Pennsylvania Social Work Requirements - LSW & LCSW Licenses

Social Work Licensure Resources, Pennsylvania

Table of Contents

Pennsylvania’s State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors issues three levels of social work licenses. Provisional Social Worker License, Licensed Social Worker (LSW), and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). These licenses increase progressively in terms of an expanding scope of practice and requirements for education, exams, and experience.

Provisional Social Worker License – If you’re a social worker at this level you can engage in the Licensed Social Worker (LSW) scope of practice, however you must work under the supervision of, and in affiliation with, an LSW. You must also be enrolled in a master’s degree program in Social Work (MSW), and the provisional license will be revoked if you drop out of, or don’t complete, your MSW program.

Licensed Social Worker (LSW) – As an LSW in Pennsylvania you can render services that rely on a special knowledge of therapeutic techniques, human personalities, and social resources. This includes:

  • Helping people become socially adjusted as individuals and members of a family or community
  • Services provided within Pennsylvania can include teletherapy
  • You cannot work independently; you must work in the affiliation of an agency or social work service provider

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) – Abilities at this level include the scope of practice for LSWs. LCSWs in Pennsylvania can also work independently, meaning you’re not affiliated with other agencies and are responsible for your own practice and treatment procedures.

Earning any social work credential in Pennsylvania means passing the appropriate exam through the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

Applications for these licenses are made online through the Pennsylvania Licensing System (PALS).

*See an in-depth overview of about The Social Work License

Licensing Requirements:

Provisional Social Worker License


    1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in Social Work
    2. You must have at least three years of full-time cumulative work experience under the supervision of an LSW
    3. You must be currently enrolled in an MSW program
    4. Apply for provisional licensure through PALS; application fee $25
    5. Step Five – PALS will confirm your eligibility and notify the ASWB that you’re ready for your exam
    6. Step Six – Pass the ASWB Bachelors exam


  • Every two years
  • 30 hours of continuing education are required
  • $95 fee
  • You cannot hold a provisional social worker license for more than six years

Licensed Social Worker (LSW)


    1. Earn a master’s or doctoral degree in Social Work
    2. Apply for the LSW credential through PALS; application fee $25
    3. PALS will confirm your eligibility and notify the ASWB that you’re ready for your exam
    4. Pass the ASWB Masters exam


  • Every two years
  • 30 hours of continuing education are required
  • $95 fee

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)


    1. Earn a master’s or doctoral degree in Social Work
    2. Complete 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience (§ 47.12c.(b))
    3. Apply for the LCSW credential through PALS; this includes the submission of the Request for Certification of Supervised Clinical Experience form; application fee $45
    4. PALS will confirm your eligibility and notify the ASWB that you’re ready for your exam
    5. Pass the ASWB Clinical exam


  • Every two years
  • 30 hours of continuing education are required
  • $95 fee
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Social Work Degrees, Pennsylvania

You can qualify for social work licensure in Pennsylvania with education at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. To qualify with bachelor’s and master’s-level education, you must complete a degree in Social Work from a school that’s accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). You can find degree programs that are offered online and on-campus, with both types carrying equal weight upon graduation.

    Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW)

    The CSWE only accredits BSW programs with an education that’s grounded in the liberal arts. These typically take four years to complete and total 120 semester credits. As an undergraduate you’ll take courses in a range of subjects from sociology and psychology to statistics and analytical theory. Right now there are 36 BSW programs in Pennsylvania that are accredited by the CSWE. After you’ve earned a BSW you’re qualified to work under the supervision of an LSW. Once you’ve done this for three years, and if you enroll in an MSW program, you can qualify for a Provisional Social Worker License.

    Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW)

    There are 13 schools offering MSW degrees in Pennsylvania that are accredited by the CSWE, which only gives its stamp of approval to programs that prepare students for specialized practice. In Pennsylvania an MSW is the minimum educational eligibility requirement for becoming a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). MSW programs typically take two years to complete, and as specialist programs give you the option to focus on a range of topics like clinical social work, addiction, family issues, and youth-schools. As part of being CSWE accredited, an MSW program must include a field education segment that’s at least 900 hours.

    Doctoral Degree in Social Work

    While the CSWE only accredits Social Work programs at the undergraduate and master’s-level, you can qualify for any level of licensure in Pennsylvania with a regionally-accredited doctoral degree in Social Work according to the Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers. There are two main types of doctoral degrees in Social Work and both are highly specialized: a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) and a PhD in Social Work. DSW programs are more practice-based and can pertain particularly to clinical social workers. PhD programs typically take longer to complete and are more research-based.

Time Expectations to Become a Social Worker in PA?

The time it takes to earn a social work license in Pennsylvania depends on what level of licensure you’re going for, and can range from six to eight years:

    Provisional Social Worker License – You can achieve this in as soon as seven years: four years in a BSW program, followed by three years working under the supervision of an LSW, and subsequent enrollment in an MSW program.

    Licensed Social Worker (LSW) – All the time you need to invest in earning an LSW is in education: four years in a BSW program followed by completion of an MSW program which can be accomplished in as few as two years. You don’t need to have a Provisional Social Worker License to become an LSW.

    Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) – For the LCSW you must earn your 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience in at least two years. That’s on top of the four years it takes to earn a BSW, plus another two-years-minimum to earn an MSW. That totals eight years minimum to earn the LCSW.


If you’re an LSW or LCSW, or are licensed provisionally, and in good standing in another state whose requirements were similar to Pennsylvania’s, then you can apply for a Pennsylvania LSW, LCSW, or provisional license directly through PALS.

When applying for a license in Pennsylvania via reciprocity, you’ll need to show your continuing education is up-to-date or that you’ve been practicing social work for:

  • At least two of the past five years for an LSW
  • At least five of the past seven years for an LCSW
How Much do Social Workers Earn in Pennsylvania? The US Department of Commerce tracks salary data for many different types of social worker career focuses in Pennsylvania, and reports the following average annual salary figures as of 2020 :
  • Community Service Manager – $65,070
  • Healthcare Social Worker – $54,920
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker – $38,710
  • Child, Family, and School Social Worker – $44,870
  • Social Work Teachers, Post-secondary – $74,470
  • Social Worker, All Other – $58,180

Pennsylvania Social Work Organizations

Pennsylvania Chapter – National Association of Social Workers (NASW) – As an NASW local affiliate, this professional organization has resources for social work advocacy, licensing information, information on continuing education opportunities, and ways to become involved with social work locally throughout Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Society for Clinical Social Work (PSCSW) – This organization has has been advancing and promoting the specialization of clinical social work since in 1971. This is a great resource for networking with social workers from across the spectrum, including those who work in mental health, with family agencies, in medical facilities and psychiatric hospitals, and in private practice.

Pennsylvania Association of School Social Work Personnel (PASSWP) – This organization specializes in providing resources for social workers who do home and school visits, and those who work primarily in Pennsylvania schools. It works closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Education and is a hub for social workers who want to get more involved in the education system.

Career Opportunities in Pennsylvania

Some of the major employers of social workers in Pennsylvania include:

Pennsylvania Department of Human Services – This state cabinet-level agency administers seven statewide offices, including the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Office of Children, Youth and Families.

Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs – This state cabinet-level agency is responsible for managing statewide programs related to drug and alcohol prevention, intervention, and treatment.

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Philadelphia Department of Human Services – This is the Philadelphia county-level juvenile justice and child welfare agency.

Allegheny County Department of Human Services – This department provides services related to children and families, older adults, teens and young adults, and persons with special needs, among others.

Lehigh County Department of Human Services – This county-level agency oversees local organizations like the Department of Human Services, the Department of Corrections, and Cedarbrook Senior Care and Rehabilitation.

Erie County Department of Social Services – This department manages resources and agencies related to county housing, children’s services, food and employment assistance, domestic violence, and legal advocacy for the disabled.

Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia (JFCS) – This agency provides resources and assistance for children, teens, families, adults, seniors, and people living with disabilities of all religions.

Catholic Social Services (CSS) – This agency focuses on a range of social services, including those related to pre-natal parenting, housing assistance, family services, addiction assistance, and refugee/immigration issues for those from all religious backgrounds.

Pittsburgh Cares Network – This networking organization links non-profits, businesses, and youth with each other and professional assistance in the Pittsburgh metro region.

Human Services Administration Organization (HSAO) – This Allegheny County-focused organization provides community services related to the criminal justice system for adults and youth.

School District of Philadelphia – A school system that’s over 200 years old, it’s the eighth-largest district when measured by enrollment with over 200,000 students.

University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) – Headquartered in Philadelphia and home to the first hospital in the nation, UPHS is one of the state’s major healthcare provider systems with six hospitals and many more multi-specialty centers.

Pittsburgh Public Schools – Serving over 23,000 students with approximately 3,900 full-time employees, this is a major K-12 school district in the state.

Just Harvest – Focusing on providing services centered around food scarcity, nutrition, and poverty, this organization has an impact on everyone from infants to the elderly.