Social Work Licensure in North Carolina

North Carolina offers four different types of social work licensure, as well as several social work programs. The state's Social Worker and Licensure Act defines licensure requirements, which are overseen by the North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board. While individuals who hold a bachelor's degree qualify for a certified social work license, most other forms of social work licensure in North Carolina call for a master's degree at minimum. Clinical social workers must hold either a master's or doctoral degree in the field.

The state maintains strict educational requirements in regard to social work licensure. Prospective social workers must graduate from an accredited program, pass an examination sponsored by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), undergo a background check, and pay a fee. Social workers who move to North Carolina from another state do not automatically receive a state license. Instead, they must submit an application to the board. Applicants whose home state qualifications are equivalent to North Carolina's may obtain licensure. If not, they may be required to take an ASWB exam or, in some cases, go back to school.

Types of Social Work Degrees in North Carolina

Individuals pursuing a social work degree in North Carolina typically seek a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree. Most types of North Carolina social work licensure require candidates to have at least a master's degree, although graduates with a BSW may obtain the certified social worker credential. In addition to licensing opportunities, MSW graduates enjoy a greater variety of potential career paths, including clinical social work positions. Some social workers with a master’s degree go on to pursue a doctorate, which is typically required to teach in colleges and universities, and to obtain some executive-level and research-based roles.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

Students usually choose to pursue a bachelor's degree in social work for two reasons. They may want to earn their certified social worker license, which qualifies holders to work in non-clinical positions. Many BSW graduates also view a bachelor's degree as a stepping stone on the path to graduate school, which leads to a wider variety of job opportunities. Requiring about four years of study, BSW programs offer the fastest track to enter the professional world. Graduates often find employment in non-clinical roles, taking positions as case workers, child welfare counselors, and advocates.

Master's in Social Work

A master's degree in social work leads to more occupational opportunities than a BSW. Professionals with MSWs are qualified to apply for every type of social work licensure available in North Carolina. Master's degree programs typically combine traditional classroom studies with practical fieldwork and generally take about two years to complete. After earning an MSW, social workers may pursue clinical licensure and are eligible to work in nearly any setting, including healthcare facilities, schools, and mental health clinics. Earning an MSW may also increase earning potential and lead to greater opportunities for advancement.

Doctorate Degree in Social Work

Earning a doctorate degree in social work is a big commitment, and often requires an additional three, four, or even five years of study. However, the degree is necessary for professionals interested in leadership positions, postsecondary teaching roles, and academic research. Whereas Ph.D. programs are focused on research and theory, a DSW curriculum focuses on the practical aspects of clinical social welfare and macro-level topics such as administration. Graduates of both programs often go on to attain managerial and executive positions, or become professors at colleges and universities.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in North Carolina

In North Carolina, candidates may earn four different types of social work licensure: the certified social work (CSW) designation, the certified master social worker (CMSW) license, the licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) license, and the certified social work manager (CSWM) license. The CSW and CMSW credentials require a bachelor's and master's degree and do not confer clinical licensure. Social workers pursuing LCSW or CSWM licensure should hold at least a master's degree and must pass a clinical-level qualifying exam. Professionals with LCSW licensure typically work at the micro-level with clients, whereas those with a CSWM designation work in managerial positions.

Certified Social Worker

  • Education: Candidates seeking certified social worker licensure in North Carolina must have a bachelor's degree from a CSWE-accredited school. Students typically take about four years to complete an undergraduate degree, although some web-based programs may be longer or shorter.
  • Examination: All prospective CSWs must complete the ASWB bachelor-level exam. Consisting of 170 questions, the exam tests candidates’ knowledge of human development, diversity, and behavior, as well as applied skills in intervention, assessment methods and techniques, and professional values and ethics.
  • Application Fee: The application fee for this license costs $115.

Certified Master Social Worker

  • Education: Candidates for the certified master social worker licensure should have completed a master's degree in social work, a DSW, or Ph.D. in social work. These educational requirements may take several years to complete. A master's degree typically takes two years to complete, but graduate applicants must hold a bachelor's as well. A doctorate or Ph.D. may require an additional three to five years on top of that, taking nine to 11 years in total.
  • Examination: North Carolina allows candidates for this level of licensure to take one of two exams: either the 170-question ASWB masters-level exam, or the Academy of Certified Social workers examination from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The latter requires candidates to hold NASW membership and have two years of post-graduate social work employment under professional supervision.
  • Application Fee: Candidates must pay an application fee of $115.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  • Education: Qualifying candidates should have attained at least a master's degree in social work, which commonly takes about two years. Professionals with a DSW or a Ph.D. in social work may also apply. These advanced degrees may add an extra three to five years of study to the six years of prerequisite undergraduate and master's education.
  • Examination: To become a licensed clinical social worker in North Carolina, candidates must pass the ASWB clinical-level exam. The 170-question exam measures understanding of human social behavior, diversity, and professional values and ethics. Skill-based topics include assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and interventions.
  • Experience: Prospective LCSWs must complete at least 3,000 hours of post-master's clinical social work experience under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker. In North Carolina, candidates must fulfill this requirement in two to six years.
  • Supervision: Along with professional experience, applicants must complete 100 supervised hours under a licensed clinical social worker who has a minimum of two years of experience. Candidates should have at least one hour of supervision for every 30 hours or clinical practice, and up to 25 of those hours may be acquired through group supervision.
  • Application Fee: Candidates must pay an application fee of $115.

Certified Social Work Manager

  • Education: Applicants who hold a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree are eligible to apply for the CSWM credential.
  • Examination: This level of licensure requires that all candidates pass the ASWB advanced generalist-level exam. This assessment is designed for professionals who aim to work in administrative or managerial positions and covers management concepts as well as social work competencies.
  • Experience: Prospective certified social work managers must complete at least 3,000 hours of professional employment in the field of social work or behavioral health within six years of graduation.
  • Supervision: Candidates should at have least 100 documented hours of regular supervision under a state-certified social work administrator and should have completed at least five years of professional work experience. Applicants may count up to 50 hours of group supervision toward the required 100 hours.
  • Application Fee: Candidates must pay an application fee of $115.

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

Depending on the license, it may take four years to more than a decade to gain social work licensure in North Carolina. The CSW credential offers the fastest path to licensure, requiring only a four-year bachelor’s degree. To become a CMSW, candidates must hold a master's social work degree in North Carolina. Combined with four years of undergraduate study, it typically takes around six years to fulfill the necessary educational requirements. Professionals seeking the LCSW or CSWM certifications may take ten years or more to obtain their doctorate in social work.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in North Carolina

North Carolina's Social Work Certification and Licensure Board does not participate in licensing reciprocity agreements with other states. Candidates should be certified and actively working as a social worker in another state before moving to North Carolina, and their license must be equivalent to that of North Carolina's. Professionals who are unsure if they are eligible for reciprocity by comity may read through the state's Social Worker and Licensure Act, which describes the legal requirements for social workers in North Carolina.

All applications for reciprocity by comity are submitted to the Social Work Certification and Licensure Board, where they are thoroughly reviewed. Candidates who meet all education requirements but have not taken the appropriate standardized exams may need to take and pass the assessments before receiving North Carolina licensure.

License Renewal

Renewal procedures for North Carolina social work licenses vary according to the type of credential. While all licenses must be renewed every two years, fees and continuing education (CE) requirements differ. Professionals who hold the CSW license must pay a $70 renewal fee, and must complete 40 hours of CE coursework, including four hours studying ethics. CMSWs are held to similar CE guidelines, but pay a $90 renewal fee. LCSWs and certified social work managers must pay $150 to renew their licenses. Like other types of social workers, they are required to complete a 40-hour CE requirement; four hours of which must address workplace ethics.

Accredited Social Work Programs in North Carolina

There are numerous benefits to attending an in-state school if you’re considering earning a social work degree in North Carolina. Social work programs offered at North Carolina institutions typically cover subjects and skills addressed on state licensing exams. Because many faculty members are themselves licensed social workers, they are able to provide valuable insight into North Carolina’s licensing process, job market, and local conditions. The state's Social Work Certification and Licensure Board maintains strict guidelines regarding cross-state reciprocity, and enrolling in an out-of-state social work program can potentially make it more difficult to apply for licensure in North Carolina.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Social workers provide aid to some of the most vulnerable populations in the U.S., including neglected children, individuals struggling with substance abuse, the homeless, and the terminally ill. Many social workers specialize in a particular subfield of social services, or choose to work with a certain demographic. Some focus on child and family welfare or education, while others specialize in addiction, mental health, or gerontology. Positions like the examples below often require specialty credentials, and candidates pursuing roles that involve diagnosis and treatment must hold clinical licensure.

  • Child and Family Social Workers: While their specific job duties depend on place of employment, these social workers are charged with protecting vulnerable children and encouraging healthy families. They may specialize in adoption placement or foster care, develop community outreach programs, or help struggling parents keep their families together by providing housing or employment assistance.
  • School Social Workers: Working in public or private schools, government agencies, and community service groups, school social workers serve as a link between students, families, and school administrators. Along with providing assistance to students who struggle academically or socially, they monitor and intervene in situations of suspected neglect or abuse.
  • Healthcare Social Workers: Healthcare social workers assist patients who are dealing with chronic or terminal illnesses. They help clients understand the nature of their illness; how it will affect their physical, emotional, and mental health; and how to adjust to lifestyle changes associated with certain conditions. Some serve as patient advocates, focusing on healthcare policy and laws.
  • Mental Health Social Workers: Many mental health social workers hold clinical certification, which allows them to diagnose and treat patients who are facing mental health challenges. These specialists work in numerous settings, including hospitals, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Due to clinical licensure requirements, most hold a master’s degree.
  • Substance Abuse Social Workers: Substance abuse social workers help clients struggling with an addiction to alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs. They stage interventions, provide emotional support, and encourage healthy habits. Those who are clinically licensed may diagnose patients and develop the appropriate treatment plans.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in North Carolina

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers in North Carolina generally earn between $46,000 and $53,000. The healthcare field offers the highest wages, with healthcare social workers bringing in an average of $53,330. The average annual salary for social workers who specialize in mental health issues and substance abuse is $47,660. Both child and family social workers and those employed in schools and education can expect to earn around $46,820 a year.

Average Salary for Social Workers in North Carolina

Child and Family Social Workers $46,820
School Social Workers $46,820
Healthcare Social Workers $53,330
Mental Health Social Workers $47,660
Substance Abuse Social Workers $47,660
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in North Carolina

Professional associations provide a host of benefits to social workers at every career stage. Whether you’re a seasoned professional, a recent graduate searching for employment, or still working on your degree, membership holds a variety of advantages. Many organizations sponsor scholarships, awards, and continuing education courses, and often host conferences and other networking events. Some also serve as advocacy groups, influencing policy changes at the local, state, and national levels. The examples below are just a few of the many social work professional organizations.

  • North Carolina Society for Clinical Social Work: Student members pursuing clinical licensure can take advantage of this association’s mentorship program, or apply for several scholarships. Other benefits to joining include licensing resources, continuing education programs, and a discounted subscription to the Clinical Social Work Journal.
  • National Association of Social Workers - North Carolina Chapter: Joining a state chapter of this national organization is a great way to socialize with other North Carolina professionals, learn about nearby career opportunities, and expand your local network. Members gain access to an exclusive job board, liability insurance, and opportunities to influence policy at the state level.
  • North Carolina Public Health Association: While its members are employed in a wide variety of public health positions and settings, this organization maintains a special interest group specifically dedicated to social work. Members may attend monthly meetings and an annual fall conference, apply for scholarships and awards, and access continuing education materials such as webinars.
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