Social Work Licensure in Georgia

Like all states, Georgia regulates the social work profession through licensure. For aspiring social workers, obtaining a social work degree in Georgia may represent the first step toward earning a license from the state. Georgia requires social workers to hold a minimum of a master's degree in social work before they can apply for licensure. The process to earn an initial license mirrors those used in many other states; after earning their master's degree, candidates must successfully take an examination and pass a background check. Additionally, licensure candidates who plan to work in a clinical setting must complete at least three years of supervised work experience.

Social workers with an out-of-state license must complete additional education requirements if they hold only a bachelor's degree in social work since Georgia does not recognize bachelor's-level licenses. For out-of-state applicants whose academic and work experiences match or exceed those required for residents, receiving a Georgia social work license should be relatively straightforward. To do this, out-of-state applicants submit their academic transcripts and licensure verification, and those applying for a clinical license also submit their work history. To renew their licenses, social workers pay a fee and complete a certain number of continuing education hours every two years.

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Types of Social Work Degrees in Georgia

Students typically earn a social work degree at the bachelor's, master's, and/or doctoral levels. A bachelor's degree represents the minimum education required to pursue most entry-level jobs in the social work field. In Georgia, bachelor's degree holders can find employment as social work assistants and in other support roles under the direction of licensed social workers. Earning a master's degree qualifies graduates to apply for a licensed master social worker (LMSW) or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) license. Earning either of these licenses opens up multiple career paths and increases a professional's salary potential. Finally, obtaining a doctorate in social work qualifies graduates to work as college professors or policy advisers to political leaders.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

Students pursuing a bachelor's degree in social work typically spend about half their time focusing on social work fundamentals. The remaining portion of the curriculum covers the college's core classes and elective coursework. The majority of students take four years to earn a bachelor's degree. Learners working toward an online social work degree can save money on tuition and complete their degree in less time, as compared to on-campus students. However, for motivated students, a bachelor's degree should not be the terminal degree; social work licensure in Georgia requires a master's degree (or higher). After graduation, students can immediately enter a graduate-level program or find work as social work assistants.

Master's in Social Work

In a master's program, students experience a mix of classroom instruction and internship experiences that prepare them for careers as LMSWs or LCSWs. To receive a Georgia social work license, students must earn their degrees from a university accredited by the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE). Many online programs also meet this accreditation requirement. Students who live in rural areas, as well as those looking to save money, often choose to complete online social work programs in Georgia. Master's graduates can benefit from the higher earning power associated with an increased education and licensure. Also, a master's degree significantly lessens any difficulties a professional might face should they decide to pursue licensure in another state; in many states, a master's degree represents the minimum education needed to become a licensed social worker.

Doctorate Degree in Social Work

Not all social workers deal directly with clients. Social workers with a doctoral degree often educate the next generation of social workers or act as policy advisers to politicians. Earning this degree requires extensive research into a social work topic, the results of which act as the foundation for a student's dissertation. Even at this level, online programs give students the ability to work at their own pace and potentially save thousands of dollars. Graduates of CSWE-accredited doctoral programs may also apply for Georgia's LMSW or LCSW license.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Georgia

Georgia regulates the social work profession through two licensure tracks. The LMSW and LCSW licenses give social workers the ability to work independently and open private social work offices. However, the LCSW credential allows social workers to practice in a clinical setting, while the LMSW does not. The LCSW license requires social workers to complete significant work experience before applying for licensure. As a result, many social workers first earn their LMSW credential before eventually applying to become an LCSW after they finish the required work experience.

Licensed Master Social Worker

  1. Education: The most important step toward becoming an LMSW is earning a master's degree from a CSWE-accredited social work degree program. Social work schools in Georgia prepare graduates to become successful social workers and take the licensure examination that all licensed social workers must pass.
  2. Examination: Licensed social workers in Georgia must pass a certification exam developed by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). LMSW candidates take the master's-level exam, which consists of multiple-choice questions and can take up to four hours. The examination, like the application, involves a fee. Candidates pay this fee each time they sit for the exam.
  3. Application: After earning their diploma and successfully passing the exam, candidates can submit their application to the state board of licensure. The application asks many questions concerning the applicant's background, such as their work experience and whether they have any criminal history. The same procedure also applies to LCSW candidates. After applying, candidates should receive their license in less than a month.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  1. Education: Like LMSWs, LCSW candidates must hold a master's degree in social work. LCSW candidates learn much about their future profession in a clinical setting by accruing the work experience needed to earn their license.
  2. Examination: All LCSW candidates must pass ASWB's clinical exam. ASWB charges a slightly higher fee for this exam than it does for the master's-level exam. However, both tests feature an identical format and length. Candidates may attempt the exam up to three times in one calendar year.
  3. Work Experience: LCSW candidates must also complete three years (3,000 hours) of supervised work experience in a clinical setting. Aspiring social workers may take up to nine years to complete this requirement after earning their master's degree. Alternatively, candidates with a doctorate in social work only need to complete 2,000 hours of supervised work experience.

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

Starting at the beginning of a student's undergraduate education, the path to becoming a licensed social worker in Georgia typically takes 5-8 years, depending on the license. Within that timeframe, students spend four years earning an undergraduate degree, while a master's program typically takes 1-2 additional years; this varies based on the specific program's requirements. For example, a mandatory internship experience represents an academic requirement that could extend the length of a master's track. After graduation, LMSW candidates can immediately apply for licensure after passing the ASWB master's-level exam. Alternatively, LCSW candidates must wait at least three years after graduation to acquire the necessary work experience.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in Georgia

Although Georgia has no formal licensure reciprocity agreements with any other state, out-of-state licensed social workers use a relatively simple, straightforward process to apply for licensure in Georgia. If an out-of-state licensed social worker can prove that they hold the same (or better) education, examination, and work-related credentials as those required by first-time Georgia licensure applicants, their license should transfer.

To begin the transfer process, out-of-state licensed social workers submit their academic transcripts, ASWB test results, and a testing waiver form. Georgia also requires that a copy of the applicant's license be submitted by the board of licensure in the applicant's home state. Finally, applicants pay the same fees as first-time applicants. After submitting the required forms and other paperwork, applicants should receive their Georgia licenses in less than a month. However, this process can be slowed considerably if licensure candidates make mistakes or omissions on their applications.

License Renewal

In Georgia, all social worker licenses expire on the last day of September in even-numbered years. To become eligible for licensure renewal, license holders must complete at least 35 hours of continuing education every two years, with at least five of these hours focusing on professional ethics. Twenty-five of the required hours must take place at in-person classes, while the 10 remaining hours can be fulfilled through online coursework. Social workers must pay a fee to enroll in most continuing education courses. However, the annual membership fee paid by NASW members covers certain continuing education courses.

The Georgia Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage and Family Therapists charges the same fee to renew a license as it does to grant an initial license. Renewal applicants who file their paperwork after the deadline incur a $50 late fee. Additionally, renewal applicants whose licenses expired five or more years before renewal must pay an additional $250 to process their application.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Georgia

No matter where a student goes to school, Georgia requires licensed social workers to have bachelor's and master's degrees in social work from CSWE-accredited programs. Students should also only consider attending institutions that hold regional accreditation. Regional accreditation indicates that a college's academic programming adequately prepares graduates for their chosen careers. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is the regional accrediting agency that oversees the quality of Georgia's educational programs. For students considering online programs, national accreditation may also be important. The best online programs tend to hold accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Social workers often branch into related positions as they gain education and experience throughout their careers. These related jobs appeal to professionals with a variety of aptitudes, work habits, and interests. To obtain increased career flexibility, individuals should consider earning a master's in social work degree in Georgia. Experienced and licensed social workers can find jobs helping individuals one-on-one in the field or assume more of a traditional position in an office environment. The careers listed below represent a small sample of those available to licensed social workers in Georgia. Job responsibilities and salaries may vary widely depending on the line of work a social worker decides to pursue.

  • Health Educators and Community Health Workers: In both small group settings and one-on-one sessions, health educators and community health workers strive to improve the health and wellness of their communities. Job responsibilities include measuring a client's health needs and then creating a suitable action plan. At the community level, health educators may develop and deliver health seminars. These professionals can also connect clients to medical resources.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: Many social workers enter the profession to help children and families. Marriage and family therapists do this by providing counseling sessions. Much of the job involves listening to clients' stories and offering advice. A master's degree represents the minimum education required to work independently in this profession.
  • Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists: Parolees often use social workers as a resource while readjusting to life after incarceration. Officers and specialists interview parolees and their families on a regular basis, determining what resources can help individuals reintegrate back into society. These professionals often use their connections with job training agencies and drug treatment centers to help their clients.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: These counselors work with some of the most vulnerable individuals: people with a physical and/or mental disability. By visiting clients' homes and performing interviews, these counselors help individuals live as independently as possible. To assume this role, social workers need to hold a master's degree and a clinical social work license.
  • School and Career Counselors: School and career counselors help students learn and apply skills in the classroom. Much of the job involves talking with students to help them overcome barriers limiting academic success. These counselors often collaborate with family therapists; difficulties at home often cause students to struggle academically. The majority of school districts throughout the country require these counselors to hold a master's degree in school counseling or a related field, such as social work.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Georgia

While examining the salaries below, remember that many factors influence a professional's wages. Social workers living in Georgia's metropolitan areas can expect to earn more than those living in rural areas. Also, government agencies often offer lower salaries than private institutions. A social worker's previous experiences and performance tend to play the most significant role in determining their salary. For example, a newly licensed clinical social worker can expect to earn much less than an individual with five or more years of experience.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Georgia

Health Educators and Community Health Workers $37,560
Marriage and Family Therapists $62,240
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists $42,660
Rehabilitation Counselors $38,960
School and Career Counselors $55,450
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Georgia

As soon as a student begins their social work education they should consider joining a relevant professional organization. These organizations advocate for the rights of social workers and the individuals they help. Members may also benefit from professional development opportunities, networking events, and access to educational materials. The three professional organizations listed below represent a few of the groups that licensed social workers in Georgia often join.

  • National Association of Social Workers - Georgia: NASW's Georgia chapter caters exclusively to licensed social workers. In addition to political advocacy at the national, state, and local levels, NASW offers its members access to online continuing education courses. Student members can access a career center and learn all about completing the Georgia social work licensure process.
  • Georgia Society for Clinical Social Workers: GSCSW membership offers many of the same benefits as NASW membership. However, GSCSW goes a step further by providing in-depth clinical social work resources to its members. Membership benefits include subscriptions to academic publications detailing the latest advances in the clinical social work field. Members can also attend professional conferences throughout the state at little to no cost. GSCSW offers a student membership at a significantly reduced rate.
  • School Social Workers Association of Georgia: Members of SSWAG can participate in a mentorship program where novice school social workers pair with experienced professionals. Other membership benefits include access to publications detailing the latest legislative news and school social work best practices.