Iowa Social Work Licensing Requirements
As of December 2018, Iowa boasted the lowest unemployment rate in the country, at 2.4%.1 A low unemployment rate typically indicates that there are ample jobs across many fields, including social work. In fact, data suggest that the number of social work jobs in Iowa is expected to continue to increase substantially between 2016 and 2026, making Iowa an excellent state to consider for a career in social work.2 The Iowa Board of Social Work, a division of the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Professional Licensure, is the agency that processes licenses for social workers in Iowa. For more information about becoming a social worker in Iowa, continue reading below.
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How to Become a Social Worker in Iowa
There are three different types of social work licenses in Iowa: the Licensed Bachelor Social Worker (LBSW), the Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), and the Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW). Note that people with bachelor’s degrees in social work can be hired for social work jobs in Iowa and they are not required to be licensed. However, becoming licensed as a bachelor’s-level social worker may help enhance your application for social work positions.
A licensed social worker in Iowa must typically have at least a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree to apply for social work jobs in Iowa. Many Iowa social workers have master’s degrees or doctorates. The type of degree sought will depend on what type of license the candidate is seeking. For those seeking an LBSW, a bachelor’s degree will be needed. For those seeking licensure as an LMSW or an LISW, a master’s degree will be required. Below is further information about each degree type.
Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)
A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) will include classes in social work as well as psychology, sociology, economics, and other courses. In addition, students in these programs will likely perform fieldwork to prepare for real-world scenarios. To become licensed as a social worker in Iowa, you must attend a program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). There are currently 12 BSW programs in Iowa that are CSWE-accredited.
Master of Social Work (MSW)
A master’s of social work (MSW) will include advanced courses in crisis intervention, substance abuse, mental health, family and individual treatment, domestic violence, and many other important topics. Fieldwork is also a requirement for an MSW degree and students will receive hands-on social work experience in their programs. There are four MSW programs in Iowa that are accredited by the CSWE. An MSW program usually takes two years to complete. However, individuals who already have a BSW may be designated as having advanced standing in an MSW program, which can allow them to complete it in one year instead of two.
Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Iowa
All individuals who wish to become social workers in Iowa must obtain at least a bachelor’s degree in social work from a college accredited by the CSWE. In addition, they must receive a passing score on the designated Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam for the type of licensure they are seeking. Beyond this, each license has different requirements and allows social workers to provide a specific set of services. Keep reading for more information about each of Iowa’s three social work licenses.
Licensed Bachelor Social Worker (LBSW)
With a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program, you can apply for a Licensed Bachelor Social Worker license in Iowa. Social workers who hold this credential are able to perform certain assessments and interventions under supervision. To obtain your LBSW license, follow the steps below.
1. Submit an LBSW application to the Board.
Once you have completed your BSW, you can apply for LBSW licensure by submitting an application to the Board. This can be done through the Department of Public Health’s Online Services page or by mailing a copy of the LBSW application form to the Board. Both of these methods require a $120 application fee (as of January 2019), and you should also have your school send your BSW transcript to the Board.
2. Pass the ASWB Bachelor’s exam.
Once they have reviewed your application, the Board will inform you that you are eligible to sit for the ASWB Bachelor’s examination, which is required for licensure. The fee for this exam (as of January 2019) is $230. The test contains 170 questions about bachelor’s-level social work practice, 150 of which will be scored.
3. Receive your LBSW license from the Board.
The ASWB will automatically send the results of your exam to the Board within about two weeks after your test date. Once the Board has been notified that you passed the exam, they will issue your LBSW license and you will be eligible to practice as an LBSW under supervision.
Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
In Iowa, the Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) credential allows a social worker to provide the same services as an LBSW as well as perform diagnosis, treatment planning, and other high-level interventions. To become licensed as an LMSW in Iowa, you must first complete your master’s in social work at a college accredited by the CSWE or hold a doctoral degree in social work. After the educational requirement has been met, you will need to complete the following steps to obtain your license.
1. Submit an LMSW application to the Board.
The first step to LMSW licensure is to submit an application, which can be done through the Department of Public Health’s Online Services page or by completing a hard copy of the LMSW application and mailing it to the Board. You must also request that an official transcript be sent directly from your college or university to the Board and pay a $120 application fee (as of January 2019).
2. Pass the ASWB Master’s examination.
Once the Board has received and approved your application, they will inform you that you are eligible to complete the next step in the process: registering for and taking the ASWB Master’s examination, which costs $230 as of January 2019. After taking the 170-question exam, you will be notified whether you have passed the exam and your scores will be sent to the Board.
3. Receive your LMSW license from the Board.
After the Board receives documentation of a passing exam score from the ASWB, they will issue your LMSW license. This will allow you to practice master’s-level social work in Iowa.
Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW)
The Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) credential allows a person to provide independent and clinical social work services in Iowa. To earn this license, you must possess an MSW from a program that is accredited by the CSWE or hold a doctoral degree in social work. In addition to obtaining an advanced degree, an aspiring LISW also must gain work experience before becoming eligible for licensure in Iowa. The following steps must be taken to obtain the LISW in Iowa.
1. Submit an LISW application to the Board.
The first step to becoming an LISW after obtaining an MSW is to submit an application to the Board. You can submit an application online through the Department’s Online Services page, or you can mail a copy of the LISW application to the Board. As of January 2019, the application fee for an LISW is $120. You must also submit some supplemental materials, including a transcript from your graduate program and a Supervision Plan identifying the person who will be supervising you while you obtain the required experience (see Step 2).
2. Earn the required experience.
To become an LISW, you will need to accumulate 4,000 hours of post-master’s social work experience in no less than two and no more than six years. To qualify, this experience must include psychological assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. While completing these hours, you must be supervised by an LISW who has been licensed for at least three years, has 4,000 hours of work experience under that license, and has completed training in supervision. You must accrue at least 110 hours of in-person supervision, no more than 60 of which can be from group supervision. Once you have completed your supervised experience, your supervisor(s) will need to submit a Supervision Report form to the Board documenting that you have completed the required hours.
3. Pass the ASWB Clinical exam.
Once your application and supervised hours have been approved by the Board, they will inform you of your eligibility to register for the ASWB Clinical exam. As of January 2019, the fee is $260. The test contains 170 multiple-choice questions about clinical social work, though only 150 are scored.
4. Receive your LISW license from the Iowa Board.
When you have successfully completed the above steps, you will receive your license from the Board. After this, you can practice independently and provide clinical social work services in Iowa.
Social Work Licensure by Endorsement in Iowa
Social workers licensed in other states may apply for a license in Iowa by submitting the application for the level of licensure they are seeking and paying the initial license fee of $120 to the Board. To be eligible, you must have received your current license by meeting requirements equivalent those in Iowa. In addition to the application materials all applicants must submit, you will also need to provide your previous ASWB exam scores and verification of your current license.
Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information
Iowa social workers at all levels must renew their licenses every two years. Fees for renewing a license depend on the license level; the renewal fee for LBSWs is $72, the fee for LMSWs is $120, and the fee for LISWs is $144. During each two-year renewal period, all social workers must complete 27 hours of continuing education. LISWs who supervise other individuals must complete three hours of continuing education in supervision as part of their 27 hours.
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Iowa Social Work Jobs and Salary Information
As of 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 6,350 social workers in Iowa, and the majority (3,500) worked in the subfield of child, family, and school social work.3 The average annual salary for a social worker in Iowa is $49,410, with social workers in the “all other” category earning the highest average income ($61,340).3 According to Projections Central, the long-term outlook for social work jobs in Iowa is favorable, with expected overall job growth of 17.6% between 2016 and 2026.2 The highest increases are projected in the subfields of mental health and substance abuse social work (22.1%) and healthcare social work (20.4%).2
|Type||Number Employed||Average Annual Salary|
|Child, Family, and School Social Workers||3,500||$43,060|
|Healthcare Social Workers||1,480||$47,490|
|Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers||990||$45,750|
|Social Workers, All Other||380||$61,340|
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.3
Social Work Associations in Iowa
- National Association of Social Workers, Iowa Chapter: Offers clinical workshops, information on continuing education, and assistance with ASWB exam preparation.
- The Iowa School Social Workers’ Association (ISSWA): An organization for social workers working in education agencies and school districts; offers assistance with obtaining continuing education credits and provides a newsletter and other timely information.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Can individuals who received their social work degree in another country get their Iowa social work license?
Answer: Yes, if they can provide proof of the equivalency of their education to a social work degree in the United States. Acceptable proof may be obtained from the Credentials Evaluation Service at the International Education Research Foundation or similar organization. Another proof of credentialing option is to receive a certificate of equivalency from the CSWE.
Question: May a person in the final semester of an MSW program take the ASWB test before graduation?
Answer: Yes, if permission has been granted first by the Iowa Board of Social Work. You must submit a licensure application to the Board and have your MSW program submit a letter stating that you are in the final semester of the program. The letter should include your expected graduation date. If permission is granted, you may take the test. After graduation, you must have the school submit transcripts directly to the Board before you are able to become licensed.
Question: If I have received an MSW, may I pay to have the ASWB Registry provide my college transcripts, examination scores, and any licenses from other states sent to the Board?
Answer: Yes, if you have registered with that organization. You can learn more about the registry at the ASWB website.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm
2. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics, Iowa: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ia.htm