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Ebony, a social work graduate student, writes:
I just completed my first semester in [my social work graduate program] and I have some questions which are not really being answered in my school. I’m not sure if it is because I am one of the few black women in [the program] or if the my advisor really does not have any answers for me.
I graduate in May of 2018 the the plan is for me to have my MSW along with a certification in child welfare. Shortly after graduation I plan to take the exam for me to get the LMSW. I really want to get the LCSW because I eventually I would like to open up my own practice working with the youth and obtain my DSW. My dilemma is that I would like to relocate south to Georgia or Florida. I would like to move to a place where it does not snow and the cost of living is lower. I have been living in New York all my life. Do you have any tips or suggestions for me? I do not want to wait until the last minute of my graduate school career to have a concrete plan.
You may recall that I was asked a similar question by another student, only Ebony’s question is the opposite: leaving New York City to work elsewhere as a social worker. Here, I focus on what I felt was Ebony’s primary need: how preparing for the LMSW or LCSW exam (and transferring those scores and licensure) varies by state.
Many students wait until their second year (and sometimes the final semester) to think of the next steps in their social work path, so it’s great that Ebony is thinking about her trajectory while in her first year.
And yes, the cost of living in New York City is significantly higher compared to many southern cities, and that’s always been a major draw for many folks moving down south. While it provides lots of career opportunities, it can feel like a completely different world to a native New Yorker. As a Georgia native, it didn’t take long for me to adjust to life in New York, but many of my native New York City friends had to get used to the slower pace of southern life, even in major cities like Atlanta, Orlando, and Miami. That doesn’t mean the same will apply to Ebony (or to you if you’re planning to make a similar decision), but I just wanted to throw that out there.
Two questions you will need to determine–outside of where in the south you want to live, and what the job market may look like there–are 1) deciding when to take the LMSW exam and 2) where to take it. Knowing your timeline for your move will be useful in preparing to take the exam, and applying to take the exam make look differently depending on the state you’re taking it in. This link here breaks down licensure requirements by state, and the Association of Social Work Board’s Social Work Registry can assist in transferring testing scores and licensure information. Since Ebony specifically mentions Georgia and Florida, I shared it her the specific exam and licensing requirements for both Georgia and Florida. (Pay close attention to the “Social Work License Reciprocity” section to determine each state’s process of transferring a LMSW/LCSW license from another state.)
Second, it may be beneficial to take a test prep course in preparation. In New York City, the NASW-NYC chapter has test prep courses throughout the year, and if you already have NASW student membership, you are eligible for a discount for the course. The prep course guide developed by NASW-NYC’s Dawn Hall Apgar alone will be useful. Regardless of what city you live in, check to see if your school offers a test prep course, as some social work programs offer some form of LMSW exam prep free of cost to current students. Statistically, around 75% of social workers who pass the exam on the first try, and prior to me becoming licensed (and during my job search after graduation) I noted that many social work positions either required LMSW licensure as an application requirement, or licensure within 90 days or so of being hired. Something to consider during your job search.
As far as being eligible for the LCSW goes, in New York State you will need 12 credits of clinical course work while you’re in school to be eligible for the exam. After graduation, you will need a minimum of 2,000 contact hours in providing psychotherapy, assessment-based treatment planning, and differential diagnosis to clients in an authorized setting (which can take between 3-6 years), and be under the supervision of a LCSW. You can read more about it in questions 8-10 in the NASW-NYC’s 18 Basic Points about Social Work Licensing in New York State. (Unfortunately, your field placement hours don’t count towards LCSW licensure). In Ebony’s case, I also recommended she connect to the NASW chapters in Georgia and Florida to learn more about their licensure requirements, as requirements can vary by state. You can find your state’s NASW chapter here.
Another point Ebony mentions is her goal of opening her own private practice. Knowing when she plans to relocate can also determine how Ebony goes about achieving this goal. While I don’t have any experience with opening a clinical practice, there are many resources out there, including the NASW’s Ten Start-Up Tips for a Private Practice and Opening a New Private Practice, and The New Social Worker’s The Business of Starting a Private Practice. Since Ebony is interested in moving to either Georgia or Florida, I recommend she connect to The Georgia Society for Clinical Social Workers, and the Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling for guidance on developing her practice. Ebony may also benefit from membership with the National Association of Black Social Workers, as they have several chapters in New York, Georgia, and Florida.
While I can’t give a definitive answer on what Ebony (or you) should do, I hope these resources help you gain more understanding on the process of licensure and how it looks based on where you want to go.
Feel free to each out to me as you continue on with your social work journey with any more questions, and I’ll do my best to help.