How to Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) is a process in three important steps. First, you should graduate from a CSWE-accredited MSW program. Second, you may need to complete clinical social work licensing and examination requirements in your state. And lastly, you should apply for a LCSW licensure in your state of practice.

If you are not sure what a licensed clinical social worker is, what they do, or how much they make, check out our LCSW FAQ at the bottom of this guide.

Step 1: Complete a CSWE-Accredited MSW Program

There are three educational pathways to become a LCSW:

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School Description
Fordham University Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-ranked Fordham Graduate School of Social Service. Bachelor's required.
University of Denver Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-20 ranked Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. No GRE Required.
Case Western Reserve University The CSWE-accredited Master of Science in Social Administration from CWRU is an online program for social work leaders.
Baylor University Complete Baylor's Master of Social Work program online in as few as 12-16 months and start serving vulnerable populations in need.
University of Southern California (USC) Apply to USC's innovative MSW program to take the next step in your social work career. No GRE required.
Simmons University Simmons University's online Master of Social Work program can be completed in as few as 16 months, and GRE scores are not required.
Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
School Description
University of Southern California (USC) Apply to USC's innovative MSW program to take the next step in your social work career. No GRE required.
University of Denver Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-20 ranked Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. No GRE Required.
Baylor University Complete Baylor's Master of Social Work program online in as few as 12-16 months and start serving vulnerable populations in need.
Case Western Reserve University The CSWE-accredited Master of Science in Social Administration from CWRU is an online program for social work leaders.
Simmons University Simmons University's online Master of Social Work program can be completed in as few as 16 months, and GRE scores are not required.
Fordham University Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-ranked Fordham Graduate School of Social Service. Bachelor's required.
Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
School Description
Fordham University Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-ranked Fordham Graduate School of Social Service. Bachelor's required.
Case Western Reserve University The CSWE-accredited Master of Science in Social Administration from CWRU is an online program for social work leaders.
University of Denver Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-20 ranked Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. No GRE Required.
Simmons University Simmons University's online Master of Social Work program can be completed in as few as 16 months, and GRE scores are not required.
Baylor University Complete Baylor's Master of Social Work program online in as few as 12-16 months and start serving vulnerable populations in need.
University of Southern California (USC) Apply to USC's innovative MSW program to take the next step in your social work career. No GRE required.
Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
School Description
Case Western Reserve University The CSWE-accredited Master of Science in Social Administration from CWRU is an online program for social work leaders.
University of Denver Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-20 ranked Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. No GRE Required.
Simmons University Simmons University's online Master of Social Work program can be completed in as few as 16 months, and GRE scores are not required.
Fordham University Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-ranked Fordham Graduate School of Social Service. Bachelor's required.
Baylor University Complete Baylor's Master of Social Work program online in as few as 12-16 months and start serving vulnerable populations in need.
University of Southern California (USC) Apply to USC's innovative MSW program to take the next step in your social work career. No GRE required.
Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
School Description
Simmons University Simmons University's online Master of Social Work program can be completed in as few as 16 months, and GRE scores are not required.
Fordham University Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-ranked Fordham Graduate School of Social Service. Bachelor's required.
Case Western Reserve University The CSWE-accredited Master of Science in Social Administration from CWRU is an online program for social work leaders.
University of Denver Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-20 ranked Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. No GRE Required.
University of Southern California (USC) Apply to USC's innovative MSW program to take the next step in your social work career. No GRE required.
Baylor University Complete Baylor's Master of Social Work program online in as few as 12-16 months and start serving vulnerable populations in need.
Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
School Description
University of Southern California (USC) Apply to USC's innovative MSW program to take the next step in your social work career. No GRE required.
University of Denver Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-20 ranked Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. No GRE Required.
Fordham University Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-ranked Fordham Graduate School of Social Service. Bachelor's required.
Case Western Reserve University The CSWE-accredited Master of Science in Social Administration from CWRU is an online program for social work leaders.
Baylor University Complete Baylor's Master of Social Work program online in as few as 12-16 months and start serving vulnerable populations in need.
Simmons University Simmons University's online Master of Social Work program can be completed in as few as 16 months, and GRE scores are not required.
Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
School Description
Baylor University Complete Baylor's Master of Social Work program online in as few as 12-16 months and start serving vulnerable populations in need.
Case Western Reserve University The CSWE-accredited Master of Science in Social Administration from CWRU is an online program for social work leaders.
University of Denver Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-20 ranked Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. No GRE Required.
Fordham University Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-ranked Fordham Graduate School of Social Service. Bachelor's required.
Simmons University Simmons University's online Master of Social Work program can be completed in as few as 16 months, and GRE scores are not required.
University of Southern California (USC) Apply to USC's innovative MSW program to take the next step in your social work career. No GRE required.
Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
School Description
University of Denver Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-20 ranked Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. No GRE Required.
Baylor University Complete Baylor's Master of Social Work program online in as few as 12-16 months and start serving vulnerable populations in need.
Case Western Reserve University The CSWE-accredited Master of Science in Social Administration from CWRU is an online program for social work leaders.
University of Southern California (USC) Apply to USC's innovative MSW program to take the next step in your social work career. No GRE required.
Fordham University Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-ranked Fordham Graduate School of Social Service. Bachelor's required.
Simmons University Simmons University's online Master of Social Work program can be completed in as few as 16 months, and GRE scores are not required.
Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
School Description
Baylor University Complete Baylor's Master of Social Work program online in as few as 12-16 months and start serving vulnerable populations in need.
University of Denver Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-20 ranked Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. No GRE Required.
Case Western Reserve University The CSWE-accredited Master of Science in Social Administration from CWRU is an online program for social work leaders.
University of Southern California (USC) Apply to USC's innovative MSW program to take the next step in your social work career. No GRE required.
Fordham University Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-ranked Fordham Graduate School of Social Service. Bachelor's required.
Simmons University Simmons University's online Master of Social Work program can be completed in as few as 16 months, and GRE scores are not required.

Sponsored Social Work Programs

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Step 2: Complete LCSW Licensing and Examination Requirements

Clinical social work licensure is regulated at the state level. Each state has its own licensing board that determines the specific requirements for clinical social work licensure. It's important to check/confirm the requirements in the state in which you intend to practice In general, a Master of Social Work (MSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is required to become a LCSW in all 50 states.

Future LCSWs should note that earning this designation typically requires a CSWE accredited MSW program, a passing score on a state determined licensure exam, and hours of professional experience. Current LCSWs who move to a different state may have to complete additional requirements in order to transfer their license.

Students who are interested in becoming LCSWs should make sure the graduate social work program and concentration they choose meet the licensing requirements for their state of residence.

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Step 3: Apply for LCSW State Licensure

Licensure depends on your state of residence and the board specific licensing requirements. The entire process to become an LCSW requires a considerable commitment post-graduation; completing an MSW program is just the beginning.

LCSW Licensing Requirements by State

The following states are used for example purposes only to demonstrate how licensing requirements vary by state.

LCSW Licensing in California - Board of Behavioral Services

  1. Complete an MSW and additional coursework such as child abuse assessment, human sexuality, and spousal/partner abuse.
  2. Register as an Association Clinical Social Worker (ACSW).
  3. Take and pass the California Law & Ethics exam.
  4. Complete 3,200 supervised hours of social work.
  5. Apply for and pass LCSW exams.
  6. Become a LCSW in California.

Earn your Master of Social Work and prepare for the LCSW/LMSW licensing exam. Complete in as little as 12 months with a BSW. Learn more information directly from MSW@USC.

Sponsored Online MSW Program

LCSW Licensing in New York - Office of the Professions

  1. Complete recognized MSW program.
  2. Complete coursework/training in the identification and reporting of child abuse.
  3. Apply for and pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) examination.
  4. Become a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW).
  5. Complete at least three years of supervised experience.
  6. Apply for and become a LCSW in New York.

Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-ranked Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. Learn more information directly from OnlineMSW@Fordham.com.

Sponsored Online MSW Program

Disclosure: California and New York state requirements for social work licensure were retrieved as of 10/18/2019. Make sure to double-check the requirements with the state along with the program you are currently enrolled in or wish to enroll in.

While becoming a LCSW is not required to practice clinical social work within organizations, earning a LCSW credential may open up professional doors, increase your competitiveness for certain positions, and provide a higher sense of autonomy in your work with the community. If you want to pursue a private practice, earning your LCSW is a requirement.

Note: The designation for social workers who have their clinical social work license varies by state. While some states grant the title of Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) to social workers with their license, other states use different titles, including but not limited to Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) or Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW).

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The Next Step

We’re hoping that the path to become a LCSW is now clear to you. If you’re ready to explore your options for a MSW program, what better than choosing an program with a clinical social work concentration?

Licensed Clinical Social Worker FAQ

What is a LCSW?

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) are master’s level professionals that work in a wide variety of settings to provide emotional support, mental health evaluations, therapy, and case management services to people experiencing psychological, emotional, medical, social, and/or familial challenges.

What does a Licensed Clinical Social Worker do?

Being a LCSW means working in a unique field that combines mental and emotional disorder development knowledge and treatment planning with an understanding of socioeconomic, cultural, and familial impacts on an individual’s wellbeing. Often, LCSWs will work with other medical and mental health professionals to provide holistic care and support to clients and their families.

What is the difference between a licensed clinical social worker and other social workers?

Clinical social workers may engage in assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental, behavioral, and emotional concerns. Through individual and group therapy, clinical social workers work with clients in private practice, community mental health, primary care and more.

On the other hand, social workers may identify needs of individuals and communities, help clients adjust to changes/challenges in their lives, and advocate for change or awareness on the local, state, and national level.

While clinical social workers can develop plans and create assessments for clients with mental, behavioral, and/or emotional concerns, other social workers help address coping with challenges or change in life situations.

What is the average salary for LCSWs?

The average salary for licensed clinical social workers could depend on where they work, both local/state and type of field. Some LCSWs may pursue independent work as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of September 2019, the average salary for social workers is as follows:

  • Healthcare Social Workers: $56,200
  • Child, Family, and School Social Workers: $46,270
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: $44,840
  • All Other Social Workers: $63,140

Dependent on state funding, private practice, and type of social work, LCSWs may earn between these ranges. Not ever social worker may need to be a licensed clinical practitioner, but these salaries could help to provide a general expectancy. Learn more about top paying industries for social workers with our Social Work Salary Guide.

Other resource for becoming a LCSW: All Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

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