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Washington DC Social Work License Requirements

Washington DC, the nation’s capital, is home to just over 700,000 people and approximately 3,400 social workers.1,2 If you plan to become a social worker in DC, you will need to understand the licensure and practice rules enforced by the Board of Social Work. On this page, you will find information about DC’s social work licenses, educational paths for social workers, and employment statistics for social workers in the District.

How to Become a Social Worker in Washington DC

Educational Paths

To practice social work in DC, you must hold one of the Board’s social work licenses. The minimum educational requirement for a DC social work license is a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW). However, to practice clinical social work or to practice independently, you will need a master’s degree in social work (MSW). Continue reading to learn about the differences between these two degrees.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the minimum educational requirement for a DC social work license. As of March 2019, there were three CSWE-accredited BSW programs in DC. BSW programs expose students to professional social work practice through classroom learning and hands-on experience. Courses in human behavior and the social environment, social welfare policy, research, and social work practice are typical requirements in BSW programs. In Washington DC, an individual with a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program can apply for the Licensed Social Work Associate (LSWA) license.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

In DC, you will need a master’s in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited program to become licensed as a Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW), Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW), or Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW). As of March 2019, there were three CSWE-accredited MSW programs in DC. Accredited MSW programs share a common core curriculum, but each school may offer different electives or options for specializing in a particular area. MSW programs usually take two years to complete; however, students who enter with a BSW are often eligible for “advanced standing,” which may allow them to complete the program in as little as one year. With an MSW, you will have the terminal degree for practicing social work in DC, meaning you will have the highest level of education necessary to perform most social work jobs in the District.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Washington DC

Social workers in Washington DC are required to hold a license in order to practice. The Board issues four social work licenses: Licensed Social Work Associate (LSWA), Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW), Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW), and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW). LSWAs and LGSWs must work under supervision, while LISWs and LICSWs are able to practice social work independently. The sections below provide more details about the four different social work licensure options in DC.

Licensed Social Work Associate (LSWA)

The entry-level social work license offered by the Board is the Licensed Social Work Associate (LSWA). LSWAs can practice general social work under the supervision of an LISW or LCSW. You can begin the application process during the final semester of your BSW program or at any time after you graduate. The steps to obtaining an LSWA license are described below.

1. Complete the LSWA application.

LSWA candidates must first submit a New License Application form to the Board. You must include three character references, two passport-style photos, and the $230 fee (as of March 2019). If you have never completed a criminal background check for DC’s Health Regulation and Licensing Administration (HRLA), you will need to have your fingerprints taken. You should also request that your school send a transcript to the Board. If you are still enrolled in your BSW program, you can submit a letter from your program documenting your expected graduation date. However, the Board will need a copy of your final transcript before they will issue your license.

2. Pass the ASWB Bachelor’s exam.

To earn an LSWA license, you will need to pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Bachelor’s exam. However, you cannot register for the exam until the Board has reviewed your application and informed you that you are eligible to take the test. The $230 exam (as of March 2019) is designed to test knowledge of general social work practice. The ASWB will automatically send your scores to the Board after your test date.

3. Receive your LSWA license.

Once you have completed the steps above, the Board will grant your LSWA license. After that, you can practice general social work in DC under the supervision of an LISW or LICSW.

Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)

Individuals who hold an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program or a doctoral degree in social work can apply for DC’s Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) license. LGSWs can practice both clinical and non-clinical social work under supervision. To earn an LGSW license, you can begin the steps below as early as the final semester of your graduate program.

1. Complete the LGSW application.

Applicants hoping to become an LGSW must begin by submitting the New License Application form to the Board. When you mail it to the Board, you must include three character references, two passport-style photos, and the $230 fee (as of March 2019). You must also have your school submit an official transcript or, if you are still enrolled, a letter stating your expected graduation date. If you have never had a criminal background check conducted by the HRLA, you will also need to have your fingerprints taken.

2. Pass the ASWB Master’s exam.

Once you submit your application and gain Board approval, you may register for the ASWB Master’s exam. The $230 exam (as of March 2019) consists of 170 multiple choice questions covering general master’s-level social work. The ASWB will send your scores to the Board within two weeks of your test date.

3. Receive your LGSW license.

After you have passed the ASWB exam and submitted a complete application (including final transcripts if you did not initially submit them), the Board will issue your LGSW license. Under this license, you can practice non-clinical social work in DC under the supervision of an LISW or LCSW and can practice clinical social work under the supervision of an LCSW.

Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW)

If you are interested in practicing social work independently (without supervision) in DC, one of your licensure options is the Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) credential. LISWs can practice non-clinical social work without supervision. They can also practice clinical social work under supervision if they are working towards an LICSW license. To become an LISW, you must hold an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program or have a doctorate in social work. If you are completing your supervised hours for an LISW license in DC (see Step 1 below), you must already hold an LGSW license. Once you satisfy those requirements, you can follow the steps outlined below to earn an LISW license.

1. Gain the required supervised experience.

LISW candidates must complete 3,000 hours of post-graduate supervised social work experience in a period of no fewer than two and no more than four years. You must be supervised by an LISW or LICSW during this time (or an equivalent in another state if you are completing your experience outside of DC). You will need to receive at least one hour of supervision for every 32 hours of work and a total of 100 hours of in-person supervision.

2. Complete the LISW application.

After you have accrued 3,000 hours of supervised social work practice, you can submit the New License Application formto the Board. With this application, you must submit two passport-style photos, three character reference forms, the Work Experience Form, and the $230 fee (as of March 2019). To document your supervised experience, you must complete the Supervision Calculation Worksheet and your supervisor(s) will need to complete a Supervision Verification Form. If the Board does not already have an official transcript or fingerprints from a previous background check, you should also include those in your application packet.

3. Pass the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam.

LISW candidates must pass the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam to become licensed. This exam tests an applicant’s knowledge of advanced social work practices, methods, and interventions. The exam costs $260 (as of March 2019) and consists of 170 questions. The ASWB will automatically send your scores to the Board after you have taken the test.

4. Receive your LISW license.

After the ASWB notifies the Board that you have passed the Advanced Generalist exam, you will receive your LISW license. After your license has been issued, you can practice advanced non-clinical social work without supervision in DC and can provide supervision for LSWAs and LGSWs. If you plan to pursue an LICSW license, you can also accrue clinical hours under the supervision of an LICSW.

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)

The Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) allows a social worker in DC to provide a full range of clinical and non-clinical social work services without supervision. To earn an LICSW license, you must have an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program or a doctoral degree in social work. Like LISW candidates, individuals pursuing an LICSW license must complete a certain amount of supervised experience before becoming licensed. If you accrue your supervised hours in DC, you must hold an LGSW or LICSW license before completing the licensure steps below.

1. Gain the required experience.

LICSW candidates must complete 3,000 hours of supervised post-graduate experience in clinical social work. This experience must occur within a period of two to four years, during which time you must be supervised by an LICSW (or an individual with an equivalent license if you are completing your experience outside DC). For every 32 hours of work, you must receive at least one hour of supervision and you must accrue a total of at least 100 hours of face-to-face supervision.

2. Complete the LICSW application.

After you have finished the required supervised experience, the next step in the licensure process is to submit the New License Application form to the Board. You will need to include three character references, the Work Experience Form, two passport-style photos, and the $230 fee (as of March 2019). Your supervised experience must be documented using the Supervision Calculation Worksheet and a Supervision Verification Form from each supervisor. If the Board does not already have your graduate transcript or your fingerprints from a previous licensure application, you must also submit these.

3. Pass the ASWB Clinical exam.

To earn an LICSW license, candidates must pass the ASWB Clinical exam. This exam tests an applicant’s knowledge of clinical social work practices, methods, and interventions. The 170-question exam costs $260 (as of March 2019) and scores are automatically sent to the Board after your test date.

4. Receive your LICSW.

After you have completed all of the steps above, the Board will issue your license. This will allow you to independently practice both clinical and non-clinical social work in DC and provide supervision for LSWAs, LGSWs, and LISWs.

Social Work Licensure by Endorsement in Washington DC

The Board allows social workers to apply for licensure by endorsement if they hold an out-of-state license in good standing that was earned under requirements at least equivalent to DC’s. To apply, you must submit the New License Application form to the Board and include all required supplemental documentation for the license you are seeking. You will also need to include verification of your current license and have the ASWB send your exam scores to the Board. As of March 2019, all licensure by endorsement applications cost $230.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

Social work licenses in DC expire biennially on July 31 of every odd-numbered year. To renew their licenses, social workers must complete 40 hours of continuing education (CE) hours during each two-year period. Of the 40 required CE hours, six must be in ethics and two must be on LGBTQ topics. No more than 12 CE hours may include home study, online courses, or any other independent study; all of the required ethics CE hours must be completed in person. As of March 2019, the fee to renew all social work licenses was $145.

Washington DC Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information

As of May 2017, there were 3,450 social workers in Washington DC, most of whom were employed in the subfield of child, family, and school social work (2,100).2 The average annual salary for a DC social worker is $68,300.2 The average salaries for individual subfields of social work in DC are all ranked within the top five highest-paying by state nationwide.2,3,4,5,6 In addition to the draw of competitive salaries, the number of social work positions in DC is projected to increase by a total of 14.9% between 2016 and 2026.7 Although all subfields of social work in the District are expected to see growth, the highest increase is expected in mental health and substance abuse social work (22.4%).7

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers2,100$64,800
Healthcare Social Workers530$70,580
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers520$62,900
Social Workers, All Other300$71,470

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.2

Social Work Associations in Washington DC

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can I begin practicing independently once I become registered as a Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) or Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)?

Answer: Yes, once you meet the requirements to become an LISW or LICSW and receive a license from the Board, you may begin practicing social work independently. You must be an LICSW to practice clinical social work independently.

Question: For the 3,000 hours of work experience required, can I count experience I gained years ago to become an LISW or LICSW?

Answer: It depends. You must have completed the experience within five years prior to the date you submit your application to the Board. Additionally, all 3,000 hours must have been earned in no fewer than two and no more than four years.

Question: What kinds of qualifications are required of the person supervising my experience for LISW or LICSW licensure?

Answer: Supervisors for LISW candidates must be LISWs or LICSWs. Supervisors for LICSW candidates must be LICSWs.

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

Answer: To practice social work in Washington DC, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). To practice independently or to practice clinical social work, you need a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited program.

References:
1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Washington DC: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/dc
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, District of Columbia: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_dc.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Child, Family, and School Social Workers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211021.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211023.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Healthcare Social Workers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211022.htm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Social Workers, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211029.htm
7. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm