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Wisconsin Social Work License Requirements

The midwestern state of Wisconsin is the 23rd-largest US state and the 20th-most populous, and is a good place for those considering a degree in social work. Wisconsin’s Department of Safety and Professional Services’ Marriage, Family Therapy, Professional Counseling, and Social Work Examining Board (the 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 begin a career there, unless they enter the field starting with a social worker training certificate with a bachelor’s degree in a related subject, which can lead to becoming a social worker. Each level of social work requires a different educational base, so it is important to understand each and how it will lead to your desired career.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

A bachelor’s degree in social work, or BSW, is typically the entry-level degree for the career. A certified social worker (CSW), or basic-level social worker, requires a BSW at a minimum. 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. The state of Wisconsin offers 14 CSWE-accredited BSW programs as of October 2015.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

Wisconsin also has four CSWE-accredited master’s programs in social work (MSW) offered to students with a bachelor’s degree in any subject. Those students who hold a BSW may be eligible for advanced standing in an MSW program, shortening the duration of their study from two to one year. MSW programs are more specialized than BSW programs, offering students a combination of academic study and fieldwork. With an MSW, Wisconsin graduates can enter the social work field as an advanced practice social worker (CAPSW), an independent social worker (CISW), or a licensed clinical social worker (CLCSW).

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Wisconsin

Social workers in Wisconsin can be a certified social worker (CSW), an advanced practice social worker (CAPSW), an independent social worker (CISW), or a licensed clinical social worker (CLCSW). Those without a BSW who would like to begin a career in the field may pursue a social worker training certificate (SWTC), which can replace the educational requirement for becoming a social worker in the state. Continue reading to learn more about each type of licensure 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 field such as psychology, sociology, criminal justice, or another human service program approved by the Social Worker Section, you can enter the field of social work in the state of 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 get your training certificate:

  1. Submit the application for social work training certificate. Along with the application, you must submit the required fee ($10 as of October 2015), an official transcript, and the Board will review your application to determine eligibility.
  2. The Board will issue your SWTC. The SWTC is valid for a period of 24 months and is not renewable.
  3. Once you have received your SWTC, you can start the basic level application process to become a CSW. Without a BSW, you will be required to take five courses in particular subject areas and a required internship lasting 400 hours, to be completed in at least one year.

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, or a doctoral degree in social work. Alternatively, they may enter through the process of obtaining their SWTC, as described above. Once this educational requirement has been met, candidates must complete the following steps:

1. Submit the application form.

Along with completing the application form, applicants must submit the fee ($165 as of October 2015) and other documentation required.

2. Take and pass the Wisconsin open-book exam.

The Wisconsin open-book exam is required for licensure in the state of Wisconsin and will need to be taken and passed in order to be eligible for the CSW status.

3. Take and pass the ASWB bachelors exam.

Once the Board has approved your application, they will notify you of your eligibility to sit for the national exam given by the Association of Social Work Board (ASWB). Candidates will need to pass this exam in order to become a CSW. The fee for the ASWB bachelor’s exam as of October 2015 was $230. Note that a temporary license is also available for new applicants who have met all requirements but have not yet completed the national examination. The temporary license costs $10 (as of October 2015) and is available to all levels, but not to reciprocal applicants. The temporary license will last for nine months, or until the national exam has been completed.

4. Complete a substance abuse specialty authorization program approved by the Board.

Once you have taken the national exam, you will need to complete a program that qualifies you in the area of substance abuse. You can find a list of approved pre-certification programs here.

5. Receive your CSW license from the Board.

Social Worker – Advanced Practice (CAPSW)

To be eligible to be a certified advanced practice social worker (CAPSW) in Wisconsin, you must have received at least your master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-approved school. Once you have satisfied the educational requirement, you can follow the steps below to become a CAPSW, which are extremely similar to the process listed above for a certified social worker.

  1. Submit the application form.
  2. Take and pass the Wisconsin open-book exam if you haven’t taken it within the past five years.
  3. Take and pass the ASWB masters exam.*
  4. Complete the substance abuse specialty authorization program.
  5. Receive your CAPSW license from the Board.**

*The fee was $230 as of October 2015.
**Note that a temporary license may be acquired for a fee of $10 (as of October 2015) to those who have not yet passed the national examination. The license will be in effect for nine months, or until the national exam has been passed.

Social Worker – Independent Practice (CISW)

With a master’s in social work from a CSWE-approved school or a DSW, you can become a certified independent social worker (CISW) in Wisconsin. Once you have met these educational requirements, you can take the next steps to become a CISW:

1. Accumulate the required supervised experience.

Besides an MSW, you will also need two years (3,000 hours) of supervised social work experience approved by the Social Worker Section. 1,000 of those hours will need to be in face-to-face client contact and include DSM diagnosis and treatment.

2. Submit the application form.

Along with completing the application form, applicants must submit the fee ($165 as of October 2015) and other documentation required.

3. Take and pass the Wisconsin open-book exam.

If you haven’t taken it within the past five years, you will need to take the open-book exam required to be eligible for the CISW status.

4. Take and pass the ASWB advanced generalist exam.

Once your application has been approved, you will become eligible to sit for the national exam. To become a CISW, you will need to pass the advanced generalist exam given by the ASWB. The fee as of October 2015 was $260. A temporary license is available for applicants who have met all requirements besides the ASWB exam and costs $10 (as of October 2015).

5. Complete a substance abuse specialty authorization program approved by the Board.

Another requirement for becoming a CISW is to take a substance abuse specialty program. You can find a list of approved pre-certification programs here.

6. Receive your CISW license from the Board.

Once the above steps have been successfully completed, you will become a licensed CISW in Wisconsin.

Social Worker – Licensed Clinical (CLCSW)

To become a certified licensed clinical social worker in Wisconsin, you will need to first complete a CSWE-certified MSW program or hold a doctorate of social work. The social work program must have included supervised field training or an affidavit indicating completion of 1,500 hours of supervised clinical work experience including at least 500 hours of supervised face-to-face client contact. Once the educational requirement has been fulfilled, the process is extremely similar to that of the CISW above:

  1. Accumulate at least 3,000 hours of supervised clinical social work experience, with 1,000 of those hours being face-to-face client contact and including DSM diagnosis and treatment.
  2. Complete the application form and pay the associated fees ($165 as of October 2105.
  3. Take and pass the Wisconsin open-book exam if you haven’t taken it within the past five years.
  4. Take and pass the ASWB clinical exam.*
  5. Complete the substance abuse specialty authorization program.
  6. Receive your CLCSW license from the Board.**

*The fee was $260 as of October 2015.
**Note that a temporary license may be acquired for a fee of $10 (as of October 2015) to those who have not yet passed the national examination. The license will be in effect for nine months, or until the national exam has been passed.

Social Work License Reciprocity in Wisconsin

The Board does allow reciprocity for social workers already licensed in another state. They will review each application on an individual basis, and generally accept those 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 October 2015), complete a verification of credential form, complete the Wisconsin open-book exam, and submit the rules and regulations of your state of licensure to the Board for review.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

The process for Wisconsin renewals varies for each level of licensure. SWTCs cannot renew their license, as it is only good for two years. For the other levels of licensure, you can renew your license. The license renewal date is February 28, on every odd year, and fees are $85 or $110 for late renewals (as of October 2015). You can either renew your license online or request a paper renewal form from 888 506 4239 or 608 261 4460 for the Madison area. To renew online, go to the Board’s website. Each social worker renewing his or her license must also fulfill a continuing education (CE) requirement, which is 30 hours in the first biennium after licensure. Four of the 30 required hours must be in ethics and professional boundaries, which must be in an interactive learning format. All CE hours must be approved by certain organizations. More information can be found on they Board’s website.

Wisconsin Social Work Jobs and Salary Information

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 8,840 Wisconsin social workers in May 2014.1 Their average salary was $50,942 in the same year.1,2 The highest-paid social workers in the state are in the sub-field of mental health and substance abuse, with an average salary of $54,460 per year in May 2014.1 Projections Central predicts average growth for the profession between now and 2022, with a 5.6% growth expected through 2022, lower than average, and equating to 270 additional jobs per year.3 The highest growth is expected in the field of healthcare social work, with an 11.8% growth expected through 2022.3

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers3,670$48,110
Healthcare Social Workers2,850$50,030
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers1,440$54,460
Social Workers, All Other880$51,170

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.3

Social Work Associations in Wisconsin

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What kind of degree do I need to work in social work in Wisconsin?

Answer: You can become a social worker training certificate in Wisconsin with a bachelor’s degree in any subject, as long as you have completed certain course work. With as little as a BSW, you can become a certified social worker. An MSW, however, will afford you more opportunities in the state, as that is the minimum educational requirement for the other types of social workers 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 registrations to be renewed every two years. In conjunction with renewal, all social workers are required to take certain continuing education (CE) courses.

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 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Wisconsin: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_wi.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm