Social Work Licensure in Iowa

Students seeking Iowa social work licensure must first complete a bachelor's degree or higher in social work. Those who already hold a bachelor's degree in another field can return to school to complete a second major or earn a graduate social work degree, which usually requires two years of full-time study. Social work licensure in Iowa is a three-tiered system with bachelor's holders on the first tier, master's holders on the second, and clinicians on the third. Regardless of their degree level, all social workers must earn 27 continuing education units every two years in order to keep their license current. Prospective clinical social workers must complete a master's degree and 110 hours of supervised practice to qualify for licensure.

Social workers licensed in other states may be able to transfer their licenses to Iowa if their home state's requirements closely match Iowa's. In these cases, applicants must submit an application, official academic transcripts, and verification of their license from their home state. This verification applies to lapsed or relinquished licenses as well as to current ones. Iowa's low cost of living and its mix of urban and rural populations make it an attractive state in which to practice social work.

Types of Social Work Degrees in Iowa

Entry-level social work positions require at least a bachelor's degree. To move into management or into a clinical position that offers a more lucrative salary, social workers must earn a master's degree. People who hold a bachelor's degree in another field but want to transition into social work can go straight into a master's program, which usually takes two years from start to finish. When reviewing bachelor's or master's programs at social work schools in Iowa, students should select an institution that holds accreditation with the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Experienced social workers may decide to pursue a doctor of social work (DSW) degree or a Ph.D. in social work in order to lead a large department, pursue a research position, or teach at a university.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

A career in social work begins with earning a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW). While many students earn their degrees on campus, others pursue an online social work degree. These online students can often complete field placement requirements near their homes. Most students earn a BSW in four years of full-time study, although entering the degree with transferable credits may shorten that timeframe. BSW-holders can pursue assessment positions in organizations serving vulnerable populations. The starting annual salary for a BSW-holder averages slightly less than $36,000.

Master's in Social Work

Though entry-level positions in social work generally require a bachelor's degree, social workers must first earn a master's degree in social work (MSW) to move into management positions or clinical roles. Medical social workers, school social workers, and leaders in public agencies often hold an MSW. Nationally, social workers with an MSW can command salaries of $10,000 to $30,000 more each year than those with only a BSW. Students can pursue a master's degree in social work either on campus or through an affordable online program. Students with a BSW can complete their master's degrees in one year, while those with a bachelor's degree in another field typically take two years to complete the degree.

Doctoral Degree in Social Work

A doctorate represents the apex of formal education in social work. Doctoral students can choose either the DSW or the Ph.D. in social work. Although both are terminal degrees, each degree focuses on different aspects of social work. An applied degree, the DSW emphasizes the practice of social work, making it ideal for future public policy analysts, department leaders, and high-level executives in nonprofit organizations. In a Ph.D. program, students conduct research and learn about the theories and history of social work. This degree suits future college professors and researchers. Students can pursue a doctorate in social work online or on campus.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Iowa

All social workers in Iowa must complete at least a bachelor's degree and pass the appropriate level Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam. Workers who only hold a bachelor's degree can work in most sectors but are typically limited to assessing clients and locating services. Master's-level social workers can take on management roles, and independent social workers can conduct direct clinical work. Social workers at the bachelor's level can move up to the next level of service by obtaining a master's degree through one of the many online social work programs in Iowa.

Social Worker Bachelor's Level

  1. Submit Application to the Iowa Board of Social Work: When applying for a license at the bachelor's level, social workers must already hold a CSWE-accredited BSW. To verify their degrees, students must have their college or university send transcripts directly to the Board. Applicants must also complete the application and pay a $120 fee.
  2. Complete ASWB Exam Requirements: Applicants must first obtain permission from the Board to take the exam. After passing the bachelor's-level exam, applicants must have ASWB send their scores to the Board. If the applicant has already taken the exam in another state, they can submit their previous exam scores. The exam takes about four hours.
  3. Verify Licensure from Another State (If Applicable): Applicants who have held or who currently hold a social worker's license in another state must submit official verification of that license. This verification needs to include any past or pending disciplinary action. Verification timetables depend upon the applicant's home state.

Social Worker Master's Level

  1. Submit Application to the Iowa Board of Social Work: Applicants must already hold a CSWE-accredited MSW to apply for a license at the master's level. Prospective social workers must have their school send the Board official transcripts, submit a completed application, and pay a fee of $120.
  2. Complete ASWB Exam Requirements: The Board requires proof that applicants have passed the ASWB master's-level exam. Applicants can submit their previous test scores if they took the exam in another state, or they can apply to the Board for permission to take the test in Iowa. The exam takes about four hours.
  3. Verify Licensure from Another State (If Applicable): If an applicant for an Iowa social worker license currently holds or has ever held a social worker license in another state, he or she must provide the Board with official verification of that license. Verification timetables depend upon the applicant's home state.

Social Worker Independent Level

  1. Submit Application to the Iowa Board of Social Work: Those applying for the independent level license must submit transcripts showing they have earned an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program. Applicants must also complete an application and pay a $120 fee. Those who already hold an Iowa social worker master's level license do not need to submit new transcripts.
  2. Submit Plan for Supervised Practice Requirements: Prior to starting the required 110 hours of supervised practice, applicants must submit their supervision plans, including a separate plan for each supervisor. After completing the 2-6 year plan, applicants must send a supervision report form to the Board. Applicants licensed in another state at this level may waive this requirement.
  3. Complete ASWB Exam Requirements: The Board requires applicants to pass the ASWB clinical exam. Any applicant who has not already taken the exam in another state must obtain approval from the Board to take it, after completing the application and supervised practice hours. The exam takes about four hours.
  4. Verify Licensure from Another State (If Applicable): Applicants who have held or who currently hold an out-of-state social worker's license must submit official verification of that license, including any past or pending disciplinary action. Verification timetables depend upon the applicant's home state.

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

Earning social worker licensure in Iowa is a straightforward process, but not necessarily a quick one. At the bachelor's level, social workers spend four years earning their social work degree from a CSWE-accredited program. After graduation, applicants must pass the ASWB bachelor's-level exam, which may require 4-6 weeks of rigorous study. Licensure at the master's level requires a graduate social work degree, which can take an additional 1-2 years to complete, as well as a passing score on the ASWB master's-level exam. Independent licensure requires an MSW, a passing score on the ASWB clinical exam, and 110 hours of supervised practice hours within a 2-6 year time period.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in Iowa

Social workers who hold an out-of-state license but wish to practice in Iowa do not need to restart their certification process from the beginning. They simply need to go to the Iowa Board of Social Work's website and fill out the appropriate application form: bachelor's level, master's level, or independent level. Each applicant must have their school send their academic transcripts verifying that they earned their degree from a CSWE-accredited social work program.

Applicants must also demonstrate that they have passed the appropriate ASWB exam. To do so, they must have ASWB send their test scores to the Board. Candidates must also submit verification of their out-of-state license (if applicable) and the appropriate application fee. The time it takes to complete this process varies according to the applicant's level of preparation.

License Renewal

Social workers who have completed all 27 required continuing education units can visit the Iowa Department of Public Health website to renew their license 60 days before its expiration date. The renewal portal opens on November 2 of even-numbered years. Iowa social work licensure renewal costs $72 at the bachelor's level, $120 at the master's level, and $144 at the independent level. Iowa social workers can complete the renewal process online or by mailing a paper form to the Board.

The Board sends licensed Iowa social workers a reminder email at 60, 50, 40, and 30 days prior to the renewal deadline. The Board sends a postcard 20 days prior to the deadline to those who have still not submitted their renewal application at that time. Social workers who fail to meet the renewal deadline may pay a $60 late fee to renew their license during the grace period, or they can allow the license to lapse. Should a social worker let their license lapse, he or she can reactivate it using an online form, but the cost for reactivation ranges from $132 to $204. Social workers experiencing illness or disability during the renewal period may apply online for an extension.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Iowa

Students can choose to pursue a degree from more than 18 social work schools in Iowa. These degrees vary from the two-year associate degree to the Ph.D. in social work. Iowa's associate programs provide an affordable start to a four-year degree, but to earn social work licensure in Iowa, applicants must hold at least a bachelor's degree. Once students complete a bachelor's degree, they must meet Iowa's other requirements for social work licensure, such as passing the required exams and gaining necessary field experience.

Students looking to earn a social work degree in Iowa should look for institutions that hold regional accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission. Bachelor's and master's social work programs must hold specialized accreditation from CSWE in order to qualify graduates to apply for Iowa social work licensure; CSWE does not accredit associate or doctoral social work degrees. The social work programs in Iowa listed below represent the state's top choices in social work education.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

All social workers aim to improve their clients' lives, though each type of social worker focuses on a particular demographic. Some social workers help children navigate the foster care and adoption systems. Others work in health care institutions, helping patients and their families get the financial, social, and medical support they need. For these and other career tracks, social workers need excellent communication and organizational skills, as well as high levels of empathy and patience when dealing with clients. To meet the minimum educational requirements for licensure in Iowa, social workers must hold a bachelor's degree; to move into clinical or management posts, they must earn a master's degree.

  • Child, Family, and School Social Workers: These social workers help children and families attain services or intervention. They work with families, schools, medical care providers, and counselors. Like most other social workers, these professionals need at least a bachelor's degree and sometimes a graduate degree in social work for entry-level jobs in this field.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counselors: Most mental health and substance abuse counselors provide treatment to their clients, with the aim of helping them recover from addiction or adjust their behavior. These counselors evaluate their clients, recommend a treatment plan, and work with their clients' personal community. This position requires a bachelor's degree, though many such counselors choose to earn a master's degree.
  • Healthcare Social Workers: Employed in hospices, oncology treatment centers, geriatric facilities, and palliative care units, healthcare social workers may provide counseling services. They can also recommend emotional, financial, or medical care for patients and their caregivers. These social workers often serve as a liaison between patients and medical staff. Most jobs in this field require a BSW.
  • Social Workers: Charged with assisting people who are managing difficult life situations, general social workers may help clients make a life-changing medical choice, help families adopt a child, or arrange for a client to enter hospice care. These professionals work in a variety of settings, including nonprofit organizations, private practices, and government agencies. Social workers must hold at least a bachelor's degree to practice as a social worker, and a master's degree to undertake clinical responsibilities.
  • Community and Social Service Specialists: These specialists help their clients achieve a better standard of living. Community and social service specialists manage community service departments at nonprofit organizations or government agencies. These professionals may manage staff, oversee programs, or even conduct research. This position typically requires at least a master's degree.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Iowa

Launching a career as a social worker can begin by earning a social work degree in Iowa. Social workers often find employment in hospitals, private practices, government agencies, schools, and hospitals. They can specialize in various social work subfields, such as health care, school social work, or mental health counseling. These tracks lead to careers with different salaries. Though most social workers probably do not choose the profession out of an ambition to earn a high salary, the field's median annual wage surpasses the national average for all workers by more than $10,000. Plus, since Iowa offers a low cost of living, a social worker's salary can help support a middle class lifestyle.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Iowa

Child, Family, and School Social Workers $43,060
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counselors $45,750
Healthcare Social Workers $47,490
Social Workers $61,340
Community and Social Service Specialists $36,260
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Iowa

After earning a graduate degree, joining a professional organization may be the most important career investment a social worker can make. These associations offer social workers opportunities to earn continuing education units, publish research, stay up-to-date on news affecting the profession, and build and maintain a network of peers. Many associations also host career centers or job boards that can aid students and new social workers in their initial career searches. Some associations even offer scholarships that can help students fund a social work degree in Iowa.

  • Iowa School Social Workers' Association: Open to all master's-level social workers and those pursuing an MSW, ISSWA provides school social workers with advocacy and resources. Members can enjoy an annual conference, regular updates on statewide legislation relevant to social work, and a discount on national membership in the School Social Workers Association of America.
  • Long Term Care Social Workers of Iowa: Dedicated to helping any social worker involved in long-term care, LTCSWI hosts a fall and a spring conference, publishes a newsletter, and hosts an online discussion forum. Members can also enjoy occasional symposiums throughout the year. The organization also publishes an annual directory of members, which helps connect long-term care social workers throughout the state.
  • National Association of Social Workers Heartland: A regional chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, this organization provides networking opportunities, continuing education, a job board, and information on professional topics at the state, regional, and national levels. Members can publish papers, present at workshops and conferences, and attend symposiums focused on contemporary social work topics.
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