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Credential Options for Social Workers Explained: Specializations to Add to Your License

Expand your knowledge and level up your career with specialized social work credentials. Use this guide to learn why credentials are important and how to identify the right option for you. Plus, find out where to earn credentials, how much they cost, and more.

Editor: STEPS Staff
An elderly woman with white hair and a beige sweater smiles warmly while looking at a younger woman with dark hair tied back, who wears a white shirt and a name tag displaying her credentials. They sit on a sofa in a bright, sunlit room, enjoying each other's company.

You’ve worked for years to earn your BSW or MSW, so you might be asking yourself if additional credentials are worth it. If you’re looking to advance your career, maximize lifetime earnings, and deepen your professional knowledge, the answer is yes. There are a number of additional specialty certifications usually earned through professional social work organizations such as NASW (National Association of Social Workers). These credentials can help you gain the expertise and recognition you need to enhance your career growth and satisfaction.

For example, medical social workers, who often have credentials in healthcare, earn an average salary of $71,275, which is about $13,000 higher than the national average for all social workers. The advanced expertise that comes with a credential can also help you stand out in competitive hiring pools or when seeking a leadership role. Each credential is different, so we’ll cover the most common options, and share information on job prospects and career benefits.

This page contains:

  • A discussion on why social work credentials are important.
  • A list of common credentialing options and information on career paths.
  • Answers to commonly asked questions such as where to obtain credentials, their cost, and if they have any special requirements.

Credential Options for Future Social Workers

Below are 11 common social work credential options. For each credential, you’ll learn what this type of social worker does, and the professional opportunities you can expect. Whether you want to work as a licensed clinical social worker diagnosing and treating mental health issues, serve as part of a larger team within healthcare social work, or head up a hospice social work program, there are credentials that can give you the expertise and experience you need.

Certified Clinical Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Social Worker (C-CATODSW)

This special social work credential is for MSW-level social workers who are currently working with or want to work with individuals affected by alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Once you complete 180 hours of relevant continuing education (CE) and two years (3,000 hours) of paid, relevant clinical experience, you can begin applying for the credential. Common jobs for social workers with the C-CATODSW certification include licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) or substance abuse counselor. In addition to traditional social work duties, individuals with this credential will also gain an in-depth knowledge of the epidemiology, etiology, physiology, pharmacology, education, treatment options, and advocacy as it relates to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Many clinical positions in substance abuse treatment programs may require (or prefer) this credential, giving you an advantage when it comes to hiring and career advancement.

Certified Advanced Social Work Case Manager (C-ASWCM)

This credential is for MSW-trained social workers who have experience and/or interest in case management. General requirements include an MSW, a state MSW license, and two years (3,000 hours) of relevant case management experience. Social workers with this credential focus on coordinating the care of their clients by identifying troublesome areas, managing complex needs, providing advocacy, and helping to improve their clients’ overall quality of life. C-ASWCM social workers can work in various settings including nursing homes, hospitals, and schools. Professionals with this credential are often in leadership roles, overseeing other case managers and social workers. Leadership positions in social work can lead to increased job satisfaction and higher income potential.

Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW)

For individuals working in client-centered social work, the Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW) credential is a way to demonstrate that their knowledge, skills, and experience meet national standards. QCSW social workers must have an MSW from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. They must also complete 30 hours of related continuing education and three years (4,500 hours) of post-MSW clinical social work employment related to mental health assessment and treatment. QCSW social workers work in a variety of settings, diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. They may be employed by large organizations such as hospitals or schools, or by individuals in private practice.

Clinical Social Worker in Gerontology

Individuals who seek the Clinical Social Worker in Gerontology (CSW-G) are interested in understanding the unique challenges facing older adults. This includes the aging process as a whole, knowledge about policies and social programs, resource recommendations for clients and their caregivers, mental health treatment plans, and more. This credential allows social workers to be competitive candidates for positions related to clinical social work with older populations, such as in a mental health clinic or retirement home. Requirements include an MSW from an accredited program, 30 hours of related continuing education, and two years (3,000 hours) of paid, supervised post-MSW clinical social work related to mental health assessments and treatments for older adults.

Advanced Social Worker in Gerontology

Another master’s level credential related to the aging population is the Advanced Social Worker in Gerontology (ASW-G). There are some similarities to the previous gerontology credential, but this pathway focuses less on clinical social work and more on the overall wellbeing and case management of the aging population. Social workers with this credential may work in retirement homes, hospitals, or state agencies and often focus on specific gerontology issues such as elder abuse or advanced care planning. Credential requirements include an MSW, 20 hours of related continuing education, and two years (3,000 hours) of paid, post-MSW employment related to working with older adults.

Certified School Social Work Specialist (C-SSWS)

This credential means a social worker has specialized training and expertise related to children and the school setting. The C-SSWS credential demonstrates skills and knowledge in program planning, history and legislation related to public education and the characteristics and needs of various student populations. To qualify for this credential, social workers must hold an MSW from an accredited school, log two years (2,160 hours) of supervised work in a school setting, and hold a relevant state license. Career opportunities for social workers with this credential can include public or private schools, residential schools, and a wide range of grades, from preschool through college.

Certified Social Worker in Health Care (C-SWHC)

Like all NASW credentials, this certification is optional and earned in addition to a state license. It demonstrates advanced knowledge and skills in social work in a healthcare setting. These C-SWHC-credentialed social workers assist patients and their families in getting the best standard of care. They may also create and implement health care policies and programs with a focus on the wellbeing of the patient. Job opportunities are found in nursing homes, hospitals, outpatient clinics, and private practices. To earn this credential, individuals must hold an MSW from an accredited program, complete two years (3,000 hours) of supervised and paid work in a relevant health care setting, and hold the appropriate state license.

Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker (ACHP-SW)

The ACHP-SW credential signifies that a social worker has received additional training on the social and emotional needs of individuals and families in end-of-life care. The role focuses on improving quality of life and may involve working directly with clients and their families on coordination of care, accessing resources, or providing emotional support. To qualify for this credential, individuals need to hold an MSW from an accredited program, complete 20 or more continuing education credits related to hospice or palliative care, and log two years of supervised work in an end-of-life care setting.

Military Service Members, Veterans, and their Families - Advanced Social Worker (MVF-ASW)

Social workers with an MVF-ASW credential have the advanced skills and knowledge necessary to understand and advocate for current and former members of the military as well as their families. The credential signifies an understanding of military culture and a dedication to improving the quality of life for its members. Credentialed social workers may work in military hospitals, within military units, or in private civilian practices. To qualify for the credential, social workers must hold an MSW from an accredited program, have two years of paid, supervised experience relating to military members and their families, and earn 20 continuing education credits with at least 10 specifically related to service members, veterans, and their families.

Military Service Members, Veterans, and their Families - Clinical Social Worker (MVF-CSW)

Similar to the credential above, the MVF-CSW certification focuses more on clinical work to improve the quality of life for service members, veterans, and their families. Credentialed social workers assess, diagnose, and treat mental and behavioral health issues in the military population. Common roles include working with service members with addiction or PTSD or helping veterans transition to civilian life. Basic requirements for this credential include an MSW from an accredited program, three years of paid, supervised experience in a setting dealing with military members, and 30 continuing education credits with 20 specifically focused on the diagnosis and treatment of service members, veterans, and their families.

Certified Advanced Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker (C-ACYFSW)

C-ACYFSW-credentialed social workers focus on individuals under 18 and their families working to improve and strengthen family dynamics. Common professional paths include working in schools, child welfare agencies, non-profits, or hospitals. Earning this credential may help if you’re seeking a leadership position. Requirements include an MSW from an accredited program, two years (3,000 hours) of related supervised and paid work experience, and 20 continuing education credits specific to the under-18 population.

FAQs About Social Work Credentialing

Your time and financial resources are important, so before you begin working on additional social work credentials, it’s a good idea to have all the right information. In the following section, we’ll address concerns like how long it might take to earn a credential, how much you can expect it to cost, and special circumstances such as transferring your credential across state lines. Learning about the credentialing process now can help you get a jump start when you’re ready to enroll.

Where can you earn these social work credentials?

Once you’ve earned your undergraduate or master’s degree in social work, the next step in advancing your career can be obtaining a specialized credential. The credentials listed above can all be obtained from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the largest professional organization for the industry. The most common and recognized credential is the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) credential, but there are other specialty credentials available.

What are the requirements to obtain a social work credential?

Depending on the type of credential, membership in the NASW may be required. Additionally, all credentials require either a BSW or an MSW from an accredited program, a valid state license, adherence to the NASW’s code of ethics, and an application fee. Additional requirements include two to three years of supervised and paid work experience in the field and relevant continuing education credits.

Do social work credentials transfer from state to state?

Yes. The social work credentials granted by the NASW signify that an individual has met national standards for their specialized area of work. The credentials do not replace state licenses which are required and issued by the social worker’s practice location. If a social worker wants to change geographic practice locations, their credentials will transfer, but they’ll need a new license.

How long does it take to earn a specialized social work credential?

Timing depends on the specific type of credential. After you graduate from an approved degree program and obtain your state license, you’ll need to complete two to three years of relevant work experience as well as any required continuing education credits. Once you submit a completed credential application to the NASW, processing should be completed within six to 12 weeks.

Can I earn credentials for multiple specializations?

In general, yes, if you complete the necessary degree program, work experience, and continuing education. A common combination is an Academy of Certified Social Worker (ACSW) credential alongside a more specialized credential such as Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker (ACHP-SW). Keep in mind that these credentials are all optional and are separate from the necessary state licenses needed for practice.

How much does it typically cost to become credentialed?

The short answer is it depends on the credential. If your credential requires membership to the NASW, cost is $140 per year. The application fee for the specialized credential is additional and is about $165 for NASW members and $450 for non-members. Credential renewals are required every two years and are $95 for NASW members and $350 for non-members.

Are there any continuing education requirements to maintain my credential?

Yes. In addition to the requirements necessary for the initial application, all credential renewals require 20 additional hours of continuing education. Most of the continuing education credits must be directly related to the credential specialty. Some common qualifying activities include college courses, NASW-approved workshops, courses, workplace in-service trainings, and distance learning (web-based) courses. The NASW portal has a search function to assist in finding approved continuing education options.