In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about becoming a licensed social worker in West Virginia. The guide focuses primarily on online and in-person MSWs or master’s in social work, as these degrees are both popular among social work students and a requirement for state licensure in West Virginia and beyond.
CONTENTS OF THIS GUIDE
- Social work in West Virginia
- MSW programs
- Online MSW programs
- How to become a social worker
- License requirements
- Social worker jobs salary
- Job outlook
- School listings
Social work in West Virginia
Though West Virginia is not one of the most populated states in the US, it’s inundated with a variety of social work-related issues. For instance, many in its population live in poverty (at an average of around 17 percent compared to 15 percent in most other states). Furthermore, it has a relatively high rate of foster care entry, plus a particularly big problem with substance abuse.
Indeed, West Virginia has the highest proportional rate of deaths related to drug use in the entire country, and the majority of those deaths involve prescription drugs instead of flatly illegal drugs like cocaine. Abuse of methamphetamines and opioids is particularly common.
All of these problems mean that West Virginia has a serious need for skilled social workers. Social work in this state typically revolves around healthcare, substance abuse, and family support due to the particular issues impacting its population.
MSW programs in West Virginia
The MSW or master of social work is the target degree for practically all serious social workers. It’s a graduate degree that is required for state licensure in West Virginia and in many other states. Furthermore, most state licensure boards require that you obtain an MSW from a Council on Social Work Education-accredited program. These programs have a minimum level of rigor and educate their students with up-to-date and modern social work practices and concepts.
Accredited MSW programs include:
- Classes and coursework that go over the social work concepts necessary to practice clinically and in other professional contexts
- Classes that allow social work students to specialize in one discipline or another. Some programs in West Virginia are specifically tailored to prepare future social workers for the issues unique to this state
- Clinical practice experiences, in which students obtain the practical expertise they need to treat patients in future social work clinics. Some hours needed for licensure will be obtained during school, while others will need to be accrued after graduation
- Most MSW programs also give students opportunities to pursue electives to round out their education
Since it’s neither a particularly metropolitan nor a populated state compared to regions like California or New York, there are only a handful of MSW programs available within West Virginia’s borders. Concord University is perhaps the most well-known of these, as it offers CSWE-accredited bachelor’s and MSW degrees alike. The latter option also allows students to specialize with a rural focus, plus has an advanced standing curriculum if you already have some social work credits under your belt.
West Virginia University is another option. This public institution offers an MSW program with Direct Practice or Community Organization/Social Administration concentrations. The latter choice allows students to specialize in administration so they’re prepared to lead social work clinics and institutions in the future. This program is also available in a part-time format at satellite campuses throughout the state.
Online MSW programs in West Virginia
Online MSW programs are also popular these days, particularly since online education allows students to benefit from the same academic rigor as in-person programs without having to physically attend class. Online MSW programs are ideal for those with busy schedules or for people who can’t easily reach the campuses due to job or familial obligations.
While online MSW programs are applicable to social work licensure, students will also have to complete their practical experience hours at nearby clinics or social work organizations. Students will be given the chance to choose the clinic that works best for their geographic needs, then fulfill those hours on the weekends or in the evenings depending on their schedules.
There are unfortunately no online MSW programs in West Virginia at this time. But students can still take online programs from other states while living in West Virginia and have those programs count for West Virginia licensure. Students may decide to do this if they have to move to West Virginia for one reason or another but want to finish their education at the same university at which they began.
How to become a social worker in West Virginia
West Virginia’s Board of Social Work (WVBSW) allows for four different levels of social work licensure. Only the last of these can practice social work in a clinical context without supervision. The board also allows temporary permits that enable social workers to practice for up to six months in preparation for a licensure exam.
Licensed Social Worker
This basic social worker licensure is entry-level and allows credential holders to provide nonclinical or general social work services in clinics or medical centers. Such individuals need a bachelor’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program.
- Pass the Association of Social Work Board’s bachelor’s exam, which costs $230 and consists of 170 multiple-choice questions.
- Complete the application for LSW certification and return it to the Board with a $100 fee
- You’ll receive licensure if you pass the exam
Licensed Graduate Social Worker
An LGSW requires an MSW from an accredited program and allows credential holders to practice general social work and teach other students. Such social workers can also provide clinical services if under the supervision of a higher licensed professional.
- Pass the ASWB Master’s exam, which costs $230 and is comprised of 170 questions
- Complete the LGSW application, which requires a fee of $100 or $55 if you are upgrading your license from LSW
- Receive your license if you pass the exam
Licensed Certified Social Worker
These social workers can provide nonclinical social work services, and can practice clinical social work while under supervision.
- Complete the necessary supervised experience (see below)
- Pass the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam, which costs $260 and which has 170 questions
- Complete the application and pay the $55 application fee for upgrading your license
- You’ll receive licensure if you pass the exam
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
This social worker can practice clinical social work on their own and start their own practice or medical office.
- Gain the required experience and obtain an accredited MSW
- Pass the ASWB Clinical exam, which costs $260 and which has 170 questions
- Complete the application and pay the $55 upgrading fee
- Receive your licensure if you pass the exam
Social work license requirements in West Virginia
The WVBSW requires that LCSW or LICSW applicants have two years of full-time or alternatively 3,000 hours of part-time and supervise social work clinical experience. Of those hours, 100 of those must be supervised by a licensed clinical social worker. Many MSW programs will incorporate some of these in their required curriculum, but not all of the required hours.
Note that social workers will need to renew their licenses every two years and complete 40 continuing education hours. At least 20 have to be from self-study activities and another 20 must be from organized programs. Furthermore, two of the hours must be on the mental health of veterans, and another must be related to ethics.
Social worker salary in West Virginia
Social workers across the country make decent salaries, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides in-depth information about West Virginia social workers’ earnings by breaking them down into four distinct categories:
- Child, family, and school social workers: Can expect an annual salary of $41,140. There are currently around 620 child, family, and school social workers employed in West Virginia.
- Healthcare social workers: The largest group of social workers in West Virginia, there are 670 healthcare social workers in West Virginia, and this group makes an average annual salary of $50,650.
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers: This type of social worker makes an average annual salary of $38,760 in the state. Currently around 140 social workers are employed in this specialty.
- All other social workers: About 320 social workers in West Virginia comprise the all other social worker category and make an average annual salary of $65,510.
This data indicates that, when combined with West Virginia’s generally low cost of living, social workers in this state earn good salaries, particularly if they work in healthcare or other categories aside from substance abuse. Their typical earnings are about average with national social worker salary levels, which hover around $50,000 per year.
Job outlook for social workers in West Virginia
Nationwide and in West Virginia, employment for social workers is expected to rise. The BLS also indicates that over 80,000 new jobs for social workers should crop up over the next eight years or so, and there’s no doubt that hundreds or thousands of these will be for West Virginia positions. This is doubly true since many young social workers prioritize more metropolitan states for their career ambitions – it may become easier in the future to acquire a high-paying social work position in West Virginia compared to a state like California or New York.