Social Work Licensure in Pennsylvania

Individuals must meet standard qualifications for education, experience, and testing to earn a social work license in Pennsylvania. Although Pennsylvania employs one of the country's highest number of social workers, they are not required to earn a license. The NASW-PA estimates that less than 30% of social workers in Pennsylvania have a license. However, licensed social workers hold an advantage as far as public trust and job opportunities. Pennsylvania issues two social work licenses: the licensed social worker (LSW) and the licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Both require a master's in social work (MSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Applicants must also pass the master's exam for the LSW and the clinical exam for the LCSW.

Pennsylvania does not hold reciprocity with any other state. To obtain social work licensure, candidates must meet all LSW/LCSW standard qualifications and provide a letter from their jurisdiction board verifying their social work license, certification, and practice record. They also must prove that the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam taken in their state aligns with Pennsylvania's, and that their score qualifies as passing in Pennsylvania.

Types of Social Work Degrees in Pennsylvania

Students can earn their degree from 39 CSWE-accredited social work schools in Pennsylvania or research online social work programs in Pennsylvania. The bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) is the most common degree, allowing individuals to begin work in general practice. This is also the ideal four-year degree for social workers who want to continue their education and earn a master's or doctorate. An MSW is the minimum degree for licensure as an LSW or LCSW. At the master's level, students study a specialization, such as school social work, macro practice, or mental health. In social work, there are two doctoral degrees: the doctor of social work, which is a practice doctorate, and the Ph.D., which is a research doctorate.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

Social work licensure in Pennsylvania begins with the bachelor's in social work. The degree, which full-time students can complete in about four years, combines classroom learning with practical fieldwork education. Students take foundational classes such as human behavior, social welfare, and social work research. By the third and fourth year, BSW students explore social work specializations. BSW graduates are prepared for entry-level general practice in Pennsylvania. After three years of supervised experience, social workers accepted into an accredited MSW program can apply for a provisional social worker license. With this license, social workers in Pennsylvania have six years to obtain LSW licensure.

Master's in Social Work

Students can choose from 261 social work schools in the U.S. that offer a master's of social work program. Pennsylvania is home to 11 of these senior institutions. An MSW is the minimum social work degree for LSW licensure and clinical social work. The master's in social work, which takes most students two years to complete, requires 60 credits of coursework and field work. Students focus on intervention, prevention, leadership, and research, while exploring the fundamental theories and methods of social work practice. MSW students also choose a specialization, such as children, youth, and families; mental health and wellness; or policy practice.

Doctoral Degree in Social Work

Pennsylvania social work licensure requires at least an MSW. Many social workers go on to complete a doctor of social work (DSW) or a Ph.D. A CSWE report found that DSW enrollment increased 130% in 2016 from the previous year. Over the same period, social work Ph.D. enrollment rose 13.6%. In total, there were 2,325 Ph.D. and 611 DSW students in 2016. Students can typically complete the DSW in three years, while the Ph.D. takes about four.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Pennsylvania

Individuals can choose from two practitioner options for social work licensure in Pennsylvania: LSW and LCSW. The path to licensure typically begins with earning a social work degree in Pennsylvania and a provisional license, which social workers can apply for after earning their BSW and working for three supervised years in social work. A provisional license is good for up to six years, and license holders must renew annually. This temporary license expires after the sixth year, at which time a social worker may apply for LSW licensure if they have completed an MSW. To qualify for an LSW or LCSW license, social workers must hold an MSW or doctorate in social work and pass the corresponding ASWB exam.

Licensed Bachelor Social Worker

  1. Bachelor's in Social Work: Pennsylvania does not issue the licensed bachelor social worker license, but issues a provisional license that allows licensees to continue their work in the field while they pursue an MSW. Applicants need a BSW from a CSWE-accredited college or university. A BSW typically takes full-time students four years to complete.
  2. Post-BSW Experience: BSW graduates must accrue three years of post-degree supervised work experience. Social workers with a bachelor's degree may not practice in a private setting nor independently. Licensed social workers in Pennsylvania with a BSW degree are not qualified to diagnose mental illness or provide psychotherapy services.
  3. Bachelor's Level ASWB Exam: The Pennsylvania provisional license requires social workers to earn a passing score of 70% on the bachelor's level ASWB exam. Each exam contains 170 multiple-choice questions, of which 150 are scored.

Licensed Graduate Social Worker

  1. Master's in Social Work: The LGSW title is equivalent to Pennsylvania's LSW license. It is a mid-level licensure and requires the applicant to hold a CSWE-accredited master's in social work at minimum. On average, an MSW takes two years to complete. However, BSW graduates may be eligible for advanced standing, cutting the program length in half.
  2. Master's Level ASWB Exam: As a non-clinical license, LSW applicants do not need to accrue post-MSW experience. They must earn a passing score of 70% on the master's-level ASWB exam. Mid-level licensure in social work requires a graduate degree and a qualifying exam score. At this level, MSW students who are in their final semester can apply for the LSW by providing documentation from their school's dean, chair, or registrar, which verifies their education.

Licensed Certified Social Worker

  1. Master's in Social Work: LCSW is the state's second type of social work licensure. Applicants must possess at minimum an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program.
  2. LSW License: Prospective LCSWs must hold an LSW license. After earning their MSW social work degree in Pennsylvania or another state, they must apply for an LSW and begin their post-degree work in state.
  3. Post-MSW Experience: As a clinical degree, the LCSW license requires post-MSW work experience. Applicants must accrue at least 3,000 hours of field experience under the supervision of an LCSW. This requirement can take two to six years to complete.
  4. Clinical-Level ASWB Exam: After gaining the necessary hours of experience, LCSW candidates must pass the clinical-level ASWB exam.

Private Independent Practice Certification

  1. Master's or Doctorate in Social Work: This certification signifies that a social worker can engage in private practice. Some states distinguish between non-clinical and clinical private/independent practice.
  2. Clinical Social Worker License: Once a social worker completes all requirements for LCSW licensure and becomes registered as an LCSW, they may begin private/independent practice. No additional certification is required. To work as a private practitioner, certified social workers need a clinical license in their state of practice.

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

Social work licensure in Pennsylvania can take six to 12 years. For a provisional license, a social worker must work for at least three years after their BSW before applying. It can take seven years to obtain this temporary social worker license or online social work degree. For the LSW, a social worker needs at least an MSW, which can take one to three years of additional schooling, depending on if the student attends full time or part time or begins in advanced standing. On average, it takes two years to complete an MSW; the LSW does not require post-degree experience. A social worker can gain LSW licensure in six years. For the LCSW, an applicant must obtain an LSW and then accrue 3,000 hours of supervised experience, which can take six years. It can take 12 years of combined education and experience to become an LCSW.

Out-of-State Licensing Reciprocity in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania does not hold any agreements of reciprocity with any other state. If a social worker holds an LSW or LCSW license and/or equivalent from another state, the license will not transfer across state lines. To obtain social work licensure in Pennsylvania, one must meet all the standard qualifications for the licensed social worker and/or licensed clinical social worker license.

The social worker must also provide an official letter from their home jurisdiction board that acknowledges the social worker's licensure status, certification, and practice record and/or history. Pennsylvania offers licensure by ASWB examination. A licensed social worker from another state must prove that the ASWB exam in their home jurisdiction aligns with Pennsylvania's. The LSW fee is $25; the LCSW fee is $45. If an out-of-state social worker must retake the corresponding ASWB exam, the fee for the master's-level test is $230, and $260 for the clinical level.

License Renewal

Pennsylvania's two social work licenses, LSW and LCSW, must be renewed on a biennial basis for $95. Social workers must accrue 30 continuing education (CE) hours in the two years prior to renewal. Three of the 30 CE hours must be ethics related. For the first renewal, three hours must be in the area of child abuse. After the first renewal, only two credits are required. A new requirement for social workers is that one CE hour must be in suicide prevention training. Social workers can earn up to 20 CE hours online. Social workers cannot take a course with the same name more than once during a single year. Newly licensed LSWs do not need CE credits for their first renewal due to a built-in grace period.

The provisional license, which BSW graduates can apply for after they accrue three years of supervised experience, must be renewed every year. Provisional licenses can only be renewed for six years.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Pennsylvania

Social workers must earn a degree from an accredited school or program. At the institutional level, schools can apply for either regional or national accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes all six of the nation's regional accreditors, plus several national accreditors. To qualify for federal student aid, and for many schools to accept transfer credit, students must attend a regionally accredited institution.

Pennsylvania schools are regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. National accreditors tend to evaluate career, vocational, distance, and single-purpose schools. For social work programs, students should check for programmatic accreditation by the CSWE, which is recognized across state lines, and the council is the sole accreditor recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation for social work programs. To begin your search, explore the following directory which lists accredited social work programs in Pennsylvania and nationwide.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Specializations at the master's level provide more focused knowledge. These professionals work in schools, hospitals, local shelters, and private practices. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), a social worker's experience level is directly tied to their salary potential. NASW reports that for every year of experience, a social worker's salary rises approximately $419.

  • School Social Worker: School social workers work in primary and secondary schools, helping students with behavioral, social, or emotional issues. They work with teachers, parents, and school staff to identify hurdles and institute plans of action. While school social workers typically begin their career with a BSW, many go on to earn their master's in social work.
  • Mental Health/Substance Abuse Social Worker: Mental health social workers work with clients dealing with mental illnesses, as well as addiction and emotional issues. They help in case management and client advocacy and provide therapy, crisis intervention, and referrals. Individuals must be licensed as an LCSW.
  • Community Service Manager: Community service managers coordinate social service programs and ensure that services get to the populations in most need. A social services director holds a similar position, often working as a liaison between the community and the organization. A BSW or four-year degree in urban studies or public administration is required. Many employers prefer hiring workers with an MSW or advanced degree.
  • Advocate: Advocates work to raise awareness, fight for the vulnerable, and obtain resources for those in need. Advocates work at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Care Coordinator: These social workers are certified case managers who cooperate with other healthcare professionals to ensure patients are prepared to assume control over their care and treatment once they leave the hospital. A master's is required to work in this area.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania employs the third-most amount of social workers in the nation, and competition among this profession is understandably strong. Obtaining a state license as an LSW or LCSW may provide the competitive edge a social worker in Pennsylvania needs. The state's annual mean wage is $48,760. The NASW notes that social workers with a DSW have the highest average salaries, followed by social workers with a master's in social work. According to the NASW, higher salaries correlate to education level, caseload size, sector, and years of experience.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Pennsylvania

School Social Worker $42,860
Mental Health/Substance Abuse Social Worker $36,800
Community Service Manager $54,850
Social Worker, All Other $63,310
Healthcare Social Worker $51,530
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Pennsylvania

Joining a professional organization offers social workers many benefits, including networking, professional development, and a collective voice when it comes to advocacy for the profession. Professional organizations may also provide career services and advice; continuing education opportunities; scholarship awards; and discounts on conferences, publications, and certification.

  • NASW | Pennsylvania Chapter: The NASW promotes, develops, and protects social workers across the U.S. NASW-PA works to influence policy and those whom social justice impacts.
  • Pennsylvania Society for Clinical Social Work: Established in 1971, PSCSW promotes clinical social workers in Pennsylvania and supports their professional development. It offers events, seminars, and conferences for networking; CE credits; and collaboration on initiatives and educational endeavors.
  • Case Management Society of America: Founded in 1990, this national organization is member-driven, helping support and develop professionals in case management through educational forums, networking, advocacy, and involvement in the legislative process. CMSA has grown to nearly 75 chapters throughout the world.
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