Social Work Licensure in North Dakota

North Dakota boasts a relatively straightforward social work licensure process. Unlike some other states, graduates who possess only a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree can still pursue their North Dakota social work licensure and begin practicing shortly after earning their degree.

Like in all states, social workers who want to practice clinically or privately must first earn a master of social work (MSW) degree and accrue at least two years of professional experience, after which they can apply to become a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW). Those who earn their MSW but do not yet hold the experience necessary for a LICSW license can earn their licensed certified social worker (LCSW) license. All levels of licensure require an application and a fee. Applicants must also pass the appropriate level of the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam.

Those who hold a social work license from another state may apply for reciprocal licensure in North Dakota, so long as the requirements for that state's licensure are either equal to or more strict than the requirements for licensure in North Dakota. Applicants must complete an application, request verification from the licensing board in the state that issued the original license, and submit a copy of the laws and rules that existed when the social worker first earned his or her licensure.

Types of Social Work Degrees in North Dakota

Those pursuing a career in social work must understand what level of social work degree their job aspirations require. Like the rest of the country, North Dakota requires that all clinical social workers hold an MSW. However, it differs from some other states in that people can earn their social work license with only a BSW. Although the state does not require any level of social worker to possess a doctoral degree, university teaching positions or high-level clinical social work positions may require a doctor of social work (DSW) or Ph.D. in social work. Students who plan to ultimately work in the state should consider earning their social work degree in North Dakota.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

A bachelor's degree in social work serves as the first step toward becoming a licensed social worker (LSW) in North Dakota. The state offers a few BSW programs, including an online social work degree, that qualify graduates to earn their LSW license or enter an MSW program. Like most bachelor's degrees, earning a BSW typically requires four years of full-time study and 120 credits of coursework. BSW graduates can enter entry-level social work jobs in public health, child welfare, disability services, corrections, and schools. Because BSW-holders can earn their LSW license, their earning potential exceeds that of an associate-degree holder. BSW graduates who want to practice clinical social work or open their own practice must first earn an MSW.

Master's in Social Work

Those wanting to pursue a career in clinical social work or practice social work independently will need to earn an MSW. Most MSW programs, including online social work programs in North Dakota, take around 2-3 years to complete; however, some offer an accelerated year-long option for students who already hold a BSW. Upon graduating, MSW-holders can apply for LCSW licensure. After accruing two years of professional experience, they can apply for LICSW licensure. Students concerned about cost should explore affordable MSW programs. However, regardless of cost, earning an MSW pays off in the long run. The degree opens up a broader spectrum of job opportunities, preparing graduates to enter higher-paying positions as mental health practitioners, program directors, and case managers.

Doctoral Degree in Social Work

Students can pursue two types of doctorate-level degrees in social work: a Ph.D. in social work or a DSW. Students can pursue their doctoral degree online, typically completing their studies between 3-6 years. A Ph.D. in social work focuses on research and prepares students to teach social work in a university setting. A DSW typically prepares students for advanced clinical social work. Both degrees require either a dissertation or dissertation-level project. Earning a doctorate qualifies social workers to become a professor of social work or to enter administrative jobs, such as program director or manager.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in North Dakota

North Dakota offers three levels of social work licensure: LSW, LCSW, and LICSW. The LSW serves bachelor's-level social workers and qualifies recipients for entry-level social work jobs. The LCSW serves social workers who possess a master's degree in social work and opens up more advanced job opportunities. The LICSW, which requires a master's in social work and two years of supervised experience, qualifies social workers to practice clinical social work and pursue private practice. Each level of licensure requires an application, a fee, and a passing score on the appropriate level ASWB exam.

Licensed Social Worker

  • Earn a BSW: LSW applicants must first hold a BSW from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Earning a BSW typically takes four years, but can take more or less time depending on factors like courseload, transfer credits, and whether a program offers accelerated course options. Students nearing graduation may begin to apply for social work licensure in North Dakota.
  • Submit an Application: Those seeking the LSW license must submit an application for licensure to the state's social work board along with a $25 application fee. Applicants must also submit their official transcripts, three professional references, and a $75 licensing fee.
  • Pass the ASWB exam: LSW applicants must pass the bachelor's-level ASWB exam. The exam costs $230 and consists of 170 multiple-choice questions. The exam takes place in either Bismarck or West Fargo, and students must complete it within a four-hour testing window. Students who do not pass on their first try must wait three months before attempting it again.
  • Complete a Background Check: All applicants must complete a criminal history background check. This background check costs roughly $40. Applicants must also submit fingerprints, which they must complete either at a local police office or authorized fingerprinting center. The cost of fingerprinting varies depending on the location. Once applicants submit their forms, background check results typically arrive within three weeks.

Licensed Certified Social Worker

  • Earn an MSW: LCSW applicants in North Dakota must hold an MSW. Earning a master's degree typically requires two years of study, but can require more or less time depending on the student and the program. Some accelerated programs allow BSW-holders to graduate with their MSW in as little as one year. Part-time programs may require three years of study.
  • Submit an Application: Applicants must submit the LCSW application, a $25 fee, three professional references, and an official transcript. Applicants must also pay a $75 licensing fee.
  • Pass the ASWB Exam: LCSW applicants must pass the master's-level ASWB exam. This electronic-based exam consists of 170 multiple choice questions and features a four-hour exam window. Test-takers must pay $230 and sit for the exam in either West Fargo or Bismarck.
  • Complete a Background Check: All social workers in North Dakota must undergo a criminal background check. Applicants can complete their fingerprinting either at a professional fingerprinting center or a police station. The background check costs about $40 plus the cost of fingerprinting. Background check results typically come in after about three weeks.

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker

  • Earn an MSW: LICSW applicants in North Dakota must hold at least an MSW. Like many master's programs, earning an MSW typically requires two years of study. However, students who already hold a BSW may complete an accelerated MSW program in only a year. Part-time MSW programs may take up to three years.
  • Accrue Two Years of Supervised Experience: After earning an MSW, social workers must accrue 3,000 hours of clinical experience before applying for the LICSW license. This experience must occur in a 2-4 year window and take place under professional supervision. The applicant must complete 150 of these hours under the supervision of a board-approved clinical social worker.
  • Submit an Application: Social workers must submit an application for LICSW licensure to the state's social work board along with a $25 fee. Applicants must also submit a verification of supervised practice form and an MSW verification of employment form. Applicants who do not currently hold a LCSW license must also submit a $75 licensing fee. Unlike the LSW and LCSW licenses, applicants do not need to submit references.
  • Pass the ASWB Exam: Applicants must pass the clinical ASWB exam. This exam consists of 170 multiple-choice questions and takes place in a four-hour testing window at a testing center in either West Fargo or Bismarck. Test-takers pay slightly more for this exam, which costs $260. Those who do not pass on the first try can attempt again in 90 days.
  • Complete a Background Check: Like with other licenses in North Dakota, LICSW license applicants must undergo a criminal history background check. Applicants must complete fingerprinting at either a police station or professional fingerprinting center. The cost of fingerprinting varies depending on the location but the background check costs around $40. After submitting the background check forms, applicants typically hear back within three weeks.

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

The time it takes to become a licensed social worker in North Dakota depends on the level of licensure. To become a LSW, one must first earn a BSW, a degree that typically requires four years to complete. To become a LCSW, one must earn an MSW, a degree that requires 1-3 additional years of study on top of the bachelor's, for a total of 5-7 years of school. Becoming a LICSW requires an MSW and at least two years of professional experience. Social workers must also pass the ASWB exam for each level of licensure, which can make the process take longer if one does not pass on the first try.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in North Dakota

North Dakota allows social workers who hold licensure in another state to apply for reciprocal licensure in North Dakota. This process also applies to social workers who once held licensure in North Dakota but have since earned their licensure in another state. The reciprocity process and the general licensure application process share many of the same requirements, but applicants with an out-of-state social work license do not need to submit references or take the ASWB exam. Instead, they submit a license verification form from the state in which they hold a license, along with a copy of the licensure laws and regulations that were in effect when the state originally granted the license. This state's licensure requirements must either equal or exceed those required for licensure in North Dakota. Like a typical application for licensure, applicants must submit a $25 application fee and a $75 license fee. They must also undergo criminal background check, which costs $40 plus the cost of fingerprinting.

License Renewal

Social workers in North Dakota must apply to renew their license every odd-numbered year, with an application window between August 15 and December 31. To renew a license, social workers must submit an application for renewal along with a $75 fee. Late applicants must pay a $75 late fee on top of the application fee, for a total of $150 in fees. To renew a license, social workers must complete 30 continuing education hours. Twenty of these hours must consist of face-to-face courses and two hours must address the issue of ethics in social work. Continuing education courses approved through ASWB or the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) automatically count toward these credits; students unsure whether their continuing education course counts can apply for formal approval online at the cost of $10 per 10 courses.

Accredited Social Work Programs in North Dakota

Students interested in pursuing a social work career in North Dakota should consider earning their degree in the state. Not only does North Dakota offer several CSWE-accredited social work programs, but these programs also offer a direct connection between students and professional social workers familiar with the state's social work community. Faculty members at social work schools in North Dakota will understand the ins and outs of becoming a licensed social worker in North Dakota, including how to earn and renew a license and how to open a private practice. Students can also network with other current and future professionals in the state.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Social workers can enter a variety of career fields, each serving a distinct population. Although the daily routine of social workers may differ dramatically -- since school counselors meet with students in a classroom setting, while probation officers meet with criminal offenders in a correctional facility -- their goal remains the same: to help those in need of support. Although social workers in North Dakota with a BSW can earn their social work license, BSW-holders who wish to enter clinical social work positions must first earn an MSW. In order to treat and diagnose clients with mental health or behavioral issues or open a private practice, social workers must hold a clinical license, which requires an MSW.

  • Marriage and Family Therapist: Marriage and family therapists work with couples and families, typically in a private practice setting. They often use a cognitive behavioral therapy approach to help their clients develop strategies for change, work through decisions like divorce, and identify issues like stress, low self-esteem, and substance abuse. Practicing therapists typically hold at least a master's degree.
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor: This type of counselor helps those who suffer from addiction, behavioral disorders, and mental health issues. They help patients cope with their issues and repair their relationships and careers. Mental health counselor positions typically require at least a master's degree in social work, while some lower-level counselors may only need a bachelor's or certification.
  • Rehabilitation Counselor: These professionals help those who suffer from physical, emotional, or behavioral disorders that affect their daily life. They help clients live independently, identifying resources and strategies for success. Rehabilitation counselors typically work in rehabilitation centers, assisted living centers, and senior homes and must hold at least a master's degree.
  • School and Career Counselor: School counselors work with students struggling with academic or behavioral disorders that affect their academic success or social life. Career counselors help people identify their career aspirations and find suitable employment. They often work at colleges, assisting students and recent graduates. School and career counselor positions typically require a master's degree.
  • Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialist: Probation officers work with criminal offenders on probation, helping them avoid relapsing into criminal behavior. They often work specifically with either adult or juvenile offenders. Parole officers help those recently released from prison reenter society, connecting them with resources like job training and substance abuse counseling. Correctional treatment specialists work with inmates, probation officers, and parole officers to develop rehabilitation plans. This area of social work typically requires at least a bachelor's degree.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in North Dakota

Social work graduates pursuing a social work career in North Dakota typically earn an annual salary between $45,000 and $56,000. This salary straddles the state's overall mean annual salary of $48,130. In North Dakota, social workers specializing in substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health earn an average annual salary of $55,570, significantly more than the state's overall mean annual salary, while rehabilitation counselors and marriage and family therapists earn slightly less. School and career counselors also earn more than the state's average.

Average Salary for Social Workers in North Dakota

Marriage and Family Therapist $46,850
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor $55,570
Rehabilitation Counselor $45,990
School and Career Counselor $56,260
Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist $55,260
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in North Dakota

Professional social work organizations connect social workers across North Dakota and the country. They offer various modes of professional support, including legal counsel, public policy advocacy, continuing education opportunities, professional credentialing, and informative publications. Some organizations also host conferences that not only keep attendees up-to-date on issues in the field through lectures, panels, and discussions, but also serve as a networking platform, helping members find jobs and create valuable professional connections.

  • National Association of Social Workers - North Dakota Chapter: NASW serves as the largest professional organization of social workers in the world. NASW's North Dakota chapter connects social workers throughout the state, serving four distinct regions. Members can consult with the organization about issues relating to licensure, continuing education, public policy, and social work practice in general.
  • North Dakota Conference of Social Welfare: More than just a conference, NDCSW connects communities of social welfare professionals throughout the state and serves as a leader for social welfare reform. It advocates for social welfare programs in the state, engenders cooperation between social service agencies, and disseminates information about the field. The annual conference brings together social welfare professionals from diverse backgrounds and disciplines for lectures, panels, and social activities.
  • Community Action Partnership: CAP helps fight poverty in western North Dakota, providing resources, education, and social services to families and communities while serving as a nexus for social work professionals. Its services include head-start programs, budget planning, a senior companion program, housing counseling, homebuyers education, a senior food program, goal planning, career exploration, and job training.
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