California Social Work License Requirements and Schools: Learn How to Become a Social Worker in CA
Written by Rebecca Munday
Last Updated: July 2023
California is a state with a diverse population, ranging from the affluent to the marginalized. Social workers play a crucial role in helping those in need, and the demand for qualified professionals is high. In fact, California employs 12% of all social workers in the country.
If you want to join California’s large and growing social work field, you must meet important state-specific licensure requirements. This guide provides everything you need to know about degree requirements, licensing, and potential salaries.
California Social Work Licensure Requirements
The California Board of Behavioral Sciences issues two licenses to social workers with a master of social work (MSW): associate clinical social worker (ACSW) and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). These two paths have many of the same eligibility requirements. An ASW is the license you need to complete the 3,000 hours to become an LCSW. You must complete a law and ethics course and pass a law and ethics exam to become an LCSW or an ACSW.
Associate Clinical Social Worker (ASW)
California licensure requirements for an ASW include:
- Earn an MSW from an accredited program .
- Complete the license application.
- Pay the $150 application fee.
- Pass a background check and pay $49.99 if you live out-of-state.
- Ask your program to submit your official transcripts.
- Finish additional required coursework, including abuse assessment and reporting, suicide prevention, and substance misuse.
California requires your original signature on their license applications, so you need to print the application, sign it, and scan it into the computer to submit. An ASW allows you to obtain the required supervised clinical experience hours needed to get your LCSW.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
California licensure requirements for an LCSW include:
- Complete 3,000 hours, or two years, of supervised clinical experience.
- Fill out a license application and pay the $250 application fee.
- Finish additional required coursework.
- Pass a criminal background check.
- Pass the California law and ethics exam and the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) clinical exam.
- Fill out your application for initial license issuance and pay the $200 fee.
You may take some of the required courses as part of your MSW program. If you don’t, you must complete additional courses. California requires you to submit separate applications and fees for licensure and initial license issuance to get your license.
Featured Online Social Work Programs
How Long Does it Take to Become a Licensed Social Worker in California?
It may take you between four and eight years to become an LCSW in California, depending on your current level of education. A bachelor’s degree takes about four years, an MSW takes 2-3 years, and completion of required supervised experience takes at least two years.
The time it takes to get your license depends on how quickly you earn your MSW, complete your supervised experience, and pass your ASWB clinical exam and the law and ethics exam.
If you earn a bachelor of social work (BSW), you may enter an MSW program with advanced standing, which allows you to earn an MSW with about half the credits. Attending an MSW program in California may also help you complete the required coursework while earning your degree, saving you time after you graduate.
Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in California
You can become an LCSW in California through license reciprocity. To qualify for reciprocity of your clinical license in California, you must hold:
- An MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited program
- A clinical license that allows you to practice at the highest level of independent social work practice in your state
- A current clinical social worker license that has been active and unrestricted for at least the two years immediately before the California Board of Behavioral Sciences receives your application to become an LCSW
If you do not meet all requirements, you will not be eligible for reciprocity in California. If you meet the requirements, you’ll need to:
- Fill out an application.
- Pay the $250 application fee and the $150 exam fee.
- Pass the California Law and Ethics Exam.
- Submit your official transcripts from your MSW program that show you completed all required coursework.
- Pass a background check.
- Verify your current LCSW license.
How to Renew a Social Work License in California
LCSWs in California must renew their license every two years. To renew your license, you need to complete 36 hours of continuing education (CE) and an online application. You can fill out your renewal application up to 90 days before your license expires. Your continuing education must include six hours of law and ethics training. You must also complete three-hour courses in telehealth and suicide risk assessment.
You can renew your ASW registration up to five times in six years while working toward your LCSW. If you exceed that time, you must reapply for registration. To renew your registration, you need three CEs in law and ethics and a passing score on the California Law and Ethics Exam.
Salary Expectations for Social Workers in California
California ranks in the top five states with the most social workers and pays more than average for all social workers. California pays healthcare social workers almost $43 an hour, the highest average salary in the country. Mental health and substance abuse social workers make an average of about $39 an hour, the second highest average salary in the country.
|Occupation||Average Annual Salary||Average Hourly Salary|
|Child, Family, and School Social Workers||$66,340||$31.90|
|Healthcare Social Workers||$88,380||$42.49|
|Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers||$81,720||$39.29|
|Social Workers, All Other||$69,530||$33.43|
Source: BLS, 2022
Accredited Social Work Programs in California
|University||Location||Available Concentrations||Enrollment Type||2023 Tuition|
|Azusa Pacific University||Azusa, CA (On Campus)||Clinical practice with individuals and families; Community leadership and program administration||Full-time, part-time, advanced standing, or weekends and evenings||$795 per unit|
|Cal Poly Humboldt||Arcata, CA (On Campus, Online)||Advanced generalist||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$510 per unit|
|California Baptist University||Riverside, CA (On Campus, Online)||Advanced generalist||Full-time, advanced standing, or weekends and evening||$788 per unit|
|California State University, Bakersfield||Bakersfield, CA (On Campus, Hybrid)||Advanced generalist||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$873 per credit unit|
|California State University, Chico||Chico, CA (On Campus, Online)||Advanced generalist||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$3,245 per 0-6 units|
|California State University, Dominguez Hills||Carson, CA (On Campus)||Community mental health; Community capacity building; Children, youth, and families||Full-time or part-time||$2,871 per semester|
|California State University, East Bay||Hayward, CA (On Campus, Online)||Children, youth and families; Community mental health||Full-time||$8,439 per two semesters|
|California State University, Fullerton||Fullerton, CA (On Campus, Online)||Child welfare; Community mental health; Aging||Full-time or part-time||$525 per credit unit|
|California State University, Long Beach||Long Beach, CA (On Campus, Online)||Child and family well-being; Adulthood and aging; Integrated health||Full-time, part-time, advanced standing, or weekends and evenings||$512 per credit unit|
|California State University, Los Angeles||Los Angeles, CA (On Campus)||Advanced generalist||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$4,108 per semester|
|California State University, Monterey Bay||Seaside, CA (On Campus)||Advanced generalist||Full-time||$7,353 per two semesters|
|California State University, Northridge||Northridge, CA (On Campus, Online)||Advanced generalist||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$766 per credit unit|
|California State University, Sacramento||Sacramento, CA (On Campus)||Behavioral health; Children and families; Health and aging||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$2,082 per 0-6 units|
|California State University, San Bernardino||San Bernardino, CA (On Campus, Online)||Advanced generalist with specializations in a social issue, client population, or field of practice||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$650 per credit unit|
|California State University, San Marcos||San Marcos, CA (On Campus, Online)||Advanced generalist||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$499 per credit unit|
|California State University, Stanislaus||Stockton, Turlock, CA (On Campus, Online)||Advanced generalist; Integrated practice||Full-time or part-time||$35,000 total cost|
|Fresno State University||Fresno, CA (On Campus, Online)||Child welfare; School social work; Behavioral health and integrated practice||Full-time or part-time||$512 per credit unit|
|Loma Linda University||Loma Linda, CA (On Campus, Online)||Clinical; Direct practice; Health ; Mental health||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$879 per credit unit|
|National University||San Diego, CA (Online)||Advanced generalist||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$442-$760 per credit unit|
|San Diego State University||San Diego and Calexico, CA (On Campus)||Administration and community development; Direct practice or clinical||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$9,724 per year|
|San Francisco State University||San Francisco, CA (On Campus)||Advanced generalist; Child welfare practice; Individuals, families, and groups||Full-time||$8,956 per two semesters|
|San Jose State University||San Jose, CA (On Campus, Online)||Advanced generalist||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$475 per credit unit|
|University of California at Berkeley||Berkeley, CA (On Campus)||Advancing health and well-being across the adult lifespan; Strengthening children, youth, and families; Strengthening organizations and communities||Full-time, part-time, or advanced standing||$1,850 per credit unit|
|University of California at Los Angeles||Los Angeles, CA (On Campus)||Social and economic justice; Health and mental health across the lifespan; Child and family well-being||Full-time||$11,220 per year|
|University of Massachusetts Global||Irvine, CA (Online)||Advanced generalist||Full-time, part-time, advanced standing, multiple cohorts per year, weekends or evenings||$695 per credit unit|
|University of Southern California||Los Angeles, CA (On Campus, Online)||Adult mental health and wellness; Children, youth, and families; Social change and innovation; School and educational setting; Military populations and setting||Full-time, part-time, advanced standing, multiple cohorts per year, weekends and evenings, and weekends only||$1,928 per credit unit|
|University of the Pacific||Stockton, Sacramento (On Campus, Online)||Advanced generalist; Healthcare||Full-time, advanced standing||$1,025 per credit unit|
Professional Organizations for Social Workers in California
Joining a professional social work organization can give young practitioners an advantage in the job market or give experienced professionals a resume boost. These organizations offer seminars, networking opportunities, job listings, and avenues for continuing education. They also guide professionals toward becoming educators and leaders in the social work space.
- California Society for Clinical Social Work: The CSCSW advocates for the ethical practice of social work in California. The organization offers networking opportunities and mentorship programs for new social workers.
- California Association of School Social Workers: The CASSW focuses on the mental, social, and emotional welfare of students within the California school network. The organization coordinates with various regional graduate programs, making it a key resource to future social workers with an interest in child, family, and school social work.
- National Association of Social Workers – California Chapter: The California chapter of the NASW advocates for state and nationwide social justice; hosts networking opportunities; and offers resources for clinical workers, students, and beginners in the profession.