In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to complete an accredited Pennsylvania social work program and then be eligible for licensing. The guide emphasizes master’s in social work (MSW) programs in Pennsylvania, since this degree is needed to obtain a license and because of their overall popularity with social work students. You’ll need one of these degrees to practice social work in a clinical setting.
CONTENTS OF THIS GUIDE
Social work in Pennsylvania
Master’s in social work (MSW) programs in Pennsylvania
How to become a social worker in Pennsylvania
Social work license requirements in Pennsylvania
Social worker jobs and social worker salaries in Pennsylvania
Social work job outlook
Social work in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is one of the states most in need of excellent social workers. With a population of over 12 million, Pennsylvania is the fifth most populous in the United States. The state’s population is spread across numerous rural and metropolitan cities, including Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Interestingly, Pennsylvania is also one of the states that employ high numbers of social workers, many of whom do not yet have a social work license. This indicates that future social workers, particularly those interested in acquiring a license, should have plenty of work opportunities in the future.
There are many reasons why social work is such a priority for Pennsylvania. For starters, the state has a higher than average number of senior citizens per capita. In fact, 16 percent the residents are over the age of 65. Social workers are and will continue to be needed in the short-term future as people live longer and longer and require hospice care, mental health assistance, and gerontology services. Healthcare social workers, in particular, will be needed to tackle the increased demand for labor and expertise.
Furthermore, Pennsylvania is a state facing a serious prescription drug abuse problem. The state is currently ranked seventh in the nation for prescription drug overdose deaths. One result is that Pennsylvania has hundreds of mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities and clinics scattered throughout the state. These are locations where future social workers can find employment and help the patients who need their assistance the most.
MSW programs in Pennsylvania
As with other states, Pennsylvania allows both licensed and non-licensed professionals to practice social work, although the latter usually only have bachelor’s degrees in the field and cannot run their own practices or practice in clinical settings.
Some clinics allow social workers to obtain provisional licenses to help them practice in clinical settings if they are currently enrolled in a master’s degree program and already have several years of experience.
Regardless, an MSW, or master of social work, is the program required of a social worker who wants to work in their own practice or actively treat patients.
While there are plenty of MSW programs, the only programs students should seek out are those accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). This organization ensures that a given MSW carries enough rigor and provides up-to-date knowledge concerning current social work practices and ideas.
A CSWE-accredited MSW program will include:
- Modern coursework going over core social work principles and practices. You’ll study subjects like social work policies, ethics, research practices, how to manage conflicts and achieve resolution, psychology, sociology, and more.
- Classes that enable an aspiring social worker to prioritize a certain field of social work. For instance, a student can specialize to become a healthcare social worker or a mental health, drug, and substance abuse social worker.
- All accredited MSW programs will include clinical practice experiences. This is because MSW licensing requires a certain number of clinical practice hours. These are in-person work experience opportunities where students will assist another licensed clinical social worker in a real-world setting. Clinical hours may be completed at partnered clinics with the university or at clinics throughout the nearest city.
- Most MSW programs will also allow students to take electives for fun or to further round out their education.
There are plenty of colleges offering MSW programs. For instance, the University of Pennsylvania offers one of the best CSWE-accredited MSW programs in the entire country. The program is offered with a variety of schedule options — students can take it full-time or as a three-year and part-time program. There’s also an advanced standing option if the student in question already has some social work experience or credits under their belt. Clinical and macro concentrations are available as well.
Alternatively, Byrn Mawr — a women’s college located outside Philadelphia — offers a co-ed accredited master of social service degree, which will qualify for licensure due to its similarity to a typical MSW degree. It can be completed in two years with either clinical or community concentrations, depending on student preferences.
Online MSW programs in Pennsylvania
While in-person MSW programs are advantageous because they allow students to complete their clinical hours in conjunction with their classwork, aspiring social workers can also complete their degree online. They’ll complete the same type of coursework as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. The big difference is that they’ll still have to complete their clinical practice hours, but can do so at any licensed and regulated clinic in close proximity to their home arrangements.
For instance, a student could take an online MSW program from a university in Philadelphia, but complete their clinical hours in one of the many rural towns instead.
Students can either take online MSW programs from schools in Pennsylvania, or they can pursue social work education from a university outside the state’s borders. This may be advantageous if they want to continue their education from the school where they received their undergraduate degree but are now living in Pennsylvania for other reasons. So long as the program meets CSWE-accreditation, there won’t be any issues.
However, a student to complete an out-of-state online social work program will still need to meet the Pennsylvania state licensing requirements for clinical hours. If the graduate program in question has fewer hours than the requirements, the student will need to complete additional hours after graduation.
Either way, online MSW programs are a great choice for many. Most are offered in part or full-time formats, and so they provide asynchronous education for busy professionals or aspiring social workers who also have to handle kids or busy home lives. There is no difference in education quality between in-person and online MSW programs, provided the online program is also CSWE-accredited.
Examples of accredited online MSW programs in Pennsylvania include:
- Widener University’s program. This school is located in Chester, Pennsylvania, and it offers a clinical social work program with a specialization in trauma. This allows aspiring social workers to explore how trauma can affect an individual across emotional, physical, and social aspects. This is a traditional MSW program and takes about three years to complete under a part-time schedule.
- Edinboro University’s program. This is also entirely online, though it comes with an advanced standing option to let you complete the program early if you already have some credits. It can potentially be completed in a single year and requires at least 39-course credits to be completed within the program itself. With both of these programs, students never need to travel to campus, but they will need to complete their clinical hours at local clinics near their homes.
How to become a social worker in Pennsylvania
There are two paths to officially work as a social worker in Pennsylvania. The second pathway allows you to practice in a clinical setting unsupervised or to start your own clinic (and take your own patients).
Licensed Social Worker (LSW)
A licensed social worker (LSW) requires a master’s degree in the field, and it allows social workers to practice under the supervision of LCSWs. Most LSWs acquire this credential as a stepping stone to becoming a licensed clinical social worker later down the road.
- Submit your LSW application to the Pennsylvania State social worker board
- Take the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Master’s exam. This requires registration with a $25 fee and a testing fee of another $230. The exam is a four-hour test and is comprised of 170 multiple-choice questions.
- Receive your LSW license if you pass the exam – a score of 105 correct answers are required to pass
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
An LCSW in Pennsylvania has proven themself capable of aiding individuals in need and has enough clinical experience that they can run their own practice or clinic.
- Accrue at least 3,000 hours of full-time social work experience — 1,500 of these must be in topic areas that include family and group therapy, psychotherapy, consultation, assessment, and more. These hours must also be supervised. LCSW candidates must meet with an approved supervisor for two hours out of every 40 hours of work for credit
- Take the ASWB clinical exam. This requires a registration fee of $25 and an exam fee of $260. It consists of 170 multiple-choice questions
- Receive your LCSW license if you pass, which also requires a score of 105 out of 170 total, though only 150 questions are graded
Social work license requirements in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Professional Councilors is the organization in charge of social work regulation within the state. They dictate social work licensure requirements as well:
- be of good moral character
- have a CSWE-accredited MSW
- have 3,000 hours of degree clinical experience
- 1,500 hours have to be in the topic areas mentioned above
- candidates can only credit up to 1,800 hours of experience per year toward the license
Note that both LSWs and LCSWs have to renew their licenses every two years, along with pay a renewal fee of $95. Social workers must also earn 30 hours of continuing education credits, three of the hours must be in ethics-related subjects.
Social worker jobs and social worker salary in Pennsylvania
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides salary information for social workers across the US and in Pennsylvania. At this time, the national average salary for all social workers is $50,470 per year.
Whether or not a social worker makes more or less than this national average in Pennsylvania depends on their specialization.
- Child, family, and school social workers earn an average salary of $44,870 per year or an hourly salary of $21.57. There are approximately 21,180 of the social workers within the state.
- Healthcare social workers earn an average salary of $54,920 per year, or $26.41 every hour. There are about 7,950 healthcare social workers in Pennsylvania.
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers number 7,610 in Pennsylvania and have an annual salary of $38,710, or an hourly wage of $18.61. This is significantly lower than the national average.
- All other social workers number 1660 in Pennsylvania and can expect an annual salary of $58,180 or an hourly wage of $27.97.
As you can see, most social workers in Pennsylvania make around the average national salary for others of their profession across the country. However, mental health and substance abuse social workers are significantly under-compensated for their work. This may change as the seriousness of the drug overdose issues mentioned earlier becomes more apparent.
Job outlook for social workers in Pennsylvania
Nationally, social workers have a lot to look forward to. The position is expected to grow in demand by about 11 percent over the next eight years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This could mean there will soon be plentiful job opportunities for Pennsylvania social workers. The time has never been better to earn an MSW and begin working in the state, particularly as more healthcare and child, family, and school social workers will likely be needed in the near future.