How to Become a Social Worker in New York

Doctor performing research to contribute to healthcare informaticIf you are considering a career in social work in the state of New York, you may be wondering what is required in terms of education and licensing, and what career opportunities might await you. A graduate degree in social work along with appropriate licensure opens a wide variety of potential careers in New York State, from the many opportunities available in the New York City public school system, to employment in domestic violence resource centers and child welfare agencies, to a growing number of opportunities working with older adults in gerontological social work and much more.

Now that you have some sense of the opportunities, let’s take a closer look at how you’ll get there. This article will cover the process of becoming a social worker in New York and the associated educational and professional requirements for licensure, as well as how to go about obtaining licensure.

Overview of Requirements and Application Process for LMSW and LCSW

New York State allows you to practice social work under two types of licenses: as a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). State law requires you to possess one of these license types in order to practice social work.

A Licensed Master Social Worker can practice a broad spectrum of social work activities, including case management, counseling, research, teaching, test administration, measuring psychosocial functioning and more.

Applicants must pass the Master’s Level Examination of the Association of Social Work Boards in order to be granted an LMSW. To be eligible for the exam, they must have a master’s degree in social work, such as a Master of Social Work from Adelphi. Whether they earn their MSW degree online or on campus, Adelphi graduates will qualify for the LMSW exam.

The basic requirements laid out by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) stipulate that applicants for the LMSW must:

  • Be of good moral character
  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Meet education requirements
  • Meet exam requirements
  • Receive training in identifying and reporting child abuse

By contrast, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker can practice clinical social work, such as diagnosis and psychotherapy, without supervision.

As with the LMSW, applicants for LCSW licensure must hold a Master of Social Work degree or equivalent inclusive of clinical coursework. LCSW licensure can only be obtained by an LMSW who has met certain professional experience requirements and passed the Clinical Level Examination of the Association of Social Work Boards. NYSED requirements for LCSW applicants state that they must:

  • Be of good moral character
  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Meet education requirements (an MSW with at least 12 hours of clinical coursework)
  • Have obtained at least three years of supervised professional experience in psychotherapy, diagnosis and assessment-based treatment planning after the completion of their MSW
  • Meet clinical examination requirements
  • Receive training in identifying and reporting child abuse

In sum, obtaining an LMSW opens a wide array of professional avenues in social work, including serving as a stepping stone toward LCSW licensure in New York.

Education Requirements

Let’s take a closer look at the education requirements for both LMSWs and LCSWs. Both license types require you to hold a Master of Social Work from a graduate program registered with the NYSED and accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CWSE).

Per the NYSED, qualifying graduate programs must include a field practicum of at least 900 clock hours in social work integrated with the prescribed curricular content, in addition to coursework in these areas:

  • Social work values and ethics
  • Diversity, social justice and at-risk populations
  • Human behavior in the social environment
  • Social welfare policy and service delivery systems
  • Foundation and advanced social work practice
  • Social work practice evaluation and research

LCSW licensure requires clinical coursework of no fewer than 12 semester hours, which must “emphasize the person-in-environment perspective” and train students in:

  • Diagnosis and assessment in clinical social work practice
  • Clinical social work treatment
  • Clinical social work practice with general and special populations

Any coursework deficiencies (for example, if you want to apply for an LCSW but did not take the required clinical coursework as part of your MSW) can be made up with supplemental coursework from a program that meets the above institutional requirements, such as Adelphi’s online and on-campus MSW.

Preparing for and Taking Your LMSW Exam

To obtain your LMSW license, you must take the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) administered Master’s Level Examination. The ASWB exam is a computer-based, pass/fail test designed to assess your knowledge and skills for entry-level social work. It consists of roughly 170 multiple-choice questions on various areas related to social work practice.

Submit an Application

Before sitting for the test, you must submit an Application for Licensure (along with the $294 application fee) to the New York State Education Department and verify your graduate program education with the NYSED.

Register for the Exam

Once you have received approval from the NYSED, you can register directly with the ASWB to take the exam. Test centers are located throughout New York State (or nationwide, if you are applying for licensure in a different state). Should you need, you can apply for reasonable testing accommodations directly with the ASWB. More information on the exam requirements and application process can be found on the official NYSED site.

Get Your Score Report

Once you’ve taken the exam, you will receive a preliminary score report before you leave the test center. An official score report will be sent to the NYSED.

If you don’t succeed in passing the exam, you can retake it as many times as you’d like by repeating the application process. Keep in mind that you will have to pay the exam fee each time you take the exam.

Because of the amount of time it takes to process the Application for Licensure, it’s possible that you might find employment in social work before you sit for or pass the exam. In such a case, you can apply for a limited permit to practice as an LMSW under the supervision of a licensed social worker for up to a year.

Adelphi offers a number of exam prep resources for students looking to take the Master’s Level Examination. This includes dedicated licensing coursework and workshops, one-on-one and group tutoring and test-taking strategy sessions. Our expert faculty are available to answer questions about the exam, or licensing more broadly. Students particularly value both the dedicated practice exams and the fact that many faculty include questions from the ASWP exam on tests and quizzes within the Online Master of Social Work.

What Additional Requirements Does the LCSW Exam Have?

The Clinical Level Examination required to obtain an LCSW is, like the Master’s Level Exam, a computer-based, multiple choice, standardized exam administered by the ASWB. It is designed to assess your knowledge and skills relating to clinical social work practice, such as assessment, diagnosis, psychotherapy, professional ethics and cultural competence.

Applying to sit for the clinical exam is also similar to applying to sit for the master’s exam, with some important additional requirements. You must submit an Application for Licensure (along with the $294 application fee) to the New York State Education Department and have your graduate program verify your education with the NYSED, as you would have done for the LMSW.

In addition, New York law requires you to complete 2,000 hours of post-graduate supervised clinical social work, completed over the course of at least three years (not exceeding six calendar years). You must have a qualified supervisor submit verification of your diagnostic and psychotherapeutic experience to the NYSED.

Once the NYSED approves your education, experience and application materials, you can register with ASWB to take the clinical exam. More information on the clinical exam requirements and application process can be found on the official NYSED site.

Reciprocity for Out-of-State Licenses

If you are licensed to practice social work in another state but want to practice in New York, the NYSED grants reciprocity (or what it refers to as “endorsement”) in certain cases.

If you hold an LCSW and have practiced for 10 of the last 15 years prior to your application for reciprocity and your license was granted under conditions similar to those stipulated by the NYSED, you may be eligible for reciprocity. To apply, you must be of good moral character (as determined by the NYSED) and have the appropriate entities submit:

  • An Application for Licensure with the $294 license fee
  • Verification of MSW degree
  • Verification of initial licensure and good standing in the jurisdiction(s) in which you have practiced
  • A list of supervisors who can verify that you meet minimum experience requirements
  • Verification of ASWB clinical exam score
  • Verification of licensed practiced for at least 10 years by licensed colleague(s)

If you do not meet the requirements for reciprocity as an LCSW, you must apply for licensure as an LMSW and practice under supervision until you meet the minimum requirements to sit for the clinical exam, as outlined above.

Reciprocity for LMSW licensure is not available in New York. However, if you meet the general requirements for licensure and have passed the ASWB master’s exam, you may be able to apply to the NYSED for licensure.

Additional Requirements for Specific Career Outcomes

Some careers in social work may have requirements beyond the licensure requirements of the NYSED. For example, if you want to take advantage of the many career opportunities in the New York City public school system, such as school counselor, social worker or psychologist, you may need to apply for additional certification(s). School social workers in New York City should apply for School Social Worker Certification through the NYSED and the New York City Department of Education. To be eligible for bilingual school social work careers, you will need to obtain a Bilingual Extension Certificate.

Many jobs also require internships or specific field training, which Adelphi facilitates through the practicum education associated with its MSW program. To learn more about the specific requirements of social work opportunities within the NYC public school system, see their official site.

How Adelphi Unlocks NYC Opportunities for Social Workers

Adelphi’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program, available online and on-campus, provides training and support through all stages of this process, including assisting you with fieldwork placements. The program is designed to meet the needs of all types of students: it can be completed as an on-campus Master of Social Work, an Online Master of Social Work or as an Advanced Standing Online Master of Social Work for students who have completed a bachelor’s in social work within the last five years.

Regardless of the program you choose, you will benefit from Adelphi’s affiliations with 1,000+ human services agencies in the New York City area, field placements, online residencies and an average 90% employment rate within one year of completing your MSW.


What’s the difference between a Licensed Master Social Worker and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker?
The major difference is that an LCSW can legally engage in “clinical social work,” including diagnosis and psychotherapy. Generally speaking, candidates for LCSW licensure must already possess an LMSW and have completed a minimum amount of supervised clinical social work.

Can I practice social work without a license?
If you meet all the qualifications required to sit for the LMSW exam, but have not yet taken or passed the test, you can apply for a limited permit. Limited permits allow you to practice as an LMSW under the supervision of a licensed LMSW or LCSW for up to one year. The permit applies only to the specific and legally authorized employment setting stipulated on the application and is not renewable.

How much does it cost to take the ASWB exams for Masters or Clinical Level Social Work?
The fee for the Masters Level Exam is $230 and the fee for the Clinical Level Exam is $260. Note that the exam fee is distinct from the Application for Licensure Fee, which is $294. You will have to pay the exam fee each time you take one of these tests.

What kind of experience is needed for an LCSW?
In order to obtain LCSW licensure you must hold an LMSW, and by extension meet all the educational requirements for the LMSW, including completing an MSW. Additionally, you need to have taken at least 12 credit hours of clinical coursework. You also need to have completed a considerable amount of supervised postgraduate social work, totaling at least 2,000 hours (1,500 of which must involve direct client contact).

About Adelphi’s On-Campus and Online MSW

The highly respected School of Social Work at Adelphi has a long history of producing leaders in social work and helping to shape social policies. Since 1951, we have continually been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, and Adelphi’s social work graduate program now ranks in the top 25% of the country, according to U.S. News & World Report. Our faculty are expert practitioners and researchers, having published across the full range of topics within the field—including disparities in healthcare, child advocacy, the role of social workers in shaping policies and more.

The Master of Social Work program brings the combined decades of expertise and legacy of Adelphi’s leading social work school to a flexible curriculum designed for working professionals. Because building relationships is essential to the social work field, we include two annual residency experiences, which can be completed online or on-campus. We are proud of our ability to deliver personalized attention in the online classroom. Our graduates complete the program prepared to become Licensed Master Social Workers and begin rewarding careers.

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