Pennsylvania Social Work Licensing Requirements

Pennsylvania is the sixth most populous state in the US with a population of over 12 million.1 The largest social worker labor force is the third largest in the US, employing over 35,000 social workers.2 If social work is a career that interests you, it will be important to understand the various educational paths you may take that can lead to licensure.

The State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors (the Board) regulates the standards for social workers, both licensed and unlicensed, in the state of Pennsylvania. Below is an overview on how to become a social worker in Pennsylvania based on regulations set forth by the Board.

How to Become a Social Worker in Pennsylvania

Educational Paths

Individuals hoping to become a licensed social worker in Pennsylvania must obtain at least a master’s degree in social work, but those with a bachelor’s degree in social work can also practice in the field, just in supervised, non-licensed roles. A provisional license may be available for those with a bachelor’s degree if they are enrolled in a master’s degree program and have obtained three years of experience in the field. Keep reading to learn the steps to obtaining a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work from a college or university in Pennsylvania accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

33 colleges in Pennsylvania have accredited bachelor’s in social work (BSW) programs with typical courses like children and older adult services human behavior, policy, practice, and social welfare. Students will combine their studies with research and complete field practicums in actual social work agencies. After receiving their BSW, potential licensees may enter the field in an entry-level position under the supervision of a licensed social worker. After they have obtained three years of experience, they may apply for a provisional license and continue with their education by completing a master’s degree program at an accredited college or university.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

238 schools in the US offer master’s of social work (MSW) programs accredited by the CSWE, 11 of which are located in Pennsylvania. Students will take 60 hours of semester coursework and field practices as an MSW candidate. Many colleges offer accelerated MSW programs for students who have a BSW, allowing them to complete their coursework in one year instead of the average two. Social workers with an MSW gain more experience than someone who holds a bachelor’s and generally earns more money over the life of their career. An MSW also allows a person to be able to supervise other social workers, perform research and teach at accredited universities. Most importantly for Pennsylvania, social workers with an MSW can apply to be licensed as an LSW or LCSW.

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

Some social workers may choose to go on to obtain the terminal degree in the field, which is a doctoral degree in social work. With a DSW or PhD in social work, you can apply to be an LSW or an LCSW. Although a master’s degree is required for licensure, a PhD in social work in Pennsylvania may give you more job opportunities. Many doctoral students go on to focus their careers on research, working in colleges and universities and teaching social work to undergraduate and graduate students. PhD program coursework may include quantitative research methods, data analysis, research practicum, and theory.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Pennsylvania

To be able to practice social work in the state of Pennsylvania, candidates must first become licensed in the state by following the required steps mandated by the Board after they receive their BSW or MSW. Graduates cannot even call themselves a “social worker” until one of these licenses is obtained. The Board offers several different levels for practicing social workers–a provisional social worker, a licensed social worker (LSW), and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)–the paths to which are detailed below.

Provisional Social Worker (PSW)

Individuals who possess a BSW from a CSWE-accredited college or university are eligible to apply for a provisional license to practice social work. In addition to a BSW, candidates must also have three years of full-time experience working under the supervision of a master’s level social worker. To become a social worker with a provisional license (PSW), candidates must:

  1. Submit an application to the state of Pennsylvania, including proof of enrollment in a CSWE-accredited master’s degree program.
  2. Take the ASWB bachelors exam.
  3. Recieve your PSW license from the Board.

As of September 2015, the application and examination fees were $25 and $230 respectively. The bachelor’s level ASWB exam has 170-multiple choice questions; PSW candidates must answer 105 questions, or 70%, correctly.

PSWs must work under the supervision of licensed social worker. Provisional licenses have a two-year duration and can be held a maximum of three times. Should the PSW discontinue his or her MSW program, the PSW license will be surrendered.

Licensed Social Worker (LSW)

With an MSW or a doctoral degree in social work (DSW), you can apply to become a licensed social worker in the state of Pennsylvania.

1. Submit an application to the state of Pennsylvania.

Licensure candidates must submit an application to the state of Pennsylvania certifying that they meet the requirements of an LSW.

2. Take the ASWB masters exam.

Once the candidate is approved by the state, he or she must register to take the master’s level ASWB exam and pay the required fees. As of September 2015, the application fee was $25 and the testing fee was $230. Candidates must register for an exam through ASWB. After receiving confirmation from ASWB, candidates can schedule their exam online or by phone.

The ASWB masters exam is a 4-hour test that consists of 170-multiple choice questions and only 150 of the 170 will be scored. The Board will contact all candidates in Pennsylvania to inform them of their scores– 105 correct answers (70%) are required to pass. Only after 90 days can a candidate retake the exam if he or she failed. Unfortunately, these candidates will have to re-register to take the exam again and pay the full exam fee.

Once candidates pass the master’s level ASWB exam, they become LSWs in the state of Pennsylvania.

3. Receive your LSW license from the Board.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) have to meet a different set of requirements than LSWs; most importantly, they have to prove their job experience working in certain environments. Candidates have six years to meet the requirements to apply for their LCSW. In addition to meeting the Pennsylvania Board qualifications for licensure, LCSW candidates must have an MSW from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-approved school and have obtained an LSW. Individuals who hold a provisional LSW are ineligible to become an LCSW.

1. Accrue at least 3,000 hours of full-time experience under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker.

Candidates have to work 3,000 hours in no less than two years, crediting at least 500 but no more than 1,800 hours of their experience per year towards their LCSW. Of the 3,000 hours of work experience, an LCSW candidate is required to obtain, 1,500 hours must be in certain topic areas including assessment, consultation, family therapy, group therapy, psychotherapy, and other psychosocial-therapeutic interventions.

LCSW candidates must meet with an approved clinical supervisor for two hours for every 40 hours of work experience they credit towards their LCSW.

2. Take the ASWB clinical exam.

After fulfilling the LCSW requirements, candidates must register for the ASWB clinical exam using the same steps outlined for the LSW exam. As of September 2015, the exam fee was $260 and the application fee was $25. The clinical exam is a 170-question, multiple-choice that requires 105 (70%) correct answers for a passing score.

Candidates who fail the exam must wait 90 days to reapply and will have to pay the application and examination fee again.

3. Receive your LCSW license from the Board.

Social Work License Reciprocity in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has no formal reciprocity with any other state. If an LSW or LCSW was not originally licensed in Pennsylvania, he or will have to apply for a state license by:

  • Meeting all of the standard qualifications for licensure as stated above
  • Providing a letter from the candidate’s home jurisdiction Board acknowledging his or her license, certification, ongoing practice and or reporting any violations
  • Proving that the ASWB exam taken in his or her home jurisdiction aligns with the exam offered in the state of Pennsylvania and the score received would indicate a passing score in Pennsylvania

If a candidate is registered on the ASWB Social Work Registry, ASWB will provide their exam score to any social work board at no additional cost.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

LSWs and LCSWs must renew their licenses every two years. To be eligible for renewal, LSWs and LCSWs have to earn 30 hours of continuing education during that time period. Three of the 30 hours need to be in ethics-related subjects. Check here for a list of preapproved providers of continuing education. Up to 20 hours can be completed online or via home-study.

Pennsylvania Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information

Pennsylvania employed 35,440 social workers in 2014, and they earned an average annual salary of $46,248 in 2014.2 The highest number of social workers in the state is in the category of child, family, and school social workers (with 16,340 employed), followed closely by the 10,110 mental health and substance abuse social workers in Pennsylvania.2

It is projected that by the year 2022, the total number of social workers employed in Pennsylvania will increase by 13.9%, amounting to an average of 325 job openings per year.3 Healthcare social workers in the state are expected to grow the fastest over this time period, with an expected increase of 23% through 2022.3 Overall, jobs for social workers are growing; BLS projects that by 2022, the number of social work jobs will increase by 19% nationally.4

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers16,340$39,850
Healthcare Social Workers7,790$47,860
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers10,110$37,940
Social Workers, All Other1,020$59,940

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.2

Social Work Associations in Pennsylvania

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can I begin practicing independently once I become registered as an Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)?

Answer: Yes, once you complete the process outlined above to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Pennsylvania, you are eligible to practice without any supervision.

Question: For the 3,000 hours of work experience required, can I count experience I gained years ago?

Answer: Yes, as long as you have worked for at least two years or more.

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

Answer: Supervisors must be an LCSW and have five years of experience as a clinical social worker (within the last 10 years), or be an LSW with a master’s or doctorate in a field related to social work, and have five years of experience (within the last 10 years).

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

Answer: Social workers need a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) or a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education to practice social work in Pennsylvania.

1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Pennsylvania: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/pa
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Pennsylvania: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_pa.htm
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Social Workers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm