How To Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

To become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), you need to follow a series of steps. While the process may vary slightly from state to state, the general steps remain the same. Let’s review each step to help you work towards achieving your goal of becoming an LCSW.

4 Steps to Becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

1. Enroll in an Accredited Program

After completing your bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to pursue a master’s degree in social work (MSW). You can do this by applying to an on-campus or online LCSW program. These programs typically require a personal statement, letters of recommendation, proof of a GPA of 2.0 or above in your undergraduate program, and an interview.

An LCSW degree doesn’t exist as a standalone program. Instead, you typically start by earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree and then specialize in clinical social work by earning an MSW degree.

Some states may require you to earn your degree from a CSWE-accredited MSW program. This accreditation ensures that the program meets the necessary standards for providing quality education.

The MSW program usually takes two to four years and involves a minimum of 900 hours of fieldwork under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker. However, some programs offer accelerated options for BSW graduates, allowing them to complete their MSW in just one year with stricter admission criteria.

2. Complete Work Experience Hours

To prepare for the licensing exam, you must complete a specified number of supervised work experience hours or internships (also known as “fieldwork”). The number of hours required varies by state, generally ranging from 2000-4000 hours. These hours are usually counted after obtaining your MSW degree, though some programs may require fewer hours, especially for those who hold a bachelor’s degree in social work. The purpose of internships is to allow students to gain practical experience in social service agencies while working under the guidance of a licensed professional.

3. Take the Licensing Exam

LCSW candidates should familiarize themselves with their state’s licensure requirements and ensure that their graduate program meets these requirements. Licensure for clinical social work is regulated at the state level, with each state having its own board to establish requirements. It is generally advisable to obtain your MSW degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, as this is likely to fulfill the requirements of all 50 states. After completing your master’s degree and required fieldwork, you can take the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) clinical category licensing exam. Make sure to schedule and confirm that you will be taking the clinical category of the exam.

If you plan to move to a different state after receiving your license, you may have to fulfill additional requirements to transfer your license. Therefore, it is essential to check the specific requirements of the state you intend to move to beforehand. 

4. Apply To Become an LCSW

After graduation, there are several additional steps you need to complete to fulfill state-specific licensure requirements. You should thoroughly review the application process specific to your state and be aware that there are usually fees involved.

How to Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker: Requirements by State

The requirements for becoming an LCSW can vary by state. Here are examples from several states to demonstrate how licensing requirements may differ depending on your location. Keep in mind that even if you live in one of these states, it’s important to verify that your program meets the state board’s requirements when completing your program requirements. 

How to Become an LCSW in California

To become an LCSW in California, you must:

  1. Complete a master’s degree in social work and additional coursework.
  2. Register as an Associate Clinical Social Worker (ASW) for the completion of supervised work experience.
  3. Pass the California Law and Ethics exam.
  4. Undergo a livescan (fingerprinting) and criminal background check.
  5. Complete the required 3,000 hours of supervised social work experience over at least 104 weeks.
  6. Apply for, take, and pass the ASWB clinical exam.
  7. Officially become an LCSW in California.

How to Become an LCSW in Texas

To become an LCSW in Texas, you must:

  1. Enroll in a social work master’s program with 60 semester hours of coursework and 900 hours of practicum.
  2. Complete 3,000 hours of clinical experience within 2-4 years, including 100 hours of supervision.
  3. Pass the Texas Social Work Jurisprudence Exam, which covers state-specific laws, ethics, and regulations.
  4. Pass the national advanced clinical exam from the Association of Social Work Boards.
  5. Apply for licensure to officially become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Texas.

How to Become an LCSW in New York

To become an LCSW in New York, you must:

  1. Complete a recognized Master of Social Work (MSW) program.
  2. Complete required coursework and training on identifying and reporting child abuse.
  3. Apply for the Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) license.
  4. Once approved, register for and take the ASWB master’s exam.
  5. After passing the exam, accumulate at least three years of supervised experience.
  6. Apply for and become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in New York.

How to Become an LCSW in Florida

  1. Complete a CSWE-accredited master’s degree in social work with at least three credits in eight different subject areas.
  2. Fulfill 4,500 hours (three years) of non-clinical supervised social work experience under an LCSW or CMSW, with at least 3,000 hours post-master’s. Include 100 hours of face-to-face supervision annually.
  3. Apply for a Certified Master Social Worker license to the board.
  4. After board approval, take the ASWB advanced generalist exam.
  5. Upon passing, receive your license and become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (CMSW) in Florida.

Additional Steps on Your LCSW Journey

After understanding the basic steps towards becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), it’s important to delve deeper into additional strategies and actions that can further enhance your professional journey. Expanding your experience, refining essential skills, and staying informed and connected within the social work field are vital for excelling in this rewarding profession.

  1. Explore Diverse Fieldwork Settings: Consider various fieldwork environments, including healthcare facilities, educational institutions, and community agencies, to gain a wide range of experience.
  2. Develop Core Social Work Skills: Focus on enhancing essential skills like client assessment, therapeutic communication, and ethical decision-making during your MSW and supervised fieldwork.
  3. Prepare for State-Specific Exam Requirements: Utilize study materials and resources tailored to your state’s version of the ASWB exam for effective preparation.
  4. Engage in Continuing Education: Commit to lifelong learning through workshops, seminars, and online courses to stay updated with evolving social work practices.
  5. Leverage Professional Networks: Join professional organizations like the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) for access to resources, networking opportunities, and career development.

How Long Does it Take to Become an LCSW?

The time it takes to become an LCSW varies depending on individual circumstances and state requirements. Factors such as state-specific requirements and the time it takes to complete your education and other obligations affect the overall duration.

Most undergraduate degrees that qualify you to pursue an LCSW career take at least four years to complete. Master’s degrees in LCSW typically take around two years. Combining these education periods with the minimum hours of work experience required by each state and the time needed to pass the licensing exam, it generally takes around six to eight years to become an LCSW on average.

Typical LCSW Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 7% average growth rate for social worker jobs between 2022 and 2032, resulting in approximately 63,800 new job openings each year. With numerous job opportunities available, the likelihood of finding employment after obtaining your license is higher compared to other professions.

The following chart shows salary and job growth projections for different social work segments, according to the BLS.

Role2022 Median SalaryProjected Growth, 2022-32
Social workers$61,4207%
Mental health and substance abuse social workers$51,24011%
Child, family, and school social workers$50,8205%
Healthcare social workers$60,2807%


In the field of social work and counseling, there are many acronyms that may seem confusing. Two common ones are LMSW and LCSW. Some states recognize both titles, while others only recognize one. LMSW stands for licensed master social worker, while LCSW stands for licensed clinical social worker. While there are similarities between the roles, there are also key differences.

The main distinction is that an LCSW can independently provide clinical therapy and mental health services, whereas an LMSW must operate under the supervision of an LCSW, psychologist, or other licensed mental health professional. This doesn’t make one position more important than the other. LMSWs often work on broader issues, such as social justice reform, and are more likely to be found in non-profit organizations or positions where they can influence public policy. They primarily handle administrative tasks, such as updating case files, completing billing, and assisting with treatment plans.

In contrast, LCSWs engage in more clinical work, provide direct client care, and hold leadership roles. They meet clients face-to-face, conduct assessments, handle crises, provide therapy, create treatment plans, and supervise psychotherapy services. LCSWs typically gain their experience through supervised clinical hours while working towards their license.

Both positions aim to help individuals facing difficulties and mental health challenges. They follow ethical standards established by the National Association of Social Workers, including values such as competence, integrity, social justice, and dignity for all.

Change Lives by Becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Although becoming an LCSW requires time and effort, every step is worthwhile. You will gain skills that can positively impact people’s lives. From supporting struggling teenagers to helping families in crisis, your journey towards becoming an LCSW is about making a difference. Imagine being the person someone turns to when they feel lost, overwhelmed, or in pain. Envision yourself bringing a child’s smile back or supporting a family through their toughest moments.

Don’t let the time commitment discourage you. Remember, this is not just a job – it’s a calling.


This section addresses some frequently asked questions about becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), providing insights into salary expectations, the benefits of the role, and the journey to achieving this professional status.

How much do LCSWs make?
The exact salary of Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) can vary widely, influenced by multiple factors such as geographic location, work setting, years of experience, and specialization within the field of social work. Due to these variables, there isn’t a single, definitive salary figure for LCSWs. For those interested in exploring more detailed salary information, including how these various factors impact LCSW earnings, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provide valuable resources and statistics.

What’s the difference between a licensed social worker and a regular social worker?
A licensed social worker, specifically an LCSW, has a Master’s degree in Social Work (MSW), has completed additional clinical training, and has obtained a state-specific clinical license. This qualifies them to provide psychotherapy and mental health counseling. A “regular” social worker may have a BSW or MSW but without the clinical licensure, focusing more on case management, advocacy, and connecting clients with resources.

How much more do LCSWs make than regular social workers?
Determining how much more LCSWs make compared to non-clinically licensed social workers isn’t straightforward, as salaries in social work are influenced by a multitude of factors. These include the level of education, the work setting, geographic location, and the specific role within social work. Since there is no single definitive answer to this question, readers seeking detailed insights into how different factors affect social worker salaries can explore the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) website and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for comprehensive information.

What are the benefits of becoming an LCSW?
Benefits include the ability to conduct private therapy, a wider range of job opportunities in clinical settings, higher earning potential, and the satisfaction of providing in-depth mental health support. LCSWs also have opportunities for career advancement in clinical supervision and administration.

How long will it take to become an LCSW?
The journey to becoming an LCSW typically includes obtaining an MSW (2 years full-time), followed by 2-3 years of supervised clinical experience, and then passing the clinical licensure exam. In total, it can take around 4-6 years post-bachelor’s degree.

How much will it cost to become an LCSW?
The cost of becoming an LCSW includes expenses related to obtaining a master’s degree in social work (MSW), completing supervised clinical experience, and obtaining state licensure. While the BLS page does not provide specific cost figures, these components are essential investments in the path to becoming an LCSW. For more details on the requirements, visit the BLS page on Social Workers​​.

Can an LCSW prescribe medication?
No, LCSWs are not authorized to prescribe medication. This is reserved for medical professionals like psychiatrists. LCSWs focus on psychotherapy and counseling.

Where will LCSWs work?
LCSWs can work in various settings, including private practice, hospitals, mental health clinics, schools, government agencies, and nonprofits. They often work in roles that require clinical assessment and therapy skills.

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