Pennsylvania Social Work Licensing Requirements

Pennsylvania is the fifth most populous state in the US, with a population of over 12 million.1 There are many positions for social workers in Pennsylvania, which has the third-highest numbers of mental health and substance abuse social workers and child, family, and school social workers in the US.2,3 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 Pennsylvania 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 licensed social workers 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 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)

36 colleges in Pennsylvania have accredited bachelor’s in social work (BSW) programs. Typical courses in such programs include 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)

290 schools in the US offer master’s of social work (MSW) programs accredited by the CSWE, 12 of which are located in Pennsylvania. 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 typically gain a deeper understanding of social work practice and interventions and generally earn more money over the span of their careers. An MSW also allows a person to supervise other social workers, perform research, and teach at accredited universities. Most importantly for Pennsylvania (and many other states), social workers with an MSW can apply for the Licensed Social Worker (LSW) or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) credentials.

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 in Pennsylvania. However, a master’s degree is sufficient for licensure in the state. A PhD in social work in Pennsylvania may give you more job opportunities in academia. 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 as a social worker 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. Individuals cannot call themselves a “social worker” until one of these licenses is obtained. The Board offers three levels of licensure for practicing social workers: Provisional Social Worker, Licensed Social Worker (LSW), and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). The steps to earn each of these licenses are detailed below.

Provisional Social Worker (PSW)

Individuals who possess a BSW from a CSWE-accredited college or university who are pursuing an MSW 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 Bachelor’s exam.
  3. Receive your PSW license from the Board.

As of December 2018, the application and examination fees were $25 and $230, respectively. The ASWB Bachelor’s exam has 170-multiple choice questions; PSW candidates must answer 105 questions, or 70%, correctly.

PSWs must work under the supervision of a 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 Master’s exam.

Once the candidate is approved by the state, he or she must register to take the ASWB Master’s exam and pay the required fees. As of December 2018, 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 Master’s exam is a four-hour test that consists of 170-multiple choice questions and only 150 of the 170 will be scored. The Board will contact candidates 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. Candidates who do not pass will have to re-register to take the exam again and pay the full exam fee.

3. Receive your LSW license from the Board.

Once candidates pass the master’s-level ASWB exam and the Board has received their scores, they become LSWs in the state of Pennsylvania and are issued a license to practice.

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 after graduating from a master’s or doctoral program to meet the experience requirements to apply for their LCSW. In addition to meeting the Pennsylvania Board qualifications for licensure, LCSW candidates must have an MSW or DSW 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 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 December 2018, the exam fee was $260 and the application fee was $25. The clinical exam consists of 170 multiple choice questions and 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.

After the Board has received your passing score on the ASWB Clinical exam, they will issue your LCSW license.

Social Work License Reciprocity in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has no formal reciprocity for social work licensing 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, and ongoing practice while 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 and pay a fee of $95. 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 the Pennsylvania Code 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 was home to 36,870 social workers in 2017, during which time the average annual salary for social workers was $48,625.4 The highest number of social workers in the state is in the category of child, family, and school social workers (with 19,440 employed), followed by 8,640 mental health and substance abuse social workers.4

It is projected that between 2016 and 2026, the total number of social workers employed in Pennsylvania will increase by 10.8%, amounting to an average of 433 new jobs added per year.5 Healthcare social workers in the state are expected to grow the fastest over this time period, with an expected increase of 14.4% through 2026.5 Overall, jobs for social workers are growing; the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that between 2016 and 2026, the number of social work jobs will increase by 16% nationally.6

Type Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers 19,440 $42,860
Healthcare Social Workers 7,590 $51,530
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 8,640 $36,800
Social Workers, All Other 1,200 $63,310

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.4

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 and receive the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) credential 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: For the 3,000 required hours of work experience, you can only count experience earned after you completed your master’s degree.

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 licensed 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 State Population Totals and Components of Change, 2010-2017https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/pa
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2017, Social Workers, Child, Family, and School Social Workers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211021.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2017, Social Workers, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211023.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Pennsylvania: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_pa.htm
5. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Social Workers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm