Pennsylvania Social Work License Requirements

Pennsylvania is one of the few states that licenses social workers with bachelor's degrees. Discover more about Pennsylvania social work requirements here.
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  • Pennsylvania offers licenses for BSW, MSN, and DSW degree-holders
  • Roughly 32,450 social workers work in Pennsylvania
  • Social workers in the Keystone State renew their licenses every two years

Pennsylvania has a social worker shortage that you can potentially fix. The state has the fourth-highest employment of mental health and substance use social workers and child, family, and school social workers. However, Pennsylvania needs some 12% more licensed social workers through 2030 to fill vacancies.

Want to become a social worker? Discover what degree you need to start your social work career and more about Pennsylvania social work requirements.

Pennsylvania State Board of Social Work

The State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapist and Professional Counselors regulates licensing of social workers in Pennsylvania.

The State Board of Social Workers is responsible for implementing renewal guidelines and continuing education requirements, among other regulations.

In the Keystone State, social workers must complete 30 continuing education requirements every two years, including hours in suicide in prevention, child abuse recognition and reporting, and professional ethics. The Board determines acceptable educational activities.

The Board also determines disciplinary actions and penalties for failure to meet criteria.

Popular Online Social Work Programs

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

Pennsylvania Social Work Education Requirements

Social workers must complete acceptable educational programs to earn their licenses. In Pennsylvania, you can complete an undergraduate or graduate program to become credentialed in the state. The degree you seek determines your scope of practice.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work (BSW)

When you pursue a bachelor's degree in social work full time, you'll spend at least four years in college, taking anywhere from 55-80 core credits. You'll learn the skills to work with organizations and communities, individuals across the lifespan, and families and groups.

The curriculum provides practical skills in clinical assessments and diagnosis which you strengthen during the field education. BSW degrees that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) require at least 400 supervised practicum hours.

Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW)

An MSW degree equips you to work in a social work specialty area such as trauma and violence, behavioral health, and child and family social work.

You'll spend at least 2-3 years earning your MSW degree, if you attend college full time. If you hold a BSW degree, some colleges offer advanced standing, which means you could graduate with a MSW in as quick as 12 months.

Common MSW courses include social work research, social welfare, human behavior and social environment, and social work practice with diverse populations.

MSW programs typically require about 60 credits and 900 field work hours. You'll choose from a clinical and direct practice or a generalist MSW degree.

Requirements for Initial Pennsylvania Social Work Licensure

Pennsylvania is one of the few states that offers bachelor's-level and master's-level licenses. Your career goals determine which license you pursue. Social work also offers upward mobility and the chance to later apply for a more advanced license.

Licensed Bachelor of Social Worker (LBSW)

You can earn an LBSW if you have completed an accredited BSW degree. This first-level license suits social workers who do not want to pursue a graduate degree, or need to wait a few years.

Pennsylvania created that bachelor's-level license in 2014. The license does not require any supervised experience.

LBSWs have the generalist training to manage cases, make assessments, perform external referrals, and help people find services and resources. To be able to add LBSW to your signature, you need to:

  • Earn an accredited BSW degree
  • Submit your official college transcripts
  • Complete three hours of continuing education in child abuse recognition and reporting
  • Pay for and pass the Association of Social Work Boards' (ASWB) bachelor's-level exam
  • Complete an online application
  • Pay the $75 licensing fee
  • Pass a criminal background check

Licensed Social Worker (LSW)

After you earn a master's degree or doctoral degree from a CSWE-accredited social work program, you can become a LSW in Pennsylvania. As an LSW, you have a generalist practice that enables you to provide therapy during group sessions, perform advocacy work, and help patients find services. You can work in Pennsylvania schools, healthcare centers, and rehabilitation facilities.

As a prospective licensee, you do not need supervised work experience, but you need to:

  • Earn an MSW or doctoral in social work (DSW)
  • Provide a copy of your official college transcripts
  • Do three hours of continuing education in child abuse recognition and reporting
  • Pay for and pass the ASWB master's-level exam
  • Apply for state licensure
  • Pay the initial licensing fee of $75
  • Complete a criminal background check

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

An LCSW is Pennsylvania's highest level of social work licensure. To get licensed as a LCSW, you need a CSWE-accredited master's or doctoral degree and 3,000 hours of clinical work experience under a licensed supervisor over a period of two years.

You'll graduate from a MSW or DSW program equipped to provide clinical services, including diagnosing mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Getting licensed as an LCSW in Pennsylvania also requires:

  • Obtaining a MSW or DSW
  • Requesting and submitting your official transcripts for your social work program
  • Completing three hours of required continuing education in child abuse recognition and reporting
  • Taking and paying for ASWB clinical examination
  • Submitting state licensure application
  • Paying $90 initial licensing fee
  • Undergoing a criminal background check

Transferring Your Social Work License to Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania does not have a social work licensing reciprocity agreement. If you have a social work license in another state, and want to get credentialed in Pennsylvania, you'll need to apply by endorsement.

ACT 41, implemented by the Board in 2019, provides a pathway for licensed social workers from other states. Licensure by endorsement requirements vary by credential in Pennsylvania, but you need a similar license and be in good standing with your current state of residence. As an LCSW, you'll need to submit a letter from your previous social work board to verify your credentials and explain any violations. The Board reviews applications on a rolling basis. To qualify for licensure by endorsement you need to have a valid license and two years of work experience in the last five years.

How to Maintain Your Social Work License in Pennsylvania

No matter the license, you need to renew your social work license every two years by February 28 through the Board's online PALS system. Each renewal requires a renewal fee of $95.

You can start the renewal process 60 days prior to your license expiration. All social workers must complete 30 continuing education requirements, which must include two hours of child abuse reporting training, three hours in ethics, and one hour in suicide prevention.

Acceptable continuing education courses must be on the same level of your license. For instance, a LSW must complete continuing education courses at a master's-level. Courses for continuing education may include teaching experience, publication of an article, and/or clinical conference participation.

CE units could also include up to 20 hours of home study. You must keep proof of your continuing education hours in case of an audit.

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Work in Pennsylvania

Do social workers need to be licensed in Pennsylvania?

Yes, social workers in Pennsylvania need to meet the State Board of Social Workers' license requirements. In fact, you cannot even identify as a social worker in the state without getting credentialed.

What's the difference between LSW and LCSW in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, an LCSW has the training and experience to provide clinical therapy. You need two years, or at least 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, to become an LCSW in Pennsylvania. An LCW doesn't need clinical experience to perform their job, which includes helping people find and access social resources.

What degree do you need to become a licensed social worker in Pennsylvania?

You need at least a bachelor's in social work to get licensed in Pennsylvania, one of the few states that offers a bachelor's-level credential. Other licenses — LSWs and LCSWs — require at least a master's degree.

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

If you are applying to become a licensed bachelor's social worker, you'll need to spend four years in college to earn licensure. Otherwise, you must complete an undergraduate degree and a master's level program which takes 5-6 years to earn a license. If you hold a BSW, you can fast track into an MSW program and graduate with both degrees in five years. 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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