Social Work Licensure in Illinois

Each state administers its own regulations governing social work licensure. Requirements often align from state to state, but those seeking licensing should check with the regulatory board that handles jurisdiction over social workers; in Illinois, that is Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).

The state of Illinois allows two levels of licensing: licensed social worker (LSW) and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Social workers with a bachelor's or a master's degree can practice in the field under the LSW designation, and those with a bachelor's must acquire three years of post-graduate supervised experience to be licensed.

Social workers with a master's are eligible for the LCSW title and, in fact, that degree is a prerequisite for all clinical practice. This license also requires 3,000 hours of supervised social work experience following completion of the master's degree. Licensed social workers must pass the master's-level/intermediate or clinical-level examination administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). If you are licensed in another state and want to practice in Illinois, you do not have to retake the ASWB exam, but you must re-apply for licensure to the IDFPR.

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Types of Social Work Degrees in Illinois

Social work programs are available at every educational level. A bachelor's degree allows students to explore the field and serves as a springboard to licensing and certain fulfilling careers. A master's degree may be more appropriate for those who want to work in a clinical setting; a clinical social work license generally requires a master's and supervised work after graduation. A doctorate necessitates more coursework and intensive scholarship; at this level, students may choose between the practice-oriented doctor of social work or a research-focused Ph.D.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

In a traditional program, students may complete a bachelor's degree within four years. An online social work degree may take longer, depending on how many credits a student takes each term. A bachelor's in social work accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is a good choice for students who want to find employment as caseworkers, addiction counselors, or residential aides. In some states, including Illinois, the bachelor's may lead to licensing, with completion of supervised work experience.

Master's in Social Work

Students interested in clinical social work or who plan to establish their own private practices will not only need a master's in social work accredited by CSWE, but also licensure. A traditional master's in this field requires two to three years of study while an online program may require more or less time. Graduates of both program types -- which are offered at private and public institutions via on-campus and online options -- must complete supervised work for their licensing. This degree prepares students for a wide range of leadership and supervisory social work positions, including clinical practice in family service agencies and in mental health and medical facilities.

Doctorate Degree in Social Work

A doctorate in social work offers advanced training in specialized areas leading to academic positions and administrative leadership roles. Students may choose a doctor of social work (DSW) or a Ph.D. in social work: the former focuses on clinical practice, social work administration, and teaching and training while the latter emphasizes academic research and policy analysis. Most programs require a dissertation and can take five or more years to complete. Like other social work degrees described here, doctoral programs are available through brick-and-mortar settings and online formats.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Illinois

A master of social work accredited by the CSWE is generally required for Illinois licensure, although graduates with an accredited bachelor of social work may apply for licensing after they've completed supervised social work experience.

Only two levels of licensure are recognized in the state of Illinois: licensed social worker (LSW) and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). LSWs cannot provide clinical services, but they can find employment in many other social work fields, including casework, advocacy, and administration. The most advanced licensure for professionals in clinical settings in Illinois is the LCSW. LCSWs must hold a master's or a doctorate in social work and pass the clinical-level exam administered by the ASWB. LCSW applicants also complete 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, and doctoral candidates must complete 2,000 hours.

Licensed Social Worker

  1. Master of Social Work (or Bachelor in Social Work with Supervision): Anyone seeking a license to practice social work in Illinois must be a graduate of a CSWE-accredited social work program. Applicants for the LSW must have completed a CSWE-accredited master's degree in social work. Graduates with an accredited bachelor's degree may apply for licensing, but they must complete three years of supervised experience.
  2. Master's-Level/Intermediate Exam: Applicants must pass the ASWB's master's-level/intermediate exam. Candidates may apply to take the exam immediately after finishing their master's work. Graduates of a bachelor's program must complete all three years of supervised work before taking the exam.
  3. Background Check: The IDFPR requires every candidate seeking the LSW credential to arrange for and pass a criminal background check as part of her application. Official transcripts must also be submitted to the IDFPR.
  4. Application and Exam Fees: Every applicant must submit a completed application to the IDFPR with $300 in application fees, acceptance of examination, and endorsement. In addition to the cost of applying to IDFPR for licensing, candidates must apply for the national exam and pay a $230 testing fee to ASWB.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  1. Master of Social Work: For licensed clinical practice in Illinois, all LCSW candidates must have completed a master of social work from a program accredited by the CSWE.
  2. Supervised Clinical Experience: Graduates with master's degrees must supply proof of completion of 3,000 hours of supervised clinical professional practice, all of which must be completed after the master's. Those with doctoral degrees in social work must complete 2,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. The LCSW who supervised the applicant must also submit a supporting document verifying satisfactory completion of the clinical hours.
  3. Clinical-Level Exam: The LCSW license requires a passing score on the clinical-level exam, administered by the ASWB. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which has jurisdiction over clinical social workers in the state, must receive the score results from the ASWB before a license can be granted.
  4. Background Check: The IDFPR stipulates that all applicants for the LCSW license complete and pass a criminal background check as part of the licensing requirements. Official stamped and sealed copies of college transcripts must also be submitted with the application to the IDFPR.
  5. Application and Exam Fees: A fee of $300 -- which covers the examination, acceptance of the examination, and endorsement of the license -- must be sent to IDFPR with the completed application and all supporting documentation. After this, the candidate must apply for the clinical-level exam and pay a $260 testing fee to the ASWB.

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

Becoming a licensed social worker requires a serious time commitment. The first step is earning a bachelor's degree, which typically takes four years of full-time study. The second step is earning a master's, which may take two to three years of study followed by three years of supervised experience for the licensed social worker (LSW) credential. The CSW license requires a master's, 3,000 hours of supervision (2,000 for Ph.D.s), and a passing score on the master's-level exam. Student with only a bachelor's may still receive a license by completing three years of supervision and passing the master's exam. In other words, depending on the circumstances, a student might need to set aside roughly five to seven years to finish his bachelor's and master's, and then another two to three for supervised practice.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in Illinois

Currently, a reciprocity system does not exist for the transfer of social work licenses from one state to another, and the state requirements and length of time needed to transfer licenses vary. If you hold a license from another state and want to become licensed in Illinois, you have to reapply to the IDFPR, the state board with jurisdiction over social work licensing. You must submit the same information you provided to the state where you are currently licensed, including transcripts, documentation of supervised experience, and criminal background check. It is not necessary to retake the national exam. If you received a passing score when you first took the exam, it will transfer to Illinois with a passing score. If you join the ASWB Registry, you can have your test scores transferred to the Illinois jurisdiction for $20.

License Renewal

A social work license in Illinois must be renewed every two years on November 30 of each odd-numbered year, no matter when the license was first issued. For $30 per year, renewals can be completed on the IDFPR's website.

To renew your license, you must verify completion of 30 hours of continuing education units (CEUs). CEUs must be completed with coursework offered by the National Association of Social Workers, the ASWB, or an approved Illinois provider. A minimum of three hours of the 30 CEUs must be in cultural competency and three in ethics. At least half of the CEUs must be earned through in-person instruction; live-virtual workshops do not count. CEUs are not required for your first renewal. You are responsible for maintaining records of all CEUs you have earned for at least five years.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Illinois

Accreditation by the CSWE is the most important consideration in choosing a social work program in Illinois. As the only accrediting agency for social work education, it establishes overall program quality. Graduates of schools without CSWE accreditation cannot be licensed as social workers. According to CSWE, Illinois boasts over 30 accredited social work degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Licensing requirements in Illinois are straightforward with two levels possible: LSW and LCSW. Illinois also offers favorable employment prospects for social workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes the state among the top five for employment of social workers.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

A social work degree opens doors to careers in child welfare, addiction counseling, and mental health. Social workers are employed in schools, clinics, and private practice and serve diverse populations in all age groups. Students entering this field are typically driven by a concern for the welfare of others and express empathy for people dealing with challenges. The best social workers are action-oriented and knowledgeable about available resources. While a bachelor's degree is a stepping stone to many social work careers, a master of social work is generally necessary to for someone to move into a wider range of rewarding opportunities in clinical practice and supervisory roles. Clinical licensure in Illinois requires a master's.

  • Clinical Social Worker: Clinical social workers generally must have completed a master's degree and obtained a state license to practice. They work in hospitals, nursing homes, and mental health clinics. Licensed clinical social workers may also work in private practice. Their workday is organized around activities like running therapy groups, conducting behavioral assessments, and negotiating patient care.
  • Medical Social Worker: Medical social workers coordinate patient care and communicate with patients and their families or caregivers to deliver appropriate services. They take medical histories, administer background screenings, and arrange for further testing. The minimum educational requirement for most medical social work positions is a bachelor's degree in social work or counseling.
  • Hospice Social Worker: These social workers specialize in palliative services to patients at the end-of-life stage. They communicate with families and caregivers about the best care options and help with insurance, Medicaid/Medicare, and other kinds of paperwork. They also offer emotional support to patients and their families. Increasingly, a master's degree in social work and specialized hospice certifications are required for employment.
  • School Social Worker: School social workers are part of the administrative team in elementary and high schools. They work with teachers and other staff to identify students with behavioral and emotional problems, and they provide counseling to students and parents. They must have at least a bachelor's degree, and, in many schools, they must have completed state-specific certification in school social work.
  • Substance Abuse Counselor: These counselors provide therapy to people coping with drug and alcohol dependency. In addition to conducting group and one-on-one sessions, they evaluate and work with clients to develop personalized recovery plans. A master's degree in social work or counseling is usually required for employment, and certification in addictions or mental health counseling is recommended.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Illinois

The BLS suggests a healthy job outlook for those in social work. The mean salary for social workers in all fields is $47,980, and employment is expected to grow 16% from 2016 to 2026. Clinical social workers, who generally have obtained a master's and licensing, earn the highest salaries, over $55,000 annually. The employment of medical and hospice social workers is projected to increase at higher rates than other occupations; they can expect annual salaries around $53,000. School social workers are also increasingly in demand, currently earning an average of $56,550. As more people seek treatment for addictions, substance abuse counselors will find employment in both private and public settings. The annual salary for these professionals is approximately $51,290.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Illinois

Clinical Social Worker $65,890
Medical Social Worker $53,600
Hospice Social Worker $53,600
School Social Worker $56,550
Substance Abuse Counselor $51,290
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Illinois

Whether you are a student pursuing a social work degree in Illinois or already working in the field, joining a professional association offers benefits to enhance your career. These organizations sponsor job banks and internship listings, and they provide information about professional development, licensure, and certification. Members have access to research that helps them stay current about developments in the profession. These organizations promote networking opportunities, connecting social workers with similar interests who can support each other as they advance in the field.

  • National Association of Social Workers - Illinois Chapter: This is the Illinois chapter of one of the most important national social work associations. It provides information on employment requirements, professional development, and policy changes in the field. NASW-IL administers authorize programs for licensure and advanced practice specialty certifications. Members who seek licensing, certifications, and continuing education units in Illinois receive substantial discounts.
  • Illinois Association of School Social Workers: The mission of IASSW is to improve the quality of life and education for children by fostering the professional development of school social workers. Membership benefits include a job bank, professional development workshops, and information about state licensing requirements. IASSW offers mini-grants for the evaluation of best practices in school social work.
  • Illinois Society for Clinical Social Work: ISCSW membership provides clinicians in the field of social work with continuing education, access to research, and updates on policy changes affecting clinical practice. A major benefit of membership is the opportunity to enroll in workshops that offer CEUs for license renewal. ISCSW also provides mentorship and supervision services for new professionals seeking to fulfill licensing requirements.