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Colorado Social Work Licensing Requirements

Colorado’s diversity is expressed in both its landscape and growing population. The state has a population of over 5.6 million and the 13th-highest per capita income in the nation.1,2 It is also an excellent place to consider a career as a social worker, as the projected job growth for Colorado social workers is well above the national average.3 The practice of social work here is regulated by the Colorado State Board of Social Work Examiners, which also reviews applications and issues social work licenses. Below you will find detailed information about social work licensure and careers in Colorado, including educational requirements and salary information.

How to Become a Social Worker in Colorado

Educational Paths

There are two educational paths to become a social worker in Colorado. A bachelor’s degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) will qualify you to work in some settings without a license. However, a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program is required if you wish to work as a licensed social worker in Colorado.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

A four-year bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the first step to becoming a social worker in Colorado. Although bachelor’s-level social workers do not need to apply for licensure through the Board, they are required to attend a BSW program accredited by the CSWE. A BSW program consists of coursework that provides general knowledge of social work laws, ethics, and practices and often also provides opportunities for field experience. When you graduate with a BSW, you will qualify for jobs in direct-service settings, including case and program management, with limited non-clinical counseling privileges. This degree path will accelerate the master’s degree work by about a year if you choose to pursue licensure later on. There are currently four universities in Colorado that offer CSWE-accredited BSW programs.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

If you wish to become a licensed social worker in Colorado, you will need to pursue a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited program. There are currently three CSWE-accredited programs in Colorado. You will still be able to enter an MSW program if your undergraduate degree was in another field, but a BSW will qualify you for advanced standing in most schools, cutting the average time to complete the degree from two years down to one. The coursework in MSW programs includes both basic and advanced generalist training and generally includes more field experience than is found at the bachelor’s level. In an MSW program, you may be able to choose a specific concentration such as mental health, child welfare, or substance abuse.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Colorado

Although you may practice non-clinical, entry-level social work and use the title “social worker” in Colorado with only a BSW, the Board requires you to become licensed in order to practice more advanced social work. There are three types of social work licenses in the state: the Licensed Social Worker (LSW), the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and the Provisional Licensed Social Worker (SWP).

Licensed Social Worker (LSW)

In Colorado, the Licensed Social Worker (LSW) credential allows a social worker to provide clinical social work services under supervision while they are preparing for LCSW licensure. To become an LSW, you must have an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program. The steps below describe how to obtain this license.

1. Pass the Mental Health Professions Jurisprudence Exam.

Before submitting an application for licensure to the Board, you must pass two exams. The first of these is Colorado’s Mental Health Professions Jurisprudence Exam. This is an open-book, untimed exam that tests candidates’ knowledge of the laws and regulations related to mental health treatment in the state. There are 45 multiple-choice items on the test and you must earn a scaled score of 500 to pass. The fee to take the jurisprudence exam is $20 (as of February 2019).

2. Pass the ASWB Advanced Generalist or Clinical exam.

For LSW licensure, you will need to pass either the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam or Clinical exam. It could be beneficial to take the Clinical exam during this step, as the Clinical exam is required for LCSW licensure; passing it at this stage will help you avoid having to take a second test later. As of February 2019, these exams both cost $260. You will need to register directly through the ASWB’s Colorado exam page.

3. Complete the LSW application.

After you have passed both required exams, you can submit an LSW application to the Board through the Division of Professions and Occupations Online Services portal. For more information about the documentation you will need to provide for the application, see the Board’s LSW Application Checklist. As of February 2019, the LSW application costs $70.

4. Receive your LSW license from the Board.

When the Board reviews your application, they will notify you if there is any additional information they need. If they find your application to be complete, they will issue your LSW license. At this point, you can begin practicing clinical social work under the supervision of an LCSW.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

The most advanced level of social work licensure in Colorado is the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), which enables you to independently practice clinical social work. Before you apply, you will need to have an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program. If you are completing your supervised post-degree experience in Colorado (see Step 1 below), you will need to hold an LSW license before beginning this process. Below are the steps required for obtaining a Colorado LCSW license.

1. Accumulate the required experience.

The first step to LCSW licensure is to complete 3,360 hours of supervised, post-degree clinical social work experience over a minimum of 24 months. At least half of these hours must be spent directly providing services to clients. You must be supervised by an LCSW during this time and will need to receive at least 96 hours of supervision. When you have completed your supervised experience your supervisor(s) must complete the Post-Degree Experience and Supervision Form, which you will need to upload with your online application (see Step 4).

2. Pass the Mental Health Professions Jurisprudence Exam.

All LCSW candidates must pass the Mental Health Professions Jurisprudence Exam, which costs $20 for each attempt (as of February 2019). The 45 multiple-choice items on the open-book test assess your knowledge of the laws and regulations related to mental health treatment in the state. You must earn a scaled score of 500 or higher to pass. If you previously passed this exam for LSW licensure, contact the Board to determine whether you need to take it again.

3. Take and pass the ASWB Clinical exam.

For LCSW licensure, you must also pass the ASWB Clinical exam, which costs $260 as of February 2019. If you previously passed this test for LSW licensure, you do not need to repeat it and can skip this step. To register, apply directly through the ASWB Colorado exam page.

4. Complete the LCSW application.

After you have acquired 3,360 hours of supervised experience and passed both exams, you can submit an LCSW application through the Division of Professions and Occupations Online Services. The Board provides a helpful LCSW Application Checklist with the information and supplemental documentation required for the application. As of February 2019, the LCSW application costs $70.

5. Receive your LCSW license from the Board.

After you submit your LCSW application, it will be reviewed to ensure that you meet all of the criteria for licensure. If your application is found to be complete, the Board will issue your LCSW license and you can begin independently providing the full range of social work services and supervising LSWs.

Social Worker – Provisional (SWP)

The Board offers a provisional social work license (SWP) that is only for individuals who are employed as social workers in residential child care facilities. You will need to have at least an MSW to qualify for this license, and must be supervised by an LCSW while you are working. Unlike the other two Colorado social work licenses, the SWP license does not require you to pass any exams. The following steps describe how to apply for an SWP license.

1. Complete the SWP application.

The SWP application is available through the Division of Professions and Occupations Online Services. With this application, you will also need to submit the Verification of Practice form documenting that you will be working in a residential child care facility. The fee for the SWP application is $70 (as of February 2019).

2. Receive your SWP license from the Board.

After you submit your application, it will be reviewed by the Board. If they determine that it is complete and you meet the criteria to become an SWP, they will issue your license. This license is only valid while you are employed in a residential child care facility and you must work under supervision.

Social Work Licensure by Endorsement in Colorado

The Colorado Board accepts applications for social work licensure by endorsement from individuals who are already licensed social workers in other states. To qualify, your current license must be in good standing and you must meet the criteria for either an LSW or LCSW license in Colorado. To apply, submit an application through the Division of Professions and Occupations Online Services, pay the $70 fee (as of February 2019), and provide any required supplemental documentation such as ASWB exam scores and verification of your current license. You will also need to pass the Mental Health Professions Jurisprudence Exam before receiving your Colorado social work license.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

Colorado requires licensed social workers to renew their licenses every two years. For both LSW and LCSW licenses, renewals require participation in the Continuing Professional Development Program, which must include 40 hours of professional development in continuing education (CE) activities or categories approved by the Board, with no more than 20 hours in any single category. All licenses are renewed online through the Division of Professions and Occupations Online Services.

Colorado Social Work Jobs and Salary Information

In May 2017, the average annual salary of the 12,380 social workers employed in Colorado was $50,143.4 The largest subfield of social work in the state was child, family, and school social work, with 6,470 employed.4 The number of social work jobs in Colorado is expected to grow substantially between 2016 and 2026. Across all subfields of social work, available jobs in Colorado are expected to increase by 26.6%, or about 324 new social work positions each year.3 This is considerably higher than the 16% growth projected for social workers nationwide during this same time period.3

Type Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers 6,470 $50,220
Healthcare Social Workers 2,650 $51,980
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 1,980 $43,430
Social Workers, All Other 1,280 $54,940

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.4

Social Work Associations in Colorado

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Where do I get information about license applications, renewal, reinstatement, and requirements for Colorado social workers?

Answer: All information about requirements, applications, and forms can be found under “Find Applications and Forms” on Colorado’s State Board of Social Work Examiners’ home page.

Question: How do I check the status of my application?

Answer: To check the status of your application, log into your account at the Division of Professions and Occupations Online Services and view your application.

Question: Do I need to be licensed to practice social work in Colorado?

Answer: If you are seeking to practice nonclinical, entry-level social work, you do not need to be licensed. However, if you choose to pursue more advanced or clinical work, you must obtain a master’s degree and be licensed by the Board.

References:
1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Colorado: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/co
2. Bureau of Economic Analysis: https://apps.bea.gov/regional/bearfacts/action.cfm?geoType=3&fips=08000&areatype=08000
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Colorado: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_co.htm