Social Work Degrees, Schools, and Careers in Tennesseee

Tennessee may not be known for its higher education excellence but don't count it out either, especially when it comes to social work education. The state is home to 22 accredited degree programs spread throughout the state according to the Council on Social Work Education. Unfortunately, only six of those programs are Masters of Social Work (MSW) degree programs and those are the programs that lead to clinical licensure in Tennessee or any other state. There is a fair amount of diversity between not only the programs themselves but also the type of schools offering them. There are plenty of big state schools offering these programs and then there are small, private, religious institutions as well.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the professional social work community isn't all that big, at least compared to other states in the country with more than 20 social work degree options. As of May 2014, the state was home to less than 9,000 professional social workers located primarily in either Nashville or Memphis, the two biggest cities in the state. More than half of those social workers are child, family, and school social workers (5,360) but there are also approximately 2,990 healthcare social workers, 1,150 substance abuse social workers and 730 specialty social workers that are also employed across the state. Tennessee does not pay its social workers exceptionally well but that may have something to do with the low cost of living in the state as well. The annual average salary of social workers in Tennessee ranges from between $36,810 for substance abuse social workers and $52,110 for specialty social workers.

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The Tennessee Board of Social Workers is in charge of licensing social workers in the state and it approves four levels of licensure. The licenses are:

Licensed Bachelor Social Worker (LSW)

The path to becoming a LBSW is straightforward. All candidates must earn a BSW degree from an accredited university.  After earning a bachelor’s degree, qualified applicants will apply for licensure with the Tennessee Social Work Licensure Board, and take the bachelor level exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

To become a Licensed Master Social Worker in Tennessee, candidates must earn a MSW degree from a program accredited by the CSWE.  After meeting the minimum degree requirements, candidates must pass the Master’s level exam offered by the ASWB. Upon licensure, a LMSW is allowed to work within an agency or organization, but is not allowed to work in private practice.

Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)

After becoming a LMSW, candidates may begin to accumulate work experience that counts towards the minimum field requirements for a LAPSW.  In Tennessee, all candidates for a LAPSW must complete a minimum of two years (3,000 hours) of full-time, non-clinical work experience under supervision before they can even sit for the Advanced Generalist exam. 100 hours of this experience must be under direct supervision. A LAPSW may practice non-clinical social work in an agency, organization, or independent setting.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

The path to becoming a LCSW is very similar to that of a LAPSW.  Candidates must already hold a LMSW and must accumulate 3,000 hours of full-time supervised work experience. The difference is that candidates for an LCSW must earn their work experience in a clinical setting rather than a non-clinical setting.  Candidates for an LCSW must also pass the ASWB clinical level exam to qualify for licensure.

Tennessee Social Work Degrees, Schools, and Careers

According to U.S. World News & Report, the top-ranked school of social work in Tennessee belongs to the University of Tennessee - Knoxville. It is ranked No. 37 in the country and has been accredited since 1945. It offers concentrations in subjects like community development and certificate programs in gerontology and school social work. Next on the list is the program offered at East Tennessee State University which is ranked No. 172 in the country. It has been accredited since 2003 and offers a concentration in clinical practice or mental health. It also offers a certificate program in school social work.

The other schools that offer a MSW in Tennessee are the Southern Adventist UniversityUnion University, the University of Memphis and the Mid-Tennessee Collaborative, which is a partnership between Austin Peay State University, Middle Tennessee State University, and Tennessee State University. Most of those schools offer undergraduate degree programs as well, but there are other schools in the state that only offer BSW degree programs. They include Belmont UniversityTennessee State University, Lincoln Memorial University, Lipscomb University and others.

Online Social Work Schools in Tennessee

The one school that does offer an accredited online social work degree is the University of Tennessee - Knoxville. It is a completely online MSW program that doesn't require a campus visit. It is designed for both in-state and out-of-state students; offers full-time, part-time and advanced standing programs; clinical or leadership concentrations; and certificates in gerontology, veterinary social work, and school social work.

There are programs around the country that offer online social work degrees as well. Western New Mexico University offers a full-time online BSW option with very few in-person and on-campus requirements and Humboldt State University is the other online BSW degree provider that is accredited. Students looking for online MSW programs have more options because schools like Widener University, the University of Buffalo, Florida State University and Columbia University all offer online MSW programs that do not have stringent on-campus requirements for any part of the program.

Career Opportunities for Social Workers in Tennessee

The National Guard is looking for a mental health clinician and Vanderbilt University is looking for more than one social work professional with experience. There are also a number of hospitals and healthcare organizations looking for social workers such as the Project Transition in Chattanooga, Omni Family of Services in Nashville, Universal Health Services in Franklin and Mental Health Cooperative, Inc. in Cleveland. Care System, Canvas Health, Fairview Health Services and Lakeview Hospital. The Tennessee chapter of the National Association of Social Workers has job postings on its website that are worth exploring.

For more information about the process of becoming a social worker in Tennessee, visit our page on Tennessee social worker license requirements.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers Salary in Tennessee

United States$27,800$34,230$43,250$56,740$75,140
Chattanooga, TN-GA$27,230$33,210$40,950$45,330$49,380
Clarksville, TN-KY$27,240$32,140$37,150$41,070$46,950
Cleveland, TN$36,100$40,940$40,950$42,980$47,200
Jackson, TN$34,990$40,840$41,860$44,350$48,540
Johnson City, TN$26,870$36,100$40,950$43,910$49,920
Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA$29,300$33,890$40,940$42,980$49,560
Knoxville, TN$26,100$31,970$40,940$42,980$48,590
Memphis, TN-MS-AR$27,060$30,340$38,690$43,430$53,460
Morristown, TN$27,040$27,280$36,090$40,950$45,750
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN$27,040$33,520$40,940$44,920$54,480

Table data taken from 2016 BLS (

Healthcare Social Workers Salary in Tennessee

United States$32,750$41,620$53,760$65,860$80,020
Chattanooga, TN-GA$27,460$33,720$43,990$55,310$66,770
Clarksville, TN-KY$28,200$35,980$47,150$60,290$71,650
Jackson, TN$28,090$33,950$44,330$56,970$65,040
Johnson City, TN$25,910$28,220$34,470$45,410$56,100
Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA$30,260$39,050$47,830$58,190$68,690
Knoxville, TN$27,850$32,920$43,300$53,380$59,810
Memphis, TN-MS-AR$28,770$37,650$51,440$64,900$75,260
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN$26,380$39,700$53,070$68,090$75,880

Table data taken from 2016 BLS (

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers Salary in Tennessee

United States$26,730$33,240$42,700$56,610$74,650
Chattanooga, TN-GA$19,210$26,340$34,420$46,130$57,000
Clarksville, TN-KY$26,750$30,220$38,130$48,640$60,090
Jackson, TN$25,190$27,610$32,940$41,760$47,660
Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA$22,050$25,910$29,000$34,990$41,910
Knoxville, TN$25,860$27,870$31,780$38,870$46,930
Memphis, TN-MS-AR$22,720$29,650$36,960$47,160$65,520
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN$26,880$31,790$38,730$48,100$55,100

Table data taken from 2016 BLS (

Featured Tennessee Schools with Social Work Degree Programs