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The Steps to Becoming a Social Worker and Taking the LCSW Test

So, you’re thinking about a career as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

Well, that’s awesome!

You are in good company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the social worker workforce is currently made up of 682,100 people in the United States.

And don’t worry, there is plenty of room for you to find a steady job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 109,700 new social worker jobs are expected in the next few years.

Let us cover the initial steps on this exciting career path together so you can get a better understanding of what you’re getting into.

We are talking here about your career for possibly the next 10 years, at the very least, and even the rest of your life. That is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.

Let’s get to it then.

How do you become an LCSW?

Although some social workers only need a bachelor’s degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and 2 years of experience in a supervised clinical setting after they’ve completed their degree. Clinical social workers must also be licensed by their state.

For more information, read How to Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

What type of schooling does a clinical social worker need?

There are multiple educational pathways to becoming a social worker, depending on the specialty.

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for entry-level administrative positions. However, some employers may hire workers who have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology.

A BSW prepares students for direct-service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant. These programs teach students about diverse populations, human behavior, social welfare policy, and ethics in social work. All programs require students to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship.

Clinical positions require a master’s degree in social work (MSW), which generally takes 2 years to complete. MSW programs prepare students for work in their chosen specialty by developing clinical assessment and management skills. All programs require students to complete a supervised practicum or an internship.

A bachelor’s degree in social work is not required in order to enter a master’s degree program in social work. Although a bachelor’s degree in almost any major is acceptable, courses in psychology, sociology, economics, and political science are recommended. Some programs allow graduates with a bachelor’s degree in social work to earn their master’s degree in 1 year.

In 2017, there were more than 500 bachelor’s degree programs and more than 200 master’s degree programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Two years of supervised training and experience after obtaining an MA degree is typically required for clinical social workers.

What are the types of certifications and requirements needed to become a clinical social worker?

All states require clinical social workers to be licensed, and most states require licensure or certification for nonclinical social workers. Becoming a licensed clinical social worker requires a master’s degree in social work and a minimum of 2 years of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass a clinical exam to be licensed.

Because licensing requirements vary by state, those interested should contact their state licensure board. For more information about regulatory licensure boards by state, visit the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

The test provided by the ASWB is used for licensure in every U.S. state, as well as the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba.

How long does it take to become a social worker?

BSW programs generally take four years to complete, while full-time MSW programs take two years. Part-time programs are available for both undergraduate and graduate students but take longer than full-time ones. If you have a BSW degree, you might be eligible to complete your MSW program in one year. In some states in the U.S., you may begin practicing as a social worker immediately after graduation; in others, you must obtain a social work license before beginning your social work career.

Licensure to become an advanced generalist or clinical social worker requires two years of post-master’s social work experience.

How much does it cost to become a social worker?

According to datausa.io, the tuition costs to become a social worker are:

  • Median in-state public tuition: $6,912
  • Median out-of-state private tuition: $29,900

The exam fee for the LCSW Test provided by the ASWB is $260.

What is the LCSW Test?

ASWB is a nonprofit organization composed of and owned by the social work regulatory boards and colleges of all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and all 10 Canadian provinces. It owns and maintains the social work licensing examinations (including the LCSW Test) that are used to test a social worker’s competence to practice ethically and safely. These exams are one of the elements used by social work regulatory bodies in making licensing decisions. Other factors, such as education and supervised experience, are also included in licensing requirements.

The ASWB Exams are used in every U.S. state, as well as the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba. The ASWB administers five categories of social work licensure examinations: Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical. Not every jurisdiction uses all five categories, so candidates must be sure to check with their individual boards to find out which examinations are appropriate for the jurisdiction in which they are seeking licensure.

How many questions are on the LCSW Test?

The LCSW Test contains 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.

What are the Categories on the LCSW Test?

According to aswb.org, the LCSW Test is divided into four categories or content areas. These are:

  • Professional values and ethics – 19%
  • Human development, diversity, and behavior in the environment – 24%
  • Assessment, diagnosis, and treatment planning – 30%
  • Psychotherapy, clinical interventions, and case management – 27%

How long does the LCSW Test typically last?

The total time limit given to all candidates to complete the LCSW Test is four hours.

What is the passing grade needed for the LCSW Test?

The ASWB licensing exams, including the LCSW Test, are all pass/fail exams developed to measure minimum competence in social work practice. This pass point varies, depending on the category of exam you’re taking, and which version of the exam you get. Generally, pass points range from 93 to 107 correct of the 150 scored questions.

How many times can you take the LCSW Test?

Your social work licensing board makes this decision. Some have limits, others do not. Candidates who fail the LCSW Test will be supplied with diagnostic information outlining their performance on the test. In all cases, you must wait 90 days before taking another test. You will need to register and pay the full examination fee again to retake the test. You will not be able to register again until ASWB receives your results, which typically takes less than two weeks.