How Does an MSW Program Prepare Me for the LSW or LCSW Exam?

Taking the social work licensing exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)1 is an important next step towards achieving the highest level of professional qualifications for the field. Licensure promotes greater legitimacy for oneself as an MSW and for one’s professional status in the workplace. In some settings, the title of licensed social worker (LSW) or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), is required as part of the terms of employment, and so it can become one of the main ways to gain access to higher level and higher paying jobs. (Be aware that the titles, “LSW” and “LCSW,” may vary from state to state.) Furthermore, the field of social work benefits from having greater numbers of licensed practitioners, particularly as they take on increased leadership roles.

So how do MSW programs prepare you for the LSW or LCSW exam? Accredited programs differ greatly and it is important as you begin to examine which MSW program is right for you, to not only consider what area of practice you are interested in but also what level of licensure you are seeking.2 It is also critical, as you look at social work curricula, to pay attention to state requirements for different levels of licensure, as some states require that licensure candidates have completed specific coursework (e.g., a course related to mental health diagnosis based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual3), in order to work toward licensure.

MSW programs prepare students with required competencies and specialized skills through foundation and advanced level coursework, areas that are covered to differing degrees on the licensure exams, depending on the nature of the exam (e.g., clinical or advanced generalist). Broadly speaking, MSW programs that have more of an emphasis on generalist practice would help to prepare students for the advanced generalist exam. Programs like Widener University’s MSW Program4 have a clinical focus and prepare students towards taking the clinical exam.5

Field experiences can play a large role in helping you to determine the direction of your future work (clinical or generalist) and, thus, can guide the level of licensure you seek. The internship offers you an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and skills that would be applicable to the licensure exam.

Given all of the work, effort, and personal/professional growth and development involved in obtaining an MSW, programs generally do not “teach to the exam,” per se. You will likely want to take a short licensure exam preparation course to reinforce all the social work knowledge you have gained, not to mention to brush up on your test-taking skills. For information regarding licensure exam preparation courses, please contact the MSW program you are interested in, or your state social work board.

In addition to finding information on the ASWB website, there are other sources of information on the web.6

For more information about Widener’s Social Work program or licensure call 844-386-7321 to speak with a program manager or click here to apply now.


1 ASWB: Association of Social Work Boards. Accessed November 6, 2016,

2 Widener University: Online Programs: “What types of projects will I work on as an MSW student?” Accessed November 6, 2016,

3 American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub, 2013.

4 Widener University, “Master of Social Work.” Accessed October 1, 2016,

5 Widener University: Online Programs: “Why earn a clinical social work degree?” Accessed November 6, 2016,

6 “What is the ASWB licensing exam?” Accessed November 6, 2016,

About the Author

Eric Stein, DSW, LSW is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Widener University’s Center for Social Work Education. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to teaching at Widener, he has taught at UPENN, Rutgers, Marywood, and Stockton University. He has been involved in the field of social work for more than 15 years in clinical and administrative positions both in Philadelphia and San Francisco. His practice has included mental health and community-based services for individuals, children, youth, and families living in marginalized and oppressed communities.