Iowa Social Work Licensing Requirements

In October of 2015, Iowa’s unemployment rate dropped to a low of 3.5% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 In contrast, the national average unemployment rate for the same month was 5%.2 A lower than average unemployment rate means that workers are needed, and other sources back up that social work jobs in Iowa are increasing. For example, Projections Central predicts an average growth rate of nearly 20% in all categories of social workers by 2022, higher than the national average for 2022 of 18.55%.3 For more information on how to gain Iowa social work licensure, continue reading below.

How to Become a Social Worker in Iowa

The Iowa Board of Social Work (the Board), a division of the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Professional Licensure, is the agency that processes licenses for social workers in Iowa. Individuals wishing to apply for new licenses may apply online to the Board after first registering and creating an account. The Board administers licensing for different boards within the state.

In Iowa, there are three different types of social work licenses, including the bachelor level social worker (BLSW), the master level social worker (MLSW), and the licensed independent social worker (LISW). Note that people with bachelor’s degrees in social work may be hired for social work jobs in Iowa, and they are not required to be licensed.

Educational Paths

A licensed social worker in Iowa must have at least a bachelor of social work degree to apply for social work jobs in Iowa. Some Iowa social workers have master’s degrees or doctorates. The type of degree sought will depend on what type of license the candidate is seeking. For those seeking a BLSW, for example, a bachelor’s degree will be needed. For those seeking licensure as an MLSW or an LISW, a master’s degree will be required. Below is further information about each degree type.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

The individual who has received a bachelor’s degree in social work will have completed classes in social work as well as psychology, sociology, economics, and other courses. In addition, the student social worker will perform fieldwork to prepare for real-world scenarios that may lie ahead. There are eleven colleges in Iowa that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) to provide baccalaureate degrees, including Briar Cliff University, Buena Vista University, Clarke University, Dordt College, Loras College, Luther College, Mount Mercy University, Northwestern College, the University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa, and Wartburg College.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

The person who receives a master’s of social work will complete advanced courses in crisis intervention, substance abuse, mental health, family and individual treatment, domestic violence, and many other important topics. Fieldwork is also a requirement for the MSW degree, and social worker candidates will receive practical experience in their future career. There are four colleges in Iowa that are accredited by the CSWE to provide master’s degrees in social work, including Clarke University, St. Ambrose University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa. In general, the MSW program is a two-year program. However, individuals who already have a BSW may be able to receive advanced placement. For example, at Clarke University, graduates with a BSW may qualify for a one-year full-time MSW program. There are also part-time programs to earn the MSW.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Iowa

All individuals who wish to become social workers in Iowa must obtain at least a bachelor’s degree in social work from a college accredited by the CSWE. In addition, they must receive a passing score on the appropriate test administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

Bachelor Level Social Worker (BLSW)

Those who wish to obtain licensure as a bachelor level social worker (BLSW) in Iowa must first complete an accredited bachelor’s degree in social work. To obtain your BLSW, follow these steps:

1. Submit your application for the license to the Board.

You can register for and apply online. You may also complete the paper application and submit it to the Iowa Board. As of December 2015, the application fee was $120. An official transcript of your BSW program should also be sent directly to the Board from your college or university.

2. Take and pass the ASWB bachelors exam.

Once they have reviewed your application, the Iowa Board of Social Work will inform you of your eligibility to sit for the ASWB bachelors examination. Passing this test is a requirement for licensing in Iowa. The fee as of December 2015 is $230.

3. Receive your BLSW license from the Board.

Once you receive your license from the Board, you are ready to practice licensed social work in the state of Iowa.

Master Level Social Worker (MLSW)

To become licensed as a master level social worker in Iowa, you must first complete your master’s in social work at a college accredited by the CSWE. Some applicants for this position have a doctoral degree. After the educational requirement has been met, you will complete the following steps:

1. Submit your application to the Iowa Board.

You can apply using a paper application or online. To apply online, complete a profile and submit the application. As of December 2015, the application fee was $120. You must also request that an official transcript be sent directly from your college or university to the Board to accompany your application.

2. Take and pass the ASWB masters examination.

Once the Board has received and approved your application, they will inform you that you are eligible to complete the next step in the process: registering for and taking the ASWB master’s level examination, which cost $230 in December 2015. You must pass the exam in order to receive your MLSW license.

3. Receive your MLSW license from the Board.

After the ASWB has sent your scores to the Board, they will send you your MLSW license, and you will be able to practice licensed social work at the master’s level in Iowa.

Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW)

A licensed independent social worker (LISW) is a person in clinical social work practice in Iowa. This individual must possess a master’s in social work (MSW) from a college that is accredited by the CSWE or a doctoral degree. In addition to obtaining an advanced degree, an aspiring LISW also must gain work experience before becoming eligible for licensure in Iowa. The following steps must be taken to obtain the LISW in Iowa:

1. Submit your application to the Board.

The first step in becoming an LISW after obtaining an advanced degree is to submit an application. Along with your application, which cost $120 as of December 2015, you must request that an official transcript be sent to the Iowa Board and submit a supervision report and a supervision plan form. The supervision report will include the name of your proposed supervisor and his or her qualifications. The plan must receive advance approval well in advance of when you hope to receive your LISW.

2. Acquire the required experience.

You will need to accumulate two years of full-time post-master’s social work experience performing psychological assessment, diagnosis, and treatment OR 4,000 hours of post-master’s social work experience performing the same tasks over at least two years and not more than six years, with 110 hours of supervision, before you may qualify for this license. No more than 60 hours of those 110 may be performed in a group setting.

3. Take and pass the ASWB clinical exam.

Once your application has been approved by the Board, they will inform you of your eligibility to take the ASWB clinical level exam. As of December 2015, the fee was $260. .

4. Receive your LISW license from the Iowa Board.

When you have successfully completed the above steps, you will receive your license from the Board and be able to practice in Iowa as a licensed independent social worker.

Social Work License Reciprocity in Iowa

Social workers licensed in other states may apply for a license in Iowa by submitting an application and paying the initial license fee of $120 to the Board, which is the same fee as for licensure-by-examination candidates. In addition, they must provide proof of meeting licensure requirements similar to those in Iowa. College transcripts must be sent directly to the Board, as well as official copies of test scores from the ASWB.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

Iowa social workers at all levels must renew their licenses every two years. Fees for renewing the license depend on the social worker level. For example, the renewal fee for bachelor’s level social workers is $72, while the fee for master’s level social workers is $120. The renewal fee for independent social workers is $144. After renewing their license, all social workers must complete 27 hours of continuing education over the next two-year period of their license. As of 2014, social workers who supervise other individuals must obtain three hours of continuing education in supervision. These three hours may be included in the required 27 hours.

Iowa Social Work Jobs and Salary Information

As of 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 6,400 licensed social workers in Iowa, and the largest number (3,590) were child, family, and school social workers, while the least (430) were classified as “other.” In terms of their average annual salary in 2014, the highest paid social workers were in the other” category, and their salary was $55,290.4 The lowest paid social workers were child, family, and school social workers, who earned an average salary of $42,510. According to Projections Central, the long-term outlook for social work jobs in Iowa is favorable. This is especially true for healthcare social workers, whose numbers will grow by nearly 21% by 2022.3 Mental health and substance abuse social workers positions will also increase by an anticipated 20% by 2022.3

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers3,590$42,510
Healthcare Social Workers1,480$48,540
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers900$41,640
Social Workers, All Other430$55,290

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.

Social Work Associations in Iowa

  • National Association of Social Workers, Iowa Chapter – This organization is the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. The Iowa chapter offers clinical workshops, information on continuing education and assistance with exam preparation for the ASWB.
  • The Iowa School Social Workers’ Association (ISSWA)– The ISSWA is an organization for social workers working in education agencies and school districts. They offer assistance with obtaining continuing education credits and provide a newsletter and newsworthy information.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can individuals who received their social work degree in another country get their Iowa social work license?

Answer: Yes, if they can provide proof of the equivalency of their education to a social work degree in the United States. Acceptable proof may be obtained from the Credentials Evaluation Service at the International Education Research Foundations, Inc.. Another proof of credentialing option is to receive a certificate of equivalency from the CSWE. The prospective applicant must also provide a notarized copy of the diploma or certificate in social work from the country where the person completed the education. The applicant must pay any fees these organizations may charge.

Question: May a person in the final semester of an MSW program take the ASWB test before graduation?

Answer: Yes, if permission has been granted first by the Iowa Board of Social Work. The person must have the college submit a letter directly to the ASWB stating that the applicant is in the final semester of the program and wishes to take the ASWB examination. The letter should include the student’s expected graduation date. If permission is granted, then the student may take the test. After graduation, the student must have the college submit transcripts directly to the Board as part of the licensing procedure.

Question: If I have received an MSW, may I pay to have the ASWB Registry provide my college transcripts, examination scores, and any licenses from other states sent to the Board?

Answer: Yes, if you have registered with that organization. Applications for this registry are available here.

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey: https://www.bls.gov/cps/
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Iowa: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ia.htm