Each state has specific regulations overseeing social work licensure. Requirements from state to state often align with each other, but to stay on the safe side, you should check with the regulatory board that manages social workers; in Illinois, it is the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).
There are two levels of licensing in Illinois, licensed social worker (LSW) and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). If you have a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, you can practice as an LSW. Those with a bachelor’s must obtain three years of postgraduate supervised experience to get their license.
Individuals with a master’s are qualified for an LCSW license which is necessary for all clinical practice. Licensed social workers must pass the master’s-level or clinical-level exam given by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). If you are licensed in another state and want to practice in Illinois, you won’t need to retake the ASWB exam, but you have to re-apply to the IDFPR for licensure.
Social work programs are accessible at each educational level. You can explore the field with a bachelor’s degree, and it is typically a springboard to social work licensing. It’s better to obtain a higher degree for those who desire to work in clinical settings. The clinical social work license usually requires a master’s and postgraduate clinical supervision. A doctorate demands you complete more coursework, but you have more opportunities in the field at this level.
Traditional bachelor programs take about four years to complete, while an online social work degree can take longer. It all depends on the number of credits you take each semester. A bachelor’s in social work from a school with accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is an excellent choice for anyone looking for employment as a caseworker, addiction counselor, or residential aide. In Illinois, the bachelor’s degree is typically a precursor to licensing, along with supervised work experience.
If your goal is to practice clinical social work or establish your own private practice, you will need a master’s in social work accredited by CSWE and an LCSW license. A master’s in this field generally takes two to three years to complete, while an online program may take more or less time to finish. Both programs are offered at private and public colleges and universities through on-campus and online options. You still must complete supervised work to receive your license. This degree prepares you for a range of management and, administrative social work positions. They include clinical practice in family service and mental health and medical agencies.
If you obtain a doctorate-level degree, you’ll receive advanced training in specialized areas that allow you to work in academic and administrative leadership roles. Students may choose a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) or a Ph.D. in social work. The DSW focuses on clinical practice, teaching and training, and social work administration. The Ph.D. in social work concentrates on academic research and policy analysis. Most programs require a dissertation and can take five or more years to complete. These programs are also available through online courses and on-campus classes.
If you already have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field and are now contemplating switching over to social work, there’s no need to worry. You do not have to go back to school for a BSW, but you will need an MSW from an approved program. An MSW is much more versatile since you can use it to get either an LSW or an LCSW.
So, you may now be asking if Illinois is a good state to work in as a social worker. The job outlook in Illinois is strong for social work and is expected to grow 6.1% from 2018 to 2028. There are particular types of social work and some areas of Illinois that have an exceptionally robust outlook.
The U.S. News & World Report found that in 2016 Illinois sat among the top five highest paying states for social workers in the child and family sectors. The average salary was $58,790. The city of Springfield paid an average salary of $67,610 and was one of the five highest paying cities in Illinois. Keep in mind that child and family social workers include those that work in schools, and a higher education level is needed. If you have a master’s degree, you can work in an educational environment.
Those working in the areas of mental health and substance abuse in the Chicago metropolitan area are also gainfully employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Healthcare social workers do well in the Chicago metro area, which is included with the top employment levels for this job description. On average, the annual salary is $59,030 (Bureau of Labor Statistics - 2022) for healthcare social workers in this area.
In the category of “Social Workers, All Other,” Illinois once again wins. This state is one of the top five with the highest employment levels. The average salary for all other social workers is about $65,630 (Bureau of Labor Statistics - 2022) annually. Not to be outdone, the Chicago metro area also has comfortable salaries for social workers in Chicago, Naperville, and Arlington Heights. See below how much social workers earn in urban areas of Illinois:
|Metro Area||# Employed||Mean Salary|
|Rockford, IL||40||$66,760||Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics - 2022|
Illinois has something to offer for those who prefer a slower way of life and want to live and work in a more rural area. Working in southern Illinois non-metro areas can net you a slightly higher salary than those in the Chicago area.
With all of that said, Illinois is definitely one of the better states to work in as a social worker, no matter the field you decide is best for you. The job security and salary for performing social work are top-notch and one of the best in the country. It may seem like a hassle to get your license or licenses as there is a lot of bureaucracy you must deal with, but it is worth it in the end.
Don’t forget what made you want to pursue a career as a social worker. You may be motivated by your own experiences growing up and want to help others through challenging times. Making a connection with someone empathetic to their situation is just what clients need as they face life’s challenges.
If you haven’t experienced the same issues as your clients, perhaps your desire to make a difference is what drove you toward social work—the deep need to help others who are suffering compelled you to find solutions to alleviate their pain.
Social work needs people from all backgrounds to assist in making our communities better for those who live and work in them daily. If you are that person and social work is calling you, don’t hesitate to begin the coursework needed to obtain licensure in Illinois.