How to Become a Licensed Social Worker

Social work is “an interrelated system of values, theory and practice,” according to The International Federation of Social Workers. Social workers serve clients on an individual or group level at both private and public organizations. They help clients through counseling, therapy, education, and public resources.

If you’re interested in becoming a social worker, it’s very useful to know the difference between various levels of social work careers you can go into, depending on the level of education and training you have. The more advanced the career, the more crucial obtaining higher levels of education and licensure are.

What are the educational requirements for a social worker?

To become a Licensed Social Worker (LSW), an applicant must have at least a bachelor’s degree in social work and pass the national examination administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

When looking for programs, it’s important to keep a few factors in mind:

  • Is the program accredited?
  • Will the program prepare you for licensure and other exams?
  • Does the program offer online or hybrid courses for working and non-traditional students?

Below we’ve listed popular accredited programs in social work that meet these factors:

SchoolPrograms
Our Lady of the Lake University
Our Lady of the Lake University

Accreditation
  • SACSCOC
University of Southern California
University of Southern California

Accreditation
  • WASC
Walden University
Walden University

Accreditation
  • HLC
  • NCA
Indiana Wesleyan University
Indiana Wesleyan University

Accreditation
  • WACS
  • CCTC
Widener University
Widener University

Accreditation
  • MSA
Sacred Heart University
Sacred Heart University

Accreditation
  • HLC
  • NCA

Click here to see more online Social Work degrees

What does undergraduate coursework consist of?

The minimum level of education is a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, also known as a BSW. Undergraduate work must come from an approved school by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Coursework as an undergraduate typically spends a majority of the time educating students on different social issues, as well as how social workers can be an integral part to assisting others and implementing change.

Classes at the undergraduate level typically consist of the following:

  • Alcohol and Substance Abuse Education
  • Welfare Programs
  • Sociology and Psychology Coursework
  • Criminal Justice
  • Social Work Policy
  • Community Outreach
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Ethical and Value Analysis

What does graduate coursework consist of?

Many of those who achieve an undergraduate degree in social work continue on to get a graduate degree for numerous reasons. A Masters or Doctorate in social work will allow you to apply for advanced social work licensure, which helps you get more advanced jobs that also pay significantly better. Additionally, these more advanced degrees allow social workers to facilitate a larger impact on individuals and communities through a larger breadth of knowledge and understanding, as well as increased accessibility to resources.

Classes at the graduate level typically consist of the following:

  • Fieldwork
  • Internships
  • Advanced Mediation Courses
  • Criminal Theory
  • Policy Development

These graduate programs have more advanced loads of coursework and are much more thorough. Graduate studies for social work are a large step up from the undergraduate social work curriculum and due to it’s refinement of the quality of students enrolled, they’re able to focus more intently on the interests of those who plan to make social work a career.
 

What is social work licensure?

Every state in the U.S. requires social workers to be professionally licensed in order to independently practice social work. Requirements of licensure vary from state to state. The Social Work License Map provides relevant information about all 50 of the states, in case you’re considering getting a social work license in a different state than you acquire your degree in. The International Federation of Social Workers can help with the requirements for working around the world and expanding your range of experience to outside the country.

Different levels of social work licensure depend on your level of education. The following are licenses you can acquire:

  • Initial License: Upon completing undergraduate education you can become licensed as a bachelor or associate level first-time social worker. These licenses are typically referred to as Licensed Baccalaureate Social Workers (LBSW).
  • Master License: If you’ve completed graduate work in social work and already hold an intial license, then you may be eligible for a master license, usually referred to as Licensed Master Social Workers (LMSW). You must take a standardized exam for this level of license.
  • Clinical License: This is a full professional license for practicing social workers, and is referred to as Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW). You must have both years of experience and a graduate degree for this license.

Once you are licensed you must go through renewal processes on yearly basis, which sometimes require fees, continuing education and re-examination, but it’s through this process that the community of social work is able to provide such a consistently high level of service to those they work with.

A social worker can apply for credentials and licensing through the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The site also provides extensive advice and guidance for inexperienced, as well as veteran, social workers. The association also assists with advocacy and outreach events that social workers can become a part of throughout their career.

Search for online Social Work programs