How to Become a Social Worker in Illinois

Illinois Social Work Licensing Requirements

Social work is a service in which social workers use specialized knowledge of social resources, human behavior and support strategies in order to help clients achieve a more adequate, productive and satisfying socio-economic situation. The duties of a social worker can include counseling, providing information or referrals for social programs, screening for and arranging social services, educating clients on the psychosocial aspects of their situation and helping communities organize, provide or improve social and health services.

In Illinois, there are two levels of social work licensing available to those who have met the State Board’s educational, training and experience requirements:

Each level of licensure holds specific requirements in order to ensure that the licensee is capable of performing the corresponding level of social work service. What follows is a summary of the basic eligibility requirements and board expectations for licensure corresponding to the desired licensing level.

License Type
Education Requirement Supervised Experience Exam
Licensed Social Worker (LSW) Master’s Degree in Social Work CSWE-Accredited Program (Exemptions: See Below) No Supervised Experience Requirement for MSW Graduates ASWB National Master Social Work Examination
Clinical Social Worker (CSW) Master's Degree in Social Work / CSWE-Accredited Program Three Years, Full-Time Supervised Experience. A minimum of 3,000 Post-
Degree Hours
ASWB National Clinical Social Work Examination

Read more about social work degrees in Illinois.

LSW Requirements in Illinois

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation defines LSWs as individuals “authorized to practice social work which includes social services to individuals, groups or communities in any one or more of the fields of social casework, social group work, community organization for social welfare, social work research, social welfare administration or social work education.” According to Illinois state law, LSWs may conduct clinical social work in a private practice setting as long as it does not take place in an independent practice as defined by law. In order to achieve this level of licensure, candidates will need to accomplish the following:

  1. CWSE-Accredited Master’s Degree in Social Work – Applicants must have graduated from a CWSE-accredited Master’s of Social Work (MSW) degree program. Proof of program completion is required in the form of a sealed, certified transcript sent directly from the appropriate registrar’s office.


  1. Acceptable Social Work Degree Plus Supervised Experience – Non-CWSE-accredited graduate programs that are approved by the IDFPR may allow graduates to become LSW candidates as long as the candidate documents an additional three years of supervised work experience. Similarly, Illinois permits holders of a CWSE-accredited Bachelor’s degree in social work to become LSW candidates if they fulfill an additional three years of supervised work experience.
  2. Application for Licensure – Illinois requires LSW candidates to submit applications for pre-approval before the candidate is eligible to complete the ASWB Examination. The application process ensures that the candidate can provide the needed documentation and meets all of the needed criteria, which includes “good moral standing” as determined by the Board.
  3. ASWB Master Social Work Examination – Following pre-approval of the LSW licensure application, candidates may sit for the ASWB master level social work examination. Upon successfully obtaining a minimum scaled passing score, the candidate is granted permission by the Board for official LSW licensure.

LCSW Requirements in Illinois

As defined by state law, Illinois delineates certain private practice social work settings as “independent practices.” Individuals wishing to work in such a practice setting without being subordinate to an LCSW licensee must obtain an LCSW license of their own. To do so, they will need to present the following:

  1. CSWE-Accredited Master’s or Doctoral Degree in Social Work – Applicants must have graduated from a CSWE-accredited Master’s or Doctoral program in Social Work. Proof of program completion is required in the form of a sealed certified transcript mailed directly from the appropriate registrar’s office.
  2. Supervised Experience – Candidates possessing a master’s degree in social work must document 3,000 hours of satisfactory, supervised clinical professional social work experience. Candidates who have attained a doctoral degree in social work must document 2,000 hours of satisfactory, supervised clinical professional social work experience.
  3. Illinois LCSW Application – Upon completion of the minimum required supervised clinical social work hours, candidates submit their logged hours, transcript and other needed documentation to the state Board. Upon pre-approval from the Board, the candidate may sit for their ASWB clinical examination.
  4. ASWB Clinical Social Work Examination – Candidates who receive pre-approval from the Board will be permitted to sit for the ASWB Clinical Social Work Examination. Upon achieving a successful minimum scaled passing score, the new licensee will be authorized to offer a full range of health and psychosocial services in settings that include unsupervised independent clinical practices.

The Importance of CSWE Accreditation

The Council on Social Work Education focuses on developing adequate accreditation standards to ensure that all postsecondary and graduate-level social work programs can provide the knowledge, education and skill instruction needed to practice effective social work. Nearly all 50 U.S. states require licensees to attend a CSWE-accredited program. Illinois provides LSW licensure exemptions for individuals with graduate degrees in non-CSWE-accredited programs. However, these exemptions are granted pending Board approval and attainment of an additional three years of professional supervised clinical experience.

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Additional Resources for Social Workers in Illinois