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Virginia Social Work Licensing Requirements

With a population of over 8 million and a social work labor force of over 14,000, Virginia is a good place for people 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 the standards for licensed social workers in Virginia. Below is an overview on how to become a social worker based on the Virginia Board regulations.

How to Become a Social Worker in Virginia

Educational Paths

In order to become a licensed social worker in Virginia, individuals must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

In Virginia, 13 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 of children and older adults. Most CSWE schools will require a practicum that allows students to gain hands-on experience working with social work agencies. After receiving their BSW, hopeful licensees may practice as entry-level social workers under the supervision of a licensed social worker.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

Master’s-level students must take 60 hours of coursework from a CSWE-accredited college or university. Only four universities in the state of Virginia have CSWE-accredited MSW programs. Most schools offer an accelerated MSW program for students who completed their undergraduate degree in social work. “Fast track” programs allow students with a BSW to complete their coursework in one year as opposed to 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 only a bachelor’s. Additionally, those who hold an MSW may earn more money over their lifetime than someone who holds only a BSW and are more likely to work in positions of supervision

Individuals with a bachelor’s or master’s degree may register as a social worker in the state of Virginia or register as an associate social worker. As of October 2015, the fee for both designations was $35. Registered and associate social workers must work under the supervision of a licensed social worker.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Virginia

The Virginia State Board administers licenses for social work (LSW) and clinical social work (LCSW). In Virginia, social workers can become a licensed social worker (LSW) – with a baccalaureate degree, a licensed social worker (LSW) – with a master’s degree, and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Depending on your education level and the license you are most interested in obtaining, you will have to meet different requirements. Individuals who hold a BSW are ineligible to become a licensed clinical social worker. Below are the steps to the various licensure options in Virginia.

Licensed Social Worker (LSW) – Baccalaureate

To become licensed by the Virginia Social Work Board, 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.

Individuals hoping to become LSWs must submit an application to the state of Virginia Board approving their supervision. This must be completed before gaining the required experience. Candidates must submit an official transcript from their college or university along with the application fee.* Any experience obtained without Board approval will not be counted toward licensure. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) – Virginia Chapter is a good resource to find supervisors and eligible social work agencies to get the required experience.
Supervisors must:

  • Possess an MSW and have an active social work license, OR
  • Possess a BSW, an active social work license, and three years of post-licensure experience, OR
  • Possess an active license as a clinical social worker

*As of October 2015, the application fee for supervision was $25.

2. Obtain the necessary experience.

Licensure candidates who hold a BSW must have completed no fewer than 3,000 hours of supervised experience after completing their degree. At least 100 hours of face-to-face supervision is required for BSWs seeking licensure. No fewer than one and no more than four hours of face-to-face supervision must be completed for every 40 hours of work experience. All supervision must be completed within two to four years.

3. Submit an application to the state of Virginia.

Individuals hoping to become LSWs must submit an application to the Virginia Social Work Board certifying that they meet the requirements to become licensed. Candidates must include the license fee of $100 and the completed Verification of Casework Management and Supportive Services form (completed by the candidate’s supervisor).

4. Take the ASWB bachelors exam.

BSW licensure candidates must register for and take the bachelor’s level ASWB exam and pay the required fees. As of October 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. In the state of Virginia, LSW candidates can take the exam prior to fulfilling the experience requirement by submitting the LSW application online.

The ASWB bachelors exam is a four-hour test that consists of 170-multiple choice questions; 150 of the 170 questions will be scored. Candidates must answer between 93 to 106 questions correctly to pass. Virginia licensure candidates must wait 90 days to retake the exam if he or she failed. These candidates will have to re-register to take the exam again and pay the full exam fee.

5. Receive your LSW-B license from the Board.

After completing these steps, the Virginia State Board will mail candidates a paper license and certificate and they will be licensed to practice social work in Virginia.

Licensed Social Worker (LSW) – Master’s

To become a licensed social worker with an MSW, candidates must have attended a CSWE-accredited school. Licensed MSWs can practice with no supervision. LSW candidates with a master’s degree must complete the following steps to earn their licensure:

1. Submit an application to the state of Virginia.

LSW candidates must submit an application to the social work board of Virginia and include their official college transcript and application fee.*

*As of October 2015, the application fee was $100.

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 October 2015, the application fee was $25 and the testing fee was $230. Candidates must register for and schedule their exam online or by phone.

The ASWB master’s level exam is a four-hour, 170 question test. Testers must answer between 93 and 106 exam questions correctly to qualify for a passing score. Only after 90 days can a candidate retake the exam if he or she failed. Candidates who fail will have to re-register to take the exam again and pay the full exam fee.

3. Receive your LSW license from the Board.

After completing the steps above, you will become a licensed social worker in the state of Virginia.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) must meet different criteria than LSWs in Virginia. In addition to having an MSW from a CSWE-accredited school, they must take a clinical course of study that includes a 600-hour clinical practicum including diagnostic, prevention, and treatment services. Other steps to becoming an LCSW include:

1. Apply for approved supervision.

Before candidates can earn the work experience required for licensure, they must gain approval by the Virginia Board for their supervision. LCSW supervisors must have an active, Virginia state LCSW plus three years of clinical social work experience since obtaining their license. Supervisors must have either taken a three-credit-hour graduate-level supervision course or have 14 hours of continuing education by a Board-approved provider.

2. Gain the required experience.

Clinical social work licensure candidates must have completed at least 3,000 hours of supervised experience while working full or part-time. Unlike LSWs, LCSW candidates must meet with their clients 15 hours for every 40 hours of experience.

At least 100 hours of face-to-face supervision is required; between one to four hours of face-to-face supervision must be completed for every 40 hours of work experience. All supervision must be completed within two to four years.

3. Submit an application to the state of Virginia.

LSW candidates must submit an application to the social work board of Virginia and include their college transcript and application fee.*

*As of October 2015, the application fee was $100.

4. 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 October 2015, the ASWB Clinical exam fee was $260 and the application fee was $25. The clinical ASWB is a 170-question, multiple-choice that requires between 93 and 106 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.

5. Receive your LCSW license.

After successfully completing the above steps, candidates will be licensed to practice clinical social work in the state of Virginia.

Social Work License Reciprocity in Virginia

Virginia has no formal reciprocity with any other state, but the Board allows licensure by endorsement. By 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. Candidates must:

  • Have their ASWB scores submitted to the Board
  • Mail verification of their experience to the Virginia State Board; experience for licensure endorsement candidates should be an amount equal to the requirements in the state of Virginia
  • Apply for licensure by endorsement and pay the $100 fee*

*As of October 2015.

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 according to the Virginia Social Work Board. To be eligible for renewal, LSWs and LCSWs have to earn 30 hours of continuing education and are required to pay the $110 fee*. Licensed social workers, including LCSWs, can only renew their license 60 days before the license is set to expire. In Virginia, there are two types of continuing education hours, Category I and Category II.

*As of October 2015.

Category I Hours

Category I hours are “formally organized learning activities” observed and recorded by an approved sponsor or agency. It’s the social worker’s responsibility to supply an official letter from the sponsor or agency (on letterhead) verifying the activity. LCSWs must take at least 20 Category I hours and LSWs must take at least 10 Category I hours every renewal period. Social workers can satisfy the continuing education requirement using all Category I hours.

Category II Hours

Category II hours are defined by the Virginia State 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 ten hours during the renewal period.

The NASW – Virginia Chapter is a good resource for LSWs and LCSWs to find continuing education opportunities.

Virginia Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information

In 2014, the State of Virginia employed 14,370 social workers; that means social work jobs account for four jobs for every 1,000 across all industries in the state.2 Social workers in Virginia earn an average salary of $51,905 per year.2 Just over 8,000 social workers are employed in child, family, and school social work; this is the largest category according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.2

Research shows that by the year 2022, the total number of social workers employed in Virginia will increase by 21%, amounting to an average of 570 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 23% through 2022.3

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers8,050$47,830
Healthcare Social Workers2,370$53,090
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers3,400$47,730
Social Workers, All Other550$58,970

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.2

Social Work Associations in Virginia

  • NASW – Virginia Chapter – The Virginia chapter of the NASW 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 State Board and was acquired within two to four years of your application.

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

Answer: Supervisors must have an MSW and LSW; OR a BSW, an LSW, and three years of post-licensure experience; OR an LCSW.

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.

References:
1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Virginia: https://www.dhp.virginia.gov/social/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014 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