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How Long Does It Take to Become a Social Worker?

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Published on: 09/28/2022
Last Updated: 04/17/2024
7 minute read

How Long Does It Take to Become a Social Worker?

What does a social worker do? Being a social worker means you have the opportunity to help vulnerable people in your community, aid others in overcoming challenges, and advocate for social justice. But if you’re considering this career path, you might wonder—how long does it take to become a social worker? 

You need to obtain your education and licensure before you can practice as a certified social worker. This process can take anywhere from four to eight years, but your individual timeline may depend on your career goals, course schedule, and educational history. 

Below, we’ll examine the timeline associated with becoming a social worker in greater detail.

How Long Does it Take to Complete Your Social Work Education?

You need to earn a social work degree before you can practice as a licensed social worker. You can earn a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW), a master’s degree in social work (MSW), or both, depending on your professional aspirations.

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

Regardless of your undergraduate degree, the very first step when it comes to how to become a social worker is earning a bachelor’s degree. Some social work positions only require you to possess a BSW from a university accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). However, you may still need to earn your Licensed Bachelor of Social Work (LBSW) licensure and complete any state-specific requirements to qualify for certain positions.1

Like most bachelor’s degrees, it takes an average of four years to be a Licensed Bachelor Social Worker.2 However, you may be able to earn your BSW faster if you take on more credit hours each term, attend summer semesters, or begin your studies with college credits from high school. 

Master’s Degree in Social Work

What is an MSW? If you want to expand your potential employment possibilities in social work, you may benefit from earning an MSW. What can you do with a master’s in social work? Possessing an MSW from a CSWE-accredited university enables you to qualify for Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) licensure in your state, along with your state’s specific requirements.3

Most types of MSW programs will allow you to apply with any type of bachelor's degree. However, earning a CSWE-accredited BSW before your MSW program can speed up your educational timeline. Many prospective social workers study behavioral sciences as their undergrad, with majors like sociology, psychology, or political science to name a few.

Traditional MSW programs typically take an average of two years to complete if attended full-time. If you prefer to attend your MSW degree program part-time, it may take as long as three to four years. MSW programs usually include 60 to 65 credits of coursework and 900 hours or more of fieldwork.4


How to Complete Your MSW Program Faster

If you feel called to serve the social work practice, you might wonder how to get a master’s in social work even sooner. But how long does it take to get an MSW? You may be able to earn your MSW faster by enrolling in one of the following programs:5

  • Accelerated MSW program – Accelerated MSW programs have the same credit hour and fieldwork requirements as traditional MSW programs. However, you may be able to complete an accelerated MSW degree program in as little as 16 months. These fast-tracked programs may enable social work students to take on more credit hours per term than they typically would in a traditional social work degree program. These programs may also entail summer semesters.
  • Advanced standing MSW program – Social work students who already have BSWs may be eligible for enrollment in advanced standing MSW programs. It may be possible to complete your degree in as little as one year if you attend an advanced standing program full-time.

Since BSW programs cover many of the fundamentals of social work, students enrolled in advanced standing MSW programs may be able to skip these introductory courses and go straight into courses covering new material. They may also be able to apply the fieldwork experience from their undergraduate degree to the 900+ hour requirements of their MSW program.

How Long Does it Take to Obtain Your Social Work License?

After you earn your preferred social work degree, you can apply for social work licensure in your state. To become a Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW) or Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), you must pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Social Work Licensing exam.6

Your social work education may help to prepare you for many aspects of this exam. However, you may also want to carve out some time to study for the exam specifically, using ASWB test guides, content outlines, and online practice tests. 

The test itself typically only takes up to four hours to complete. It is administered online and contains 170 multiple-choice questions.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker? 

Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) are certified social workers who are in advanced practice and qualified to work in clinical settings, such as hospitals or inpatient facilities.7 LCSWs can also offer mental health therapy and diagnose their clients, just as a psychologist would.

How long does it take to get your LCSW? The timeline for earning an LCSW is slightly longer than that of an LMSW. That’s because you must complete around two to three years of supervised clinical social work experience after graduating from your MSW program and before you can apply for LCSW social work licensure.8

A licensed clinical social work designation signifies that you have completed the required supervised experience and licensure exams, allowing you to provide therapeutic services to clients. When it comes to obtaining an MSW vs LCSW, and you hope to become an LCSW, it’s important to consider the additional requirements and how they may affect your educational and professional timeline.


Types of Social Work

A social work career has several specialized areas. More than looking into the social work salary range, it's ideal to also determine the one that resonates with your passions and interests. Prospective social workers should familiarize the different types of social work to find the best fit for them.

Mental Health Social Worker

They are responsible for diagnosis and treatment of mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. They act as a family therapist or professional counselor in an individual or group therapy and help their clients cope with their mental or emotional struggles.

Healthcare Social Worker

They assist patients who are in medical care and are moving back to their homes or homecare facilities. They help their clients adapt and adjust to their illnesses, managing their needs and diagnoses. They collaborate with doctors and mental healthcare providers. Healthcare social work is closely related to medical social work. Both focus on the continuity of care and address any psychosocial factors that may impact treatment outcomes.

Substance Abuse Social Worker

They help clients with addiction problems overcome their substance abuse disorder and achieve recovery through programs and services. An addiction social worker can also assist their clients in their housing and employment concerns. The ultimate goal of their social service is to help individuals achieve sobriety, improve their overall quality of life, and sustain long-term recovery.

Child Welfare Social Worker

They ensure the safety, social welfare, and well-being of children who are at risk in vulnerable situations. They address the needs of families involved in child abuse, neglect, or dependency cases. Similar to a school social worker's duty, they educate families about issues on child safety, healthy relationships, and coping skills. They examine living environments, identify safety concerns, and come up with intervention plans in the best interest of the child.

Earn Your Master’s of Social Work at Alliant International University

All in all, the timeline to become a social worker depends on the types of social work degrees, licensures, and positions you hope to obtain. If you want to embark on a clinical social work practice or attend your social work program part-time, it may take a little longer. Considering all these factors can help you to plan your personal and professional goals accordingly.

Are you ready to pursue a rewarding career as a licensed social worker? Enroll in our MSW program at the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant International University today.


  1. “Social Work Licensing Guide.” October 12, 2020. Accessed May 27, 2022. 
  2. “Social Work Licensing Guide.” October 12, 2020. Accessed May 27, 2022.
  3.  “Social Work Licensing Guide.” October 12, 2020. Accessed May 27, 2022.
  4.  “Field Education: Translating Pedagogy Into Practice.” Masters of Social Work. Accessed May 26, 2022.
  5.  “Field Education: Translating Pedagogy Into Practice.” Masters of Social Work. Accessed May 26, 2022.
  6.  “Social Work Licensing Guide.” October 12, 2020. Accessed May 27, 2022.
  7.  “Social Work Licensing Guide.” October 12, 2020. Accessed May 27, 2022.
  8.  “Social Work Licensing Guide.” October 12, 2020. Accessed May 27, 2022.

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