PLANNING YOUR SOCIAL WORK CAREER
Professional licensing and regulation exists to protect the public from unsafe practices and to uphold standards of professionalism and competence in service delivery. Many social work jobs require licensed social workers and each state has its own laws and procedures for applying for licensure.
We understand that applying for your social work license may seem daunting, but we’re here to help!
When am I eligible to take the LSW licensing exam?
PA and NJ: Your final semester of the MSW program is the earliest you can take the exam. There is no pressure to take the licensing exam before you graduate. Some students decide to take it before graduating and others wait until afterward to decide whether to pursue licensure.
DE: Delaware does not have an exam at the LSW level, but rather issues licenses for clinical social workers only (LCSW). You are eligible for a clinical license in Delaware after you have two years of clinical social work experience. You must have at least 3,200 clinical hours.
Which exam should I take?
There are four categories of social work licensure examinations (described below): Bachelors, Masters, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical.
As an MSW student wishing to practice in PA or NJ, you should register to take the Masters exam. If you are planning to practice in DE, you may wish to work toward your LCSW licensure.
- Bachelors (CSW): A generalist test for social workers with a BSW degree
- Masters (LSW): A generalist test for social workers with an MSW and no post-degree experience
- Advanced Generalist (Various licenses depending upon state): An advanced generalist test for social workers who have completed, or are in the process of completing, a period of post-master supervised practice. The advanced generalist covers both macro and micro practice.
- Clinical (LCSW): A more advanced test for social workers with an MSW and at least two years of post-degree experience in direct clinical practice settings
Not every jurisdiction offers all four licenses, so you must check with your state licensing board to determine which exam is appropriate for the jurisdiction in which you are seeking licensure. For example, Pennsylvania and New Jersey do not offer the Advanced Generalist licensure and Delaware does not offer the Masters or Advanced Generalist licensure.
What is included on the exam?
Examinations contain 170 four-option, multiple-choice questions designed to measure minimum competencies at four categories of practice. Only 150 of the 170 items are scored; the remaining 20 questions are pretest items included to measure their effectiveness as items on future examinations. These pretest items are scattered randomly throughout the examination. Candidates have four hours to complete the test, which is administered electronically.
What resources are available to me as I sort through the application and licensing process?
The Association of Social Work Boards offers wonderful tools to help you understand the process and prepare you every step of the way. Visit the Exam Candidates section of the website to register for the exam, order exam materials, take a practice test…and don’t forget to check out their Candidate Handbook – we found it especially useful!
Within the Graduate Social Work Department, Beth Shearn, Program Coordinator, is available to answer questions and assist you.
What can I do to prepare for the licensing exam?
Start a study group, take a licensure prep course, practice with online tests and utilize a variety of study tools offered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) and National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Check out your state NASW chapter for information about when and where prep courses are offered. Visit the Association of Social Work Boards for exam materials to help you prepare.
Other companies offer in-person and online exam preparation courses. The MSW Program at WCU does not vouch for the quality of these programs.
Does West Chester University offer an exam preparation course?
Each year the Graduate Social Work Department partners with NASW to offer a licensure preparation course at the University’s West Chester and Philadelphia campuses. Courses are typically held on a Saturday in late March in Philadelphia and on a Friday in late March in West Chester. Be on the lookout for an email from the Department in January or February. The cost is typically $75 for NASW members and $150 for non-members. You may want to consider an NASW student membership, which costs $57.
What steps do I need to take to register for the licensing exam?
The ASWB's 10 Steps to Licensure will walk you through the process! Supplemental state-specific information is below.
Step 1 for PA
Submit the Application for a License to Practice Social Work, which is available through the Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors website. This application must be submitted in order to receive pre-approval to take the exam.
- If you have NOT yet graduated, you will need to complete a “Verification of Social Work Education” form (the last page of the application). Drop off or send the ORIGINAL completed form to Stacey Raker for department signature. Stacey will have the form signed by the appropriate individual and submit it to the State Board of Social Workers.
- If you HAVE graduated, you will need to include a copy of your transcripts with the application. Order your official WCU transcript from the WCU Registrar.
Step 1 for NJ
What costs are associated with taking the licensing exam?
There are numerous costs associated with obtaining social work licensure. Depending on your state, you should expect to pay between $250 and $600 to obtain licensure.
- Application for licensure/pre-approval to take the licensure exam range from $25-$75 in PA and NJ.
- Examination Fees range from $230-$260 (depending on the type of exam you take).
- Additional fees may apply if you need to change your registration, re-apply to take the exam (if timeframe expires), retake the exam, etc.
- Optional fees include: exam guide ($20-$25); online practice test ($85); prep course ($55+)
What entities are involved in the licensing process and what role does each play?
- Social work regulatory boards
Vary by state and are responsible for setting and regulating licensing standards and administering licensure.
- PA: Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors
- NJ: State Board of Social Work Examiners
- DE: Board of Clinical Social Work Examiners
- Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)
The ASWB owns and maintains the social work licensing examinations. A nonprofit organization, the ASWB is composed of and owned by the social work regulatory boards and colleges dedicated to social work regulation.
- National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
The largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world. While NASW does not play an official role in licensure, each chapter disseminates state-based licensure information and hosts exam preparation courses.
- Pearson VUE
The entity that administers ASWB licensing exams. Pearson test centers are located worldwide. Find a test center near you.
Professional social workers are supervised in several different ways. Clinical supervision is a process in which social workers grow in their competence by building a relationship with a supervisor, who serves as a sort of mentor. It is sometimes called "educational supervision."
Social workers who plan to pursue clinical licensure need to complete a specific amount of clinical supervision. Each state has a required number of hours of clinical supervision that a social worker needs to apply for clinical licensure; this number varies among states.
Clinical supervision might happen one-on-one, or it may take place in a small group. While supervisors document the time they spend on supervision, social workers should keep track of their supervision time as well.
Some employers provide clinical supervision to social workers who don't yet have clinical licensure. However, some settings don't provide enough supervision for social workers to accumulate the necessary hours for clinical licensure, others provide no clinical supervision at all. In these cases, a social worker can hire a clinical supervisor. Here are some online directories of clinical supervisors:
Check out and follow our JOB BOARD to receive emails when new jobs are posted.
The growing demand for social workers across the United States presents numerous opportunities for MSW graduates who have advanced social work skills. West Chester University's Twardowski Career Development Center is available to assist students with career planning, resume development, interview preparation and job searching. The Center posts job opportunities through the Ram Career Network.
We know job searching isn't easy so we compiled a list of external job sites that might help you find your next opportunity!
- Free Library of Phila Nonprofit Job Listing
- Nonprofit Talent
- Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations
- Zip Recruiter
Professional associations exist for many fields within social work. Many professional associations maintain their own job boards, and some offer student memberships.
Getting involved in these organizations is an excellent way to meet practitioners in your area of interest. Joining a state or regional chapter gives you these opportunities closer to home. WCU's Graduate Student Association may reimburse your expenses for attending or presenting at a professional conference.
- Aging Life Care Association
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
- American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work
- American Case Management Association
- American Council for School Social Work
- The American Geriatrics Society
- American Public Human Services Association
- American Society on Aging
- Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
- Association of Clinicians for the Underserved
- Association of Oncology Social Work
- Association of Pediatric Oncology Social Workers
- Clinical Social Work Association
- International Association for Social Work with Groups
- International Employee Assistance Professionals Association
- International Federation of Social Workers
- Latino Social Workers Organization
- National Association of Black Social Workers
- National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists
- National Association of Perinatal Social Workers
- National Association for Rural Mental Health
- National Association of Social Workers
- National Organization of Forensic Social Work
- The Network for Social Work Management
- New Jersey Association of School Social Workers
- New Jersey Society for Clinical Social Work
- North American Association of Christians in Social Work
- Pennsylvania Society for Clinical Social Work
- Pennsylvania Association of School Social Work Personnel
- Professional Association of Social Workers in HIV & AIDS
- School Social Work Association of America
- Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care
- Social Welfare Action Alliance
- Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network