Social Work Licensure in Alabama

While details may vary from state to state, all social workers in the United States must become licensed after earning a college degree. For graduates of social work programs in Alabama, the state licensing process involves sitting for required examinations, fulfilling a minimum number of supervised practice hours, and submitting paperwork and documentation to the state Board of Social Work. While applicants with a bachelor's degree may receive a social work license, some forms of licensure require a master's degree. Social workers who are licensed in another state may receive social work licensure in Alabama through reciprocity. Reciprocity allows the Board to honor out-of-state licenses, provided that candidates have previously met all educational and professional requirements equivalent to those in Alabama.

Choosing a social work degree program in Alabama might seem like a complicated process, but help is available! In this guide, we'll take a look at the different kinds of programs available throughout the state, the careers each degree prepares for, and how to examine your own interests and goals, academic history, and prospective career path to find the school that's right for you.

Types of Social Work Degrees in Alabama

The social work degree you choose to pursue directly influences the employment opportunities for which you may qualify. Those with a bachelor's degree often work in administrative and case management roles, while professionals who hold master's or doctoral degrees tend to work in clinical and practice-centered settings. Before choosing a social work program in Alabama, it's important to consider your personal career goals, and what kind of program will best help you meet them. Below, we'll explore the different types of social work degrees, what it takes to earn each one, and the career paths to which they often lead.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

Students pursuing a bachelor's degree in social work complete much of the same foundational work as undergraduates in other liberal arts-based fields. On average, students fulfill about 60 credit hours of general education coursework and another 60 credits of major and elective coursework. Social work programs in Alabama impart the fundamental concepts and skills needed to take on entry-level roles as case managers, community organizers, and other important service-based positions. While graduates are not eligible to practice psychotherapy, they may be able to provide limited counseling services in certain situations as they connect clients with valuable resources.

Master's in Social Work

Because clinical social workers are qualified to diagnose and treat clients, they must have at least a master's degree. Graduates with a master's in social work degree are eligible to sit for the national licensing exam offered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), which is required and accepted in nearly every state. An MSW curriculum prepares students to work as therapists and counselors in one-on-one clinical settings. Many online social work programs in Alabama offer various specialization and concentration options, which ready students for employment in specific settings, such as substance abuse clinics, private practices, and nursing homes.

Doctorate Degree in Social Work

Those hoping to pursue advanced practice or specialized positions may consider earning a doctoral degree in social work. While a master's in social work is often considered to be the terminal degree in the field, there are numerous benefits to gaining a doctoral degree. Professionals with a Ph.D. or DSW qualify for the same licensure as those with master's degrees, but a doctoral degree can potentially lead to higher-paying, high-level clinical and administrative jobs. A doctorate in social work is generally the educational standard to qualify for postsecondary teaching positions.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Alabama

Social work licensure in Alabama is granted according to the candidate's level of education and professional experience. While licensed bachelor social workers can practice in non-clinical settings after completing their undergraduate studies and passing required examinations, licensed graduate social workers and licensed certified social workers are permitted to practice in clinical settings. Those with graduate social work degrees who wish to practice outside of a state agency or larger group practice can also earn their private independent practice certification. Below, you'll find more information about each of these licenses, including how to earn them, and the career opportunities they often lead to.

Licensed Bachelor Social Worker

  1. Bachelor's Degree in Social Work: Depending on program format and any transfer credit you may have, it can take between three and four years to earn a bachelor's degree. All candidates must complete a bachelor's degree before sitting for the required undergraduate social work exam. A bachelor's curriculum provides the necessary educational foundation for entry/administrative- level social work positions.
  2. AWSB Examination: Regardless of which state you plan to practice in, passing this examination is a mandatory part of the licensing process. Offered through the ASWB, the exam measures competence and mastery of undergraduate-level concepts in the field. The test may be taken at an approved testing center in your community.
  3. Post-Bachelor's Supervised Practice: To gain Alabama social work licensure, candidates must also complete at least 24 months of supervised practice after earning a bachelor's degree. During this two year period, graduates should document at least four hours of work-study every month. This requirement must be fulfilled before applying to take the AWSB exam.

Licensed Graduate Social Worker

  1. Master's Degree in Social Work: As the title implies, licensed graduate social workers must hold a graduate degree in the field. Earning a master's degree generally requires another two to three years of classroom and field study, followed by a period of supervised practice.
  2. ASWB Examination: As with other types of licensed social work practice, licensed graduate social workers are required to pass the master's-level ASWB exam before receiving permission to practice in Alabama. This test assesses the candidate's mastery of advanced social work concepts and skills.
  3. Supervised Practice Hours: After completing a master's program, candidates complete a minimum number of practice hours in a professional setting. This experience is usually supervised by a licensed social worker, and takes around two years to complete.

Licensed Certified Social Worker

  1. Master's Degree in Social Work: A licensed certified social worker practices in the same capacity as a licensed clinical social worker, and must meet the same educational requirements. Earning a social work degree in Alabama often takes about two years past the bachelor's degree, and another year or two to complete required supervised practice hours.
  2. ASWB Examination: All social workers must passing one of the exams offered by the AWB, regardless of their educational level. The master's/advanced-level exam costs $260, and is required to practice in nearly every state. Most graduate-level programs include coursework to prepare students for the ASWB exam.
  3. Supervised Practice Hours: Regardless of your prospective career path or type of practice, you will need to complete a minimum number of supervised clinical practice hours before earning full licensure. Candidates usually spend one or two years fulfilling this requirement, which must be completed before sitting for the ASWB exam.

Private Independent Practice Certification

  1. Master's Degree in Social Work: A master's degree in social work is the gold standard for clinical practice, and individuals with a master's are qualified to receive all types of social work licensure. Most social work schools in Alabama offer two-year master's programs, although some distance education programs may be completed in less time.
  2. ASWB Examination: All prospective social workers must sit for the bachelor's or master's/advanced practice examination presented by the ASWB. Like a master's degree, this test sets the standard for social work licensure. Candidates usually take the exam after completing their mandatory supervised practice hours.
  3. Supervised Practice Hours: Those going into private independent social work practice should expect to complete at least two years of post-master's supervised clinical practice. Most candidates fulfill this requirement in a setting related to their field of interest, such as rehabilitation clinics, government agencies, and schools.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Alabama?

The amount of time it takes to earn social work licensure in Alabama depends on a number of factors, including education and work experience. Most prospective social workers begin by earning a bachelor's degree, which typically takes up to four years to complete. Individuals who wish to take on clinical roles usually spend another two years earning a master's degree, which is often followed by at least two more years of supervised practice. Some specialized or advanced positions may require additional credentials, which are acquired by completing continuing education programs of varying length.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in Alabama

If you hold a social work license in another state but wish to practice in Alabama, you may apply for reciprocity. Reciprocity is an agreement that allows social workers to transfer their out-of-state license to Alabama by providing appropriate documentation and proof of licensure. Licenses granted in other states must be active, and professionals must be in good professional standing before applying for reciprocity. Candidates may provide proof of licensure during the online application process.

Applicants are also required to submit their scores from the ASWB examination. If you did not pass this exam, you are not eligible to receive license reciprocity in Alabama. Along with the necessary documentation, reciprocity candidates must pay a nonrefundable $75 application fee. While application processing times vary from case to case, applicants may contact the state licensing board for more information.

License Renewal

No matter their position or field of expertise, professionals must keep their licenses and certifications current in order to continue practicing, and social workers are no exception. After obtaining social work licensure in Alabama, professionals must keep their licenses active and in good standing by applying for renewal every two years. Alabama does not send out renewal notices, so it is very important to keep track of your license expiration date and renew it on time. However, there is a 60-day grace period after expiration, during which social workers are still permitted to practice without incurring penalties.

Alabama's license renewal process is fairly simple. Most individuals choose to renew their credentials online, but a paper option is also available on request. All applicants must pay a $100 renewal fee and provide documentation that they have completed the 30-hour continuing education requirement.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Alabama

Earning a social work degree is a crucial step toward pursuing a career in the field. Fortunately, there are a number of great social work schools in Alabama to choose from, including online social work programs. If you plan to practice social work in Alabama, earning your degree from an in-state institution can work to your advantage. The faculty at Alabama schools often have special insight into working in the state, and may be able to provide extra assistance with internship placements.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Earning an online social work degree opens up a world of specialized job opportunities and career paths within the field and adjacent to it. While a bachelor's degree qualifies graduates for numerous roles, an advanced social work degree presents even more exciting and lucrative career opportunities. Graduates of online social work programs in Alabama possess important qualities like a strong work ethic, a desire to help others, and strong communication skills. These qualities make graduates ideal candidates for a variety of roles, including the examples listed below.

  • Social Workers: Working with clients on a one-on-one or group basis, these professionals address and manage personal and social challenges. While a bachelor's degree in social work and a state license is sufficient for a number of positions, a master's degree is required to receive clinical licensure.
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: Some social workers specialize in substance abuse, addiction, and behavioral issues. They may work in rehabilitation clinics, mental health facilities, hospitals, or practice privately. While some work with individual clients, others conduct group therapy sessions, or specialize in crisis situations and intervention.
  • School and Career Counselors: School and career counselors work in educational settings, helping students to achieve academic and career goals. They frequently assist with peer mediation, assessing at-risk students, college selection, and academic progress assessment. Most school counselors hold a master's degree.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: Individuals who earn a social work degree in Alabama hold many of the skills necessary to work as a rehabilitation counselor. These specialists help clients overcome physical and emotional traumas by developing positive habits and thinking patterns. Rehabilitation counselors typically hold a master's or doctoral degree.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: These therapists are charged with helping couples and families overcome interpersonal issues, develop healthier communication skills, and positive coping mechanisms. Along with a graduate degree in social work, most marriage and family therapists hold additional specialized credentials.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Alabama

Many factors influence salary potential, including geographic location, workplace policies, professional experience, and level of education attained. While it's possible to receive Alabama social work licensure with a bachelor's degree, professionals who hold a graduate-level social work degree tend to out-earn those with less education, and a master's degree is typically required for many high-level and clinical positions in the field. The table below presents the combined average salaries for Alabama social workers and other social service professionals.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Alabama

Social Workers $61,600
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $38,580
School and Career Counselors $52,830
Rehabilitation Counselors $37,780
Marriage and Family Therapists $39,920
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Alabama

There are many benefits to joining a professional organization, whether you're a student earning a social work degree in Alabama or a recent graduate. Professional organizations provide members with a array of valuable benefits, from exclusive job boards and educational resources to networking opportunities like annual conferences. The associations below serve and support social workers and social work students in Alabama.

  • National Association of Social Workers - Alabama Chapter: The NASW is the country's largest social work professional organization. The Alabama chapter provides the professional community with both state-specific and universal resources. Members may access continuing education courses, an exclusive job board, and student benefits.
  • Council on Social Work Education: This organization is responsible for granting accreditation to social work schools in Alabama and across the country. The CSWE also publishes a scholarly journal, hosts meetings and events throughout the year, and provides numerous resources for students and educators.
  • Clinical Social Work Association: The CSWA is an advocacy group serving clinical social workers and those planning to pursue a clinical career. The organization provides important resources and membership benefits, including a job board, information on policy and legislature development, and publications.
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