Social Work Licensure in New Jersey

To earn New Jersey social work licensure, candidates must first apply through the State Board of Social Work Examiners (BSWE), a group of governor-appointed members under the Division of Consumer Affairs. Applicants must have completed a social work degree program and hold a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited institution.

Applicants must complete fingerprinting and pass a criminal history background check and an Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam. New Jersey has required its practicing social workers to earn certification since 1991, and licenses granted in other states don’t transfer to social work licensure in New Jersey. Licensed or certified social workers from other states must apply through the BSWE, submit a passing score on the ASWB exam, and complete a fingerprinting and background check. Individuals with an inactive practice from other states may be required to retake the exam. Social work licenses and certifications in New Jersey are valid for two years.

Types of Social Work Degrees in New Jersey

All social workers must be licensed or certified by the BSWE to practice in New Jersey. The minimum requirement for New Jersey social work licensure is a bachelor's degree, but to practice in a clinical setting, social workers must complete a graduate-level social work degree program.

Undergraduate and graduate-level programs are very different. Bachelor's degrees typically require a minimum of 120 semester hours -- approximately 40 classes -- and lead to a certificate in social work (CSW). CSW graduates can work in non-clinical settings. Those interested in clinical social work must obtain a master's degree, which requires approximately 45 credits. A Ph.D. in social work may require 60 post-master's semester hours. Both degrees culminate in a thesis or capstone project, and a Ph.D. will also require a combination of research, teaching, and a final dissertation.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

Earning a bachelor's degree in social work is a great path for those with a passion for helping others solve problems and improve their lives. Undergraduate social work programs consist of both coursework and fieldwork, in which students gain experience in the industry and work with professional social workers. Social work programs in New Jersey at the undergraduate level may require 120-130 credits, and take approximately four years of full-time study to complete. Individuals who earn their bachelor's degrees in social work often become certified social workers in New Jersey and provide non-clinical counseling to children, adults, families, or communities. They may also pursue a master's or doctoral degree in social work.

Master's in Social Work

Earning a master's degree in social work is ideal for graduates who have earned a bachelor's degree in social work or a related field. Social work programs in New Jersey at the master's level cover the theory, ethics, and practice of social work, and may require anywhere from 48 to 60 credits. Master's degree candidates specialize in a particular area of study, such as youth and families, organizations and community, or public policy and advocacy. Graduate students refine their professional skills through coursework and fieldwork. Typically, they complete their master's degrees in approximately two years, and go on to become licensed social workers or licensed clinical social workers.

Doctorale Degree in Social Work

Earning a Ph.D. in social work empowers social work professionals to become leaders in the industry. Social work programs in New Jersey at the Ph.D. level take three to five years to complete. To earn a doctorate of social work, candidates must hold a master's degree in the field from a CSWE-accredited program, plus post-masters professional work experience. Typically, Ph.D. programs require a strong academic background and exceptional written communication skills.

Research skills are also important in a Ph.D. program. Doctoral candidates complete independent research for their final dissertations, take several courses, and participate in supervised research assistantships and practicums. Ph.D. students may also choose an area of focus, such as children and family services, gerontology, policy development, or substance abuse and mental health. Those who earn their doctoral degrees in social work can go on to become licensed social workers or licensed clinical social workers in New Jersey.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in New Jersey

In New Jersey, there are three certification/licensing levels for practicing social work. Candidates apply for licenses and certifications through the BSWE. With multiple options for social work licensure in New Jersey, it's important to know the differences between each type.

  1. Certified Social Workers (CSW): Certified social workers have a bachelor's degree in social work.
  2. Licensed Social Workers (LSW): Licensed social workers have a master's degree in social work, but do not have full-time clinical social work experience.
  3. Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW): Licensed clinical social workers hold a master's degree in social work and at least two years of full-time clinical social work experience.

Certified Social Workers

To become a certified social worker in New Jersey, applicants must fulfill the following requirements.

  1. Bachelor's Degree: Candidates must hold a bachelor's degree in social work. Applicants must submit official transcripts to indicate that their degree is from a program that is CSWE-accredited or a candidate for accreditation.
  2. Criminal History Background Check: Candidates must schedule an appointment at any one of the 17 fingerprinting locations in New Jersey, and undergo a background check. Applicants with a history of arrest or conviction must include with their application a letter of explanation and provide all relevant police reports, sentencing orders, and evidence of rehabilitation.
  3. Completed Application Form: Candidates must submit detailed information about their educational backgrounds, professional licenses and certificates, and employment. They must also include personal information, such as immigration status and illegal use of controlled substances. Applicants must send in a recent passport-style photograph, and pay a nonrefundable application filing fee of $75.

Licensed Social Worker

To become a licensed social worker in New Jersey, applicants must fulfill the following requirements.

  1. Master's or Doctoral Degree: Candidates must hold a master's degree or doctorate in social work. Applicants must send in official transcripts to indicate that their graduate work was completed at a program that has been CSWE-accredited program or is in candidacy for accreditation.
  2. ASWB Masters-Level Exam: Candidates must pass the ASWB masters-level examination, designed for individuals with advanced degrees but no experience. Applicants must be pre-approved by the BSWE to take the exam. To apply for pre-approval, candidates must hold a master's of social work or be enrolled in the final semester of a master’s program.
  3. Criminal History Background Check: Candidates must schedule an appointment at any one of New Jersey’s 17 fingerprinting locations, and undergo a background check. Applicants with a history of arrest or conviction must include a letter of explanation, and provide all relevant police reports, sentencing orders, and evidence of rehabilitation with their applications.
  4. Completed Application Form: Candidates must submit detailed information about their educational backgrounds, professional licenses and certificates, and employment. They must also include personal information, such as immigration status and any illegal use of controlled substances. Applicants must also send in a recent passport-style photograph and pay a nonrefundable application filing fee of $75.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

To become a licensed clinical social worker in New Jersey, applicants must fulfill the following requirements.

  1. Master's Degree or Doctorate: Candidates must hold a master's degree or doctorate in social work. Applicants must submit official transcripts to indicate that the graduate work was completed in a program that is CSWE-accredited or in candidacy for accreditation. Master’s degrees typically take two years to complete, while doctorate programs may take up to five years.
  2. Clinical Social Work Coursework: Candidates must have a minimum of 12 credits in graduate-level methods of clinical social work practice, such as human behavior and the social environment, diagnosis and assessment in social work practice, and models of psychotherapy or clinical practice. Other methods include cognitive therapies, crisis intervention approaches, clinical supervision and consultation, and intervention with special populations.
  3. Full-time Supervised Clinical Experience: Candidates must have two years of full-time clinical social work experience. This experience constitutes a minimum of 1,920 supervised hours of face-to-face client contact as a licensed social worker or within a social work setting in which licensure is not required. Supervision must be completed within three years after earning an advanced social work degree.
  4. ASWB Clinical-Level Exam: Candidates must pass the ASWB clinical-level examination, an advanced test for master's level social workers with two years of full-time experience in a clinical practice setting. Applicants must be pre-approved by the BSWE to take the exam. To apply for pre-approval, candidates must hold a master's of social work or be enrolled in the last semester of their program.
  5. Criminal History Background Check: Candidates must schedule an appointment at any one of the 17 fingerprinting locations in New Jersey, and undergo a background check. Applicants with a history of arrest or conviction must include a letter of explanation, and provide all relevant police reports and sentencing orders, plus evidence of rehabilitation.
  6. Completed Application Form: Candidates must submit detailed information about their educational backgrounds, professional licenses and certificates, and employment. They must also include personal information, such as immigration status and any illegal use of controlled substances. Applicants must also send in a recent passport-style photograph and pay a nonrefundable application filing fee of $75.

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

The time it takes to earn a license to practice social work in New Jersey varies. Each certification/license has its own set of requirements. Certified social workers must hold a bachelor's degree in social work, which typically takes four years to complete. Upon graduation, individuals can undergo their background check and apply for certification. Licensed social workers must have a master's degree in social work, which takes approximately two years to complete. Graduates with master’s degrees can apply for licensure as soon as they pass the master's-level exam and undergo a background and criminal history check. Licensed clinical social workers must have a master's degree, plus two years of full-time clinical social work experience. There is no limit on how many times applicants can take the state exams in order to pass.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in New Jersey

Currently, there is no reciprocity between New Jersey social work licensure and licenses from other states. Professionals who have earned social work licensure in a state other than New Jersey must pass the appropriate ASWB exam and apply through BSWE to receive a license to practice in New Jersey. Applicants should submit a cover letter, plus copies of all actives licenses, resumes, and exam-related documents to speed up the application process. Once the BSWE approves an application, the candidate will receive a license number and be permitted to practice social work in New Jersey. Social workers who have not had an active practice may be required to retake the ASWB exam. As of 2015, the BSWE license application fee is $75. The initial certification fee is $35 for one year and $70 for two years. The initial license fee is $60 for one year and $120 for two years. The initial clinical license fee is $80 for one year and $120 for two years.

License Renewal

Social work licenses and certifications in New Jersey are valid for a two-year biennial licensure period. To renew social work licensure in New Jersey, CSWs must complete a minimum of 20 credits of continuing education. LSWs must complete a minimum of 30 credits of continuing education, and LCSWs must complete a minimum of 40 credits. Social work professionals should submit a renewal application and pay the renewal fee online before the expiration date. Social workers who fail to renew their license before it expires may do so within 30 days following the expiration date, but they must pay an additional late fee. If they don’t renew their license within that 30 day timeframe, it will be automatically suspended. Renewal applicants must provide their license or certification numbers, including the two-letter prefix and eight-digit number as it appears on the Online License Directory. As of 2015, the certification renewal fee is $35 for one year and $70 for two years. The license renewal fee is $60 for one year and $120 for two years. The clinical license renewal fee is $80 for one year and $120 for two years. Late renewals cost $100 and reinstatement fees cost $150.

Accredited Social Work Programs in New Jersey

Prospective students should exclusively evaluate CSWE-accredited programs. Accredited programs have been evaluated by professional accrediting agencies, which means they meet or exceed high standards. Additionally, the BSWE requires its social work license applicants to hold their degree from a program that has been accredited by the CSWE. The CSWE's Commission on Accreditation works in conjunction with the the Council for Higher Education Accreditation ensure that online social work programs in New Jersey prepare their students to become successful social workers.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Social workers help people function in healthy ways within their social environments. They may work with adults, children, adolescents, families, or communities, in either one-on-one or group settings. Below, we highlighted five common careers in the field.

  • Social Workers: Social workers work closely with people to help them cope with issues and solve problems that are affecting their mental, behavioral, and emotional wellbeing. Social workers may work in one-on-one or group settings, in private practices or mental health centers. Social workers must hold a bachelor’s degree and either a certification or license to practice in New Jersey.
  • Clinical Social Workers: Clinical social workers help diagnose and treat problems for people affected by psychosocial stress and mental disorders. They may work in one-on-one or group settings in private practices, mental health clinics, or hospitals. Clinical social workers must have a master’s degree, clinical supervision experience, and a license to practice in New Jersey.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: Marriage and family therapists help couples and families solve relationship difficulties. Through counseling and cognitive behavior therapy, they often ask clients to discuss their emotions and make important decisions. Some therapists work in private practices, while others prefer to work in mental health centers and hospitals. Marriage and family therapists must hold a master's degree and a license to practice in New Jersey.
  • School and Career Counselors: As specialized counselors, these professionals work with teachers and parents to observe students and improve their social, emotional, and psychological wellbeing. They may administer assessments and lead discussions with individuals or groups of children. School and career counselors in New Jersey must have a master's degree and be certified by the State Department of Education.
  • Substance Abuse Counselors: Substance abuse counselors work with people who are suffering from mental or behavioral afflictions, such as alcoholism and drug addiction. They perform evaluations, conduct one-on-one counseling sessions, and lead support groups in healthcare centers or nonprofit organizations. Substance abuse counselors must have at least a bachelor's degree and either a license or certification to practice in New Jersey.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in New Jersey

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for social workers in the United States is $47,980. Interestingly, New Jersey is the top paying state for mental health and substance abuse social workers -- especially in Trenton, NJ, where mental health social workers earn an average annual salary of $87,560. In New Jersey, community and social service workers earn an average salary of $54,010 each year. Professionals with New Jersey social work licensure who work as therapists earn between $50,000 and $55,000. Marriage and family therapists and child, family, and school social workers have the potential to earn between $65,000 and $75,000 per year.

Average Salary for Social Workers in New Jersey

Clinical Social Workers $69,300
Social Workers $69,300
Marriage and Family Therapists $74,130
School Social Workers $66,610
Substance Abuse Counselors $57,200
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in New Jersey

There are plenty of reasons to become a member of a professional organization or association for social workers. Members gain access to networking events and conferences, plus special publications and journals. Often, members benefit from special discounts on continuing education courses, trainings, and other professional development opportunities. With access to job boards, members can explore more employment opportunities and job-search resources, including career coaching, resume writing, and reference checking. Several professional organizations are available for social workers in New Jersey, including.

  • New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW-NJ): The NASW-NJ is a professional membership organization that advocates for social workers and the professional practice of social work through public policy and progressive social justice and change. NASW offers its members numerous benefits, including an interactive online social work job bank, access to networking events and shared interest groups, and discounted rates for continuing education and licensing tests.
  • New Jersey Society for Clinical Social Work (NJSCSW): The NJSCSW is a community of clinical social workers who practice psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnosis. This professional organization supports the clinical social work field with legislative initiatives and advocacy. Members benefit from an online clinical social work directory, as well as networking opportunities, educational programs, and conferences with guest speakers.
  • New Jersey Association of School Social Workers (NJASSW): Affiliated with the NASW, the NJASSW is a membership organization that actively supports the school social work practice by offering professional events, workshops, and conferences to members. Composed of certified school social workers, NJASSW members have access to a job board, information about the certification process, and members-only content. Members can join as professionals, retired employees, or students.
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