After obtaining an MSW from a program accredited by the Council of Social Work Educators (CSWE), the next important step in your career is to become licensed to practice social work in your state. Licensure is part of the broader regulation of social work as a profession, overseen by a non-profit organization called the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). As stated on their website: “The purpose of licensing and certification in social work is to assist the public through identification of standards for the safe professional practice of social work.” Licensing procedures ensure that social work practitioners are competent professionals who are able to uphold the social work profession’s mission and code of ethics in their practice with the public.

The ASWB has a designated state office that handles licensing for social workers in each state. MSW graduates will interact with their state office to obtain licensure. There are some slight variations by state in licensing levels and procedures, so MSW graduates pursuing licensure should always verify information with the state board office

In most states, MSW graduates should seek a master’s level licensure before beginning to practice, becoming a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) or Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) depending on the state. Social workers Licensed at the masters level can then pursue clinical licensure, if desired, to further advance their careers in clinical settings.

While the specific steps, rules, requirements, and instructions may vary by state, the following ten steps are essential for anyone seeking social work licensure. For more specifics on any of these steps, consult the board of social work examiners in your state.

  1. After completing your MSW through a CSWE-accredited program, request an official transcript showing your degree has been conferred. This will need to be submitted to the state board of social work examiners as part of your licensure application package.

  2. Complete an application through the board of social work examiners in your state. The application will ask for general demographic and educational information. You will probably also be required to pay a fee in order to submit the application for review.

  3. Get a background check and fingerprints taken at the state police headquarters or an available local station. You will need to pay another fee for these checks to be completed, and they can take some time to process.

  4. Submit your transcript, background check, and fingerprint results to the state board of social work examiners to complete your licensure application.

  5. Wait for the board to review your application. Reviews are usually completed at the monthly board meeting. After review of your application at the meeting, the board will either approve or deny your request for licensure. They’ll send a letter letting you know the status of your application.

  6. If your application is approved, it is time to register for the licensure exam! Register early to ensure you get the time and location best for you. You have 6 months to take the exam from the time your application is approved. You must pay for the exam at the time of registration.

  7. Study for the exam! There are several guides and resources available to help you prepare to do your best.

  8. Take the exam at your appointed time and location. Be sure to get lost of rest the night before.

  9. VIew your unofficial score report – you will be able to see how you did on the exam immediately after completing it. The official score report will be sent to the state board of social work examiners in about 2 weeks. If you did not receive a passing grade, you can schedule another exam for a later date.

  10. Congratulations! Once the state board receives and confirms your passing score report, you’re a Licensed Social Worker and can now legally practice social work in your state.