Social Work Education and Training Requirements

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All states and the District of Columbia require that a social worker attain some sort of license, certification, or registration before practicing. Most States require 2 years or a total of 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience for the social worker to be licensed. It is also expected that social workers respond to their clients in an emotionally mature, impartial, and delicate manner to people and their difficulties.

The minimum education requirement that a social worker must have in order to work is a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW). Attaining the degree from an accredited program requires at least 400 hours of supervised field practice. Other degrees in fields such as psychology or sociology may qualify for entry-level jobs in social work.

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Overview of Social Worker Degrees

  • A bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) is the most common minimum requirement to qualify for a job as a social worker; however, majors in psychology, sociology, and related fields may qualify for some entry-level jobs, especially in small community agencies (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
  • Although a bachelor's degree is sufficient for entry into the field, an advanced degree is required for some positions. A master's degree in social work (MSW) is typically required for positions in health and school settings and is required for clinical work, as well (University of Michigan).
  • Full-time master's programs usually last two years and include a minimum of 900 hours of supervised field instruction. Entry into an MSW program does not always require a bachelor's degree in social work, but relevant courses in psychology, biology, economics, and the social sciences are generally recommended (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
  • The Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education lists 74 doctoral programs in social work. These programs include a variety of social-work related courses and also require a minimum of 400 hours of supervised field experience (GADE).

Social Work Certification Facts

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

  • This professional designation is achieved after a person has worked in a supervised position for approximately 3000 hours, or completed about two years of post-graduate work, although this varies from state to state. These positions are often paid and can usually only be achieved by taking a written and oral examination. Preparation for this exam is very important.

Bachelor Social Worker (BSW)

  • The BSW is an entry-level license obtained by someone who holds a bachelor's degree in social work and has completed 2,000 to 3,000 hours of supervised work experience. Again, the exact requirements for this license differ from state to state, so be sure to research the state you intend to work in.

Associate Clinical Social Worker (ASW)

  • This is another entry-level license reserved for social workers with a bachelor's degree in social work. Like the BSW, typically 2,000 to 3,000 hours of supervised work experience are required. Many states also require a minimum of 2,000 hours of experience in clinical psychosocial diagnosis, assessment and treatment, including psychotherapy or counseling.

What You Need to Know About Social Work Licensing Exams

  • The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) offers a very informative and useful FAQ page concerning social work licensing exams.
  • Test Centers are offered in select cities throughout the country. It is important to know if you are close to one of these testing centers before deciding to register for a licensing exam.
  • Liscensing Examinations are not offered in languages other than English. However, many jurisdictions do allow special accommodations for candidates whose primary language is something other than English. Contact your local board for information.  
  • The Exam Fee is $175 and must be paid directly to the Association of Social Work Board. However, this fee may vary from state to state.
  • Practice Exams can be found online for a small registration fee. These practice exams are filled with typical examination questions and are very helpful to first-time test takers.  
  • Test Taking Tips are essential to even a seasoned test taker. Like many multiple choice exams, there are certain general tips and bits of advice that can help you relax, focus and succeed on your social worker licensing exam.  
  • Read the Questions carefully and if a multiple choice question appears too difficult to answer at first, focus on an easier question and come back to it later. This will give you more time to devote to the rest of the test. Also, this will decrease your level of stress and increase your overall success.  
  • ASWB indicates that national pass rates for first-time takers in 2008 were extremely good, with bachelor's, 77.3%, master's, 74%, advanced generalist, 58.3%, and clinical, 75.9%.
  • Social Work Exam Review helps your realize that you are not alone! There are many other people who are taking the social work exam, or who have taken the test in the past. In fact, last year, ASWB administered over 30,000 tests. Find out where you can connect with past and future test takers alike – and gain valuable study tips – at this online social worker exam blog.

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