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How to Become a Licensed Social Worker Online

Nov 13, 2019

Social workers help members of their community cope with a range of personal challenges and problems. Learn about the steps for becoming a licensed social worker, including education and licensing requirements, some of which can be completed online.

Essential Information for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker

As social workers interact with people in need, they need to develop several skills, including how to manage crises, how to develop and find resources to benefit their clients, and how to interact with their clients in a professional and caring way. There are several steps for becoming a licensed social worker that can be completed online, including earning a bachelor's degree and a master's degree; however, the step of taking the social worker licensing exam in the state you will work in cannot be completed in an online setting. The below chart explains the necessary skills a social worker needs as well as the job growth and salary information for this profession.

Required Skills Communication, emotional, and problem-solving skills
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 11%
Median Salary (2018)* $49,470

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Steps to Become a Licensed Social Worker Online

While it is possible to complete some of the steps of becoming a licensed social worker online, some requirements, such as fulfilling any educational fieldwork requirements and taking licensing exams, cannot be done online.

Step 1: Earn an Online Bachelor's Degree

Your first step to becoming a licensed social worker is earning an online bachelor's degree, ideally a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, which is required for most entry-level social work positions. However, earning an online degree in psychology and sociology may also be acceptable. Online BSW programs consist of online coursework but may also require on-campus visits for skills training and most require fieldwork or internship hours that are completed in your local community. One key to choosing an online BSW program is finding one that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which is an organization that represents social work education and ensures a program's standards. Some jobs may require that you have graduated from a program accredited by CSWE.

Step 2: Earn an Online Master of Social Work Degree

A Master of Social Work (MSW) degree is required for clinical social work positions, and these programs prepare you for a specialized career. There are two types of online MSW programs: advanced standing programs for those who have earned a CSWE-accredited BSW and a traditional or foundational MSW for those with an undergraduate degree outside the field of social work. Many online MSW programs can be attended full- or part-time, and it may take about 2-3 years to complete your degree. These online MSW programs require online classes but you must also complete a required number of field placement hours as well, which cannot be done online and must be done in your community.

Step 3: Obtain a Social Work License

To become a clinical social worker or to work in an agency setting, you must achieve licensure as a social worker, which is a step that cannot be completed online. The process for becoming a licensed social work varies by state, and generally to become a licensed clinical social worker, you need to have earned your MSW and are required to complete around 2 years of supervised clinical experience post-grad. Then, you must take the licensing exam for your state. Many states use exams designed by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), which consist of 170 four-option, multiple-choice questions. Some online exam practice tests and materials can help you study for your licensing exam.

Step 4: Continuing Education Licensing Requirements

Most states require that you take continuing education courses to keep your social work license. It's important that you check with your state's licensing board for approved continuing education courses, and you must provide documentation verifying the completion of these courses. This step can be completed online, as you can take distance learning courses that could meet your state's requirements.

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