This guide will tell you everything you need to know about how to become a licensed social worker in North Carolina. The guide emphasizes master in social work (MSW) programs because this degree is required to become a clinical social worker and are very popular.
CONTENTS OF THIS GUIDE
- Social work in North Carolina
- MSW programs
- How to become a social worker
- License requirements
- Social worker salary
- Job outlook
- School Listings
- Expert advice
Social work in North Carolina
North Carolina is already the ninth most populous state in the country and is currently undergoing a population boom. This is mostly because of migrants coming from other states or other countries rather than native growth – in fact, North Carolina has one of the highest percentages of kids who live with immigrant parents.
This necessarily means that there’s a huge need for new and dedicated social workers. Populations from different cultural backgrounds interact with each other frequently within this state, requiring social worker assistance. Furthermore, substance abuse is a big problem in the state for both common drugs, like tobacco and alcohol, and more serious substances, like black tar heroin.
Ultimately, the rapid change in the state’s demographics is also changing the needs of present social services. Rather than needing a huge boost to healthcare social workers, as is common in other states, North Carolina primarily needs family-and school-focused social workers to handle demographic integration issues and to help immigrants as they acclimate to their new environment.
MSW programs in North Carolina
North Carolina offers plenty of MSW and other social worker programs, both through in-state colleges and through online programs that students from across the country can enjoy. However, if you want to become an LCSW, you’ll want to prioritize programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
This organization ensures that MSW and other social work programs use up-to-date terminology and educate students with the best modern social work practices. CSWE-accredited MSW programs will include:
- Modern coursework going over social work principles and practices. Classes may include topics like social work research practices, ethics, psychology, sociology, conflict resolution and more
- Specialized classes that can tailor you to become one of the four major types of social workers (described below)
- Clinical practice experiences. All LCSW licenses require a certain number of clinical practice hours or in-person clinical experience. These hours are completed either at a clinic associated with the university in question or may be completed at a clinic near your home location (if you take an online program)
- Opportunities for electives for further study and a well-rounded education
Many of the universities in North Carolina offer excellent CSWE-accredited MSW programs. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is close to Raleigh, the state capital. It’s one of the best social work programs in the country (ranked No. 5 by U.S. News and World Report as of 2016). It’s particularly suitable for future leaders in the social work sphere, and the school also offers dual degree programs. An advanced standing option is available if you already have some social work credits under your belt.
Appalachian State University also offers excellent BSW and MSW degree options. Their MSW program focuses on clinical practice and social service administration. Many graduates are closer to being qualified for clinical social work licensure since the program includes a high number of hours.
Online MSW programs in North Carolina
Aside from in-person programs, students may also prefer to take online social work programs. Online MSW programs differ mainly from their in-person counterparts because students must still complete the required number of clinical practice hours for licensure. But they can do this at appropriate clinics near their homes.
UNC at Chapel Hill and East Carolina University both offer MSW programs that can be completed remotely, or at least with a great deal of flexibility. They offer their online program in a part-time format: perfect for busy professionals or those with hectic home lives.
How to become a social worker in North Carolina
While most other states only offer two pathways to social work certification, North Carolina offers four. Each type of certification will qualify you for different social worker jobs.
Certified Social Worker (CSW)
A certified social worker is the first type and only requires a bachelor’s degree in social work. Most BSW job roles usually operate under the supervision of an LCSW.
- Apply to the NCSW Board after completing a BSW. This also requires an application fee of $115
- Complete the exam request form and pay a $40 fee
- Take the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Bachelor’s exam, which includes 170 multiple-choice questions for hours. An exam fee of $230 is required as well.
- If you pass, you receive certification
Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW)
A certified master social worker is one step above the previous type. It requires an MSW or a higher college degree in the same field, though it does not require work experience. This is a good certificate to get if you plan to become an LCSW but are still working on your clinical hours.
- Submit a CMSW application to the board with a $115 fee
- Complete the exam request form and pay the $40 fee
- Take the ASWB Master’s exam, which is 170 multiple-choice questions and costs $230
- Receive your certificate if you pass the exam
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
This is the goal for most aspiring social workers. It allows you to practice social work independently and begin your own practice or otherwise prescribe actionable advice and medication to patients.
- Complete a certain amount of supervised clinical social work experience (more on that below). You also need an MSW. Apply for licensure to the Board and pay the $115 fee. You’ll get a provisional LCSWA (Associate) license in time
- Obtain the rest of the required experience for LCSW licensure
- Take the ASWB Clinical Exam, which is comprised of 170 questions and which costs $260 plus a $40 fee for the exam request form
- Submit your LCSW application
- Receive LCSW licensure if you pass the exams
Certified Social Worker Manager (CSWM)
This last type of social worker requires any type of social work degree and it’s intended for individuals who want to administrate at a social work practice rather than directly deal with patients.
- Gain the required experience – 3,000 hours of post-degree paid employment in administrative social work positions. This must be completed in no fewer than two years. You must also be supervised by a social work administrator for at least 100 of those hours
- Submit your application for CSWM certification to the board. There’s a $115 application fee
- Complete the exam request form and pay the $40 fee
- Take the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam, which is 170 questions and which costs $260
- Receive certification if you pass the exam
Social work license requirements in North Carolina
The North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board handle licensure requirements and actually giving out licenses to individuals who qualify. An LCSW in North Carolina needs:
- An MSW, Doctor of PhD in social work from a CSWE-accredited school
- Completion of the ASWB clinical level exam
- A minimum of 3,000 hours of post-MSW paid clinical employment, with at least 100 of those hours supervised by an LCSW
- A $115 application fee
Furthermore, LCSWs must renew their license every two years by paying $150 and taking 40 credit hours of social work education. 4 of those hours must be in ethics.
Social worker salary North Carolina
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides valuable data regarding the expected salaries for different types of social workers, separated into four major types:
- Child, family, and school social workers are the most numerous in this state, totaling 12,380. These social workers can expect annual salaries of $48,280 and hourly wages of $23.21.
- Healthcare social workers make up 3,160 of all the social workers in the state. They earn an average salary of $54,660 and hourly wages of $26.28.
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers number 2,390 and earn an annual salary of $52,600 and an hourly wage of $25.29.
- All other social workers are the rarest of all types at 990 total. They are an annual salary of $57,420 and an hourly wage of $27.61.
Job outlook for social workers in North Carolina
While the job outlook for social workers around the country is quite positive, it’s also excellent for North Carolina specifically. North Carolina is currently undergoing a population boom, meaning there are plenty of new people coming into the state.
To benefit from this, North Carolina is currently opening up more social work programs. Social work clinics and administrative centers are also seeking new social workers to fill job positions to handle substance abuse and healthcare concerns throughout the state.
Social Work Programs in North Carolina
- What are the challenges or opportunities for becoming a social worker in North Carolina?
- What does the future of social work look like in North Carolina?
- What types of jobs are MSW graduates finding in North Carolina?
What are the challenges or opportunities for becoming a social worker in North Carolina?
Like so much of the world, social workers in North Carolina are dealing with the on-going impacts of the global pandemic. School social workers are helping students and families in health, mental health, economic, and social crisis situations. Mental health teams are doing outreach, case management, and therapeutic treatment for people struggling with the realities of COVID-19 including depression, isolation, and anxiety. We are seeing more social workers embedded into integrative health teams working alongside physicians, nurses, and other medical personnel. Social workers are advocating to protect their LGBTQ+ clients as anti-trans legislation spreads throughout the country. With aging baby boomers, social workers are needed to care for the increasing population of senior citizens. Social workers are advocating and caring for communities challenged by gentrification, barriers to access to affordable healthcare, and job employment, and living wages. Food security and food sovereignty are priorities for clients living in poverty. Similar to so many areas in the US, there is the struggle to help people dealing with substance abuse and addiction. Social workers advocate for greater access to treatment and a broader perspective of treatment options. As a microcosm of the US, North Carolina is challenged to address systemic racism and oppression that has resulted in generations of institutional inequality and exclusion. North Carolina is one of the most trafficked states in the country. Social workers are faced with helping individuals escape indenturement. Social workers help immigrants access services and resources, and advocate for policies that allow for clear paths to citizenship. With so many challenges, social work is a necessary profession in our state. The profession of social work has a reputation of collaboration with multiple disciplines, bringing our unique person-in-environment and strengths perspectives.
What does the future of social work look like in North Carolina?
There is title protection for social workers in North Carolina, meaning that one cannot call themselves a social worker without a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work. This designation recognizes the essentialness and irreplaceability of professional social workers.