Illinois Social Work License Requirements

Illinois offers a positive career outlook for licensed social workers. Use this guide to learn about the steps required for Illinois social work licensure.
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  • Illinois offers two levels of social work licensure: licensed social worker (LSW) and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).
  • Social workers have multiple pathways to obtain Illinois social work licensure, including by examination or endorsement.
  • The state requires the renewal of LSW and LCSW licenses every two years.

As the sixth-largest state in the U.S., with a population of almost 12.5 million, Illinois offers an array of social work career opportunities. You can become a social worker in Illinois with a bachelor’s or graduate degree in social work, depending on your desired license and career goals. Explore this guide to learn about Illinois social work licensure, including education, field experience, and examination requirements.

Illinois State Board of Social Work

Before seeking your social work license, check with the regulatory board that holds jurisdiction over the social work profession in the state where you intend to practice. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) is responsible for evaluating, issuing, and renewing licenses, as well as enforcing professional standards for the entire state.

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Illinois Social Work Education Requirements

Because different degrees lead to different licenses and career opportunities, you should plan your education based on your professional goals. Social workers in Illinois must earn at least a bachelor of social work (BSW), while more advanced clinical positions require a master of social work (MSW) or doctorate.

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW)

With a BSW, which typically takes four years of full-time study to complete, you can pursue some entry-level jobs, apply for LSW licensure, or enter an MSW or doctoral program with advanced standing. Graduate programs that offer advanced standing may count some of your undergraduate credits toward the degree, allowing you to graduate in less time.

Earning a BSW degree prepares you for general social work practice through coursework in social welfare, human behavior and the social environment, public policy, community organizing, and advocacy.

Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW)

An MSW will train you for clinical practice and prepare you for LCSW licensure in Illinois. Earning an MSW typically opens up more career opportunities than a BSW alone. You may be able to pursue an MSW with advanced standing after earning a BSW. Alternatively, many traditional programs accept students who have a bachelor’s in another field. Accelerated MSW programs can take as little as one year to complete, while a traditional MSW typically requires two years of full-time study.

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

While many employers consider the MSW a terminal degree in social work, earning a DSW can help you advance into clinical leadership, policy analysis, and postsecondary education positions. A DSW, which typically takes three years to complete, offers a practice-based curriculum focusing on applied clinical approaches, administration, research, and advocacy. Most applicants to DSW programs have earned an MSW or a graduate degree in a related field, such as public health or counseling.

Requirements for Initial Illinois Social Work Licensure

Illinois provides two levels of licensing: the LSW and LCSW. The license you should pursue depends on your educational background and career goals. Each level offers two distinct pathways to social work licensure. The LSW requires either a master's degree or a bachelor's degree plus supervised experience. For the LCSW, you must hold an MSW or DSW.

Licensed Social Worker (LSW)

You can become an LSW in Illinois with either a BSW or MSW from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). An LSW cannot perform clinical services unless supervised by an LCSW. As of January 2022, Illinois no longer requires the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) examination for LSW licensure. However, you must complete the following Illinois social work requirements to obtain your LSW license.

  • Earn a CSWE-accredited MSW or a CSWE-accredited BSW with three years of supervised experience
  • Complete the LSW application found on IDFPR's website (requires a $50 application fee)
  • Submit official transcripts and all required supporting documents with your application
  • Pass a criminal background check

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

LCSWs in Illinois can provide unsupervised clinical services in private practices or for an employer. You may apply for the LCSW once you have earned either an MSW or a doctoral degree in social work. You must complete the following steps for LCSW licensure.

  • Earn a CSWE-accredited MSW with 3,000 hours of supervised experience or a CSWE-accredited DSW with 2,000 hours of supervised experience.
  • Complete the LCSW application found on IDFPR's website (requires a $50 application fee)
  • Submit official transcripts and all required supporting documents with your application
  • Earn a passing score on the clinical-level exam administered by ASWB (requires a $260 exam fee)
  • Pass a criminal background check

Transferring Your Social Work License to Illinois

Social workers who hold an active license in another state can apply for licensure in Illinois through endorsement. To apply for licensure by endorsement, you must be in good standing and meet Illinois state requirements for LSW or LCSW licensure.

Applications for endorsement can be made through IDFPR. Applicants must submit verification of their current license and a $200 application fee. They must also arrange for their ASWB exam scores to be sent to IDFPR.

How to Maintain Your Social Work License in Illinois

A social work license in Illinois expires every two years on November 30 of each odd-numbered year. You must renew your license online through the IDFPR portal a month before the expiration date.

First-year renewals for LSW or LCSW licenses do not require social workers to accumulate continuing education units (CEUs). However, for second and subsequent renewals, you must submit a renewal application with a $60 application fee and proof of 30 CEUs in approved social work coursework. If you renew after the November 30 deadline, you must pay additional fees and risk having your license temporarily suspended.

You may fulfill CEU requirements by completing courses offered through ASWB, the National Association of Social Workers, or other state-approved providers. CEUs must include at least three hours in ethics and three hours in cultural competency. At least half of your total CEUs must be obtained through face-to-face or in-person instruction or experiences.

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Work in Illinois

Do social workers need to be licensed in Illinois?

To practice social work in Illinois and present yourself as an LSW or LCSW, you must acquire a social work license through IDFPR. The minimum educational requirement for the LSW is a BSW. For an LCSW license, you must have an MSW or doctorate in social work.

What are the requirements for social work licensure in Illinois?

The LSW license requires a BSW degree and three years of supervised clinical experience. MSW graduates do not need to complete clinical hours for their LSW. The LCSW license requires an MSW with 3,000 clinical hours or a DSW with 2,000 clinical hours. Applicants must also earn a passing score on ASWB's clinical exam.

Is social work in demand in Illinois?

Illinois offers a positive career outlook for social workers. According to state employment statistics provided by Projections Central, the demand for mental health and substance abuse social workers in Illinois is projected to grow by 14.6% between 2020 and 2030. Additionally, the projected growth rates for child, family, and school social workers and healthcare social workers are 7.5% and 6.2%, respectively, over that same period.

How long does it take to become a licensed social worker in Illinois?

The amount of time it takes to become a licensed social worker in Illinois depends on the licensure level but typically ranges from 5-8 years. For an LSW, you need an MSW or a BSW followed by three years of supervised experience. An LCSW requires an MSW and 3,000 hours of clinical experience or a DSW and 2,000 hours of clinical experience. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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