Although the process of becoming an LCSW varies somewhat from one state to the next, all states require the following steps. Review each one to work toward your goal of becoming a licensed clinical social worker.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

1. Enroll in an Accredited Program

After earning your bachelor’s degree, you will want to move on to earning your master’s degree in social work (MSW). To do this, you will have to apply to either an on-campus or online lcsw program. These programs usually have application processes that include writing a personal statement, obtaining letters of recommendation, proving a GPA of a 2.0 or above for your undergraduate program, and an interview .

Some states require that you earn your degree from a CSWE-accredited msw program. The accreditation ensures that the program has met required standards for providing the best education. 

The MSW program typically takes two to four years and requires a minimum of 900 hours working in the field under a licensed clinical social worker. However, there are some programs that allow some BSW graduates to complete their MSW in just one year, but those programs have stricter criteria for admission. 

2. Complete Work Experience Hours

To prepare for the licensing exam, complete a specified number of supervised work experience hours or internships (also called “fieldwork”). The number of hours varies by state, but generally runs between 2000-4000 hours.  These hours are typically only counted after you earn your MSW, but some programs, such as the one for those who completed a bachelor’s degree in social work, may require less. These internships are designed to allow students to gain experience working in social service agencies while under the supervision of a licensed professional in order to apply what they have learned. 

3. Take the Licensing Exam

LCSW candidates should be familiar with their state’s requirements for licensure and ensure that their graduate program meets those requirements for when they decide to apply. Clinical social work licensure is regulated by individual states, they use their own boards to determine the requirements. In general, you should look to obtain your MSW from a program that has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, as this is likely to meet the requirement for all 50 states. You can only take the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) licensing exam (clinical category) after completing both a master’s degree and the fieldwork requirement. When you’re prepared to take this exam, you’ll need to schedule it and ensure that you have confirmed that you will be taking the clinical category of the licensing exam.

After you have received your license and decide that you need to move to a different state, you may have to complete new or separate requirements to transfer your license, so be sure to check the requirements of the state to which you are moving beforehand. 

4. Apply To Become an LCSW

As previously mentioned, licensure requirements are state and board-specific. To fulfill these requirements to become a licensed clinical social worker, there are several more steps to complete after graduation. You will want to review the state-specific application process, and note that there are generally fees that apply. 

LCSW Licensing Requirements by State

Because the requirements to become a licensed clinical social worker vary by state, below is an example of several states to demonstrate how licensing requirements may vary depending on location. Even if you live in a state with one of these examples, it’s important to double-check that your program meets the state board’s requirements at the time that you are completing your program requirements. 

California: Board of Behavioral Sciences 

  1. Complete a master’s degree in social work as well as additional coursework. 
  2. Register as an Associate Clinical Social Worker (ASW). This will allow you to complete your supervised hours of work experience. 
  3. Take (and pass) the California Law and Ethics exam. 
  4. Complete a livescan (fingerprinting) and criminal background check. 
  5. Complete the required 3,000 hours of supervised social work experience over a time period of 104 weeks. 
  6. Apply for, take, and pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) clinical exam. 
  7. Officially become an LCSW in California. 

Texas: Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners

  1. Complete a master’s degree in social work, which includes 60 semester hours of coursework and 900 hours of practicum.
  2. Complete the field experience requirements, which includes 3,000 hours of clinical experience within 2-4 years with 100 years of supervision. 
  3. Take and pass the Texas Social Work Jurisprudence Exam. This exam is related to the laws, ethics, and regulations in regards to social work for the state. It is a no-fail exam and each question must be answered correctly. Once it has been passed, you can move on to the next step. 
  4. Take and pass the national advanced clinical exam from the Association of Social Work Boards.
  5. Apply for and officially become a licensed clinical social worker in Texas.  

New York: Office of the Professions

  1. Complete a recognized master’s of social work program. 
  2. Complete the necessary and required coursework and training to identify and report child abuse. 
  3. Apply for the LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker) license. 
  4. After the above application is reviewed, you will receive permission to register for and take the ASWB master’s exam. 
  5. Once you have passed the exam, you should complete at least three years of supervised experience. 
  6. Apply for and officially become a licensed clinical social worker in New York. 

Florida: Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling

  1. Complete a recognized master’s degree in social work accredited by the CSWE with at least three credits in eight different subject areas. 
  2. Complete 4,500 hours (three years) of non-clinical supervised social work experience. This will be done under an LCSW or CMSW (Certified Master Social Worker). 1,500 of these hours can be completed before earning your master’s degree, but at least 3,000 of the hours must be earned after. 100 years of face-to-face supervision is required per year during this post-master’s work. 
  3. Submit an application for a Certified Master Social Worker license to the board. 
  4. The board will approve the above application, and then you can take the ASWB advanced generalist exam. 
  5. Officially receive your license and become a licensed clinical social worker, also known as a CMSW, in Florida. 


There are many acronyms in the world of social work and counseling. It may be hard to know what they all mean. LMSW and LCSW are two that may come up fairly frequently. Many states recognize both titles, and some states only recognize one or the other.  An LMSW is a licensed master social worker. An LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker. While there are similarities to each position, they are different enough that it is worth comparing. 

The main difference between the positions is that an LCSW can independently provide clinical therapy and mental health services. While an LMSW can do so as well, they must operate under the supervision of a LCSW, psychologist, or other mental health professional. This doesn’t mean that one position is more important than the other, just that they have different roles. For example, those with an LMSW license tend to work on big-picture issues, such as social justice reform. They are more likely to work in non-profits or places they can help shape public policy. On a daily basis, they might perform more administrative work such as updating case files, completing billing, and assisting with treatment plans.

On the other hand, LCSWs perform more clinical work, direct client care, and take on a leadership role. They are more likely to see clients face-to-face by performing assessments, handling crises, providing therapy, building treatment plans, and supervising psychotherapy services. However, they will likely have had the experience of an LMSW in their time gaining experience to become an LCSW, as they had to spend many supervised clinical hours on their way to earning their license. 

Both positions work to help people through difficult situations and mental illness. They both work under the same ethical standards set by the National Association of Social Workers, and they abide by ethical values that include competence, integrity, social justice, and dignity for all. 

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