North Carolina Social Work License Requirements

North Carolina offers job growth and competitive salaries for social workers. Learn all about North Carolina social work licensure and requirements.
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  • North Carolina social work requirements vary by educational levels and professional paths.
  • Clinical social workers must hold licenses, and non-clinical certifications are optional.
  • North Carolina social work licensure and certification renewals happen every two years.

North Carolina requires licensure for clinical social workers. The state offers voluntary certification for non-clinical social workers at the bachelor's, master's, and doctorate levels. This guide covers the requirements for all North Carolina social work licensure levels, the different degrees you can earn, and what you can do with them.

North Carolina State Board of Social Work

The North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board (NCSWCLB) issues social worker credentials. It also enforces the North Carolina Social Worker Certification and Licensure Act.

NCSWCLB evaluates applicants for licensure, renews licenses, and regulates eligibility and license types. The board also enacts rules that include disciplinary and ethical procedures.

Featured Online BSW Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

North Carolina Social Work Education Requirements

North Carolina social workers can follow several educational pathways to licensure. Options include earning a bachelor of social work (BSW), a bachelor's degree in a related field, a master of social work (MSW), and a doctorate or Ph.D. in social work.

Bachelor’s Degree in a Related Field

If you have a bachelor's degree in a non-social work field, such as psychology, sociology, or social welfare, you can still apply to a master of social work (MSW) program. Bachelor's degrees typically take four years; an MSW requires two years.

MSW students with bachelor’s degrees in related fields complete a fundamental year before moving into advanced social work coursework and experiential learning.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work (BSW)

With a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW), graduates can qualify for certified social worker (CSW) and certified social work manager (CSWM) certifications.

They can apply for advanced standing admission into an MSW program. Advanced standing allows students to enter an advanced social work curriculum and earn an MSW in one year.

A four-year BSW includes general education and fundamental social work classes, including family dynamics, human behavior, social welfare, and social work policy and research. The BSW curriculum also includes supervised fieldwork.

Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW)

MSWs take 1-2 years to complete, depending on whether you qualify for regular or advanced standing.

Regular MSW programs typically include a foundational year, field experiences, and specialization opportunities. Advanced standing students skip the foundational year, having completed fundamental coursework in their BSW programs.

After completing 3,000 hours of post-MSW supervised clinical practice, MSWs can apply for state licenses and certifications. They can also pursue additional education and apply for a doctorate of social work (DSW) or Ph.D. program.

Requirements for Initial North Carolina Social Work Licensure

North Carolina has two licenses and three certification options requiring different levels of education and Association of Social Work Board (ASWB) examinations. These include certified master social worker (CMSW), certified social work manager (CSWM), licensed clinical social worker associate (LCSWA), and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

Some licenses or certifications, such as the LCSW and CSWM, also require post-degree supervised practice hours.

Discover job descriptions and requirements for each North Carolina social work licensure level.

Certified Social Worker (CSW)

CSW certification permits BSW holders to pursue entry-level social work positions. CSWs provide indirect client and organizational support in administrative case management and non-clinical roles. They may advocate for clients and refer them to social services, teach life skills, or oversee activities at residential and rehabilitation facilities and shelters.

Other workplace settings include healthcare centers, mental health organizations, schools, and social service agencies.

Here are the steps to becoming a CSW:

  • Earn a BSW from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited program
  • Pass the ASWB bachelors exam and pay the $230 exam fee
  • Pay the $145 license application fee

Certified Masters Social Worker (CMSW)

Similar to CSWs, CMSWs can practice non-clinical social work and case management at a more advanced level. MSW-prepared CMSWs may take on supervisory roles or specialize in administration, policy, or research. They may also work with specific populations, such as children, families, and older adults or in specific areas like healthcare and mental health.

CMSWs follow these steps to licensure:

  • Earn an MSW, DSW, or Ph.D. in social work from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Pass the ASWB masters examination or the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Academy of Certified Social Workers exam and pay the exam fee
  • Pay the $145 license application fee

Certified Social Work Manager (CSWM)

A CSWM credential enables graduates of at least a BSW program to practice non-clinical and administrative social work at the managerial level. While not a state requirement, employers may require or prefer CSWM candidates. CSWMs manage other social workers in various agencies, facilities, and organizations.

These are the requirements for becoming a CSWM:

  • Obtain a BSW, MSW, DSW, or Ph.D. in social work from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Pass the ASWB advanced generalist level exam and pay the $260 fee
  • Complete 3,000 post-degree paid employment hours within a two- to six-year time period.
  • Pay the $145 licensure application fee

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Associate (LCSWA)

The LCSWA designation allows clinical social work practice under supervision to complete the requirements for LCSW licensure. MSW-holders who become LCSWs earn their LCSWA credentials to gain the required post-degree, paid experience.

You do not need to pass the ASWB clinical exam at this stage. You do not need any experience before getting this license, but LCSWAs must document their post-degree supervised clinical practice hours to the NCSWCLB every six months.

LCSWAs can only renew their licenses twice, which means they are valid for six years.

Here is the process for becoming an LCSWA:

  • Earn an MSW, DSW, or Ph.D. in social work from a CSWE-accredited program.
  • Pay the $145 licensure application fee

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

LCSWs can perform all kinds of clinical and non-clinical social work. These professionals need at least an MSW with a concentration in clinical social work.

LCSWs provide individuals, families, and groups with clinical support, counseling, and treatment services, including psychotherapy, in collaboration with other healthcare professionals.

Here are the requirements for LCSW licensure:

  • Earn an MSW, DSW, or Ph.D. in social work from a CSWE-accredited program
  • Obtain an LCSWA credential
  • Pass the ASWB clinical exam and pay the $260 fee
  • Complete 3,000 post-degree paid supervised clinical hours within a minimum of two years and a maximum of six years, with at least 100 hours of supervision
  • Pay the $145 licensure application fee

Transferring Your Social Work License to North Carolina

The NCSWCLB does not provide licensing reciprocity to social workers licensed in other states and jurisdictions. Social workers seeking to transfer their licenses to North Carolina must submit an application.

The NCSWCLB may grant licensure or certification based on substantial equivalency. Substantial equivalency requires that an applicant be currently and actively certified, registered, or licensed via examination by a board similar to the NCSWCLB.

The social worker licensing board of the applicant's state, country, or territory must impose substantially equivalent licensing standards to North Carolina's board.

How to Maintain Your Social Work License in North Carolina

Maintaining North Carolina social work licensure or certification requires biennial renewal. All social worker licensure levels provide documentation to the NCSWCLB showing completion of 40 continuing education hours, including four hours in ethics.

Renewal fees vary by licensure level: $70 for CSWs, $90 for CMSWs, $140 for LCSWAs, and $150 for LCSWs and CSWMs.

NCSWCLB-approved continuing education activities include:

  • Academic social work courses taken for credit or audited
  • Agency conferences, staff development, seminars, and workshops
  • Cross-disciplinary continuing education related to social work in law, medicine, social/behavioral science, and health and human services

The NCSWLCB does not preapprove online continuing education courses. Online courses must be approved by the ASWB or the North Carolina Chapter of the NASW.

Distance learning activities can only apply to up to 20 credits; however, synchronous broadcasts count as face-to-face continuing education.

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Work in North Carolina

Do social workers need to be licensed in North Carolina?

To practice clinical social work in North Carolina, you must have an LCSWA or LCSW license in the state.

What are the requirements for social work licensure in North Carolina?

To become an LCSW or CSWA, you need a graduate degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program. Before receiving your LCSW license, you must complete 3,000 hours of paid, supervised post-degree clinical work and pass the ASWB clinical level exam.

What are the continuing education requirements for social workers in North Carolina?

North Carolina requires social workers to complete 40 hours of NCSWCLB-approved continuing education activities every two years for licensure renewal.

Is social work in demand in North Carolina?

Projection Central's 2020-2023 estimates include a 13.9% increase in child, family, and school social work positions; a 13.6% increase in healthcare social worker positions; and a 15.4% increase for mental health and substance misuse social workers.

How does the average salary for social workers in North Carolina compare to the national average?

North Carolina child, family, and school social workers earn average annual salaries of $50,420 (compared to $56,680 nationally); healthcare social workers $63,110 ($62,760 nationally); mental health and substance abuse social workers $53,940 ($60,130 nationally); and all other social workers $63,770 ($64,360 nationally). 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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