Social work license requirements

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What are the types of social work licensure?

Social workers are licensed to assure the public that they have the proper educational and training requirements to practice as safe professional and ethical social workers.

Each state has its own requirements for each category of social work that must be met before social workers are granted their licenses, so standards for licensure and levels of licensure differ by location.

Due to the substantial differences in the licensure levels and requirements between states, candidates should investigate social work licensure in their intended state of practice.

The 4 main levels of licensure are:


To receive your Licensed Bachelor of Social Work (LBSW) certification, you must hold a BSW degree from a CSWE-accredited college or university. Some states, however, permit social work licensure for human service professionals with an alternate bachelor’s degree. The next step is to pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) bachelor’s social work license exam. In most states, there is no work experience or on-site instruction necessary to become an LBSW.

LBSWs typically work in entry-level human services jobs and cannot offer clinical services personally to clients. To achieve a higher level of licensure, LBSWs must continue their education by attending graduate school.


To become a licensed master of social work (LMSW), you must earn an MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited program. Candidates can be licensed immediately upon graduation and passing the ASWB exam as students generally do not have to have supervised postgraduate work experience. Some states, however, may require additional coursework in, for example, social work ethics, child abuse, or substance abuse before granting social work licenses.

The LMSW is the highest level of licensure for social workers interested in providing non-clinical services. LMSWs who are interested in obtaining a clinical license will look for positions that provide suitable supervised experience to be able to apply for a clinical license in the future.

Clinical: To become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), most states require 2-3 years of supervised clinical work experience. To gain the right type of work experience, master’s level social workers look for positions that provide direct clinical services to individuals, families, and groups. As part of the ASWB clinical exam application, social workers must provide evidence of their qualified work experience and supervision hours

Advanced generalist:

After gaining 2 years of supervised non-clinical practice after graduation you can take the ABSW licensed master social worker-advanced generalist (LMSW-AG) exam.

Each state licensing board stipulates the amount of work experience required for candidates to be eligible to apply for the advanced generalist examination.

License reciprocity for social workers

There is no system of automatic recognition or transfer of social work licenses between states. License reciprocity allows applicants to obtain a license in one state based on them having a comparable license in different state.

To apply for licensure by reciprocity applicants need to submit their ASWB exam scores, proof of the current license, a transcript of their degree and professional references.

As each state has its own requirements for each type of social work license, applicants will need to confirm the prerequisites with their state licensing board. Additional requirement may include, state-specific coursework, knowledge of state laws, additional clinical hours or supervision hours.

Licensing renewal and continuing education requirements:

Licensure renewal requirements are determined by the social work board in each state. Most states require social workers to renew their licenses every 2 years. There will also be state-specific conditions for social workers to obtain a certain amount of hours of continuing education credits hours from an approved list of courses. Social workers should consult with their state social work board to find exact continuing education requirements.

Association of Social Work Boards Examinations Page

The ASWB site provides information about social work license exams for potential social workers here

Association of Social Work Boards Licensing and Regulations Page

This page provides social work licensing requirements.

Association of Social Work Boards’ State Board List

The ASWB state board list links to detailed information about each state’s social work licensing requirements.

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