In this guide, you’ll find all the information you need to become a licensed social worker in Alabama. While we will include information about multiple types of certification and degrees, the guide focuses on MSWs or master’s in social work degrees, which is required to obtain a clinical license in the state and are generally popular choices for future social workers overall.
CONTENTS OF THIS GUIDE
- Social work in Alabama
- MSW programs
- Online MSW programs
- How to become a social worker
- License requirements
- Social worker job and salary
- Job outlook
- School listings
- Expert advice
Social work in Alabama
Alabama (or the “Cotton State”) is a state with a large rural population – its most populous city is Birmingham, which has about 212,000 residents. Most of Alabama’s jobs focus on manufacturing or blue-collar work, including cast iron and steel manufacturing. Interestingly, it’s the only state in the union that has every natural resource required to make iron and steel locally.
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But this focus on blue-collar work has presented a number of issues that social workers can help solve. For instance, college access and food security are huge issues within Alabama’s borders. This is likely partially because the median household income of $43,000 is significantly lower compared to the national average.
Alabama also has a high proportion of its population who are obese. More social workers who focus on health care will be necessary in the near future to combat this widespread issue, both in hospitals and in community centers across the state.
MSW programs Alabama
Master’s in social work, or MSWs, are advanced degrees that are necessary to obtain a clinical social work license for all states in the US. While MSW programs in general are valuable, only programs that are certified or accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) qualify an applicant for clinical social work licensing. Thus, prioritizing accredited MSW programs should be a key focus for any future social worker.
MSW programs will include a variety of classes and experiences, including:
- Coursework approved by the CSWE that covers all modern social work concepts and topics
- Classes that may allow you to specialize in different social work focuses
- Practical or clinical experiences. All MSW degree holders must have a certain number of clinical hours under their belt to graduate, and you must also increase these hours over time to obtain a license
- Most degree programs also allow you to pursue certain electives to round out your education
There are five universities in total that offer MSW programs within Alabama’s borders. These are Alabama State University, Jacksonville State University, Troy University, the University of Alabama, and Alabama A&M University.
The University of Alabama offers a degree program with multiple opportunities for specialization, especially for dealing with family and childcare issues. This could be quite valuable given that Alabama employs more child, family, and school focused social workers compared to any other type or category.
Online MSW programs in Alabama
Students may also want to pursue online MSW programs in Alabama. These programs can be from schools outside Alabama or from Alabama universities. Regardless, the advantages are the same – online MSW programs let you finish your education without having to attend class in person. This frees up extra time you can use to work or spend time with your family if you are also a primary caregiver.
Online MSW programs still require that you complete a certain number of clinical practice hours to graduate. Instead of visiting a clinic or hospital near your educating university, you’ll instead visit a clinic near your home or workplace. You can work with the school to find a clinic that works for your schedule.
Furthermore, online MSW programs are often offered in part-time schedules. This, again, allows you to work simultaneously – in some cases, you can even rack up additional clinical practice hours so you graduate with all the hours you need to meet clinical licensing requirements!
The University of Alabama offers one of the best online MSW programs in the region. Full-time or part-time schedules are available, or you can take advantage of an advanced standing program. This is perfect if you already have a bachelor’s degree in social work or have other social work credits or experience to demonstrate. You can complete the degree in less than two years in this case.
How to become a social worker in Alabama
The Alabama State Board of Social Work Examiners is the organization in charge of licensing and regulating social workers within the state. They also set the licensing requirements for clinical social workers, which are described below.
Licensed Bachelor Social Worker
This basic certification allows individuals to provide nonclinical or basic social work, especially under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker. This certificate is normally pursued as a stepping stone to higher licensing qualifications and offers valuable experience.
- Complete the application form for the Association of Social Work Board (ASWB) and pay the $75 fee.
- Pass the ASWB exam, which costs $230 and which has 170 multiple-choice questions
- Receive your license if you pass the test
- After passing the test, you must be supervised for 24 months
Licensed Master Social Worker
This certificate lets you practice advanced general social work and practice independently. However, these social workers cannot practice clinical-level social work yet. You must have an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program.
- Submit your application and pay the $75 fee
- Take the ASWB exam, which consists of 170 multiple-choice questions and costs $230
- Receive your licensure if you pass the test
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
This license level is the most advanced and allows a social worker who holds it to practice independently and in clinical contexts. They can start their own practice as well.
- Acquire the required clinical or practical experience
- Complete your application and pay the $75 fee
- Pass the ASWB Clinical exam, which has 170 multiple-choice questions and which costs $260
- Receive your license if you pass the exam
At this point, licensed social workers can also apply for a PIP or Private Independent Practice certification. This certification allows social workers to practice outside an existing agency or organization. You need an additional three years of full-time experience after obtaining your degree in your area of experience or one year of experience after obtaining your LCSW credential. You must also pay a $75 fee.
Alabama allows social workers licensed in other states to apply for an equivalent social work license by paying a $75 fee. You must also be in good standing and have all of the practical experience requirements.
Every two years, all licensed social workers must complete 30 continuing education units or hours for license renewal. Three of the hours must focus on ethics. You must also pay a fee of $100.
Social work license requirements in Alabama
Alabama has slightly different licensing requirements compared to other states. To become an LCSW, applicants must go through 24 months of supervised clinical work experience with at least four hours of experience accrued per month. The total practical experience must be completed within three years, as well.
Because LBSW credentials can be obtained without these requirements, most eventual LCSWs obtain an LBSW license, obtain the required hours as an LBSW, then progress to an LCSW license.
Social worker salary in Alabama
Social worker salaries in Alabama can be determined by looking at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data is separated into four major categories:
- Child, family, and school social workers should expect an annual salary of $41,090 per year or an hourly wage of $19.75. A little over 3,500 of these social workers are in Alabama.
- Healthcare social workers normally make $47,190 per year or $22.69 per hour. A little over 2,500 healthcare social workers reside in Alabama at this time.
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers should expect an annual salary of $38,190 or an hourly wage of $18.36. There are 1,080 of these social workers as of last count.
- All other social workers can expect an annual salary of $59,140 or an hourly wage of $28.43. Only 420 other social workers are in Alabama right now.
It’s clear that healthcare and all other social workers make the most money out of all the categories. This is about average compared to the national social worker salary, which hovers around $50,000 a year.
It also makes sense – Alabama is and will continue to be in great need for healthcare-focused social workers in the coming years, so these professionals are paid better than others.
Job outlook for social workers in Alabama
Social workers as a profession are expected to grow by about 80,000 positions over the next decade or so. Given that Alabama is fairly rural, only a few thousand of these should be expected to crop up within Alabama clinics and medical centers. But these positions will likely be well paid for the region – a salary of $50,000 or so could lead to a decent quality of living depending on where you reside in Alabama.
Furthermore, the increasing requirement for healthcare professionals who can help with aging and obese citizens means that job security is likely assured. Social workers looking to practice in Alabama have many open positions and long careers to look forward to.
- What are the challenges or opportunities for becoming a social worker in Alabama?
- What does the future of social work look like in Alabama?
What are the challenges or opportunities for becoming a social worker in Alabama?
There are many opportunities for social workers in Alabama (in my opinion) because of the national shortage of social workers and the high demand for licensed social workers in the state of Alabama. The cost of living in the state of Alabama makes living well affordable and attractive to those within the social work profession. The biggest challenge is few choices for those who have not obtained their license to practice and limited choices for those who are licensed at the LBSW and LMSW levels of practice for social work.
What does the future of social work look like in Alabama?
It is my belief that the future in Alabama is bright, there is a high demand and lack of supply of licensed social workers. The areas of practice needed in the state of Alabama are child welfare, healthcare, and mental health.