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Illinois Social Work Licensing Requirements

By SocialWorkGuide.org Staff

With a population of nearly 13 million, Illinois offers many opportunities for social workers. Illinois boasts the country's third-highest number of social workers classified as "other," which accounts for those not in the major fields of child, family, school, healthcare, or mental health and substance abuse social work.

Each state regulates the profession and licenses social workers differently. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) sets standards for licensing the state's social workers. Read on to learn how to become a social worker in Illinois.

In This Article

How to Become a Social Worker in Illinois

Educational Paths

In Illinois, you can find a position in social work with either a bachelor of social work (BSW) or a master of social work (MSW). Two different levels of licensing exist, and while some entry-level social work jobs do not require a license, you cannot become a social worker in Illinois without a social work license.

Choose your educational path with your desired career in mind since different programs and education levels open doors to different career opportunities.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

While you need a license to work as a social worker in Illinois, you can pursue some entry-level jobs with a BSW. Once you obtain your bachelor's degree, look for a job to gain work experience so that you can apply to become an LSW. This option requires three years of additional experience after earning the BSW. With just the degree and no licensing, you face limited career options in social work.

With a BSW, you can explore entry-level positions in generalist social work, including 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 compared to the two years it typically takes.

With an MSW, you can pursue licensing as an LSW or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). More career opportunities exist for those with an MSW than for those with a BSW. A master's-level social worker may work as a case manager, an administrator, or a leader of community and social organizations. With an LCSW, clinical social workers may provide diagnosis, treatment, and therapy directly to clients. With a master's degree and LSW licensing, social workers may provide clinical services, but only under an LCSW's supervision.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Illinois

Although you can work in entry-level, non-clinical social work roles with a BSW or an MSW, you can explore more job opportunities by earning a license. To perform social work services and to represent yourself as an LSW or LCSW, you need a social work license. Illinois offers two levels of licensing: LSW and LCSW. The latter requires a master's degree and the former requires a master's degree or a bachelor's degree plus supervised experience. See below for licensure requirements.

Licensed Social Worker (LSW)

You can become an LSW in Illinois with either a BSW or an MSW, as long as the program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) or the IDFPR. Regardless of the degree, an LSW cannot perform clinical services unless supervised by an LCSW. 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. After earning your BSW or MSW, you must complete the following steps:

  • 1. Complete three years of supervised experience.*

    If you possess an MSW, you can immediately apply for licensing as an LSW with no experience required. BSW applicants, however, must complete three years of supervised professional social work experience before applying for the license. You must complete your experience under the supervision of an LCSW or LSW. You must meet with your supervisor at least four hours per month on average throughout the three years, and your supervisor must evaluate your 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 and the $50 fee. With the application, you must send proof of successful completion of either an MSW program or a BSW program plus three years of professional experience.

  • 3. Take and pass the Association of Social Work Boards (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 do not possess a master's degree as long as you possess a BSW and have completed the required three years of supervised work experience. As of April 2020, the exam costs $230 and scores are sent directly to the IDFPR. You cannot take the examination until you have completed a social work degree and the IDFPR has permitted you 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 the IDFPR processes your scores, the group will issue your LSW license and you can begin practicing.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

LCSWs in Illinois can provide unsupervised clinical services. To earn a license as an LCSW, you need an MSW, 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 your degree. Applicants holding an MSW must earn 3,000 hours of supervised postgraduate experience while applicants holding a doctorate need 2,000 hours. While completing these hours, you need 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 is submitting the LCSW application to the IDFPR. You can find required forms in your application packet. Those who can verify your supervised experience and social work degree must complete some of these forms. Once you complete the required application materials, return them to the IDFPR and include $50 for license and exam fees, as of April 2020.

  • 3. Take and pass the ASWB clinical examination.

    To earn an LCSW license in Illinois, you must successfully complete the ASWB clinical examination. As of April 2020, this exam costs $260. 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 the IDFPR receives your scores, you are 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, including verification of your current license and a $200 fee. You must also request for your ASWB exam scores to be transferred to Illinois.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

A social work license in Illinois expires every two years. The expiration date is November 30 of each odd-numbered year. To renew the license, you must submit a renewal application with a $60 fee and proof of continuing education (CE) in the month before it expires. The CE requirement is 30 hours of social work coursework every two years. 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

Illinois contains more than 28,000 social workers, with the largest number (14,720) working in the field of child, family, and school social work. Another 5,300 social workers in Illinois work in healthcare, 3,550 in mental health and substance abuse positions, and 1,540 in other types of social work positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

All areas of social work are seeing growth in Illinois. Social work jobs in Illinois are projected to grow 4.9% between 2016 and 2026, according to Projections Central. See below for some potential career paths for social workers in Illinois along with median salary information.

Type Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers 14,720 $56,100
Healthcare Social Workers 5,300 $52,830
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 3,550 $46,540
Social Workers, All Other 1,540 $61,640

Source: BLS

Social Work Associations in Illinois

National Association of Social Workers

NASW's Illinois chapter provides members with valuable information about licensing, networking, and earning CE credits.

Illinois Association of School Social Workers

IASSW unites social workers in the state working in school settings to promote the career and to provide resources for its members to help them provide better services to children. The group is also dedicated to advocacy and political and social action.

Illinois Society for Clinical Social Work

Membership benefits include CE opportunities, a professional journal subscription, and professional support for new social workers.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

In Illinois, you only need a BSW to find entry-level positions in social work. An MSW opens more doors for advanced positions. Licensing is required for both bachelor's and master's-level social workers. Licensing allows you to work in clinical settings, either supervised as an LSW or unsupervised as an LCSW.

Does a social work license have to be renewed periodically?

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 CE hours. You do not need to complete the 30 hours if it is your first renewal.

What examinations are required for licensing?

To be an LSW in Illinois, you must pass an ASWB examination. The master's exam is required for LSWs and the clinical exam is required for LCSWs. You can take these exams after submitting an application for licensing and after you have met all other licensing requirements.

What kinds of experiences and educational opportunities meet the requirements for 30 CE hours?

The 30 CE hours 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.