This guide contains everything you need to know about getting an MSW or a master’s of social work degree in Colorado. The guide also contains information on how to become a licensed social worker in Colorado and job data about major social work employment opportunities in the state.
CONTENTS OF THIS GUIDE
- Social work in Colorado
- MSW programs
- Online MSW programs
- How to become a social worker
- License requirements
- Social work jobs and salary
- Job outlook
- School Listings
Social work in Colorado
Colorado is one of the most rapidly growing states in the country. While the majority of the state enjoys a low poverty rate compared to many other states in the US, the cost of living in certain parts of Colorado can be quite high. This does mean that some people, particularly in the state’s metro areas (i.e. Denver and Boulder), need access to social worker services due to poverty.
Colorado also has a high rate of illicit drug usage among its population. Social workers specializing in substance abuse are needed now, and likely may be needed even more in the future, as an influx of young people from out-of-state flood its cities in search of mountain lifestyles and affordable education.
MSW programs in Colorado
An MSW or master of social work degree is coveted by all social workers. Part of the reason is that the credential is required for clinical licensure, which allows social workers to practice social work in a clinical context and as a private practice social worker. The best MSW programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education or CSWE. In many cases, a clinical license requires that an applicant’s MSW come from a CSWE-accredited program.
Such programs will include:
- Classes that reflect up-to-date social work concepts and a necessary level of rigor
- Classes allowing for social work specialization, such as substance abuse and mental health
- Clinical practice experiences. During MSWs, students will practice social work under the supervision of another licensed social worker and assist members of their community, sometimes in medical contexts
- Electives are also usually offered so students can round out their education or pursue topics for fun
Colorado’s population is growing in part because of its excellent university offerings. Social worker students can also benefit from these choices, and there are plenty of in-person MSW programs available for any qualifying students.
Colorado State University is one such example, as is the University of Denver and Metropolitan State University. All three of these schools offer different specializations. Examples include mental health and trauma, individuals and families, advanced generalist practice, and leadership and management. The last choice is perfect for future social workers who want to administrate organizations or become leaders in the field.
Online MSW programs in Colorado
Many people opt to pursue online MSW programs instead of more traditional campus-based degrees. The advantages are numerous: students can still complete the same credentials while juggling busy work or family lives. Additionally, not having to be physically present on campus means that students can pursue their education on a more flexible schedule. Many online MSW programs are offered with part-time schedules to accommodate working students.
Students can choose an online MSW in Colorado or pursue an MSW program from out-of-state as a Colorado resident. Such a choice may even result in a lower tuition bill overall. Either way, online MSW programs still require students to complete a certain number of practical experience hours. The hours can be completed at a nearby medical or social work facility rather than the facility attached to the university in question.
The University of Denver offers an MSW for online students. There are two online tracks: a traditionally-paced program and a program for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in social work or other social work credits. The program can theoretically be completed in as little as 21 months and includes two field internships for practical experiences. Additional concentrations include mental health and trauma or health and wellness.
How to become a social worker in Colorado
The Colorado State Board of Social Work Examiners is responsible for regulating and licensing current and future social workers within the state. Obtaining a social work license in in Colorado involves an extra step compared to many other states and includes a special exam focusing on mental health education.
Licensed Social Worker (LSW)
An LSW allows social workers to practice in clinical settings as long as they are supervised. It’s mostly useful to work in the field while a student prepares for clinical licensure. All LSW applicants must have a CSWE-accredited MSW degree.
- Pass the Mental Health Jurisprudence Exam. This exam tests your knowledge of laws and regulations dealing with mental health treatment in Colorado. It costs $20 and includes 45 multiple-choice questions
- Pass the Association of Social Work Board’s Advanced Generalist or Clinical exam. Colorado allows you to take the clinical exam ahead of schedule even though it’s only required for LCSW licensure. Both exams cost $260 and are comprised of 170 multiple-choice questions
- Complete your LSW application and submit it to the board, and pay the $70 fee
- You’ll receive the LSW license if you passed all of the above tests
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
This advanced social worker can independently practice clinical social work without supervision.
- Acquire an LSW and the required practical or clinical experience
- Pass the Mental Health Jurisprudence Exam
- Pass the ASWB Clinical exam if you did not already
- Complete your LCSW application and pay the $70 fee
- You’ll receive the LCSW license if you have the clinical hours requirements and passed all the tests
Social work licensing requirements in Colorado
All LCSWs must complete 3,360 hours of post-degree and supervised clinical social work over two years at a minimum. Half of these hours must be spent directly serving social work clients, and 96 hours must be supervised by another LCSW. Some of these can be acquired during one’s MSW degree, but not all. This is a little higher than the requirements necessitated by many other states.
All Colorado social workers must renew their licenses every two years. This includes 40 hours of professional development in CE (continuing education) activities. You can only have 20 hours in a single professional development category. Licenses can be renewed online.
Social worker jobs and social worker salary in Colorado
Finding the expected salaries for social workers in Colorado is easy thanks to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data-driven website separate social worker salaries into four major categories based on position focus:
- Child, family, and school social workers can expect an annual salary of $53,240 plus an hourly wage of $25.60. There are currently just over 7,000 of this kind of social worker in Colorado.
- Healthcare social workers make annual salaries of $55,980 and an hourly wage of $26.92. Around 3,060 healthcare social workers are employed in Colorado at this time.
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers can expect $47,500 on average for their annual salaries, with an hourly wage of $22.84. Only 1,630 of these social workers work in Colorado right now.
- All other social workers make up all other social worker types and earn $55,690 on average every year. This translates to an hourly wage of $26.77. This group numbers around 1,400.
Compared to the national average salary or social workers (which hovers at around $50,000), it’s clear that Colorado social workers’ salaries are right where you’d expect. However, these salaries can add up to more or less in buying power depending on where you live in Colorado.
Places like Denver have a higher cost of living compared to cities with more rural communities or further east, like Pueblo or Colorado Springs. Thus, one’s actual earnings and living comfort will be determined by both their salary and their city of residence.
Job outlook for social workers in Colorado
Ultimately, social workers in Colorado can look forward to the same job growth projections as social workers in other states. Nationwide, social worker positions are expected to grow by around 81,200 over the next decade or so. Not all of these will be in Colorado, but Colorado social workers can anticipate that at least several thousand of these will become available relatively soon.
Recall that Colorado’s population is booming and the need for more social workers is likely going to grow, particularly in metropolitan areas like Denver. While Colorado isn’t as populous as a state as New York or Massachusetts, it’s still growing and will need social workers on hand to handle the influx of immigrants and lower-income people fleeing expensive states like California.
All in all, the job market and earning potential for social workers in Colorado remain bright.