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Wisconsin Social Work License Requirements

The midwestern state of Wisconsin has a population of nearly six million and is a good place for those considering a degree in social work.1 Wisconsin’s Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counseling and Social Work Examining Board is the regulating authority for all social workers in the state. Continue reading for more information about the types of social workers in Wisconsin, the educational paths and steps to become one, and salary information for the profession.

How to Become a Social Worker in Wisconsin

Educational Paths

Social workers in Wisconsin need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) to become certified. An individual who holds a bachelor’s degree in a related human service field can gain social work training under a Social Work Training Certificate to establish BSW equivalency. Higher levels of social work credentialing in Wisconsin require at least a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited program. Each level of social work requires a different educational foundation, so it is important to understand the different types of social work licenses in order to plan your career.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

A bachelor’s degree in social work, or BSW, is typically the entry-level degree for a career in social work. In Wisconsin, this degree will allow you to become a Certified Social Worker (CSW). BSWs take around four years to complete and include coursework that teaches students about human behavior, social policy, and other broad social work concepts, as well as core courses like biology, English, and psychology. Most BSW programs also include fieldwork for students to experience real-world situations and discover a career focus or passion. There are 14 CSWE-accredited BSW programs in Wisconsin as of January 2019.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

Wisconsin also has three CSWE-accredited master’s programs in social work (MSW) and two that are in the process of applying for accreditation. Although you can be eligible for admission to an MSW program with a bachelor’s degree in any subject, students who hold a BSW may be eligible for advanced standing in an MSW program, shortening the duration of their study from two years to one year. MSW programs are more specialized than BSW programs, offering students a combination of academic study and fieldwork. With an MSW, a resident of Wisconsin can apply to become a Certified Advanced Practice Social Worker (CAPSW), Certified Independent Social Worker (CISW), or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Wisconsin

There are four different social work credentials in Wisconsin: Certified Social Worker (CSW), Certified Advanced Practice Social Worker (CAPSW), Certified Independent Social Worker (CISW), and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Those without a BSW who would like to begin a career in the field may pursue a Social Work Training Certificate (SWTC), which can be used to satisfy the BSW requirement for the CSW credential. Continue reading to learn more about each type of social work credential in Wisconsin and the process for each.

Social Worker Training Certificate (SWTC)

With a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university that is in a human services field such as psychology, sociology, or criminal justice, you can reach BSW equivalency in Wisconsin by pursuing a Social Worker Training Certificate. To qualify, your transcript must show that your bachelor’s degree included:

  • An introductory course providing a general overview of the field
  • A course focusing on professional ethics and values
  • A course focusing on qualitative and quantitative social research methods and statistics
  • A senior seminar or capstone course that may be an internship

Once you have met the educational requirement, the following steps must be followed to earn your training certificate and establish BSW equivalency.

1. Submit the SWTC application.

Once you have a qualifying bachelor’s degree from a human service program, complete the Application for Social Worker Training Certificate form and return it to the Board with a $10 fee. You will also need to have your school mail a copy of your transcript to the Board.

2. Complete the required courses.

To establish BSW equivalency, you must complete courses in five areas of social work. For a list of these areas, visit the Board’s SWTC page. If you completed courses in any of the required areas during your bachelor’s degree program, they can be used to fulfill this requirement. Any coursework requirements you have not already met must be completed under your STWC at a CSWE-accredited program.

3. Complete the required experience.

You must complete 400 hours of hands-on social work experience to establish equivalency. If you completed an internship during your degree program that involved face-to-face work with clients under the supervision of a social worker, that may be used to fulfill this requirement. If not, you will need to complete one year of supervised social work employment that includes at least 400 hours of direct client contact.

4. Notify the Board that you have completed the requirements.

Once you have completed the required coursework and social work experience, provide documentation of this to the Board by submitting the Affadavit for Employment/Internship, the coursework documentation form, and a transcript reflecting any courses you completed under your training certificate. Once the Board receives documentation showing that you have met all the requirements, you will be eligible to apply for licensure as a CSW.

Certified Social Worker (CSW)

In order to become a CSW, candidates must have received either a BSW or an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program, a doctoral degree in social work (DSW), or have established BSW equivalency through an SWTC. Once this educational requirement has been met, candidates must complete the following steps to become certified.

1. Submit the CSW application form.

The first step towards CSW credentialing is to complete the Social Worker Application form. You must also have your school complete the Certificate of Professional Education form to verify your degree. As of January 2019, the total fees associated with the CSW application are $165. If you hold a BSW, MSW, or DSW, you can also pay an additional $10 to request a temporary permit that will allow you to practice for up to nine months while you are working to pass the required exams.

2. Pass the Wisconsin law exam.

All Wisconsin social work applicants must complete the Board’s online, open-book law exam. After your CSW application is processed by the Board and they have given you an applicant number, you can complete this exam. Content is focused on the statues and rules governing the practice of social work in Wisconsin.

3. Pass the ASWB Bachelor’s exam.

Once the Board has approved your application, they will notify you of your eligibility to sit for the ASWB Bachelor’s exam, which is required to become a CSW. The fee for the ASWB Bachelor’s exam as of January 2019 is $230.

4. Receive your CSW credential from the Board.

When the Board determines that you have submitted a complete CSW application (which includes all required forms as well as passing scores on the law exam and ASWB Bachelor’s exam), they will issue your credential. You can begin practicing as a CSW in Wisconsin at this point if you have not already been working under a temporary permit.

Certified Advanced Practice Social Worker (CAPSW)

To be eligible to become a certified advanced practice social worker (CAPSW) in Wisconsin, you must have received at least a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-approved school. The CAPSW credential allows a social worker to provide general social work services and to practice clinical social work under the supervision of an LCSW. Once you have satisfied the educational requirement, you can follow the steps below to become a CAPSW.

1. Submit a CAPSW application to the Board.

To initiate the licensure process, you will need to complete the Social Worker Application and submit it to the Board. During this step, you must also have your school complete the Certficate of Professional Education and submit it directly to the Board to verify your degree. As of January 2019, the fees for the CAPSW application are $165 including the fee for the state law exam required for licensure. You can pay an additional $10 to request a temporary permit that is valid for nine months while you are working to pass the required exams.

2. Pass the Wisconsin law exam.

After the Board has processed your CAPSW application and given you an application number, you can take the state law exam required for all social work applicants in Wisconsin. This is an online, open-book exam on the state rules and statutes relevant to social work practice. You must score at least 85% to pass. If you have taken the exam in the past five years, you will not need to take it again for CAPSW licensure.

3. Pass the ASWB Master’s exam.

All CAPSW applicants must also pass the ASWB Master’s exam, which costs $230 as of January 2019. The Master’s exam consists of 170 multiple-choice questions. Your results will be sent to the Board shortly after your test date.

4. Receive your CAPSW credential from the Board.

After the Board has received documentation that you have passed the ASWB Master’s exam, your certificate will be issued. If you have not already been practicing under a temporary permit, you can begin practicing as a CAPSW after you have been given a certificate number by the Board.

Certified Independent Social Worker (CISW)

With a master’s in social work from a CSWE-approved school or a DSW, you can become a CISW in Wisconsin. This credential allows its holders to practice certain areas of specialty non-clinical social work independently and to practice clinical social work under supervision. To become a CISW, you will need to complete a certain amount of supervised experience as a CAPSW. Once you hold a CAPSW, you can take the following steps to become a CISW.

1. Accumulate the required supervised experience.

Before becoming a CISW, you will need to complete two years (3,000 hours) of supervised social work experience as a CAPSW. During this time, you must receive regular supervision (an average of one hour per week) from a CISW or an LCSW.

2. Submit the application form.

After you have completed the required amount of supervised social work experience, the next step is to apply for a CISW credential using the Board’s Social Worker Application. On this form, you will be required to identify the supervisor(s) you worked under while earning your 3,000 hours of experience. You must also grant permission to your school to verify your degree by completing the Certficate of Professional Education and submitting it directly to the Board. The CISW application fee is $90 as of January 2019 for applicants who are already credentialed in Wisconsin and have taken the state law exam within the past five years. When you submit this application, you can pay an additional $10 for a temporary license that will allow you to practice until you pass the required exams.

3. Pass the Wisconsin law exam.

If you haven’t taken it within the past five years, you will need to take the state law exam that is required before receiving any social work credential in Wisconsin. The exam is open-book and covers the legal and ethical expectations for social workers in the state.

4. Pass the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam.

Once your application has been approved by the Board, you will become eligible to sit for the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam. The fee as of January 2019 is $260. Like the exam you will have taken for your CAPSW credential, the Advanced Generalist exam has 170 questions.

5. Receive your CISW credential from the Board.

Once you have passed the required exams and submitted a full CISW application to the Board, your CISW credential will be issued. At this point, you can begin practicing as a CISW if you have not already been working under a temporary permit.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

To become an LCSW in Wisconsin, you will need to hold a degree from a CSWE-certified MSW program or have a doctoral degree in social work. Your degree program must have included supervised clinical social work experience or you must have accrued at least 1,500 hours of clinical social work practice under supervision (with at least 500 of these hours being face-to-face with clients). An LCSW license allows a social worker to independently provide psychotherapy and other clinical social work services. After meeting the basic educational requirements described above, an aspiring LCSW will need to complete additional supervised hours before becoming licensed; these hours must be earned after you have obtained a CAPSW or CISW credential. Once you have one of these certifications, you can follow the steps below to become an LISW in Wisconsin.

1. Complete the required supervised experience.

As a CAPSW or CISW, you will need to earn 3,000 hours of supervised clinical social work experience in no less than two years. At least 1,000 of these hours need to be from face-to-face contact with clients, and your experience must include training in diagnosis and treatment. You must receive at least one hour of individual supervision per week from an LCSW, a licensed psychologist, or a licensed psychiatrist. If there are other individuals who may be qualified to supervise you, it is possible to request approval from the Board for a supervisor who does not meet one of the above criteria.

2. Submit an LCSW application to the Board.

After you have completed the required amount of supervised clinical social work experience, you can submit an LCSW application to the Board. As of January 2019, the fee for this application is $90 if you have taken the state law exam within the past five years (you will need to pay an additional $75 if you need to take that exam). There are supplemental materials you will need to submit with your application, including documentation of a supervised field placement (or 1,500 supervised hours) and the Clinical Course Work form. You will also need to have the individual(s) who supervised you complete the Documentation of Post-Graduate Clinical Experience form and ask your school to send a copy of your transcript to the Board. If you would like to practice as an LCSW after you have completed all requirements for licensure except the national exam, you can pay an additional $10 with your application to request a temporary license that is valid for nine months.

3. Pass the Wisconsin law exam.

All social workers need to pass the state law exam before receiving their credentials. If you have taken the exam in the past five years, however, you do not need to repeat it. The state law exam covers the rules, regulations, and ethical standards for social workers in the state. It is an open-book test that is completed online.

4. Pass the ASWB Clinical exam.

To become an LCSW in Wisconsin, you must pass the ASWB Clinical exam, which costs $260 as of January 2019. This exam consists of 170 multiple-choice questions about the practice of clinical social work. The Board will notify you when you are eligible to register for the Clinical exam.

5. Receive your LCSW license.

After you pass the ASWB exam and the state law exam (if applicable) and the Board has received all of the materials required for your application, they will issue your license. At this point, you can begin practicing as an LCSW in Wisconsin if you have not already been working under a temporary permit.

Social Work Credential Reciprocity in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Board recognizes reciprocity for social workers already licensed or credentialed in another state. They will review each application on an individual basis, and generally accept candidates from states with substantially equivalent licensing standards. To apply for reciprocity, you will use the application form corresponding to your desired licensing level, pay the fee ($160 as of January 2019), submit verification of your current credentials, pass the Wisconsin law exam, and submit the rules and regulations of your state of licensure to the Board for review.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

All social work credentials in Wisconsin expire at the end of February in every odd-numbered year. Licenses can be renewed online for a fee of $85. Before renewing a Wisconsin social work credential, you must complete 30 continuing education (CE) hours during each two-year renewal period. Four of the 30 required hours must be in ethics and professional boundaries. All CE hours must be approved by Board-recognized organizations. More information can be found on the Board’s continuing education page.

Wisconsin Social Work Jobs and Salary Information

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 9,640 social workers working in Wisconsin as of May 2017, earning an average salary of $51,250.1 Social workers in the “all other” category have the highest average annual income, at $57,370.1 The number of Wisconsin social work jobs across all subfields is expected to increase by 11.3% between 2016 and 2026, which equates to an average of 107 new social work jobs each year.2 The most growth is expected in the field of mental health and substance abuse social work, with a projected increase of 12.4% during the same 10-year period.2

Type Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers 3,730 $48,950
Healthcare Social Workers 3,150 $51,210
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 1,680 $47,470
Social Workers, All Other 1,080 $57,370

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.1

Social Work Associations in Wisconsin

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What kind of degree do I need to become a social worker in Wisconsin?

Answer: To become a social worker in Wisconsin, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree. If you earn a bachelor’s in a subject other than social work, you can still become credentialed as a social worker after completing a Social Worker Training Certificate (SWTC). With a BSW or SWTC, you can become a certified social worker. An MSW, however, will afford you more opportunities, as that is the minimum educational requirement for the other types of social work credentials in the state. Usually, those with an MSW will receive higher pay and have more opportunities for jobs than those with BSWs.

Question: How often does my social work license have to be renewed?

Answer: Wisconsin requires social work licenses and certificates to be renewed every two years. In conjunction with renewal, all social workers are required to complete a certain amount of continuing education (CE).

Question: Am I required to get my social worker training certificate (SWTC) before becoming a certified social worker (CSW)?

Answer: No. You only have to get your SWTC before becoming a CSW if you don’t already have a BSW. With a BSW from an accredited program, you can apply to become a CSW without getting your training certificate.

References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Wisconsin: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_wi.htm
2. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm