Social Work

The Steps to Become a Social Worker in Illinois

The Steps to Become a Social Worker in Illinois
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Noodle Staff March 20, 2018

So you want to be a social worker in Illinois? Allow Noodle to guide you through the path to get you there.

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In the words of the late great Dr. Seuss, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Even if you have never read those words, you’re someone who has taken the sentiment very seriously. You have to make a living, but you’re not content to have any old career. You have a calling. You want to do your part to make the world a better place. And social work is looking to you like the best way to answer that call.

A dream and a calling is nice. But how do you go about transforming yourself into that dream? How does one become a social worker in Illinois?

Where to start looking when it comes to social work in Illinois

Helping people in need is a foundational principle in the field of social work. Usually, it will be you providing the help to others, but every now and then, it’s okay for you to need help too.

This is one of those times. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) website, particularly regarding social work, is not as intuitive and user friendly as it could be. Rather than combing through documents and statutes yourself, you’ve done the right thing. You’ve come to Noodle, where the hard work of deciphering regulations has been done for you. Now all you need to do is read this handy digest of the relevant Illinois social worker requirements, and you’ll know what you need to do to get started helping other people as soon as you can.



University and Program Name Learn More

Illinois social work general requirements

Becoming a social worker in Illinois, is a fairly straightforward process. As a general rule, you will need to have an approved degree in social work, meet the supervised professional experience requirements, and pass an exam. Of course, there will be variations in requirements depending on your personal background and what type of Illinois social work licensure you are seeking.

Types of social work licensure in Illinois

Illinois only offers two types of social work licenses: Licensed Social Worker (LSW) and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). The key differences between them are in the education requirements, the supervised professional experience requirements, which exam is taken, and obviously, what the licensure entitles you to do in the state of Illinois.

Licensed social worker in Illinois

A licensed social worker is entitled to act as a social worker and provide services in the capacity of a social worker; however a licensed social worker may not do so “independently”. Someone who holds only a social work license in Illinois must practice under the auspices of a licensed clinical social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. This is according to the Illinois Clinical and Social Work Practice Act, Section 1470.97.

In order to become a licensed social worker, you will need:

  • A bachelor’s from an accredited social work program
  • 3 years of supervised professional experience
  • To pass the Masters ASWB test

Licensed clinical social worker in Illinois

A licensed clinical social worker can practice social work independently.

In order to become a licensed clinical social worker in Illinois, you will need either a master’s degree or a doctorate from an approved program. If you have a master’s degree, you will need 3,000 hours of supervised professional experience. If you have a doctorate you will only need 2,000 hours of supervised professional experience. You will have to take a test as well, called the Clinical ASWB examination.

To become a social worker in Illinois, whether an LSW or LCSW, you need to apply to the IDFPR before you take the relevant test and wait to receive an examination approval letter. The letter will be accompanied by instructions on how to register for your test as well as a candidate handbook to help you prepare for testing.

The final requirement for either license is that you be of good moral character. Far be it for one man/woman to cast judgement upon another, but be aware that possessing a particular or extensive criminal history may be taken under consideration by the licensing board.

Other questions you might have

What if I don’t have a bachelor’s degree?

Get one. You cannot become an LSW in Illinois without a bachelor’s. Additionally, if you are using a bachelor’s to satisfy the minimum threshold secondary degree to become a social worker in Illinois, your bachelor’s will need to be in social work from an approved program (see below).

What if my bachelor’s is not in social work?

If you are contemplating social work as a career switch and your initial bachelor’s was in a completely unrelated field, don’t worry. You won’t need to go back to school and get a new bachelor’s in social work. But… you will need to go back to school and get a master’s degree in social work from an approved program. A master’s in social work is more versatile anyway because you can use a master’s to get either an LSW or an LCSW.

Reciprocity: What if I am a licensed social worker in another state?

The bad news is that when it comes to social work, there is no such thing as a formal reciprocity agreement between states. If you are a currently licensed and practicing social worker in another state, even if you live right next door in Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, or Iowa, you will still need to apply for an Illinois license before you can begin working in the land of Lincoln.

The other less than pleasant news regarding reciprocity is that different states have different licensing categories and corresponding requirements for social workers. The title you currently hold may not have an exact equivalent in Illinois.

There is good news, however. Illinois does have a process for recognizing out of state licensure. If you have passed the applicable ASWB exam and have an active license in another state or United States territory, you can apply for Licensure by Endorsement. You will have to submit all appropriate documentation verifying your license, exam scores, and supervised professional experience.

Approved Illinois social work programs

The Illinois rule regarding approved social work programs is simple: Illinois does not have a department for approval of social work degrees; rather, the state provides a short list of other accreditation agencies or governing bodies whose approval is recognized by Illinois.

Doctoral degrees: Doctoral degrees need to have been obtained from an institution that is accredited by an agency approved by the United States Department of Education.

The U.S Department of Education does not actually provide accreditation to institutions itself, but it does oversee them indirectly through its list of federally recognized accreditation agencies. You can look up both federally accredited agencies and whether the institution you wish to obtain a doctorate from has received approval at the Department of Education accreditation site.

Master’s & bachelor’s degrees: Master’s and bachelor’s degrees must be from an institution accredited by either the Council on Social Work Education, the Canadian Association of Schools of Social Work (CASWE), or by the Foreign Equivalency Determination Service of the Council on Social Work Education.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), among other things, develops accreditation standards for institutions offering degrees in social work and provides accreditation to those institutions that meet the CSWE’s standards. You can look up whether or not your institution is accredited at the CSWE’s website at Directory of Accredited Programs.

The nice thing about having a national accreditation agency like the CSWE recognized by the state of Illinois is that it includes colleges and universities not located in Illinois.

There are currently about 30 CSWE programs accredited in Illinois. This list may not be comprehensive. As of the time of this writing, CSWE noted that there were several programs in the process of applying for accreditation; those programs are not included below. Additionally, it’s possible that a program could lose its accreditation or decide to discontinue with their social work degree program. The following list should therefore be used for background information only and not be considered a final authority.


Chicago State University
DePaul University
Dominican University
Erikson Institute
University of Chicago
University of Illinois at Chicago


Bradley University
Greenville College
Lewis University
MacMurray College
Olivet Nazarene University
St Augustine College
Trinity Christian College
University of Illinois at Springfield
Western Illinois University


Aurora University
Governors State University
Illinois State University
Loyola University Chicago
Northeastern Illinois University
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of St. Francis

International degrees

As stated above, Illinois recognizes degrees obtained from a Canadian CASWE approved institution. You can find a list of such programs here.

If you hold a degree from another country, excluding Canada, you will need to apply to the CSWE’s International Social Work Degree Recognition and Evaluation Service. This is what was referred to above, as per the language of the Illinois rules, as the foreign equivalency determination service of the CSWE. To receive an evaluation from CSWE, you will need to submit relevant documents. These documents must all be not only official school documents, but they also must be officially translated. They can be officially translated by the social work program or by a notarized outside service. The documents in the original language should be submitted as well.

Naturally, there are fees associated with this service. There are both initial standard fees and application fees that differ based on country of origin. Checks are not an acceptable form of payment of these fees.

Supervised professional experience

There are specific requirements regarding who or what qualifies as an acceptable supervisor for the purposes of meeting the professional experience requirement.

To become an LCSW, the only qualified supervision is under the auspices of an already licensed LCSW. If you are from a state where clinical social workers aren’t licensed, your supervision may still count in Illinois if your supervisor was acting as a clinical social worker and had the highest level of credentials required in your state.

To become an LSW, the supervisory requirements are a little more relaxed. The supervisor can be an LCSW, but may also be an LSW.

For both, the supervisor must have met with you on average four times a month (roughly once a week), and the supervisor must evaluate your performance as being satisfactory.

Supervision can be paid or unpaid, as in an internship. Interestingly, you can contract with someone outside of your employment to be your supervisor, and a supervisor can supervise groups of up to five people.

There are several resources available to assist you in finding a supervisor or supervisory program. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Illinois Chapter (NASW IL) has a supervisor registry. NASW cautions, however, that inclusion in their registry does not consist of an endorsement or recommendation.

If you intend to become an LCSW, the Illinois Society for Clinical Social Work also has a supervision program available to members.


Once you receive your letter of approval from the IDFPR, you can register for the relevant test you need to take. Whether you are becoming an LSW or an LCSW, the test you will take is not a test unique to Illinois. Illinois rules recognize the exam developed by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). In order to take your test, you will need to follow a very specific order of steps:

  • Fulfill all the necessary prerequisites to get a social work license in Illinois (education and supervised experience, when applicable.)
  • Apply for and receive an examination approval letter from the IDFPR.
  • Register for your test with the ASWB
  • Wait for your official ASWB Authorization to Test to arrive. By mail this should come within 7 – 10 business days. By email it should come within 72 hours. If after those time spans you haven’t gotten your authorization, you need to contact ASWB Candidate Services.

Only after you have received the various authorizations can you then actually schedule an appointment to take your test. The test is administered at Pearson Professional Centers. Because it is a national test and administered by a third-party testing agency, you can actually take your exam in a state other than Illinois as long as you make sure you are taking the right test. ASWB warns that they do not offer refunds if you mistakenly take the wrong test.

The ASWB actually offers 4 different tests: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical. Only two of these are relevant if you are seeking licensure in Illinois. As mentioned earlier, these are the Master’s for an LSW and the Clinical for an LCSW. Master’s exams cost $230 and Clinical exams cost $260.

If you are interested in supplementary preparation for the test, ASWB offers an online practice test, but it isn’t free. NASW IL also offers a preparatory course for about the same cost as the actual test. The course lasts for eight hours and is offered about 10 times during the year.

You will have about four hours to complete your test, and you will find out immediately if you have passed. If you have complied with all the registration requirements, ASWB will automatically submit your scores to the IDFPR and the IDFPR will mail you your shiny new license.

Renewing your Illinois social work license

Once you receive your license to practice social work, be it as an LSW or LCSW, you will need to renew it periodically to maintain its active status. Regardless of when your license was issued, it expires on November 30 of every odd numbered year. You can apply to renew it within the preceding month as long as you have met the continuing education requirements.

Illinois social worker continuing education requirements

Happily, the state of Illinois does give you a bit of a break. For your first license renewal, the continuing education requirement is waived, although you do still need to apply for renewal.

For all subsequent renewals, you will need 30 continuing education (CE) hours. Your CEs must be from an approved provider; NASW and ASWB are both listed as approved sponsors, although they are by no means the only ones.

Unfortunately, your CE hours must all be completed within the two year renewal period. Hours in excess of the required 30 do not carry over to the new licensing period. Although extra professional development can’t hurt, can it?

Become a school social worker in Illinois

Alas, if your dream is to become a school social worker, your quest for licensure is not quite over. The “school” part of a school social worker is governed by an entirely different body, that of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Under the ISBE guidelines, a school social worker is classified as “school support personnel” and requires something called an endorsement.

The ISBE requirements are not unreasonable for someone who will be working with students in a school setting. You will need to take some courses that prepare you to work with students, you will need either an internship working in a school setting or prior experience out of state working in a related school position, and you will need to take two more tests.

One other important note: A bachelor’s degree won’t cut it. To be a school social worker in Illinois, you will need a master’s degree in social work.

Illinois social work job outlook

The job outlook for social workers in Illinois is strong. That being said, there are some types of social work and some areas of Illinois that have an exceptionally robust outlook.

According to the U.S. News & World Report, in 2016 Illinois was among the top five highest paying states for child and family social workers, with an average salary of $58,790. Even better, the city of Springfield, Illinois was among the 5 highest paying cities with a generous salary average of $67,610. Bear in mind that the field of child and family social workers includes that of school social worker, which requires the higher education level of a master’s degree.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers also are pretty gainfully employed in Illinois, specifically if they are living in the Chicago metropolitan area that includes Naperville and Arlington Heights. This unsurprising statistic was reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Healthcare social workers do fine in the Chicago metro area, again included in the category of metropolitan areas with the highest employment levels for this job specification. The average annual salary for healthcare social workers in the Chicagoland area is $59,380.

The final, catch all social work category classified by the BLS is “Social Workers, All Other”. Yet again in this category, Illinois takes home the prize. It is one of the top five states with the highest employment levels, accompanied by a comfortable average salary of $65,240. And the Chicago metropolitan area does very nicely here again, with social workers in the Chicago, Naperville, and Arlington Heights metropolitan area taking home the highest salary average yet: $69,040. But if you’re more of a “country” person and want to live and work in a non-metropolitan area, Illinois has you covered there as well. The social workers of the South Illinois non-metro area actually bring home a slightly higher salary than their Chicago compatriots.

All in all, as states go, Illinois is one of the better ones in terms of job security and pay for practitioners of the social work profession.

Keep your goal in sight

Although it may seem that you have to jump through needless hoops and comply with unfeeling bureaucracy to obtain the license you need to practice social work in Illinois, take heart. Other professions have it worse!

However, if that thought doesn’t comfort you or surrounded by forms and regulations you find it hard to believe any other profession could have it worse, take a minute to remember what drew you to social work in the first place.

What compelled you to consider social work as a career option? If you run true to type, it was a deep need to help other people. You saw the suffering of others and wanted to find a way alleviate it, however you could.

Remember that end goal of helping people. With your mission always at the forefront of your mind, a little paperwork will be restored to its rightful place as a minor, but necessary irritant.

And in no time at all, you’ll find yourself licensed as an LSW or LCSW in Illinois, doing the work you were born to do.


21-1023 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers. (n.d.). Retrieved March 06, 2018, from

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List of Accredited Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved March 06, 2018, from

(n.d.). Retrieved March 06, 2018, from

State of Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2018, from

Supervision Program – Illinois Society for Clinical Social Work. (n.d.). Retrieved March 06, 2018, from

Supervisor Registry. (n.d.). Retrieved March 06, 2018, from

U.S. News & World Report. (n.d.). Retrieved March 6, 2018, from

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


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