This guide is a review of everything you need to know about becoming a social worker in Chicago, Illinois.
Throughout the guide, you will find what it takes to earn your degree and become licensed in Chicago. An overview of the city’s social work needs and the opportunities it offers is also included for those planning to start their career practicing social work.In this guide
- Campus-based degrees
- Bachelor’s in social work
- Master’s of social work
- Online social work degree
- Licensing requirements
- Social work jobs
As the third-largest employer of social workers in the United States, the city of Chicago provides endless job opportunities in the field of social work. To begin your work in the field, you must first earn your degree in social work. In order to be recognized as a social worker in the city, the Illinois licensing board also requires you to obtain credentials as either a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).
Below, you will find the education and job opportunities available in the city, as well as how to become licensed.
Campus-based social work degrees in Chicago
If you plan to complete your social work degree by attending on-campus classes, there are currently eight main campuses offering campus-based programs in Chicago.
While earning your degree is never cheap, those attending from in-state will be able to benefit from reduced tuition costs. If cost is a main concern for you, Human Services lists that Northeastern Illinois University is one of the most affordable options in the Chicago area, particularly regarding in-state tuition.
Below, you will find a list of schools with campus-based social work programs in the city and what they offer.
Bachelor’s of social work (BSW) programs in Chicago
Loyola University Chicago
- Loyola University Chicago’s BSW program is Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited
- Students must complete 38 credit hours to graduate the program
- Students will be able to participate in curriculum-based fieldwork opportunities
St. Augustine College
- The BSW program at St. Augustine College is CSWE-accredited
- The program has a focus on empowering a bilingual community through social justice
- Students are required to complete 420 hours of fieldwork in order to graduate from the program
Northeastern Illinois University
- The BSW program a Northeastern Illinois University is CSWE-accredited
- Students can benefit from a low student-faculty ratio and receive more focused attention due to small classes
- Classes are designed to prepare students for entry-level professional social work and for graduate studies
Master’s in social work (MSW) programs in Chicago
If you are looking to complete your MSW degree, the list below shows the seven schools offering on-campus MSW programs in the city. These schools include:
Chicago State University
- This MSW program prepares graduate students for advanced professional social work roles
- The program has a focus on teaching family-centered perspectives and a commitment to diversity and social and economic justice
- This program has an emphasis on teaching graduates to respect human rights with attention to professional ethics
- The program offers two concentrations: Community Practice and Forensic Social Work
- This program offers three MSW clinical concentrations to choose from
- An advanced standing option can allow students with a BSW degree to waive up to 25 credit hours from their MSW degree program
Loyola University Chicago
- LUC offers the MSW degree in Social Justice
- This program can be completed in as little as three years
University of Illinois at Chicago
- Students begin this program by completing the generalist portion of its curriculum. Next, students move on to specialized teaching in the specialization portion of the program
- Has an advanced standing program
University of Chicago
- The University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, And Practice offers two MSW programs: Social Work, Social Policy, and Social Administration (SW) and Social Sector Leadership and Nonprofit Management (SSL)
Northeastern Illinois University
- This program can be completed in two to four years
- Students can choose from the program’s micro or macro concentrations
All of the programs above are CSWE-accredited. Of these schools, the University of Chicago has the highest graduation rate at 93 percent.
Many of these programs also offer advanced standing programs which allows those holding a CSWE-accredited BSW degree to complete their MSW degree at an accelerated rate. To see an example of how an advanced standing program works, check out Loyola University Chicago’s page outlining their program here.
A complete listing of all social work programs in the state are available on the page highlighting social work programs in Illinois.
Online social work degrees in Chicago
Earning your social work degree online is a great option for those who are unable to attend on-campus classes. Within the city of Chicago, Loyola University Chicago currently offers a fully online MSW social work program.
Loyola University Chicago Online Program
- The online MSW program at Loyola University Chicago (LUC) is CSWE-accredited
- Students must complete 49 credit hours, or 8 semesters of coursework prior to graduation
- LUC has the lowest credit hour requirements in the country, with other programs often requiring up to 60 credit hours of coursework before students are able to graduate
- Students will have the opportunity to have real-life experiences in the field during required internships
- To learn more about the school’s advanced standing programs, check out LUC’s advanced standing page on their website
To learn more about other online opportunities close to Chicago, be sure to check out our Illinois state guide.
Social work internships in Chicago
Social work internships and fieldwork plays a crucial role in providing students with real-world experience in the field in order to be well prepared for future jobs. Additionally, many jobs require prospective social workers to have previous supervised work experience as well as an internship on record.
Some examples of places that accept social work students and provide hands-on experience in Chicago include:
To keep up with the latest opportunities in the city, sites such as Indeed.com and Chegg Internships are great places to start looking for active internships in order to gain experience as a social work student.
Social work license in Chicago
Earning your social work license will allow you to have more professional work opportunities and allow you to not be limited to entry-level jobs. To become a licensed social worker in Chicago, the state of Illinois offers two types of licensure. These include: Licensed Social Worker (LSW) and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).
Candidates must also hold either a BSW or MSW from a program that is accredited by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) or is CSWE-accredited. Below, you will find the steps you will need to take in order to earn each of these licenses.
Steps to Become a LSW in Chicago
- Candidates holding a BSW degree may begin applying for their license after completing at least three years of supervised social work experience. However, those with an MSW degree may apply immediately.
- Submit an application along with proof of your earned degree and experience. The application fee is $50.
- Take and pass the ASWB master’s examination. The testing cost is $230.
- Receive your license from the IDFPR and begin practicing as a LSW in the city.
Steps to Become a LCSW in Chicago
- Candidates must have an MSW or doctoral degree in order to apply. Supervised postgraduate social work experience is also required. For MSW graduates, you must complete 3,000 hours while DSW graduates only need 2,000 hours of documented experience.
- Submit all necessary documentation and the LCSW application to the IDFPR. The application cost is $50.
- After receiving approval from the IDFPR, take and pass the ASWB clinical examination. The testing cost is $260.
- Receive your license from the IDFPR and begin practicing as a LCSW.
For additional information on how to receive your license in Chicago, kindly refer to our Illinois state guide.
Social work job opportunities in Chicago
As you begin your career as a social worker in Chicago, it is important to be aware of the job opportunities and salaries you can expect to find in the city.
While you may be able to find some low-level social work jobs without holding a license, you cannot become a social worker in the state of Illinois without a license. However, by earning your license, you will be open to more professional opportunities and a higher paying salary.
According to Indeed Jobs, the yearly average base salary for social workers in the city of Chicago is roughly $72,035. However, salaries differ by years of experience.
Chicago social work salaries by years of experience
- Social workers with less than one year of experience can expect to earn $66,849 per year
- Social workers with 1-2 years of experience can expect to earn $66,541 per year
- Social workers with 6-9 years of experience can expect to earn $83,796 per year
- Social workers with over 10 years of experience can expect to earn $85,687 per year
For your convenience, listed below are some examples of local social work job openings in Chicago at government organizations and independent agencies:
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Humboldt Park Health: LCSW licensure required
- Licensed Social Worker at Northwestern Medicine: LSW licensure required
- Social worker at White Cap Nursing: one year social work (preferred)
- Social worker at EDU Healthcare: LSW or LCSW licensure required
If you choose to pursue a career as a social worker in Chicago, there will always be opportunities for finding work in the city as social workers remain in high demand. To get started on your journey to make a difference in the lives of those living in the city, be sure to closely review the information above as well as our Illinois state guide for more information.