I Have My Social Work Degree—Why Do I Have To Take an Exam To Get a License?

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Why not have a national license

Why do we not have a national license. We all take the same exam. And I am familiar with the issue of state laws. But let’s remember we go to schools of social work that are approved by the Council on Social Work Education. I have been in ab number of states and while there are differences in terms of ethics and practice parameters, they are not that great. I also know some states believe their standards are better than those in other states. I have floated this discussion in other forums, but the conversation receives attention, but who is willing to address it. I would interested in working with others if they have any inclination

Alan M Vietze more than 1 year ago

States regulate the professions

Thank you for the question about a national license. The U.S. Constitution is the reason that states retain the right to regulate the professions. Read more about why the United States doesn’t have a national social work license (https://movingsocialwork.org/news/why-doesnt-the-united-states-have-a-national-social-work-license/) at MovingSocialWork.org (https://movingsocialwork.org).

ASWB more than 1 year ago

compact licensure

So excited that they are working on a compact license for us!

Alisha more than 1 year ago


Its all about greed! We have millions of people across our nation who are being neglected because we dont have enough Social Workers in the field. A test doesn't define competence. How about thr professionals (Nurses, doctors, social workers. etc....) who have a license an aren't professional or ethical but still deal with clients. How can Social Workers (unlicensed) continue to pay almost 300 hundred dollars to take a test thats not culturally bias? Its Pure Greed!!! When will you stop thinking about money and think about the people? I am a veteran who was dx with Generalizations Anxiety Disorder along with other things. However, I graduated from one of the top schools in the nation. Does this mean my degree means nothing. Shame on you ASWB!

Tracy Moss more than 2 years ago

I agree

Why use a test that throws out 20 random questions, that may have helped me pass, but why use that format if the test is different every time. I can't get experience because the test waiting period, the cost, and Hawaii is different than New York in needs and environment. The test to me is not relatable to the enviroments I am trying to work with but the test is made for other peoples environments.

wayne thompson 241 days ago


Is there any credible evidence that licensing actually protects the public? If yes, perhaps the author could cite it.

Gary Holden more than 2 years ago


Hmmmm . . . 3 days later. No reply. Should we take that to mean that there is no credible evidence that licensing protects the public?

Gary Holden more than 2 years ago

Licensing protects the public

Thank you for the question. The purpose of professional regulation is to protect the public. Laws and regulations establish scope of practice and codes of conduct. Regulation also provides title protection so that consumers understand that a person identifying as a professional holds a license. Licensure is a system through which competent practitioners are identified and allowed to practice. Licensure is an indicator of competence, not a predictor of behavior. Once competence has been established, regulatory boards have a baseline for determining when a practitioner acts outside those guidelines, causing harm to the public. Regulation provides recourse to the consumer by providing an avenue for complaints to be investigated and licensees sanctioned, when appropriate. Sanctions can include removing the licenses of those who are found to be unfit to practice. Social work regulatory board websites publish disciplinary actions taken against licensees who have been found to have harmed the public.

ASWB more than 2 years ago

Licensing is Distinct from Passing a Standardized Exam

I appreciated how you distinguished professional regulation, which is distinct from passing the ASWB exams. If we hypothesized that passing the ASWB exam ==ethical practice, then there would not be any discipline issues among licensed social workers. A few states have alternative pathways to licensure if a social worker fails the exam a few times and meets other requirements.

One challenge with the ASWB exams unique from other licensure exams, such as nursing, is that social work is a broad field. The nursing license exam is more concrete in that the ASWB exams do not test for the same areas. For instance, if all Masters level social workers should understand psychotropic medications, all exams should have questions about psychotropic medications. In the NCLEX, there are standards all nurses need to know and are tested on---blood pressure, body systems, etc. They do not have questions on what a school nurse would do....what a hospital nurse would do. The ASWB essentially tells test-takers the exam is a game of chance. A game of chance is not really testing minimum competency because someone can take the exam twice, and the exams test on different areas of the KSAs. If all social workers should know how to work with diverse clients, for instance, all tests should include questions on working with clients from diverse backgrounds.

The Masters level exam is based on foundation social work coursework. Some Schools of Social Work are striving to incorporate diverse social work knowledge by discussing Afrocentric perspectives, the liberation health framework, and in-depth approaches to attend to various cultures. How traditional social work curriculum has been shaped is through the lens of a Westernized perspective----for instance, most theories used in traditional social work content is by White males.

I do see value in a licensure exam, but there needs to be a baseline considered where all test-takers are tested on the same things. For instance, if all Masters level social workers (Masters exam) need to understand psychotropic medications, all exams should have questions about medications.

I think the root of the issue is traditional social work curriculum needs to evolve and because the exam is based on traditional social work curriculum, this can make some of the questions on the ASWB exam as outdated. For social workers who are thinking outside of the box by immersing themselves in liberation theory, radical social work, and using other theories, such as Afrocentric approaches, the licensure exam content can be perceived as frustrating. Also, for anyone with advanced knowledge in the field, some may field frustrating because some traditional social work curriculum is not innovative. For instance, there are better contemporary approaches to examining grief and loss; however, traditional social work textbooks continue to present the five stages of grief as best practices.

Alex, LCSW more than 2 years ago

Exams are based on practice analysis, not curriculum

Thanks for the comment. One of the points you make is that passing an examination doesn’t guarantee ethical practice. We agree: Passing the exam demonstrates that an individual has the minimum knowledge and skills needed to practice safely the first day on the job, but it is the responsibility of the social worker to ethically and consistently apply those abilities. As we emphasized in our reply to the previous post, the exam is an indicator of competence, not a predictor of behavior. Knowing what is right and doing what is right are different things.

We also would point out that the exams are based on an analysis of practice and not based on social work curriculum. The practice analysis is done every five to seven years to ensure that the content of each exam is relevant to current professional practice and reflects the opinions and expertise of a diverse group of stakeholders. Professions change over time, so new practice analyses must be conducted to reexamine job-related knowledge, skills, and abilities. A carefully structured practice analysis provides a snapshot of what practitioners of a profession are actually doing at a given point in time and how important those activities are to competent entry-level practice, which partially, but not entirely, reflects what they were taught in social work education programs. This concept includes the Bachelors and Masters exams, tests that are targeted at social workers with those degrees but no post-degree experience.

ASWB more than 1 year ago


Gary- While as a young SW I questioned the need for an exam and sometimes still do, I've never questioned the need for a license. If you are unethical in your delivery of SW services your license can be taken away. So, in that way the public is protected. As we've watched the issues unfold in the ranks in the police, I wonder if they had the same standards of our profession if we'd see less problems. It might at least keep them from going from department to department.

Sarah Twitchell more than 2 years ago

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