North Carolina Social Work Licensing Requirements

The ninth-most populous state in the US, North Carolina is an ideal location for aspiring social workers due to its population and a vast array of social work training programs.1 This state is home to 24 universities offering social work programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which creates a favorable climate for those who want to become a social worker and who have a desire to help families, individuals, and/or groups. The North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board (NCSWCLB) is the acting regulatory authority for social workers in the state. On this page, you’ll learn more about the requirements set by the Board for social work licensure in North Carolina.

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How to Become a Social Worker in North Carolina

Educational Paths

In North Carolina, those interested in pursuing a career as a social worker must complete a degree in social work from a program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Depending upon the type of license or certification you decide to pursue, a certain amount of field experience may also be required.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

A BSW is the minimum acceptable degree required to be licensed as a Certified Social Worker (CSW) in the state of North Carolina. A BSW is recognized as the entry-level degree for practice in both public and private social agencies, as well as preparation for graduate training should a student decide to take that route. The BSW is a four-year baccalaureate program that consists of coursework in topics such as human behavior and development, family dynamics, the use and development of community resources, social welfare policy and services, social work values, social work research, and human and cultural diversity. An accredited social work program will also include substantial fieldwork as a means to utilize learned classroom techniques in a real-world environment. Upon completion of the BSW program, and after obtaining the required North Carolina state certification, the graduate will be eligible to begin work as a CSW. Some common jobs for a CSW include child welfare counselor, case manager, residential counselor, and social worker.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

In the state of North Carolina, an MSW is the minimum educational degree required for any social work position higher than that of a CSW. A bachelor’s degree in any field is the first step towards an MSW; however, if a BSW has already been completed, students may be eligible for “advanced standing” status, which can allow them to complete the program in an expedited term of one year rather than two. All CSWE-accredited university programs follow a similar curriculum that balances classroom studies with fieldwork. However, each university will offer their own unique options for available electives, field education placement opportunities, and area focus.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in North Carolina

There are several types of social worker certifications and licenses granted to those in the field in the state of North Carolina. Becoming licensed as a Certified Social Worker (CSW), Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), or Certified Social Work Manager (CSWM) requires you to follow certain steps before practicing in the state. Licensure is mandatory to practice independent or clinical social work. Depending on the scope and supervision in place, certification can be optional for those who would like to provide other social work services. However, becoming certified can demonstrate your level of training and skills and could be advantageous when you are looking for social work jobs. Keep reading below to find out how to earn each of these certifications and licenses.

Certified Social Worker (CSW)

A bachelor’s in social work is required to become a CSW in North Carolina. Typical jobs for a certified social worker include child welfare counselor, case manager, residential counselor, and social worker. After receiving a BSW, the following steps are required in order to become certified.

1. Apply to the Board for certification.

After completing your BSW, you can begin the CSW certification process by submitting an application packet to the Board. In addition to completing the CSW application forms, you must also submit three forms from professional references and a sealed transcript. As of December 2018, the fee for this application is $115.

2. Complete the Exam Request Form.

After the Board has reviewed your application, they will notify you that you are eligible to sit for the exam required to become certified. Once they have informed you of this, submit the Exam Request Form to the Board and indicate that you will be taking the Bachelor’s exam. When you submit this form, you must also pay a $40 fee.

3. Take the ASWB Bachelor’s exam.

After the Board has approved your examination request, you can register for the ASWB Bachelor’s exam, which is a four-hour, 170-item, multiple-choice test. As of December 2018, the fee for this exam is $230.

4. Receive CSW certification from the Board.

Your ASWB Bachelor’s exam scores will be sent to the Board within approximately two weeks after you complete the exam. Once the Board has received these scores and your application is complete, they will issue your CSW certification.

Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW)

Becoming a CMSW in North Carolina is similar to becoming a CSW. The major difference is in the educational requirements: a master of social work (MSW), doctor of social work (DSW), or PhD in social work is required prior to applying for certification as a CMSW. There is no work experience requirement to become a CMSW in North Carolina. Typically, those with this certification seek employment as a medical social worker, school social worker, or social work supervisor. Below are the steps to CMSW certification, which you can begin at any time after completing your master’s or doctoral degree in social work.

1. Submit a CMSW application to the Board.

The first step towards obtaining certification as a CMSW is to submit an application packet to the Board. During this step, you must also include three reference forms from individuals familiar with your work and a sealed transcript. As of December 2018, the fee for the CMSW application is $115.

2. Complete the Exam Request Form.

After the Board has reviewed your application packet and found it to be complete, you will be eligible to request to sit for the required certification exam. For this, submit the Exam Request Form to the Board along with a fee of $40. On this form, indicate that you are applying to take the Master’s exam.

3. Take the ASWB Master’s exam.

After the Board approves your exam request, you can sign up to take the ASWB Master’s exam. As of December 2018, the fee for this exam is $230. The test consists of 170 multiple-choice items.

4. Receive your CMSW certification.

The ASWB will send your exam scores to the Board within about two weeks after you complete the test. Once the Board receives documentation that you have passed the exam and deems your application to be complete, they will issue your CMSW certification.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

An LCSW license is required for clinical social work practice in North Carolina. Before applying to be an LCSW in North Carolina, you must earn a master of social work (MSW), doctor of social work (DSW), or PhD in social work from a CSWE-accredited school. Once you have earned this degree, you can follow the steps below to obtain your LCSW license.

1. Apply for a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Associate (LCSWA) license.

To earn a full LCSW license in North Carolina, you must complete a certain amount of supervised clinical social work experience (see Step 2). Because you must be licensed to provide any clinical social work services in the state, however, you will need to apply for an LCSWA license before beginning to earn these hours. This license will allow you to work under the supervision of an LCSW until you are eligible to apply for your own LCSW license.

To apply for the LCSWA credential, complete the Board’s application packet and indicate you are applying for an LCSWA license. You will need to include forms from three professional references, a sealed transcript, and an application fee of $115 (as of December 2018).

2. Gain the required experience.

Once the Board has issued your LCSWA license, you can begin accruing supervised clinical social work hours. For LCSW licensure, it is required that you complete a minimum of 3,000 hours of post-graduate paid employment in clinical social work. During this time, you must receive at least 100 hours of supervision from an LCSW who is in good standing with the Board and has been practicing as an LCSW for at least two years. Additionally, you must complete the 3,000 hours of experience in no fewer than two years but no more than six years. There are a number of forms that will need to be completed before, during, and after this supervised experience, all of which can be found on the Board’s LCSWA forms page.

3. Take the ASWB Clinical exam.

When the Board issues your LCSWA license, they will also make you eligible to sit for the ASWB Clinical exam. Before signing up for this exam, you must notify the Board that you are ready to register by completing the Exam Request Form and submitting it along with a $40 fee. Once they have approved this request, you can register for the exam (which costs $260 as of December 2018). You must pass the ASWB Clinical exam within two years after being issued your LCSWA license.

4. Submit an LCSW application.

After you have completed the 3,000 hours of supervised experience and passed the ASWB Clinical exam, you can apply for an LCSW license. Because the Board will already have some of your information on file from your LCSWA application, you do not have to fill out the entire application packet again. To upgrade from an LCSWA license to an LCSW license, complete the LCSW Short Form Application and submit it to the Board with the required fee ($115 as of December 2018). Note that for this application, you will need to include your final Six-Month Review form as well as documentation showing that you have completed the amount of continuing education required of all social work license holders (including LCSWAs).

5. Receive LCSW license from the Board.

After the Board approves your LCSW application, they will issue your license. Although you may have met all the requirements for licensure before this point, you cannot begin practicing until your license has officially been granted.

Certified Social Worker Manager (CSWM)

A bachelor’s in social work (BSW), master’s in social work (MSW), doctor of social work (DSW), or PhD in social work from a CSWE-accredited school is required to become a CSWM. This certification is intended for individuals whose work involves administrative social work practice. To apply for CSWM certification, follow the steps below.

1. Gain the required experience.

To become a CSWM, you must complete 3,000 hours of post-degree paid employment in administrative social work duties. This can be accumulated in no fewer than two years but in no more than six years. You must be supervised on a regular basis by a social work administrator for a minimum of 100 hours (up to 50 hours can be via group supervision). The administrator must be certified by the Board and have a minimum of five years administration experience in a mental health or social work setting.

2. Submit an application for CSWM certification..

Once you have completed the required 3,000 hours of experience, you can submit an application packet. Complete all of the forms relevant to CSWM certification and request three forms from professional references. Once these are complete, send the packet to the Board along with a sealed copy of your transcript and (as of December 2018) a $115 application fee.

3. Complete the Exam Request Form.

Before registering to take the exam required for certification, you must request permission from the Board by submitting the Exam Request Form. On this form, indicate you are planning to take the Advanced Generalist exam. Return it to the Board along with the $40 fee.

4. Take the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam.

Once the Board grants you permission to register, you can sign up to take the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam This exam consists of 170 multiple-choice questions and (as of December 2018) costs $260 to take.

5. Receive CSWM certification from the Board.

The Board should receive your exam scores within about two weeks of your exam date. Once they have documentation that you have successfully completed the exam, they will issue your CSWM certification.

Military Occupational Specialties and Training Credit

In North Carolina, military and veteran applicants may acquire credit for experience that has been gained through their occupational specialty while in the military. This experience must be documented via the DD-2586 and relevant Board verification forms. It must be determined to be substantially equal to that required by the North Carolina Administrative Code.

Social Work Licensure by Substantial Equivalency in North Carolina

While the Board does not offer automatic licensure for social work license holders from other states, they do review each application on a case-by-case basis and may offer licensure and certification by substantial equivalency for licensees of other states determined to have licensing standards that are in line with North Carolina’s. If you believe you meet criteria for this type of licensure, you can complete the application packet, filling out the forms for substantial equivalency for your level of licensure or certification. As part of this application, you will need to provide verification of your current license and have your ASWB exam scores transferred to the Board.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

Licensed or certified social workers in the state of North Carolina are required to renew their licenses every two years, with licenses expiring on June 30 of the second year after they were issued (LCSWA licenses expire two years after issue). A total of 40 clock hours of continuing education (CE) must be accumulated during each renewal period, except for first-time licensees whose initial term is less than two years, who must complete a minimum of 30 CE hours during that time. Four hours of the total CE hours must be focused on ethics.

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North Carolina Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information

North Carolina social workers earn an average salary of $50,608 across all categories of social work positions.2 Just over 18,000 social workers were employed in the state in May 2017, with the highest number working in child, family, and school social work positions (11,000).2 It is projected that the total number of social work positions in North Carolina will increase by 15.8% between 2016 and 2026.3 The highest growth is expected in the area of mental health and substance abuse social work, which is projected to grow by 21.6% during that 10-year period.3

Type Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers 11,000 $46,820
Healthcare Social Workers 3,460 $53,330
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 2,920 $47,660
Social Workers, All Other 920 $55,160

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.2

Social Work Associations in North Carolina

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Does North Carolina have comity or reciprocity with other states?

Answer: The NCSWCLB does offer licensure by comity, or substantial equivalency. This requires verification that the credential requirements (including examination) in the other jurisdiction are substantially equal to those of North Carolina. To be eligible, an applicant must possess the current equivalent certificate/license/registration under the other jurisdiction when they apply in North Carolina.

Question: In order to be certified through the North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board, must I be a member of the NASW?

Answer: No. The NCSWCLB is the regulatory board that governs social work practices in North Carolina, and the NASW is a professional organization.

Question: Are there preparatory courses I can take to prepare for the ASWB exam?

Answer: Yes. There are many prep courses available to practitioners, one of which is offered by the North Carolina chapter of NASW. Visit their website for more details on these prep courses.

Question: How frequently are the ASWB exams held?

Answer: Currently, the exams are given five to six days a week at Pearson VUE Professional Centers, which are located throughout the country.

Question: What type of questions can I expect on the ASWB exam?

Answer: The exam itself is focused only on social work practice. The nature of the questions depends upon the exam level (Bachelor’s, Master’s, Advanced Generalist, or Clinical).

Question: How long can I expect the application process to take, from beginning to end?

Answer: Generally speaking, from the time a completed application packet (containing all required documentation) is received, it should take between two and four weeks for your license or certification to be issued by the Board.

Question: Who should I ask to provide the required references for my application packet?

Answer: One of your provided references must be from at least one of your supervisors. The other two reference letters must be from colleagues with whom you worked in a professional capacity, preferably those who are familiar with your clinical practice studies.

1. US Census Bureau State Population Totals and Components of Change, 2010-2017: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/nc
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, North Carolina: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nc.htm
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http:/www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm