North Carolina Social Work Licensing Requirements

North Carolina is an ideal state for aspiring social workers due to its dense population and vast array of social work training programs. North Carolina is the tenth most populous state in the US and is home to 25 universities offering social work programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). This creates a favorable climate for those who want to become a social worker and who have a desire to help families, individuals, or groups. In North Carolina, no one may use the term “social worker” or any of its variants without first having board certification or licensure. The North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board (NCSWCLB or the Board) is the acting regulatory authority. Its duty is to implement and oversee the requirements of the North Carolina Social Worker Certification and Licensure Act.

How to Become a Social Worker in North Carolina

Educational Paths

In North Carolina, those interested in pursuing a career as a social worker are required to complete coursework from an undergraduate school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). They are also required to take an examination. This applies to both certification and licensing. In addition, depending upon the type of license, a certain amount of field experience may also be required.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

A BSW is the minimum acceptable degree required to become a certified social worker (CSW) in the state of North Carolina. A BSW is recognized as the entry level degree for practice in both public and private social agencies, as well as graduate training should a student decide to take that route. The BSW is a four-year baccalaureate program that consists of coursework in topics such as human behavior and development, family dynamics, the use and development of community resources, social welfare policy and services, social work values, social work research, human and cultural diversity, ethics, skills, and knowledge base. Because it is an accredited social work program, there will also be substantial fieldwork as a means to utilize learned classroom techniques in a real world environment. Upon completion of the BSW program, and after obtaining the required North Carolina state certification, the graduate will be eligible to begin work as a CSW, as no further training or experience is necessary. Some common jobs for a CSW include child welfare counselor, case manager, residential counselor, and social worker.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

In the state of North Carolina, an MSW is the minimum educational degree required for any position higher than that of a CSW. A bachelor’s degree in any field is necessary to obtain an MSW; however, if a BSW has already been completed, students may be eligible for an “advanced standing” status, which will allow them to complete the program in an expedited term of one year rather than two. All of the CSWE accredited university programs follow a similar curriculum that balances classroom studies with fieldwork. However, each university will offer their own unique options for available electives, field education placement opportunities, and area focus.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in North Carolina

There are several types of social worker licenses granted to those in the field in the state of North Carolina. Certified social workers (CSW), certified master social workers (CMSW), licensed clinical social worker associates (LCSWA), licensed clinical social workers (LCSW), and certified social work managers (CSWM) all must follow certain steps before practicing in the state. Keep reading below to find out how to become certified and licensed.

Certified Social Worker (CSW)

A bachelor’s in social work is required to become a CSW in North Carolina. Typical jobs for a certified social worker include child welfare counselor, case manager, residential counselor, and social worker. After receiving a BSW, the following steps are required in order to become certified.

1. Apply to the NCSWCLB for certification.

The application packet should be completed and returned to the Board. Once the Board has reviewed and approved the application, they will send notice of approval to take the exam.

2. Complete the NCSWCLB exam request form.

Upon receipt of the exam request form and associated fees ($40.00 as of September 2015), the Board will send instructions to register for the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam.

3. Take the ASWB bachelors exam.

Consult the ASWB Examination Candidate Handbook for more information about the exam. When registering with the ASWB, an authorization and list of testing centers will be sent to the applicant. Select the testing center and schedule a date and time to take the exam with the center. A Pass/Fail report will be provided at the completion of the exam. Should an applicant fail the exam, it may be retaken after 90 days, provided continued approval is obtained and a second examination fee is paid.

4. Receive CSW license from the Board.

Upon completion of the above steps, and receiving certification, the applicant becomes eligible to seek work as a certified social worker. No additional education or experience requirements are necessary.

Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW)

The steps for becoming a CMSW in North Carolina are nearly identical to becoming a CSW. The major difference is in the educational requirements. A master of social work (MSW), doctor of social work (DSW), or PhD in social work is required prior to applying for certification. There is no work experience requirement to become a CMSW in North Carolina. Typically, those with this certification seek employment as a medical social worker, school social worker, or social work supervisor.

  1. Apply to the NCSWCLB for certification.
  2. Complete the NCSWCLB exam request form.
  3. Take and pass the ASWB masters exam or the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) exam.
  4. Receive CMSW license from the Board.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Associate (LCSWA)

In North Carolina, licensing as a clinical social worker by the NCSWB is required to practice clinical social work. If you are lacking in any of the criteria to be licensed as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), but you need work experience in a clinical social work practice, then you must obtain a license at the associate level, or LCSWA. The LCSWA license is issued for two years and may be renewed if necessary. The LCSWA can practice only under appropriate clinical supervision until an LCSW license is acquired. After obtaining a master of social work (MSW), doctor of social work (DSW), or PhD in social work from a CSWE-accredited school, the following steps are required:

1. Notify the Board.

All those seeking an LCSWA license must notify the Board in writing using the appropriate application form.

2. Secure clinical supervision and emergency clinical consultation.

Appropriate clinical supervision must be in place before starting practice. Immediate access to emergency clinical consultation must also be in place prior to the start of practice. A written emergency crisis plan must be submitted to the Board.

3. Take the ASWB clinical exam.

There is no testing required to receive the initial license. However, upon license issue, LCSWA applicants are approved to take the ASWB clinical level exam. They must pass the exam within the first two years of receiving their associate license. If an applicant fails the exam, it can be taken again after a 90-day waiting period and payment to the Board of another exam processing fee.

4. Fulfill the continuing education (CE) requirement if applying for renewal.

Continuing education is required to apply for the LCSW license and for renewal of the LCSWA license. CE requirements are 40 clock hours over a two-year period of time.

5. Report practice and supervision to the Board.

Every six months, practice and supervision is to be reported by the licensee to the Board using the LCSWA Six-Month Review Form. It is up to you, the licensee, to submit the report on time. Failure to report is a violation of the law.

6. Receive LCSWA license from the Board.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

This level of licensing is required for clinical practice in North Carolina. Before applying to be an LCSW in North Carolina, a master of social work (MSW), doctor of social work (DSW), or PhD in social work from a CSWE-accredited school is required.

1. Gain the required experience.

It is required that a minimum of 3,000 hours of post-master’s degree paid clinical employment be completed. This can be accumulated in no fewer than two years but in no more than six years. A minimum of 100 hours of clinical supervision is also required. Supervision must be two years since the date of the first supervised practice.

2. Provide documentation of continuing education.

Documentation of required continuing education (40 hours within the two-year licensing period) should be sent to the Board.

3. Apply to the NCSWCLB for certification.

Complete the short-form application and the application packet and submit them to the Board. The Board will review and approve your application.

4. Take the ASWB clinical exam.

For more information about the ASWB exam, find the ASWB Examination Candidate Handbook here. The exam may be taken again after 90 days if the applicant fails.

5. Receive LCSW license from the Board.

Upon satisfactory completion of all LCSW requirements, you may complete and submit the application packet. Be sure to include your final six-month review and the application fee.

Certified Social Worker Manager (CSWM)

A bachelor’s degree in social work, masters of social work (MSW), doctor of social work (DSW), or PhD in social work from a CSWE-accredited school is required to become a CSWM. After that has been obtained, you must:

1. Gain the required experience.

It is required that 3,000 hours of post-degree paid employment be completed. This can be accumulated in no fewer than two years but in no more than six years. Then, the prospective CSWM must be supervised on a regular basis by a social work administrator for a minimum of 100 hours (a maximum of 50 hours can be via group supervision). The administrator must be certified by the board and have a minimum of five years administration experience in a mental health or social work setting.

2. Apply to the NCSWCLB for certification.

Complete the application packet that can be found online and submit it for the Board to review and approve.

3. Complete the NCSWCLB exam request form.

The exam request form can be found on the NCSW Board’s website. The fee was $40.00 as of September 2015.

4. Take the ASWB advanced generalist exam.

Register for the advanced generalist exam here. The fee was $260 as of September 2015.

5. Receive CSWM license from the Board.

Military Occupational Specialties and Training Credit

Military and veteran applicants may acquire credit for experience that has been gained through their occupational specialty while in the military. This experience must be documented via the DD-2586 and relevant board verification forms. It must be determined to be substantially equal to that required by the North Carolina Administrative Code.

Social Work License Reciprocity in North Carolina

While the Board does not offer automatic licensure for social work license holders from other states, they do review each application on a case-by-case basis and may offer licensure and certification by comity for licensees of other states determined to have licensing standards that are in line with North Carolina’s.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

Licensed social workers in the state of North Carolina are required to renew their licenses every two years, with licenses expiring on June 30 of the second year after they were issued. (LCSWA licenses expire two years after the issuance.) A total of 40 clock hours of continuing education (CE) must be accumulated during each renewal period, except for first-time licensees whose initial term is less than two years, who must complete a minimum of 30 CE hours during that time. Four hours of the total CE hours must be focused on ethics. For more information on renewing your license in North Carolina, read the NCSWCLB Certification/Licensure Renewal Information document.

North Carolina Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information

North Carolina social workers earn an average salary of $46,315, which is lower than the national average of $50,983.4 Social workers in the state, though, will find a lower cost of living than much of the United States, at 5% lower than average.5 Approximately 17,950 social workers were reported employed in the state in May 2014, with the highest concentration being child, family, and school social workers (9,680). Projections Central predicts a positive growth Below is the average range of salaries for social workers (by title) in the state of North Carolina, as provided by The Bureau of Labor Statistics (effective May 2014).

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers9,680$44,610
Healthcare Social Workers3,660$48,670
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers3,530$44,720
Social Workers, All Other1,080$47,260

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.2

Social Work Associations in North Carolina

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Does North Carolina have comity or reciprocity with other states?

Answer: The NCSWCLB does offer licensure by comity. This requires verification that the credential requirements (including examination) in the other jurisdiction are substantially equal to those of North Carolina. To be eligible, an applicant must possess the current equivalent certificate/license/registration under the other jurisdiction when they apply in North Carolina.

Question: In order to be certified through the North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board, must I be a member of the NASW?

Answer: No. The NCSWCLB is the regulatory board that governs social work practices in North Carolina, and the NASW is a professional organization.

Question: Are there preparatory courses I can take to prepare for the ASWB exam?

Answer: Yes. There are many prep courses available to practitioners, one of which is offered by the North Carolina chapter of NASW. Visit their website for more details on these prep courses.

Question: How frequently are the ASWB exams held?

Answer: Currently, the exams are given five to six days a week at Pearson VUE Professional Centers, which are located throughout the state.

Question: What type of questions can I expect on the exam?

Answer: The exam itself is focused only on social work practice. The nature of the questions depends upon the exam level (BSW, MSW, advanced generalist, or clinical).

Question: How long can I expect the application process to take, from beginning to end?

Answer: Generally speaking, from the time a completed application packet (containing all required documentation) is received, it should take between two and four weeks.

Question: Who should I ask to provide the required references for my application packet?

Answer: One of your provided references must be from at least one of your supervisors. The other two reference letters must be from colleagues with whom you worked in a professional capacity, preferably those who are familiar with your clinical practice studies.

1. NCSW Board: http://ncswboard.org/page/continuing-education-information.html
2. National Association of Social Workers-NC: https://www.naswnc.org/
3. Association of Social Work Boards: https://www.aswb.org/
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, North Carolina: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nc.htm
5. Sperling’s Best Places, North Carolina: https://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/state/north_carolina