This guide is all about social work programs in Illinois. There is a special emphasis on MSW programs as a majority of social work opportunities in Illinois require a master’s in social work. In addition to degree programs, we’ll also cover the licensure required to work in Illinois, as well as the employment outlook in the state.
CONTENTS OF THIS GUIDE
- Social work in Illinois
- MSW programs
- Online MSW programs
- How to become a social worker
- License requirements
- Social worker salary
- Social work jobs
- Job outlook
- School listings
Social work in Illinois
One of the great things about being a social worker in Illinois is that a job seeker can choose their future job environment. After New York and Los Angeles, Chicago is the third-largest employer of social workers in the United States.
In addition to Chicago, the state capital of Springfield also has an outsized demand for social workers. Springfield has an unusually high crime rate which presents an opportunity for those who would like to practice social work within the criminal justice system. A person with the right degree and certification will always be able to find work in one of Illinois’s large cities.
On the other hand, much of Illinois is rural and there are many opportunities to make a difference in a small community. For those interested in working with children, Illinois has the fourth-largest foster care system in America and new social workers are always being hired to help manage cases.
In terms of employment data, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) there are currently 25,010 social workers employed in Illinois. Future projections for social worker employment are excellent, as the BLS states that nationally, “Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028.” That represents employment growth significantly higher than the national average for all jobs.
Finally, there are a number of professional resources for social workers in Illinois. Most notable is the Illinois chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASWIL). Members can take training courses, attend lectures, and meet other social workers from around the state.
MSW programs in Illinois
While it’s possible to start a career as a social worker with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s of social work (MSW) will provide the graduate with many more employment opportunities. This is especially true for anyone who might want to open a private practice, as this requires an MSW.
An MSW will prepare candidates for hands-on social work, and also to excel as a leader within their organization. Students will learn valuable leadership skills, how to craft public policy, and effective methods for working with city leaders to find solutions for communities in need.
At first glance, the cost of an MSW from a top tier school in Illinois, like the University of Chicago, may seem daunting. Yearly tuition at the University of Chicago is estimated at $50,000 not including room and board. However, according to UC’s website, “Last year, 95 percent of master’s students received merit- and need-based tuition scholarship/gift aid.”
Also, although the education may be expensive, according to U.S. News & World Report, the University of Chicago has the third best social work program in the country. Other programs in Illinois also rank well. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has the 22nd highest-rated program in the US and the University of Illinois Chicago has the 25th best.
There are a wide variety of excellent educational opportunities for the candidate who would like to pursue an MSW in Illinois. Many MSW programs offer some form of financial assistance or can help prospective students to apply for scholarships. The Health Resources and Services Administration is also a good resource as they provide information on scholarly aid as well as student loan forgiveness.
Online MSW programs in Illinois
There are two different styles of online MSW programs available to students. One option is a fully online program, where all of the classes and learning is done over the internet. This is ideal for students who live far from the university. The second option is a hybrid style of online program, where some lectures are delivered online and others take place in the classroom.
For students who would like to take an online MSW degree in Illinois there are several good options, two of which we’ll discuss here. Both of these degrees are CSWE accredited which is important as many employers will only hire graduates of a CSWE accredited institution.
- The School of Social Work at Loyola University offers a bilingual MSW degree. Students will need to speak Spanish as the program is intended for those who plan to work in a Spanish speaking community after they graduate.
- The Illinois School of Social Work offers an “iMSW” degree which is 100 percent online-based. The program teaches the same skills as their campus-based degree and is designed for students who may find it difficult to attend class on campus, or who would like the flexibility that an online degree offers.
Whether a student is taking a campus based MSW or an online program, it is important that they have the support they need. A university should provide guidance through the length of the program, as well as support the student as they look for opportunities to gain real-world social work experience by volunteering or taking an internship.
How to become a social worker in Illinois
Becoming a social worker in Illinois isn’t as difficult as many people imagine it to be.
- The first step is to complete a bachelor’s degree. For the candidate studying social work it’s important to only take a degree from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited university. A candidate with a non-CSWE degree may find it difficult to gain admittance to a good MSW program.
- Once a candidate has their bachelor’s degree they’ll need to apply to an MSW program. Many MSW programs will accept candidates without a bachelor’s in social work. Other common undergraduate degrees for an MSW candidate are sociology, psychology, and other behavioral science-related degrees.
- Once a student has completed their MSW they can apply for their LSW certification (more on this in the following section)
- Once an applicant has obtained their LSW certification they can begin applying for social work jobs in Illinois.
For those interested in working at the highest levels in the social work field a PhD may be necessary. A PhD program places less focus on hands-on social work and more focus on research, statistical analysis, and the crafting of public policy and other management-related skills. A thorough overview of the process for earning a PhD in social work is available on our doctorate degree page. Included on the page is a list of PhD programs available in the United States.
Social work license requirements in Illinois
Detailed information about the licensure requirements for social workers in Illinois can be found on the state’s licensing board website. However, we can also provide an overview of the licensing requirements in this guide.
In Illinois, there are two types of certifications for social workers: the Licensed Social Worker (LSW) and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). An LSW certified social worker can perform social group work, handle a caseload, or provide training to other social workers. However, if a social worker wishes to work in their own practice they must acquire an LCSW.
The following are the requirements to receive an LSW certification in Illinois.
- An MSW degree from an IDFPR (Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation) approved institution, or, a bachelor’s degree in social work with three years of supervised experience
- The applicant must complete the master’s ASWB examination. The fee for the exam is $230
- The applicant must pay additional licensure fees including the $50 IDFPR application fee as well as a $60 renewal fee every two years
- The applicant must be of good moral character. More information on this requirement is available here
The following are the requirements to receive an LCSW certification in Illinois.
- An MSW degree from an IDFPR (Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation) approved institution in addition to 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience
- Alternatively, a PhD in social work from an IDFPR approved institution in addition to 2,000 hours of supervised clinical experience
- Must complete the masters Clinical ASWB Examination. The fee for the exam is $260
- Must pay additional licensure fees including the $50 IDFPR application fee as well as a $60 renewal fee every two years
- The applicant must be of good moral character. More information on this requirement is available here
Coming from out of state?
If the applicant is already licensed in another state they won’t need to retake the ASWB when they move to Illinois. However, the social worker must apply for a state license from the IDFPR.
Not sure when to renew the license?
Both the LSW and LCSW must be renewed every two years. The applicant will also need to complete 30 hours of educational training every two years, before their license can be renewed.
More information on social work licensure in Illinois is available from the National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter.
Social worker salary in Illinois
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a social worker in Illinois is $55,931. There is a fairly large divergence in salaries, however, depending on which field of social work a person is employed in.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers accrue the smallest salary on average, at $54,900 per year. Social workers employed outside of traditional fields (hospice social workers, forensic social workers, etc.) earn the highest wage at $65,830 per year. Breaking down the data further we can find the average salary for several different types of social workers in Illinois.
- A child, family, and school social worker earns on average $55,390 per year
- A healthcare social worker earns on average $55,250 per year
- A mental health and substance abuse social worker earns $54,900 per year
- All other social workers earn on average $65,830 per year
Another way to look at the BLS data is to compare the median salary for social workers in different parts of Illinois.
- Chicago median salary: $63,360
- Rock Island: $46,660
- Bloomington: $36,840
Social work jobs in Illinois
Thanks to the Bureau of Labor Statistics we can discern how many people are employed as different types of social workers in Illinois.
- There are 14,720 child, family, and school social workers employed in Illinois. Clinical social workers are usually employed in hospitals and mental health clinics. They can conduct behavioral assessments as well as run therapy groups.
- There are 5,300 healthcare social workers employed in Illinois. Medical social workers coordinate patient care and they may work at a hospital or call on their clients at their homes.
- There are 3,550 mental health and substance abuse social workers employed in Illinois. Substance abuse social workers help clients to overcome drug and alcohol addictions. They may work one on one with a client or in a group setting.
- There are 1,540 various other types of social workers employed in Illinois. These positions may include forensic social workers, hospice social workers, etc.
As mentioned in the introduction the job outlook for social workers across the United States is excellent. The BLS predicts that “overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.”
These projections take into account all fields of social work including child, family, and school social workers, healthcare social workers, and mental health and substance abuse social workers.
When we look at data specific to Illinois we find that there are currently 86,380 community and social service workers employed in the state. Thus an 11 percent rate of growth would indicate that by 2028 there will be approximately 100,000 social workers employed in Illinois.