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Massachusetts Social Work License Requirements

The New England state of Massachusetts is the 14th-largest state in the US and has a population of over 6.7 million.1 The state holds the title as the fifth-largest employer of mental health and substance abuse social workers, and it’s the third largest employer of healthcare social workers in the country.2 If you are interested in becoming a social worker in Massachusetts, you will need to understand the state regulations and licensure options as early in your career as possible. Below you will find detailed information on the requirements needed to become a licensed social worker in Massachusetts.

The first thing to know is which governmental agency regulates and sets the standards for the social work industry in the state. The Board of Registration of Social Workers (the Board) maintains the statutes and regulations for social workers in Massachusetts and handles all licensing, renewals, suspensions, and revocations of social worker licenses in the state.

How to Become a Social Worker in Massachusetts

Educational Paths

Social work professions in every state have varying educational requirements for the licenses available. In Massachusetts, you can take several educational paths to become a licensed social worker. It should be noted that you must be licensed in order to practice social work or to call yourself a “social worker” in the state of Massachusetts. Below is a brief description of the three educational paths available to aspiring social workers in the state.

Associate of Social Work (ASW)

At a minimum, aspiring social workers in Massachusetts must have either an associate degree in any subject or at least 60 college credit hours in the fields of social work, psychology, counseling, or other human services field from a college or university. Most associate degrees take about two years to complete. Individuals who hold an associate degree focusing on social work can typically apply for social service assistant jobs, case management, community outreach positions, and they make work in preventative services. Possessing an associate degree will make you eligible to become a licensed social work associate (LSWA).

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

The next level of education available to future social work licensees is a bachelor’s in social work (BSW). To qualify for licensure by the Board, all baccalaureate degrees in social work must be accredited by the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE). In Massachusetts, 11 colleges have CSWE undergraduate programs in social work; two colleges are located in the state’s largest city– Boston. Most BSW programs take about four years to complete, and include coursework that provides an overview of social work, including clinical practice, community empowerment, social welfare policy, and program development. Individuals who hold a BSW may become LSWAs or licensed social workers (LSWs).

Master of Social Work (MSW)

The highest degree necessary to become eligible for all licenses in Massachusetts, and considered the terminal degree in the field, is a master’s degree from a CSWE-accredited school. If you obtained a BSW, you may be eligible for advanced standing in most MSW programs, decreasing the length of time to needed to complete the master’s program from two years to one year. MSW programs involve a deeper level of understanding of the social work field, policies, research, and intervention strategies. MSW students will be exposed to regular fieldwork that will enable them to gain real-world experience in different areas of social work. Generally, the higher the education level of the social worker, the higher the lifetime earning will be, making it financially advantageous to continue your education and obtain an MSW. MSWs in the state of Massachusetts are eligible to become LCSWs and LICSWs.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Massachusetts

The Board offers four licenses to social workers: licensed social worker associate (LSWA), licensed social worker (LSW), licensed certified social worker (LCSW), and licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW). Each license has specific requirements the social worker must meet. All social work licensing applications are processed by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). The below details the stipulations for social work licenses in Massachusetts.

Licensed Social Worker Associate (LSWA)

The requirements to become an LSWA are the least stringent of all the licenses administered by the Board, but this position allows a licensee to gain meaningful work experience and hold the title of social worker. LSWA candidates must possess either a bachelor’s degree in any field, an associate degree AND a minimum 60 credit hours from a college or university, OR 1,000 hours in social work theory and methods courses approved by the Massachusetts Registration Board. In addition to meeting the educational requirements, LSWA candidates must:

  • Acquire four years of documented experience*.
  • Complete the social work application for LSWAs and include a copy of an official transcript (in a sealed envelop), along with the application fee of $173**.
  • Provide three professional references who can attest to the applicant’s social work experience and include a waiver of liability for each reference. One reference must be an LCSW or an LICSW.
  • Take and pass the ASWB associate exam.
  • Receive LSWA license from the Board.

*Experience for LSWA candidates must be documented but not supervised.
**As of October 2015.

Licensed Social Worker (LSW)

Massachusetts is unique in that the Board provides a licensure track for individuals based on experience, not just education. To become an LSW, you must first meet the educational requirements. You must:

  • Have a BSW from a CSWE-accredited school, OR
  • Have a bachelor’s degree in another area of study from an accredited four-year institution AND 3,500 hours of work experience in two years or more in a social work agency or healthcare facility or individual not related to the licensee,* OR,
  • Have at least 75 credit-hours (2.5 years minimum) and less than four years of undergraduate education at an accredited college or university AND 8,750 hours of work experience in five years or more in a social work agency, healthcare facility, or individual not related to the licensee* OR
  • Have at least 60 credit hours (two years minimum) of undergraduate college experience from an accredited college or university AND 10,500 hours of work experience in six years or more in a social work agency, healthcare facility, or individual not related to the licensee* OR
  • Have 30 credit hours (one year) of undergraduate college experience from an accredited college or university AND 14,000 hours of work experience in eight years or more in a social work agency, healthcare facility, or individual not related to the licensee* OR
  • Have a high school diploma or GED AND 17,500 hours of work experience in ten years or more in a social work agency, healthcare facility, or individual not related to the licensee*

*Experience must be under the direct supervision of an LICSW or LCSW.

After the education requirements have been met, the following steps can be completed to become an LSW:

1. Apply to the Board.

LSW candidates must complete the social worker application and provide an official transcript to the Board. Candidates must also provide three professional references using forms furnished by the Board. At least one reference should be from the candidate’s most recent social work supervisor. As of October 2015, the application fee was $173.

2. Take the ASWB bachelors exam.

LSW candidates must take the basic licensure exam offered by ASWB to become licensed by the Massachusetts Board. Applicants can register for the ASWB’s bachelor’s level exam and schedule their exam online. The bachelor’s level test is a 170-question, multiple-choice exam. Passing scores will range from 96 to 105 correct answers; only 150 of the 170 questions will be scored. If the applicant fails the exam, he or she must wait 90 days to apply to retake the exam and pay all application and examination fees again. As of October 2015, the cost of the exam was $230.00.

3. Receive your LSW license from the Board.

After completing the steps above and successfully passing the ASWB exam, you will become a licensed social worker in the state of Massachusetts.

Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW)

Individuals hoping to become an LCSW must have at minimum an MSW from a CSWE-accredited college or university. While LCSWs will gain a substantial amount of social work experience as they go through their graduate degree program, LCSWs are not required to show documented hours of experience. After satisfying the education requirement, LCSW candidates must:

1. Apply to the Board.

LCSW candidates must complete the social worker application and submit an official transcript and two professional references using forms provided in the application packet. At least one reference should be from the candidate’s supervisor during his or her second year of field placement. As of October 2015, the application fee for an LCSW was $173.

2. Take and pass the ASWB masters or advanced generalist exam.

LCSW candidates must take the ASWB masters or advanced generalist exam to become licensed by the Board. Applicants can register for and schedule the ASWB’s exam online. The intermediate level test is a four-hour, 170-question, multiple-choice exam with passing scores ranging from 96 to 105 correct questions. Applicants may retake the exam up to three times, waiting 90 days between each attempt. If the applicant hasn’t passed within three attempts, he or she must wait one year before retesting. As of October 2015, the cost of the exam was $230 for the masters exam and $260.00 for the advanced generalist exam.

3. Receive your LCSW license from the Board.

After completing the steps above and successfully passing the ASWB exam, you will become a licensed social worker in the state of Massachusetts.

If your intention is to practice clinical social work or to practice independently in the future, you must obtain an LCSW prior to applying to become a licensed independent clinical social worker.

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)

The highest social work license available in Massachusetts is the independent clinical social worker license; the license allows its holders to practice clinical social work and/or practice independently or without supervision. Candidates must have an MSW or doctorate in social work from a CSWE-accredited school and must be an LCSW, as previously stated. The following are steps for becoming an LICSW:

1. Gain the required experience.

LICSW candidates must have 3,500 hours (in no less than two years) of clinical experience beyond the date they received their LCSW. The Massachusetts Board mandates that candidates have 50 hours of direct supervision each year, totaling 100 hours of supervision.

1. Apply for licensure.

All LICSW candidates must complete and submit the social worker application and submit an official transcript and two professional references using forms provided in the application packet. Supervisors must be LICSWs. As of October 2015, the application fee for an LCSW was $173.

2. Take and pass the ASWB clinical exam.

LICSW candidates must take the ASWB clinical exam; applicants can register for and schedule the ASWB exam online*. The clinical test will take about four hours to complete. It’s a 170-question, multiple-choice exam with passing scores ranging from 96 to 105 correct questions. If an applicant fails, he or she must wait 90 days before attempting the exam again. The ASWB website provides study guides and tips to increase the success of examinees. Additionally, the National Association of Social Workers- Massachusetts chapter may offer information regarding practice tests and study groups throughout the state.

*As of October 2015, the cost of the exam was $260.00.

3. Receive your LICSW license from the Board.

After completing the steps above and successfully passing the ASWB exam, you will hold the most prestigious social work license available from the Registration Board.

Social Work License Reciprocity in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Registration Board offers licensure by reciprocity to any applicant who has received a social work license in another state. Reciprocity allows social workers from other states to become licensed without retaking the exam and (re)fulfilling the experience requirements. Social workers can apply for licensure by reciprocity if their educational level and experience is equivalent to any of the four licenses that the Massachusetts Board offers. Application fees for license by reciprocity vary based on the license.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

All licensed social workers in Massachusetts are required to renew their license every two years. As a prerequisite for renewal, licensed social workers must complete a certain number of continuing education hours:

  • LSWAs must complete at least 10 hours of continuing education
  • LSWs must complete 15 hours of continuing education
  • LCSWs must complete 20 hours of continuing education
  • LICSWs must complete 30 hours of continuing education

Renewal fees vary based on the license. Refer to the Massachusetts Board of Registration website for fee information.

Massachusetts Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information

The state of Massachusetts employs 25,670 social workers who earn an average salary of $55,335.2 Social worker jobs in Massachusetts are expected to increase by 16.6% between 2015 and 2022, with the largest growth potential in healthcare social worker jobs.3 In Massachusetts’ largest city, Boston, most of the social workers are employed in child, family, and school social work (6,430).4

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers8,660$53,090
Healthcare Social Workers11,090$57,740
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers5,170$47,520
Social Workers, All Other750$62,990

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.2

Social Work Associations in Massachusetts

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can I begin practicing independently once I become registered as a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)?

Answer: Yes, once you have met the licensure requirements for an LICSW at stated above, you may begin practicing without supervision, or independently.

Question: For the 3,500 hours of work experience required for an LICSW, can I count experience I gained years ago?

Answer: Yes, as long as the work experience was acquired AFTER you received your LCSW.

Question: What kinds of qualifications are required of the person supervising my experience?

Answer: The Massachusetts Registration Board requires that supervisors must be LCSWs or LICSWs. Only LICSWs can supervise LICSW candidates’ experience.

Question: What kind of degree do I need to practice social work in Massachusetts?

Answer: To be eligible for all social work licenses in Massachusetts, you must hold at least an MSW from a CSWE accredited school. There are licensure options in the state for individuals who hold an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree in social work (plus supervised experience), and even a high school diploma (plus supervised experience).

References:
1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Massachusetts: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/RHI505210/25
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Massachusetts: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ma.htm
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Boston, Massachusetts: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_71650.htm