Learn about North Carolina Licensure

License Requirements

Written by Jack Levinson

comforting group

If you are a social work student in the state of North Carolina, you have likely devoted a good deal of effort toward finding the educational path that will lead you to your dream career. But when pursuing the path of a social worker, your licensure or certification will be just as important as your degree.

A social work license or certification will boost your professional status, making you a better candidate for the jobs you want.

In some cases, such as for Licensed Clinical Social Workers, receiving accreditation is an all-out requirement to perform the high-level responsibilities of the role. This means that for those who wish to perform direct clinical services such as one-on-one counseling, it will be helpful to plan out your path to licensure at the same time as you consider the educational requirements for the job.

This article will provide a complete guide to North Carolina social work license requirements at every level, helping you take a longer view as you prepare for your career. Read on to learn about certification types, education requirements, and more.

Note: The following guidelines are taken from the North Carolina Social Work Certification and License Board (NCSWCLB).

Certified Social Worker (CSW)

Degree required: Bachelor of Social Work
Exam: ASWB Bachelor level exam

If you have completed a BSW program and do not intend to pursue an MSW in the immediate future, you are likely to find higher-level job opportunities with a CSW. This certification is a way of indicating to prospective employers that you are committed to working in the social work field and have the skills needed to excel in that professional environment.

To become a CSW, one must hold a Bachelor of Social Work degree and complete the ASWB exam (bachelor level). Prospective CSWs should be sure to study hard for their exam, which will review coursework from across their BSW education. There are no work experience requirements to take the exam.

It is worth noting that even if you hold CSW status, you will not be eligible for the next tier of social work without obtaining a Master of Social Work degree. This includes clinical roles such as counselors and therapists (which require an LCSW) as well as higher-ranking roles in social work organizations such as case managers and organizational administrators (which require a CMSW at least). Meanwhile, if you intend to go directly from your BSW to an MSW program, you need not worry about obtaining CSW accreditation in the meantime.

Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW)

Degree required: Master of Social Work
Exam: ASWB Master level exam

If you have received your Master of Social Work degree but aren’t necessarily planning on pursuing a clinical practice anytime soon, you will enhance your professional standing by obtaining CMSW certification. This is an ideal certification for those who wish to take on advanced roles within social work organizations that aren’t related to direct counseling, such as:

As you can see, these roles are imperative to the well-being of those in need, and it is critical for social work organizations to have specialists devote their expertise to these responsibilities. However, there aren’t always positions that are as remunerative as clinical roles. This is why obtaining CMSW standing can be a smart professional investment, as it will confer the expertise needed to take on the most advanced (and high-paying) positions of this nature.

The licensed social worker requirements for CMSWs include an MSW degree and passage of the ASWB exam (master level). There are no work experience requirements to qualify for CMSW status, but you will already have completed substantial fieldwork hours in your Master of Social Work program.

Please note that if you intend to follow up your MSW immediately with LCSW work hours, you do not need to obtain CMSW certification.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Degree required: Master of Social Work
Exam: ASWB Clinical level exam

Many social workers enter the field with the desire to work directly with patients through counseling or other one-on-one therapeutic services, also known as clinical practice. In order to take on such great responsibility in others’ lives, one must devote considerable time and effort to developing their insight and expertise. This is why the licensed clinical social worker requirements exceed those of other social work roles.

Clinical social work license requirements are time-intensive, but they will provide the deep training you need to thrive in a serious and important profession.

Licensed clinical social worker education requirements include an MSW at the lowest (some choose to pursue DSWs or PhDs). This means you will enter clinical training with vast insight into the social work profession, developed from focused academic coursework. As soon as you enter the field, you are likely to notice the benefits of your education firsthand, as they will ground your understanding of your patients’ needs and how to be most effective in your work.

Clinical social work license requirements in North Carolina include 3,000 hours of fieldwork, which for those working on a full-time schedule tends to take two years to complete. To commence this process, one must apply to the NCSWCLB to become a Licensed Clinical Social Work Associate (LCSWA). Holding this status means your work experience will be formally logged toward your LCSW certification. You cannot retroactively transfer work hours, so it is imperative to secure your LCSWA standing before beginning your fieldwork.

The process of acquiring your LCSW culminates in the ASWB Clinical level exam, a rigorous text that requires significant preparation. This multiple-choice test draws from your MSW coursework as well as the shrewdness of judgment you will have developed from years in the field. It is worth preparing in study groups before taking the exam, as it will be the last obstacle between you and your Licensed Clinical Social Work accreditation.

Certified Social Work Manager (CSWM)

Degree required: Bachelor or Master of Social Work
Exam: ASWB Advanced Generalist level exam

Some social workers are significantly more interested in the macro side of social work – broad-scale organization, policy-related activism, and needs of communities – than the micro side – one-on-one counseling, therapy, and the like. Those who wish to hold the highest level positions in social work outside of clinical counseling should pursue CSWM standing. This will speak to your authority in important social work matters.

To qualify for CSWM status, one must complete 3,000 fieldwork hours. This is similar to the requirements of an LCSW, but rather than performing a clinical role during this time, you will work in jobs related to your particular area of specialty.

Upon completing your hours, you will have to pass the ASWB Advanced Generalist exam. Like the LCSW exam, it requires extensive preparation and is not to be left until the last minute.

Social Work License Renewal Requirements

After receiving your accreditation, you may (and should!) feel proud of what you have accomplished with persistence and care. However, the work isn’t over.

Licensed clinical social worker requirements in North Carolina stipulate that certifications must be renewed every two years.

For LCSWs, this means attending continuing education courses – in most cases, 40 hours every two years. Continuing education is an important way for social work professionals to learn about developments within their field. They can also be a fantastic opportunity to gain new areas of specialization, which in turn can open up new career paths.

In this day and age, many continuing education courses are available online, which is a boon to hardworking clinicians who previously had to carve commute time out of their already busy schedules. Nowadays, you are likely to find convenient opportunities, making it easier to find the rewards of these obligatory courses.

social worker playing and talking with boy


Why would someone become an LCSW rather than a CMSW?

Social workers are qualified to become CMSWs upon completing their Master of Social Work degree (and passing the ASWB exam). LCSWs, meanwhile, must complete an additional 3,000 hours of fieldwork – which typically takes two years – before qualifying for licensure. The main reason to pursue LCSW standing is to be able to perform clinical duties such as direct counseling and therapeutic services. One cannot practice as a clinical social worker unless they are an LCSW.

Is it worth becoming a CSW if I intend to become an LCSW?

If you plan on following up your BSW education immediately with an MSW program and LCSW work hours, you definitely do not have to become a CSW. This is because you are on the path that will lead you to a position that outranks CSW in responsibilities. Becoming a CSW is a good idea for those who intend to work in lower-level roles in social work for a good amount of time. For those who are trying to accelerate their careers more quickly, they are not a necessary step.

What happens if I fail to renew my LCSW certification?

Very simple: you will no longer be able to practice clinical social work. If your LCSW certification lapses, it will still be possible to complete the renewal process, but you will have to petition to the NCSWCLB for approval, and you may even need to take another ASWB Clinical level examination. This is worth keeping in mind in your day-to-day career, as LCSWs are responsible for renewing their licenses every two years. In other words, make sure to account for your continuing education regularly, as your job stability depends on it.