whether LICSW licensure is for you. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not report data on the salaries of LICSWs specifically. However, the BLS reports that the median annual salary for social workers in May 2020 was $51,760. Keep in mind, this salary is representative of all types of social workers—including those who do not have the qualifications that may lead to higher pay. According to the BLS, the highest-paid 10% of social workers earned a median annual salary of more than $85, 820 in May 2020. 

The BLS also reports on job outlook for social workers—the field is expected to grow 13% between 2019 and 2029. This growth rate is more than twice the average growth rate for all jobs. Certain sectors of the field are expected to grow even faster, according to the BLS, with the employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers projected to grow 17% during the same time period. 

Licensure Fee and Renewal

Because you will be offering clinical services as an LICSW, you will need to take the clinical ASWB exam. It’s important to keep in mind the fees associated with licensure as well as the renewal requirements. Exam fees vary by state since each state is responsible for issuing social work licenses and determining requirements. Generally, fees can be several hundred dollars. For example, the fee for the LICSW exam in Minnesota is $325, with a renewal fee of $325 that must be paid every 24 months to keep the license active. 

Researching your state’s license renewal requirements is a good way to ensure that your license stays active and up to date. Some states, such as Washington, require you to renew your license annually. You should also prepare to meet continuing education requirements for social workers, which vary from state to state. 


If you are considering a career as an LICSW, there are several factors that might affect your decision. The following section will explore some common questions about the process—including the definition of an LICSW, how long it takes to become one, the difference between an LICSW and an LCSW, and whether or not an LICSW can prescribe medication.

What is an LICSW?

An LICSW is a licensed independent clinical social worker. To obtain this license, you must meet the minimum education level, which is a master’s degree in social work. You’ll also have to meet state-specific requirements which include clinical training experience under the direct supervision of an LICSW, and an exam. Not all states offer this license. 

LICSWs work with patients to assess, treat, and diagnose a range of mental health issues to help them lead healthier, more productive lives. 

How long does it take to obtain an LICSW?

How long it takes to become an LICSW depends on the pathway you choose to pursue. Becoming an LICSW requires the minimum degree level of an MSW, and the length of time it takes to complete the degree varies according to your educational background and personal circumstances.

If you have a bachelor’s degree in social work, you may be eligible for advanced standing programs, which take less time to complete than traditional programs. Whether you choose to study full-time or part-time will also play a role in determining how long becoming an LICSW takes.

Once you complete your master’s degree, you must then complete your state-specific supervised clinical experience requirements. Though requirements vary, they typically range between two to three years of experience. It’s also important to factor in the time it’ll take to pass your state’s certification exam. 

What’s the difference between an LICSW vs LCSW?

An LICSW is a licensed independent clinical social worker, while an LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker. There are many similarities between the roles, as both are certified to practice social work in both clinical and non-clinical capacities. Both require you to complete your MSW, have clinical training experience, and pass a state-issued examination.

The primary difference between the two is that LICSWs are certified to practice independently. Another key difference is that while only a few states offer LICSW certifications, most states offer LCSW certifications. 

Can an LICSW prescribe medication?

Although an LICSW may practice social work in a clinical setting, treating and diagnosing medical issues such as mental health disorders, they are not allowed to prescribe medication. In general, only mental health professionals who have completed medical training such as psychiatrists are allowed to prescribe medications. In cases where patients may benefit from medication, LICSWs may work with or refer patients to medical professionals who are certified to prescribe it.

Information on this page was retrieved in September 2020.