Social Work Licensure in Washington, DC

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the District of Columbia is home to more than 11,000 community and social service professionals. The nation’s capital offers three different graduate-level licenses to social workers. For each license, applicants must have the appropriate level of education from an accredited program, a passing score on the relevant examination, have passed a criminal background check, and character references. Some licenses also require supervised work hours.

The District of Columbia is a metroplex of people from across the country. As such, many people move from other areas with a social work license from their home state. While the district has no formal agreement with any states for reciprocity of licenses, relocated social workers can apply for a district license with a few identifying documents, proof of passing exam scores, and a copy of their current licenses. All social work licenses expire on July 31 of every other year. In that two-year span, licensed social workers must complete 40 hours of continuing education and re-apply for licensure. These requirements ensure that all social workers remain up to date on the community and its unique needs.

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Types of Social Work Degrees in Washington, D.C.

Learners can earn a social work degree in Washington, D.C., at many of the districts prestigious universities. While the minimum education requirement for licensure in Washington, D.C., is a bachelor’s degree, graduate degrees can open more doors for social work professionals. A bachelor’s degree gives students the skills to become care managers and coordinators. A master’s degree and some supervised work can prepare graduates to work in clinical settings, more specialized areas, and as managers. Those who earn a doctorate can become administrators, professors, or researchers.

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

Many social work schools in Washington, D.C., offer bachelor’s programs that prepare students to become case workers or pursue graduate studies. Students in these programs take basic college courses covering a variety of topics. In the higher-level courses, degree candidates will learn about current research, ethical concerns, sociology, and psychology. Bachelor’s graduates are prepared to assist clinical social workers. Glassdoor reports that these graduates earn an average of $59,770 per year, which is significantly higher than the national average for similar positions.

Master’s in Social Work

Master’s students can specialize in areas such as healthcare social work, substance abuse counseling, and school social work. Some of these learners are able to continue working with a bachelor’s-level license and choose to take one of the online social work programs in Washington, D.C., which accommodate their busy schedules. Graduates can go on to become licensed social workers in their specialization and can elect to complete the hours of supervised work necessary to earn a clinical license, which allows them to work independently. There are many affordable social work programs, and graduates often find that the pay increase from earning a master’s degree makes up for the additional time in school.

Doctorate Degree in Social Work

While the licenses in Washington do not require a doctoral degree, many social work professionals go on to pursue this terminal degree because it prepares them to teach at universities. Other doctoral graduates go on to become administrators or other high-level managers. Many students in social work programs in Washington, D.C., can take advantage of online learning opportunities, which allow them to find programs that fit their schedule.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Washington, D.C.

The District of Columbia offers four levels of licensure for social workers. Professionals who have a bachelor’s in social work can apply to be licensed social work associates (LSWA). The licensed graduate social work (LGSW) designation requires a master’s degree, but does not allow licensees to practice as a clinical social worker. The licensed independent social worker (LISW) credemtoa; allows social workers to work in some social work settings without supervision and in clinical roles with supervision. Licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) holders can practice clinical and non-clinical social work without supervision.

Licensed Social Work Associate (LSWA)

  1. Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work: To earn this Washington social work license, candidates must first complete an accredited bachelor’s program in social work. This requirement ensures that all licensed social workers in the district have the skills and knowledge to conduct social work effectively. It takes a full-time student about four years to earn this degree.
  2. Pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Exam: Candidates for the LWSA license in Washington must sit for the bachelor’s-level exam that is issued by the ASWB. This exam ensures that social workers meet national standards. Depending on the learner’s testing skills and time considerations, it can take a few weeks or months to properly prepare for this exam.
  3. Submit the Appropriate Documents: The District of Columbia requires candidates to provide official transcripts, passport-style photographs, and three character references. At least two of the references must come from professionals in the field, which helps ensure that social workers are of good moral standing. The information provided is used for a background check. It can take a few days to gather all the materials.

Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)

  1. Master’s or Doctoral Degree: Becoming an LGSW in Washington requires a graduate degree in social work, and it must come from a program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Graduates who hold this license are prepared to complete some tasks without supervision. It can take two years or more after earning an undergraduate to earn a graduate degree.
  2. Pass the ASWB Exam: Applicants who wish to become LGSWs in the district must pass the ASWB’s master’s-level exam. Although the work varies more at this stage, the test ensures a consistency of care throughout the country. Preparing for this test can take about a month.
  3. Submit Required Documents: Candidates must submit an application with several identifying documents. Applicants need two copies of a passport-style photo with their social security number on the back, a copy of a photo identification, and three character references.

Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW)

  1. Master’s or Doctoral Degree: This license requires applicants to have a graduate degree in a relevant area. These programs give graduates a deeper understanding of social work ethics, psychology, and research, which is vital for LISWs. After completing an undergraduate program, student can expect to spend at least two years earning a graduate degree.
  2. 3,000 Hours of Experience: Because the LISW license allows professionals to practice clinical social work under supervision, applicants must have 3,000 hours of experience in the field. It’s important for candidates and their supervisors to keep the appropriate documentation during this period. LISW candidates take between two and four years to complete this requirement.
  3. Pass the ASWB Exam: For this license, applicants must take and pass the advanced generalist exam from the ASWB. This exam tests candidates on their knowledge of social work methods to ensure readiness. Candidates can study for this exam while completing the required experience hours.
  4. Submit Complete Application: The full application for this license consists of a few identifying documents, three character reference letters, and approval for a background check. At least two of the character reference forms should come from professionals in the social work field. The background check can take several weeks for the agency to complete.

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)

  1. Master’s or Doctoral Degree: For this highest level of social work licensure in Washington, D.C., applicants need a master’s or doctorate degree in social work. LICSWs work independently in clinical settings. After graduating from an undergraduate program, it can take about two years to earn a master’s degree.
  2. 3,000 Hours of Experience: After completing a graduate program in social work, applicants must complete 3,000 of supervised experience. These hours must be relevant to diagnosing and treating clients. It usually takes two to four years to gain the necessary hours.
  3. Pass the ASWB Exam: To become an LICSW in Washington, candidates must pass the ASWB clinical exam. This test allows applicants to prove their readiness to treat clients in a clinical setting. Many candidates study for this exam while they complete their supervised hours.
  4. Submit Complete Application: After completing the other requirements, LICSW candidates must submit all of the required documentation to the board. Applicants must provide three character references, two of which must come from social work professionals. Candidates must also give the board permission to run a background check. It can take four to eight weeks for a background check to go through.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Washington, D.C.?

Professionals must earn at least a bachelor’s to become an LSWA, which takes about four years. Each subsequent level of licensure takes additional education and experience. It takes about six years to become an LGSW, which requires applicants to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Due to the 3,000 hours of experience required, it can take between eight and 10 years to become an LISW or LICSW. Many social workers reach one level of licensure and work as they climb the ladder.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in Washington, D.C.

People come from around the country to live and work in the District of Columbia. While the district does not have any reciprocity agreements with other states, professionals with a license from outside of the district can apply to the Board of Social Work for endorsement. Applicants must submit the required documents, which includes two photos, a copy of the current license, verification from the transferring state, and an official copy of the appropriate ASWB exam score. Applicants must also pay a $230 fee in the form of a check, money order, or certified check. Candidates have to submit all the required documents within 90 days. It can take time to process the application, so transferring social workers should allow a few weeks for documents to arrive and the board to approve the transfer.

License Renewal

On July 31 of odd-numbered years, social work licenses in Washington, D.C., expire. Professionals must submit an application for renewal before the deadline to remain licensed. In the renewal application, professionals must provide proof of completing 40 continuing education hours in the previous two years. Social workers can use online and independent study for up to 12 of the required hours. Six of the continuing education hours must come from in-person training, and at least three must come from HIV training. When a social worker applies to renew for the first time, the board waives the continuing education requirement. Not all applicants must show proof of the continuing education courses with their applications. However, the board conducts continuing education audits and randomly selects social workers to provide proof of these hours. Professionals can submit renewal applications online or through the mail.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Washington, D.C.

With more than 11,000 social workers practicing in the nation’s capital, it offers many opportunities. The district has licenses at many different levels, which allow professionals to practice as social workers while they earn higher licenses. Since the district pays social workers significantly more than the national average, Washington can be a great place for social workers to practice. The city is also home to some of the most recognizable and respected schools, including the following programs.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Social workers can find fulfilling jobs in many settings, including hospitals, government agencies, schools, and rehabilitation facilities. Some social workers conduct business on a macro level, like teaching communities about healthy habits. Others work with clients one-on-one for personalized care. A bachelor’s degree can prepare social workers to enter each of these fields, but most work in government agencies. Graduate degrees help social workers find work in more specialized areas. Some even work for themselves in private practice. While each position requires different skills and knowledge, all social workers should have empathy for others, organizational skills, and patience.

  • Child, Family, and School Social Workers: These professionals work in family homes and schools to help children find the resources they need. In many cases, they arrange for foster care and adoption for children from unsafe homes. These professionals need at least a bachelor’s degree and the appropriate license. In Washington, D.C., these social workers receive an average salary of $64,800.
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: Social workers that have a master’s degree and an LISW or LICSW license can work as counselors for people with addiction, behavioral disorders, or mental health issues. These professionals work with a team to diagnose and treat patients who struggle in those ways. These social workers often work in outpatient care centers and residential treatment facilities.
  • Healthcare Social Workers: Healthcare social workers help patients navigate the system during health crises. These are some of the highest-paid social workers in the district, with an average annual salary of $70,580. While healthcare social workers aren’t legally required to have master’s degrees, many find that this graduate degree helps in the medical specialty.
  • Community Health Workers: Community health workers address public health on a macro level. They design programs and campaigns to promote healthy habits within a community. Many of these workers have a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s degree can help open management opportunities in this field.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: These social workers help people who are recovering from illness or disability, or who otherwise have trouble adjusting to everyday life. Rehabilitation counselors connect clients with resources, employment opportunities, social events, and treatment facilities that help them get on their feet.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Washington, D.C.

The district has a higher average salary for social workers than much of the country, which makes it a great place to work in this field. While a master’s degree can help social workers earn higher wages in some areas, that isn’t always the case. Substance abuse counselors must have a master’s and earn an average of about $62,000. However, family social workers need only a bachelor’s and make an average of about $64,000 per year in the district.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Washington, D.C.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers$64,800
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors$62,900
Healthcare Social Workers$70,580
Community Health Workers$66,290
Rehabilitation Counselors$47,940
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Washington, D.C.

Professional organizations provide opportunities to network and also offer career resources, such as job boards. Furthermore, these organizations also advocate for better policies. Some of these associations provide continuing education courses, which all Washington, D.C., social workers need for license renewal. The district is home to several professional organizations for social workers.

  • Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work: LISWs and LICSWs in Washington can practice clinical work and join the GWSCSW. This organization provides opportunities for networking, mentoring, and volunteering. They also post job listings within the metro area. Funds that the organization raises goes toward advocating in the local government for policies that benefit social workers.
  • Association of VA Social Workers: Social workers are a vital part of the Veteran Affairs department, commonly called the VA. This organization works to recognize the hard work these professionals do for veterans and advocate for the recruitment of social workers throughout the VA. Members enjoy access to the online forums, relevant news updates, and networking events.
  • National Association of Social Workers – D.C. Metro Chapter: NASW is the country’s largest social work professional organization, and the D.C. Metro Chapter offers an array of benefits. Members can attend professional development courses, network with social work professionals throughout the area, and advocate for their profession.