5 Steps to Getting an Associate Clinical Social Work License* in California

This post is written for people at least somewhat familiar with social work training and education. Thus, some terms & acronyms (e.g., ‘supervision’) are used without explanation.

*Upon receiving my actual paperwork, I learned that the Associate Clinical Social Work (ASW) credintial “IS NOT A LICENSE, IT IS A REGISTRATION.”  This makes it clear that ASWs are not yet licensed for private/individual practice.


If you’re a social worker or trainee, you know that school is not enough, by itself. In most states, in order to legally call yourself a social worker, you have to have a license (yes, even if you’re not a clinical social worker, which is problematic). Some people balk at this but think about it: social workers are responsible for people’s lives in fields including education, community work, law, medicine, and private practice. Would YOU go to a lawyer or doctor who wasn’t licensed? Yeah…

That said, I have no idea where I will end up after I finish my PhD, but I’m definitely leaving Illinois. However, I finished my MSW in 2014 & I’ll be here** long enough to work on my LCSW license. So sure, why not? Well, it turns out the licensing process and titles vary (sometimes WIDELY) by state and reciprocity is not guaranteed. Yay.

California is definitely on the list of potential relocation sites and there’s plenty reason to get set up there:

(FYI: the ASWB (Association of Social Work Boards) has a state-by-state directory of licensure requirements here. And randomly, Nicole Clark wrote about passing her licensing exam in New York.)

So, first things, first, get familiar with the website for the California Board of Behavioural Sciences (BBS), which oversees licensure for behavioural health professionals. For the purposes of this post and my current status, I will focus on the ASW application (PDF) because this is where you have to start in California (many other states also have graduate-level licensure that may or may not be mandatory). NOTE: I was trying to hustle a little bit, so I did every step below. Technically, you can choose to skip step 3 until you’re ready to sit for the LCSW exam.

  • Step 1: Request official transcripts from undergrad to present/most recent school TO BE SENT TO YOU.
    • Yes, BBS accepts undergraduate coursework for their education requirements!
    • Do not send your transcripts directly to BBS, they won’t know what to do with them.
  • Step 2: Request fingerprint cards from BBS (will launch your email client)
    • Everyone has to be printed but people who live outside California will need to request hard copies.
    • Most police stations will print you for free but you have to use BBS’ cards because they are specially marked
    • Provide the BBS with your name, mailing address, & say that you’re applying for the ASW.
  • Step 3 (optional): Gather all your syllabi, starting with undergrad
    • If you don’t have all the syllabi, reach out to the administrative assistants in the appropriate departments.
    • Compare your coursework to the LCSW education requirements (feel free to use this spreadsheet)
    • Although this technically isn’t necessary at this stage, you’ll have to send off a pretty thick packet of stuff just for the ASW, so you might as well do it all at once & save a couple of dollars.
      • NOTE: I learned the hard way that BBS will not evaluate your coursework for satisfaction of the LCSW requirements until you apply for the LCSW. This part sucks for financial reasons (see below) but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ so at least wait until you’ve completed your initial CEUs before sending things off.
      • If you’re still in school, you can use that list to plan the rest of your courses.

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  • Step 4: Find an approved continuing education provider (PDF) & take the 18-hour course on California Law & Professional Ethics
    • WARNING: that list is 37 pages and many of the ‘websites’ are actually email addresses.
    • My first choice provider lost approval recently (as did quite a few others), so I used Aspira Continuing Education. It was $69 for the 18-hour course but they do offer an unlimited package for $129, so if you looked at your coursework and found that you for sure need more than 18 CEUs, go ahead & sign up for that one.
    • I looked at the test and found that I didn’t actually need to do much studying, because it’s not like the professional ethics I learned are any different just because the work is happening in California. There were a few stats and other specifics that I did need to learn but that was no biggie.
  • Step 5: Print out your paperwork (I included my coursework spreadsheet to make friends with the people in the office) & mail it off!
      I’m a little paranoid, so I used priority mail so that I could track things.

And that’s it! From here, you just wait for a response from BBS. But let’s be honest: I ‘cheated’. They have this online system (BreEZe) that will allow you to look up licenses. I haven’t gotten anything in the mail, but I apparently was awarded my license on December 21, 2015:

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This means I can now find a job and start earning supervision hours. The BBS provides clear rules and documentation forms to ensure that you follow their requirements for supervision, so be sure to check those out. There’s also an FAQ for ASW applicants that you should check out.

If you have any questions (or Chicago social worker job leads), let me know in the comments!

**A side note: I live and am going to school in Illinois. The licensure process here is actually quite easy: graduate from an accredited program, get 3000 hours of supervision over at least 1.5 years, have your records reviewed for pre-approval, then sit for the LCSW exam. You can sit for the LSW (a generalist exam) but it is not necessary to have that credential to sit for the LCSW, so many people choose to save a few hundred dollars by skipping it. However, several people have told me that it does help to have the LSW when you’re on the job market.

*** There is a way you can get your out of state license accepted in California but it involves different requirements at varying tiers of experience (starting at four years) I will admit I didn’t study it in-depth since I’m just starting out. That link will tell you more.

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