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How to become a licensed social worker in California

Your journey to practicing as a social worker could look different depending on the state in which you reside and practice. Learn more about becoming a licensed social worker in California.

Social workers are professionals who dedicate their work to improving their clients’ everyday lives. They do this work on the community and individual level by assessing, diagnosing, and working through mental health challenges.

If you’re a person who is interested in work that engages interdisciplinary knowledge while also improving people’s lives, becoming a social worker might be a career path you should consider.

Your journey to practicing as a social worker could look different depending on the state in which you choose to reside and practice. Today we’re taking a closer look at how to begin your journey as a social worker in the golden state of California.

Two types of licensed social workers

Licensed social workers can have myriad distinctions, including LSW and LCSW. Before delineating how to become one, let’s examine their differences.

Nonclinical social workers and clinical social workers are different positions and engage with their clients differently. It’s important to note these differences as this might change which iteration of social work you decide to pursue.

Licensed Social Workers (LSW), or nonclinical social workers, can practice with a bachelor’s degree. They might work in case management or do administrative work or individualized treatment. These types of social workers tend to be in entry-level positions.

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) take their practice to the next level with more education. This allows them to expand how they help treat and service their clients. On top of this, they’re able to practice in a larger variety of locales, including hospitals, community centers, private practices, and more.

The decision on which to pursue is a personal choice. However, some social workers aspiring to have a wider range of capabilities to serve their clientele might opt to become a LCSW.

How to become a licensed social worker

Regardless of what type of licensed social worker you aspire to become, education is your bedrock.

Typically, aspiring social workers complete the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree from a four-year university. Students don’t necessarily need to study social work while they’re in school. They might opt for psychology or another connected major. However, choosing to pursue a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) will help set them up for a smooth transition for their next higher education degree.
  • Master’s degree from an accredited school of social work. Students can pursue a Masters of Social Work (MSW). Completing an MSW takes a minimum of two years. During this time, students will take foundational courses that cover core social work concepts and concentration courses that more closely support their specialized interests.

Requirements for California

After completing your education, aspiring social workers in the state of California will be subject to:

When all of the above is completed, practicing social workers will need to renew their licenses every two years. Licensed social workers must complete 36 hours of continuing education before every renewal period.

California is a great place to make roots for your career as a social worker. In fact, more social workers practice in California than any other state—more than 78,000 of them as of May 2019. As you embark on this journey, know that your efforts as a social worker are helping to make the world a better place with every client you serve.


Are you looking for a flexible program to study social work? At Pacific Oaks, you can complete a BSW or MSW online. Contact us to request information and learn more today.

Check out our magazine, Voices, online. Learn more about the latest in psychology, human development, social justice, and more.

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