Becoming a Social Worker in Illinois
Social workers have many roles and practice levels. At the lower levels of practice, Illinois sets training requirements higher than some states do. You start out the same, though – by earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or Master of Social Work (MSW).
Here is a guide to getting your social worker education in Illinois and launching a successful career.
If You Are a High School Student
Concentrate on getting good grades in college prep courses. If you want to begin exploring the social and behavioral sciences, you can select courses in sociology or psychology.
Also look for opportunities to job shadow or volunteer. The Volunteer Centers of Illinois can connect you to agencies looking for your services.
Look for a school with a program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). BSW programs prepare generalists; they cover many of the same concepts. However, some offer special programs, for example, the opportunity to continue seamlessly into master's study and earn both degrees in five years.
Click Here to find Social Work and Human Services undergraduate degrees.
Apply to the university. Depending on the school you select, you will need to make another application either when you begin upper division coursework or when you are preparing for the practicum experience.
Maintain good grades. A GPA of 2.5 is often required for admission to the social work major or fieldwork experience. After admission to the major, grades become even more important – at least for those with aspirations beyond the BSW level.
Utilize field experiences to your advantage; they may lead to entry level employment upon graduation.
To earn the Licensed Social Worker (LSW) title as a BSW in Illinois, you must work under supervision for three years. You will take the master's level exam through the Association of Social Work Boards -- this is not the lowest level licensing exam, but the one typically administered to MSW graduates.
It is also an option to apply to an MSW program. With a recent BSW, that social work master's may be as little as a year away!
If You Have a College Degree
Look for opportunities to volunteer if you did not major in a related field and have not worked in human or social services.
Select an MSW program that offers a concentration you like. Look ahead to see admission requirements and prerequisite courses. Some schools require statistics and human biology while others set a minimum number of semester hours in human or behavioral sciences. Illinois MSW programs typically set a minimum GPA of 2.75 or 3.0, but exceptions may be made for otherwise exceptional candidates.
The University of Southern California School of Social Work offers one of the only CSWE accredited online Master's of Social Work degrees in the country. Click Here to contact the University of Southern California School of Social Work and request additional information.
Complete coursework. If you did not do your undergraduate degree in social work, your master's program will take you two years of full-time study or three to four years of part-time study. The second half of the program is devoted to coursework and field experiences in a concentration such as mental health, addictions, or school counseling.
With an MSW, you will be eligible for licensure as an LSW soon after graduation. You will need to take the master's level ASWB exam.
In order to earn the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) designation you will need to accrue 3,000 experience hours. You will take the ASWB clinical exam.
You may continue on for a Doctor of Social Work (DSW). This will not provide you with a higher license, but may increase your opportunities. It will also reduce your experience requirement to 2,000 hours.