How to Earn a Virginia Social Work License
March 10, 2021
A social work license opens many job opportunities across the Old Dominion State. Learn about Virginia's three levels of social work licensure and how to obtain each.
Social work encompasses a broad range of service areas, from community advocacy to healthcare to substance abuse counseling to mental health treatment. As you plan your social work career, consider the likelihood that you will specialize in one of these areas. Your specialization may require licensure.
Social work is regulated at the state level; each state mandates specific requirements for its various social work licenses. That's certainly the case in Virginia, where the Board of Social Work—one of 13 health regulatory boards within the state's Department of Health Professions–regulates nearly 11,000 social work practitioners. Virginia requires a license to practice social work in any non-exempt (i.e., for-profit) setting.
If you're considering pursuing a social work license in Virginia, you need to know the wheres, hows, and whys of the process. This article can get you started by addressing these issues:
- What is social work licensure?
- How to get your social work license in Virginia
- Types of social work licensure in Virginia
- Are there any tests required to become a licensed social worker?
- How long does it take to complete licensure?
- How much will it cost me to get a social work license?
- Top social work jobs, employers, and salaries in Virginia
- Top cities for social workers to find work
- Renewing your social work license in Virginia
- Social work associations in Virginia
What is social work licensure?
Social work licensure is a documentation process that allows social workers to work in regulated professions. Many social work fields require specialized knowledge and skills. The licensure process—which certifies that applicants hold the appropriate academic credentials and required training, and which may require passing an examination—ensures that licensees are qualified to practice.
Virginia issues three social work licenses: the Licensed Bachelor of Social Work (LBSW), the Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), and the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). The LBSW is a case management license. The LMSW allows clinicians to practice under senior social worker's supervision; holders of an LCSW can provide those same services unsupervised.
How to get your social work license in Virginia
The Virginia Department of Health Professions' Board of Social Work oversees standards and regulations for social workers in Virginia. The state offers three social work licenses: Licensed Bachelor of Social Work (LBSW), Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Virginia does not have reciprocity with any other state, which means that social workers licensed in other states must apply for a license to practice in Virginia. The state does offer licensure by endorsement for those who hold active, unrestricted licenses in other states.
Virginia is an excellent state in which to build a social work career. From its mountainous west to its eastern coast, from its densely populated urban centers to its many towns and rural localities, the state of Virginia offers abundant opportunities to the aspiring social worker. The state also boasts a growing social work labor market: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of social work jobs in the state increased by 9 percent (from 16,380 to 17,860) between 2016 and 2019. Virginia's urban regions are growing faster than the rest of the state.
Types of social work licensure in Virginia
The state of Virginia issues three social work licenses:
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Master's Social Worker (LMSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
Here's what you need to know about obtaining these licenses.
Bachelor's-level licensed social worker
The LBSW is the lowest level of social work licensure. It is open to anyone who has earned a bachelor's degree in social work from a Council on Social Work Education-accredited (CSWE) program. Applicants must:
- Start the application process by submitting an online application for the LBSW by Examination and submit all necessary documents.
- Take the ASWB Bachelors Exam. When you pass the exam, you will receive your LBSW social work license and are free to provide non-clinical social work services in the state of Virginia.
Most LBSWs find employment as caseworkers, care coordinators, or community organizers.
Master's-level licensed social worker
The first step to earning your master's-level LMSW is to get a master's degree from a CSWE-accredited program. The steps to become an LMSW are:
- Submit an online application for LMSW by Examination to the Virginia Board of Social Work with the application fee; include required additional information (e.g., academic transcripts, licensure history, demographic information).
- Take the ASWB Masters Exam.
- When you receive a qualified score, the Virginia Board of Social Work will issue your LMSW social work license, and you can start practicing with licensure.
An LMSW qualifies you to work in various social work settings—pretty much everything except one-on-one clinical practice. LMSWs work as case managers; administrators in social service agencies, healthcare facilities, and government agencies; and public policy advocates and activists.
Online MSW programs
The first step in earning a LMSW is earning a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. Four Virginia schools offer on-campus social work master's programs. Two offer the degree online, a convenient option that allows students to continue working full-time while earning their degrees. We've listed those two online programs along with an out-of-state online MSW program worth considering if you're interested in disaster and trauma relief or addiction treatment:
- Virginia Commonwealth University: The CSWE's Commission on Accreditation-accredited Master of Social Work at VCU is a smart option for aspiring social workers. It ranks among the top 25 social work programs in the country, according to US News & World Report. In-state students can attend for less than $10,000 per semester tuition and can graduate in as little as 16 months (12 months if they hold a BSW). The VCU online MSW includes three field placements (two general, one in the student's chosen area of specialization).
- George Mason University: George Mason University offers an online MSW that prepares students to work directly with clients and earn licensure. The curriculum involves hands-on learning with field practicum opportunities. Students can specialize in either adults and healthy aging, or children, youth, and families.
- Tulane University: Pursuing your degree online means that you don't have to get your MSW in-state. This top 40 MSW program offers certifications in disaster and collective trauma or in mental health, addiction, and the family as part of its commitment to train social workers to "confront the status quo and fight for those who have fallen through the cracks of the social services system."
Licensed clinical social worker
The LCSW—required for clinical social work practice—is the highest level of social work licensure in Virginia. To receive this license, you must:
- Earn a Master of Social Work with a clinical course of study from a CSWE-accredited program. A clinical course of study includes specified coursework plus 600 hours of clinical practicum
- Complete 3,000 hours of post-MSW clinical experience under clinical supervision. Your work must include 1,380 hours of face-to-face work with clients and 100 hours of individual face-to-face supervision. You will start this process by completing an online application through the Virginia Department of Health Professions.
- Apply for LCSW Licensure by Examination. Once approved, you'll take the ASWB clinical exam.
- Once you pass the ASWB exam, you will receive your LCSW license and begin practicing clinical services in Virginia.
To become an LCSW or a LMSW, you will need an MSW (master's degree in social work) from a school accredited by the CSWE. To qualify for an LCSW in Virginia, you will also need to finish a certain amount of clinical level work. In addition to education requirements, all applicants must pass the ASWB exam (national exam overseen by the Association of Social Work Boards).
How long does it take to become a licensed social worker in Virginia?
On average, a student who completes 3,000 hours of supervised fieldwork can expect to receive their license in two to three years.
How much will it cost me to get a social work license?
|Registration of Supervision||$50|
|Application Processing: Licensed Clinical Social Worker||$165|
|Application Processing: Bachelor's Level Licensed Social Worker||$100|
|Application Processing: Master's-Level Licensed Social Worker||$115|
Does Virginia have reciprocity?
License reciprocity is a system that allows professionals to earn licenses in one state based on having a similar license in another state. Virginia does not have reciprocity with any other state. However, Virginia does offer licensure by endorsement. This allows social workers licensed in another state to secure a Virginia license by completing an online application, verifying an active social work license in another state, providing ASWB exam scores, and meeting the Virginia Board of Social Work's educational and training requirements for LSW or LCSW licensure.
__Top social work jobs, employers, and salaries in Virginia __
In 2020, the median salary for a licensed social worker in Virginia was $52,551. Early career professionals with between zero and two years of experience earn an average salary of $45,900, while those with three to five years of experience averaged $58,400.
Salary by education
|Degree||Average salary in Virginia for a licensed social worker|
## __Top occupations for social workers in Virginia (job postings in the last 12 months)__ Clinical case manager (3,234) Mental health/behavioral counselor (2,899) Family/school/general social worker (2,066) - Psychologist (1,704) Medical/clinical social worker (968) Family/behavioral therapist (778)
Top employers for social workers in Virginia (job postings in the last 12 months)
- Anthem Blue Cross (282)
- Betterhelp (132)
- Virginia Department Corrections (120)
- Virginia State Government (111)
- Hospital Corporation of America (93)
- Thriveworks (83)
- Danville Community College (51)
- Therapeutic Alliance (48)
- Bon Secours Mercy Health (45)
- Department of Veteran Affairs (41)
Top cities for social workers to find work (median salary)
According to Labor Insight, the top municipal areas for social work jobs in Virginia are:
|Metro Area||Median Salary||Job postings in the last 12 months|
|Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC||$53,000||1,039|
|Blacksburg-Christiansburg- Radford, VA||$36,000||26|
Renewing your social work license in Virginia
Licensed social workers must renew their license every two years and complete 15 continuing education hours throughout the renewal period. Licensed clinical social workers must complete 30 hours. In 2020, LSW renewal fees were $65, and LCSW fees were $90.
Social work associations in Virginia
Social work associations afford Virginia social workers the opportunity to share experiences and network. The two social worker associations you can join in Virginia are:
Earning your social work license in Virginia allows you to provide supportive services as a highly trained professional and opens up more employment and networking opportunities. With a growing population and an expanding social work job market, Virginia offers an excellent location to start or build a social work career.
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