Virginia Social Work Licensing Requirements
With a population of over 8 million and a social work labor force of over 17,000, Virginia is a good place to find employment in the social work field.1,2 If you have a passion for helping people and are interested in learning more about a career in social work, you will need to understand the various paths for licensure. Continue reading to learn more about the educational paths social workers in Virginia must take and the types of licenses available to social workers.
The Virginia Board of Social Work (the Board) regulates and sets standards for licensed social workers in Virginia. Below is an overview of how to become a social worker based on the Virginia Board regulations.
How to Become a Social Worker in Virginia
There are two social work licenses in Virginia: Licensed Social Worker (LSW) and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). To become an LSW, individuals must have either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Although individuals holding a master’s degree in social work can apply for an LSW license immediately after graduating, individuals with a bachelor’s degree must complete supervised post-degree experience to be eligible for licensure. To become an LCSW in Virginia, an individual must hold a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program and complete a certain amount of supervised work before becoming licensed.
Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)
In Virginia, 14 colleges and universities offer bachelor’s in social work (BSW) programs accredited by the CSWE. As a social work major, students will usually enroll in courses related to policies of the social work profession, diversity and social problems, human growth and development, and understanding human behavior. Most CSWE-accredited schools will require a practicum that allows students to gain hands-on experience working with social work agencies. After receiving their BSW, a prospective licensee may practice as an entry-level social worker under the supervision of a licensed social worker while earning the supervised hours required to become a bachelor’s-level LSW in Virginia.
Master of Social Work (MSW)
Master’s-level licensure applicants in Virginia must have earned a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited program. Four universities in the state of Virginia have CSWE-accredited MSW programs. Many schools offer accelerated MSW programs for students who completed their undergraduate degree in social work, which is commonly referred to as having “advanced standing.” This designation allows students with BSWs to complete their coursework in one year instead of the two years it generally takes. MSW candidates will develop a deeper understanding of the profession and have the opportunity to gain more experience than someone who holds a BSW. Additionally, those who hold MSWs may earn higher salaries than those who hold BSWs and are more likely to work in supervisory positions.
Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Virginia
The Virginia Board of Social Work grants Licensed Social Worker (LSW) and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) licenses. In Virginia, a social worker can become a bachelor’s-level LSW, a master’s-level LSW, or an LCSW. Each of these involves a different set of steps to become licensed. Read below to learn more about becoming an LSW or LCSW in Virginia.
Bachelor’s-level Licensed Social Worker (LSW)
To become licensed as a bachelor’s-level LSW by the Virginia Board of Social Work, candidates must have a bachelor’s in social work from a CSWE-accredited school. The following steps outline how to obtain a social work license in Virginia if you hold a BSW.
1. Apply for supervision approval.
Individuals hoping to become LSWs must complete a certain amount of supervised experience before becoming licensed (see Step 2 below). Before you can begin accruing hours to meet this requirement, however, you must register your supervision with the Board. To do this, submit a Registration of Supervision form to the Board. In addition to providing information about your education and training, you will need to have this form signed by the licensed social worker who will be supervising you. The fee for this application is $50 (as of December 2018) and you will also need to request that your school send an official transcript from your BSW to the Board. You cannot begin earning any of your supervised hours before this form has been approved by the Board.
2. Obtain 3,000 hours of supervised social work experience.
Licensure candidates who hold a BSW must complete at least 3,000 hours of post-degree supervised experience before they are eligible to become an LSW. This experience must be completed in no less than two years, but cannot take more than four years unless you gain permission from the Board. During this time, you must receive at least 100 hours of face-to-face supervision from a licensed social worker (LSW or LCSW). If you are working under a licensed bachelor’s-level social worker, they must have held their license for at least three years before they are eligible to supervise. For every 40 hours of work experience, you must receive at least one (but no more than four) hours of supervision.
3. Submit an application to the Board.
The next step to LSW licensure is to submit an online LSW application through the Virginia Department of Health Professions. As of December 2018, the LSW application fee is $115. Note that you can submit this application while you are still completing your supervised work experience if you would like to request permission to take the licensing exam (see Step 4) before earning all of your hours. However, your application will not be considered complete until the Board has received the Verification of Casework Management and Supportive Services form from your supervisor documenting that you have successfully completed all 3,000 hours.
4. Take the ASWB Bachelor’s exam.
All bachelor’s-level LSW candidates must pass the ASWB Bachelor’s exam. After the Board has processed your LSW application, they will give you permission to register for the test, which costs $230 (as of December 2018). The test has a time limit of four hours and consists of 170 multiple-choice questions about bachelor’s-level social work. Your score will be reported to the Board within about two weeks of your test date.
5. Receive your LSW license from the Board.
The Board will issue your LSW license after they have received a complete application (including verification of your supervised experience) and documentation of a passing score on the ASWB Bachelor’s exam. They will mail you a paper copy of your license within 30 days of issuing it. Once your license has been granted, you can begin providing non-clinical social work services in Virginia.
Master’s-level Licensed Social Worker (LSW)
To become licensed as a master’s-level LSW, candidates must have earned a master’s degree from a CSWE-accredited program. Unlike bachelor’s-level candidates, master’s-level LSW applicants do not need to complete any supervised hours before becoming licensed. To obtain an LSW license after completing an MSW, follow the steps below.
1. Submit an application to the Board.
If you have completed a CSWE-accredited MSW, the first step towards receiving an LSW license in Virginia is to submit an online LSW application through the Virginia Department of Health Professions. As of December 2018, the fee for this application is $115. You will also need to request that your school mail an official copy of your MSW transcript to the Board.
2. Take the ASWB Bachelor’s exam.
Once the candidate is approved by the Board, he or she must register to take the ASWB Bachelor’s exam. As of December 2018, the fee for this test is $230. The ASWB Bachelor’s exam is a four-hour, 170-question, multiple-choice test. Your score will be sent to the Board approximately two weeks after your test date.
3. Receive your LSW license from the Board.
After the Board has approved your LSW application and they receive documentation from the ASWB that you have passed the licensing exam, you should be eligible to receive your license. You are able to begin practicing as an LSW in Virginia after the Board notifies you that they have issued your license. The Board will mail a physical copy within 30 days after they have granted your license.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) in Virginia are able to provide clinical social work services; therefore, the requirements for an LCSW license are different than those for an LSW license. LCSW applicants must hold a clinically-oriented MSW from a CSWE-accredited program that included a 600-hour clinical practicum. Once you have earned a qualifying MSW, you can follow the steps below for LCSW licensure.
1. Apply for supervision approval.
All LCSW applicants must complete a certain amount of supervised post-degree experience before becoming licensed (see Step 2). However, you cannot begin accruing these hours until the Board has approved your proposed supervisor and work setting. To do this, submit an online application to register your LCSW supervision through the Virginia Department of Health Professions. As of December 2018, the fee for this application is $50. The Board will notify you when they have approved your application.
2. Earn 3,000 hours of supervised clinical social work experience.
After the Board has approved your supervisor and work setting, you can begin earning the supervised clinical social work hours required for LCSW licensure. You must accrue at least 3,000 hours in no less than two years and no more than four. At least 1,380 of these hours must be spent delivering in-person clinical services to clients. While completing your hours, you must receive at least 100 hours of supervision (and a minimum of one hour for every 40 hours of work) from an LCSW who has at least two years of post-licensure experience and has completed training in supervision. Throughout your supervised experience, you and your supervisor must keep a log tracking all of your hours.
3. Submit an LCSW application to the Board.
After you have completed your supervised experience, the next step is to submit an LCSW application to the Virginia Department of Health Professions. As of December 2018, the fee for this application is $165. Your supervisor will also need to complete the Verification of Clinical Supervision form to document that you successfully completed your supervised experience. Because the Board will already have your transcript from your previous application for supervision approval, you should not need to submit another one.
4. Take the ASWB Clinical exam.
After the Board approves your LCSW application, they will grant permission for you to register for the ASWB Clinical exam, which costs $260 (as of December 2018). This is a 170-question, multiple-choice test, and scores will be sent to the Board within about two weeks of your test date.
5. Receive your LCSW license.
Once the Board has received documentation that you have completed all requirements for licensure, they will issue your LCSW license and you can begin practicing in Virginia. They will also mail you a paper copy of your license within 30 days.
Social Work Licensure by Endorsement in Virginia
Virginia has no formal reciprocity with any other state, but the Board allows licensure by endorsement. When applying for licensure by endorsement, LSWs and LCSWs use their exam scores and experience gained in another state to obtain their social work license in Virginia. In order to qualify for a license by endorsement, candidates must have an active social work license in another state and meet the Virginia Board’s educational and training requirements for LSW or LCSW licensure. To apply for licensure by endorsement, complete the online application for the level of licensure you are seeking. This application will include a checklist of supporting documentation you will need to provide, including verification of your current license and previous ASWB exam scores.
Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information
LSWs and LCSWs must renew their licenses every two years. To be eligible for renewal, LCSWs have to complete 30 hours of continuing education (CE), while LSWs are required to complete 15 CE hours. For both LSW and LCSW licenses, at least two hours must be in the area of social work ethics, regulations, or laws. The Board allows licensees to earn hours from two different categories of activities (see below). As of December 2018, LSW renewal fees are $65 and LCSW renewal fees are $95.
Category I Hours
Category I hours are “formally organized learning activities” offered by an approved sponsor or agency. Any Category I activities applied towards CE requirements must be documented through an official letter from the sponsor or agency verifying the activity. LCSWs must complete at least 20 Category I hours and LSWs must complete at least 10 Category I hours every renewal period. Note that you can complete all of your required CE hours through Category I activities if you choose.
Category II Hours
Category II hours are defined by the Board as individual or “self-study” hours. These may include the publication of an article by an LSW or LCSW, attending staffing events, group study, viewing tapes and listening to recordings, and reading professional articles or books. There is no supervision or sponsorship requirement for Category II hours. LSWs may claim a maximum of five Category II hours while LCSWs may claim a maximum of 10 hours during each renewal period.
The Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers is a good resource for LSWs and LCSWs to find continuing education opportunities.
Virginia Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information
In 2017, 17,340 social workers were employed in the state of Virginia.2 Across all fields of social work in Virginia, the average salary in 2017 was $56,718 per year.2 Approximately half (8,980) of all social workers in Virginia were employed in child, family, and school social work, making it the largest field of employment for social workers in the state.2
Projections suggest that between 2016 and 2026, the total number of social workers employed in Virginia will increase by 23.4%, amounting to an average of 392 new job openings per year.3 Jobs for healthcare social workers in Virginia are expected to grow the fastest over this time period, with an expected increase of 24.9% between 2016 and 2026.3
|Type||Number Employed||Average Annual Salary|
|Child, Family, and School Social Workers||8,980||$51,110|
|Healthcare Social Workers||3,420||$57,240|
|Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers||4,320||$52,080|
|Social Workers, All Other||620||$66,440|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.2
Social Work Associations in Virginia
- National Association of Social Workers, Virginia Chapter: Offers information about regional chapters within the state, upcoming conferences, and continuing education opportunities.
- Virginia Society for Clinical Social Work: Provides information and education for Virginia’s clinical social workers by offering professional development opportunities, advocating for the field, and connecting members.
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 Virginia, supervision is no longer required and you may practice independently in the state.
Question: For the 3,000 hours of work experience required, can I count experience I gained years ago?
Answer: Yes, as long the experience was approved by the Virginia Board of Social Work before you earned the hours and was completed in a period of two to four years.
Question: What kinds of qualifications are required of the person supervising my experience?
Answer: Supervisors for bachelor’s-level LSW applicants must have an LSW or LCSW. If the supervisor is a bachelor’s-level LSW, they must also have three years of post-licensure work experience. Supervisors for LCSW applicants must hold an active LCSW license and have at least two years of post-licensure work experience.
Question: What kind of degree do I need to practice social work in Virginia?
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 Virginia.
1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Virginia: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/va
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Virginia: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_va.htm
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm