Social Worker Certification

We outline everything you need to know to become a licensed social worker. Here, you'll find degree requirements and common career paths.

Updated June 9, 2022

Social Worker Certification

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How to Get Started, Gain Experience, and Earn a License in Your State

Social worker certification programs awarding a degree prepare students to work as licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs). A degree provides the training these workers need to analyze clients' issues, research appropriate resources, and respond to crisis situations. LCSWs also maintain records and create community programs.

Professionals need more than a social worker degree and a license to succeed. The best social workers need strong communication, emotional, and interpersonal skills. They also need strong organization and problem-solving skills.

This page introduces social worker certification programs and explains how to enter the social work field.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker

LCSWs and other licensed social workers need a master's degree to practice. However, some entry-level positions require only a bachelor's degree. Acceptable majors include social work, psychology, and public policy.

A master's provides the in-depth education and hands-on training that states and employers require. Master's degree-seekers select a specialization, such as families or school social work.

Licensed social workers' job responsibilities vary by specialization and employer. Most LCSWs work directly with clients. They suggest solutions and may refer clients to other professionals.

Social Worker Specializations

Students pursuing a social worker license may specialize in one or more areas. Completing a specialization involves taking specific upper-division classes and completing hands-on experiences. These experiences help degree-seekers meet the supervised work requirement states use for licensure.

See below for some common specializations. Some programs call them concentrations or tracks. Options vary by school. Students should check with their prospective schools for information on social worker certifications.

What Are the Education Requirements for a Licensed Social Worker?

LCSWs need a college education to practice. Classes and supervised field experiences train learners for careers. Read on to learn about social work certification programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Please note that classes, internships, and graduate outcomes vary by program.

How Much Does a Social Worker Degree Cost?

Social worker certification programs' costs vary by degree type and school. Students attending in-state, public schools pay an annual average of $9,350 in tuition and fees, according to EducationData.org. Out-of-state learners at the same institution pay $27,020.

Online degree-seekers should budget for extra expenses. For example, they may need to buy a new laptop or commute to in-person internships. Learners can potentially lower their expenses by applying for scholarships and grants.

How Much Do Social Work Majors Make?

Social workers earn a median $51,760 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This figure exceeds the national median salary by about $10,000. Many factors impact salary, including social workers' specialization and employer. Local government agencies and ambulatory healthcare services pay the highest salaries for social workers.

Healthcare and mental health and healthcare social workers earn more than their peers specializing in children and families. However, child and family social workers can raise their salary potential by relocating. Workers in the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and Connecticut make a median annual salary of $68,230-$71,840.

Master's in social work programs help professionals qualify for a license. A license can lead to new career opportunities. Many of these jobs pay more than entry-level positions requiring only a bachelor's.

Certifications and Licensure for Social Workers

Social workers with a master's can start their career by earning the LCSW. Professionals in this role use their education and experience to pursue a professional certification. A certification demonstrates an advanced skill set.

Read on to learn how recent graduates can become LCSWs. The following section also lists two popular certifications from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

NASW awards the C-ACYFSW to licensed professionals with a master's degree. Other eligibility requirements include at least 20 hours of professional development (PD) in the specialization and 4,500 hours of supervised work experience. Applicants submit their license, a colleague reference, and PD paperwork. As of Feb. 2022, certification costs $350 for nonmembers and $140 for members. LCSWs can earn the C-CATODSW by completing 180 PD hours, obtaining 3,000 hours of supervised work experience, and practicing within the NASW Code of Ethics. Candidates submit the same paperwork as LCSWs earning the C-ACYFSW. As of Feb. 2022, certification costs $450 for nonmembers and $165 for members. Recent graduates with a master's can earn this social worker license. Eligibility requirements vary by state. In California, aspiring LCSWs complete a criminal background check and take two exams. They must also provide proof of 3,000 supervised work hours. Candidates in 2021 paid over $500 in registration, exam, and licensure fees.

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