Illinois Social Work Licensing Requirements

By: SocialWorkGuide.org Staff
Last Updated: December 2019

Illinois is a promising state for social workers. With a growing population of nearly 13 million, this state needs more social workers to provide services to residents.1 Among all states, Illinois has the third-highest number of social workers classified as “other” (e.g., those not in the major fields of child, family, school, healthcare, or mental health and substance abuse social work), with only California and New York having more people employed in this subfield of social work.3

Each state regulates the profession and licenses social workers differently. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) is responsible for setting standards for the licensing of social workers in the state. Below is more information about becoming a social worker in Illinois.

How to Become a Social Worker in Illinois

Educational Paths

In Illinois, you can find a position in social work with either a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) or a master’s degree in social work (MSW). There are two different levels of licensing, although a license is not required for some entry-level social work jobs. To decide which educational path you will take, first consider the type of career you want. Each educational path will provide you with different career opportunities. Note that you cannot call yourself a social worker in Illinois until you have obtained a social work license.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

You cannot call yourself a social worker without the appropriate license in Illinois, although there are entry-level jobs in social work available for BSWs. Once you obtain your bachelor’s degree, look for a job to gain work experience so that you can apply to become a Licensed Social Worker (LSW). This option requires three years of additional experience after earning the BSW. With just the degree and no licensing, career options in social work are limited. Entry-level positions in generalist social work are available to BSW holders, which may include case management, administration, or advocacy in residential programs, community organizations, public health agencies, or schools. A BSW can also prepare you to enter an MSW program with advanced standing. This means that some of your undergraduate credits will count towards the MSW and you can complete the master’s program in less time. BSW programs, which typically take four years to complete, prepare students to work or to pursue licensing as an LSW, work in the social work field, or pursue an MSW through academic coursework and hands-on fieldwork.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

Master’s programs in social work in Illinois prepare students to work in advanced positions in social work careers and to provide clinical practice through both advanced coursework and clinical field experience. Many programs also offer specialization tracks such as mental health, advocacy, children and family services, or school social work. To earn an MSW in Illinois, you may either enter a program with advanced standing from a BSW degree or pursue a traditional MSW program after earning a bachelor’s degree in another subject. With advanced standing, you can earn an MSW in as little as one year as compared to the two years it typically takes to finish the program with regular standing. With an MSW degree, you can pursue licensing as an LSW or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). With either option, there are more career opportunities for MSWs than are available for BSW graduates. A master’s-level social worker may be a case manager, an administrator, or a leader of community and social organizations. With an LCSW, a clinical social worker may provide diagnosis, treatment, and therapy directly to clients. With a master’s degree and LSW licensing a social worker may provide clinical services, but only under the supervision of an LCSW.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Illinois

Although you can begin working in entry-level, non-clinical social work careers with a BSW or an MSW degree, more opportunities become available if you earn a license. In order to perform social work services and to represent yourself as a licensed social worker or clinical social worker, you must obtain a social work license. There are two levels of licensing in the state: Licensed Social Worker (LSW) and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). The latter requires a master’s degree and the former requires a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree plus supervised experience. The requirements for each type of license are outlined below.

Licensed Social Worker (LSW)

You can become a licensed social worker in Illinois with either a BSW or an MSW, as long as the program is accredited by the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) or the IDFPR. Regardless of the degree, an LSW cannot perform clinical services unless supervised by a licensed clinical social worker. With LSW licensing you can work in more advanced positions in the fields of social group work, social casework, social welfare administration, and community organizing. Once you have earned your BSW and/or MSW, you must complete the following steps:

1. Complete three years of supervised experience.*

If you have earned an MSW, you can immediately apply for licensing as an LSW with no experience required, so you can skip this step. BSW applicants, however, must complete three years of supervised professional social work experience before applying for the license. The experience must be under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker or a licensed social worker. The supervisor and applicant must have met at least four hours per month on average throughout the three years and the supervisor must evaluate the applicant’s work as satisfactory.

*Only required of BSW applicants.

2. Submit the LSW application and fee.

The next step in earning an LSW license is to submit the application with a fee of $50. With the application, you must send proof of successful completion of either an MSW program or a BSW program plus the three years of professional experience.

3. Take and pass the ASWB Master’s examination.

In Illinois, social workers must first apply for licensing and then sit for the required examination. Applicants for the LSW must pass the ASWB Master’s examination. You may take this exam even if you have not obtained a master’s degree, as long as you have completed a bachelor’s degree in social work and obtained the required three years of supervised work experience. The fee to take the exam is $230 and scores are sent directly to the IDFPR. You cannot take the examination until you have completed a degree program in social work and the IDFPR has given you permission to register for the exam.

4. Receive your LSW license from the IDFPR.

After you have passed the ASWB Master’s exam scores, the IDFPR should receive your scores within about two weeks. After these have been processed, your LSW license will be issued and you can begin practicing.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

A licensed clinical social worker in Illinois is allowed to provide unsupervised clinical services. To earn a license as an LCSW, an MSW degree is required, but you may also have earned a doctoral degree in social work. To obtain an LCSW license, you must complete the following steps:

1.Complete the required supervised experience hours.

To receive an LCSW license, you must complete a certain amount of supervised postgraduate clinical social work experience, which varies based on the degree you have earned. Applicants holding an MSW must earn 3,000 hours of supervised postgraduate experience and applicants holding a doctoral degree need 2,000 hours. While completing these hours, you will need to receive an average of at least four hours per month of supervision from an LCSW. You can work full-time (30-40 hours per week) or part-time (15-29 hours per week) while earning this experience.

2. Submit the LCSW application and fee.

Once you have completed your supervised postgraduate clinical experience, the next step in the licensure process is to submit the LCSW application to the IDFPR. All of the required forms are in this application packet, and some will need to be completed by those in a position to independently verify your supervised experience and social work degree. Once you have completed the required application materials, return them to the IDFPR and include $50 for license and exam fees.

3. Take and pass the ASWB Clinical examination.

To earn an LCSW license in Illinois, you must successfully complete the ASWB Clinical examination. This exam costs $260 and you cannot register until you receive permission from the IDFPR.

4. Receive your LCSW license from the IDFPR.

Your ASWB Clinical examination scores should be automatically transferred to the IDFPR approximately two weeks after you complete the exam. Once your scores have been received, you should be eligible to receive your license. The IDFPR will notify you when your license has been issued and you can begin practicing as an LCSW.

Social Work License Reciprocity in Illinois

If you are licensed in another state and meet the requirements for LSW or LCSW licensure in Illinois, you can apply for licensure by endorsement. To do this, you must submit an application along with the supplemental documents needed for licensure by endorsement (e.g., verification of your current license) and a $200 fee. You will also need to have your ASWB exam scores transferred to Illinois.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

A social work license in Illinois expires every two years. The expiration date is November 30th of each odd-numbered year. To renew the license, you must submit a renewal application with a $60 fee and proof of continuing education in the month before it expires. The continuing education requirement is 30 hours of social work coursework every two years. This requirement is waived for the first time that a license expires. Of the 30 hours, you must complete a minimum of three hours in ethics and three hours in cultural competence.

Illinois Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information

There are currently more than 25,000 social workers employed in Illinois, with the greatest number (12,420) working in the field of child, family, and school social work.3 Another 5,430 social workers in Illinois are employed in healthcare, 3,130 in mental health and substance abuse positions, and 4,940 in other types of social work positions.3

All areas of social work are seeing growth in Illinois. Long-term predictions suggest that the highest rate of growth in Illinois will be seen in the field of healthcare social work, with a projected growth rate of 7.8% between 2016 and 2026.4 Child, family, and school social work positions are expected to grow by 5.7% during this time period, while mental health and substance abuse social work positions are projected to increase by 6.2%.4

Type Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers 12,420 $58,140
Healthcare Social Workers 5,430 $53,600
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 3,130 $51,290
Social Workers, All Other 4,940 $65,890

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.3

Social Work Associations in Illinois

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What degree do I need to be a social worker in Illinois?

Answer: In Illinois, you only need a bachelor’s degree in social work to find entry-level positions in social work. A master’s degree opens more doors for advanced positions. Licensing is required for both bachelor’s and master’s level social workers, and licensing will allow you to seek work in clinical settings, either supervised as an LSW or unsupervised as an LCSW.

Question: Does a social work license have to be renewed periodically?

Answer: Yes. In Illinois, you must renew your license every two years. To renew a license you must pay a renewal fee and submit proof of completion of 30 hours of continuing education in the field of social work. You do not need to complete the 30 hours if it is your first renewal.

Question: What examinations are required for licensing?

Answer: To be a licensed social worker in Illinois, you must pass an Association of Social Work Boards examination. The Master’s exam is required for LSWs and the Clinical exam is required for LCSWs. These must be taken after submitting an application for licensing and after all other licensing requirements have been met.

Question: What kinds of experiences and educational opportunities meet the requirements for 30 hours of continuing education?

Answer: The 30 hours of continuing education required for social work license renewal in Illinois may be graduate-level college coursework in social work, a course provided by a state-approved sponsor, teaching social work, writing books or papers, or presenting research. At least three hours must include ethics and three additional hours must focus on cultural competence.

1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Illinois: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/il
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2017, Social Workers, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211029.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Illinois: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_il.htm
4. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm