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A social work degree in Iowa provides a broad education in the fundamentals of helping people of all ages and backgrounds. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement to begin a career in social work. All social work degrees prepare students for the workforce through fieldwork, which is a core element of programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Religious colleges usually offer social work students the chance to apply for missions around the world. Internships and field work are also a component of online social work programs in Iowa.

A social work degree in Iowa provides a broad education in the fundamentals of helping people of all ages and backgrounds.

Since Iowa borders six states, Iowa is an ideal state in which to study social work. Students pursuing their degree in Iowa have the opportunity to obtain work experience out of state. Those licensed in other states may apply for social work licensure in Iowa by submitting a fee, an application, transcripts, and proof of licensure. The other benefit of studying social work in Iowa is the the low unemployment rate in the state. Unemployment was 2.8% in April and March of 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Those with a bachelor’s degree in social workdo not need to be licensed to work in the state of Iowa, but they must pass exams administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

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How to Become a Social Worker in Iowa

There are several educational and licensure routes for those interested in becoming a social worker in Iowa. Students must first meet the Iowa Board of Social Work’s educational and work experience requirements. The next step in a social worker’s career path is to pass the ASWB National Clinical Level Social Work Exam. In the final step, candidates may apply for one of three social work licenses: the licensed bachelor of social work (LBSW), the licensed master of social work (LMSW), and the licensed independent social worker (LISW). To apply for LMSW and LISW licensure, graduates must have a master’s or doctoral degree. They must have also completed 4,000 hours of supervised experience to be eligible for LISW licensure.

Social work professionals in Iowa must have at least a bachelor’s degree to receive an entry-level positions.

The online licensure application includes a nonrefundable fee, college transcripts, and proof of ASWB exam completion. Candidates who have passed the ASWB exams in another state will need to receive approval from the Iowa Board. Applicants with licensure or certification in another state must submit their licensure certification. Licensees can renew their license 60 days before it expires. There is a 60-day grace period to renew a license online. Notification to renew is sent both by email and by mail.

Social work professionals in Iowa must have at least a bachelor’s degree to receive an entry-level positions. Employers prefer to hire candidates with a strong employment history in social work, so aspiring social workers should try to earn volunteer field experience prior to college.

Types of Social Work Degrees in Iowa

Earning a master’s or doctoral degree in social work provides students with access to more positions at a higher level of pay. However, students pursuing a social work degree in Iowa should keep in mind that earning a higher level degree will require more of a time commitment and come with a large financial burden. The salary difference between a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree for social workers is about $9,000 a year, according to BLS. Below is some more information about the various degrees in social work.

Associate Degree

The minimum degree required in the state of Iowa to become a social worker is a bachelor’s degree. An associate degree provides the introductory education to social work and prepares students to transfer to a four-year college or enter a career working in social service agencies, youth centers, or drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers.

Bachelor’s Degree

Iowa requires all social workers in the state to have a bachelor’s degree from a college that is accredited by the CSWE. This generalist degree teaches students the basic work values and ethics of social work, preparing them to help individuals and groups in a variety of work settings. Full-time students can earn their degree in four years, while part-time learners may need additional time.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree, which takes about two years to finish, is required for a clinical social work position and jobs in other specialized areas of social work. Master’s programs prepare students for advanced social work. A master’s is also required for those interested in trauma-informed practices or social administration practices. Some accelerated programs can be completed in eight months. Scholarships are available for students in teaching or research positions.

Doctoral Degree

A doctoral degree teaches students how to hold leadership and lead research positions within social work. Students typically pick a concentration in sociology, psychology, or public health as a focal area of study. Full-time students graduate in less than five years.

Finding a Social Work Program in Iowa

The hardest part of your educational journey will be choosing a social work program. The decision hinges on a variety of issues, including the program’s curriculum, cost, location, and time commitment. For starters, you will want to go to a college accredited by the CSWE. Tuition costs vary from school to school. For instance, University of Northern Iowa costs $14,026 a year and Luther College costs $25,645.

Location also plays an important role in your decision. To help you weigh your decision about what college to attend, you should also consider whether or not the program prepares you to work as a social worker in your state. Some programs provide field placement around the country. Most programs require supervised field work in the senior year. Bachelor’s programs can be completed in four years and master’s programs can be completed in two years.

Online programs are also available for bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. These programs can be cheaper than traditional on-campus programs and cater to working professionals who need to study remotely from another state.

Can You Earn a Social Work Degree Online in Iowa?

Students can earn their social work degree completely or partially online. When looking for an online social work degree, students should ensure that the program is accredited by the CSWE. Online programs are offered for bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work on a full- or part-time basis. Part-time programs take about three years to complete. Online degrees generally are no different from traditional degrees that students receive after attending on-campus classes. Earning an accredited online degree also does not limit graduates from obtaining the same certifications and licensures as traditional students.

The online coursework is typically a combination of asynchronous classes and real-time evening classes, where students use video conferencing technology. The required field work, which is typically a component of the senior year curriculum, must be completed in person. Practicum-related courses are often held on campus. Practicum and field directors meet with students via web conferencing. Many programs also offer concentrations in hospice case, case management, grant writing, and other specialties.

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How Long Does It Take to Become a Social Worker in Iowa?

The length of time it takes to complete an online degree in social work mainly depends on if students attend college on a part- or full-time basis.

The length of time it takes to complete an online degree in social work mainly depends on if students attend college on a part- or full-time basis. As a way to speed up your degree completion process, colleges sometimes accepted credit for exams, previous college courses, and professional work experience. Many online programs also include 300- to 450-hour field internships. For example, at Briar Cliff University the online bachelor’s degree in social work is a year round program that runs 16-week semesters in the spring and fall and 10 weeks in the summer. A master’s and a doctorate degree, when done back-to-back, can take six years to complete. Joint master’s and doctorate degrees, such as the program offered at the University of Iowa’s School of Social Work, take five years to graduate.

Another factor that will change the amount of time it takes to graduate is whether or not students have prior education. Degree completion programs, which are generally open to students who have completed prerequisites, take on average two years to complete for a bachelor’s degree. At University of Northern Iowa, the online master’s degree program takes two years to complete.

How Much Does a Social Work Program Cost in Iowa?

The national average tuition for a public four-year college is between $7,989 and $25,735 for a private four-year school, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The cost of a social work degree in Iowa is comparable to the national average. On the expensive end, a bachelor’s degree in social work in Iowa costs about $34,004. On the low end, a bachelor’s degree in social work is $26,922. Those costs do not account for financial aid or scholarships that may offset the final amount due. A master’s degree costs between $13,800 to $36,300, according to the National Center for Education Services. Tuition and fees for a doctorate degree are roughly between $29,000 to $38,000.

The costs of an education in social work compound when you account for the fees associated with exams, licensures, and certifications. The GRE exam, which is required for some graduate-level programs, costs $160, excluding any costs for books and prep classes. Iowa’s Board of Social Work offers three licenses for social workers that cost $120. Licensees are often required to complete continuing education classes to renew their license, which is an additional cost. Free State Social Work provides continuing education courses for $4 per credit. The NASW offers workshops for $200 to $300.

Types of Social Work Licenses in Iowa

Social work licenses are governed at the state level, so there are differences in requirements depending where you live. Three social work licensure options are available in Iowa. People can apply through the Iowa Board of Social Work to become licensed as a BLSW, MLSW, or LISW (descriptions of which are available below). Licensure requirements vary from state to state, but nationwide clinical social workers must hold a master’s degree and have a minimum of two years of supervised work experience. Social workers get one license renewal without having to complete additional educational requirements. All licensees — including those holding a BLSW, MLSW, or LISW — need to complete 27 continuing education hours for their second license renewal in the state of Iowa.

Social work licenses are governed at the state level, so there are differences in requirements depending where you live.

Non-clinical social workers in Iowa must be licensed by the Iowa Social Work Board and by the Board of Education Examiners. The licensure prerequisites for a clinical social worker are rigorous. Applicants must have a master’s or doctorate degree and 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Graduates also must have experience conducting treatment, diagnosis, and assessments over a two year time period. Applicants must also have completed an additional 110 hours of supervised work over two years to apply for the clinical level test with the ASWB.

In addition to licenses, there are certifications that social workers may obtain through NASW advanced practice specialty credentials and the NASW professional social work credentials. Licenses are state authorizations to work as a social worker, while certifications are speciality instruction. While education degrees and licenses are mandatory to work as a social worker in a state, certifications are completely voluntary. Working professionals can strengthen their skills and achieve higher paying jobs with certifications from various schools and organizations. Earning a certification also shows one’s commitment to social work and serves as a network for working professionals. Below are some social work licenses provided by the NASW.

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Applicants for the LBSW must have a bachelor’s degree from a college accredited by the CSWE. They must also pass the ASWB Bachelor’s Exam. This exam costs $230 and on the job experience is not typically required. There is also a $120 application fee.


Advanced Practice Specialty Credentials

To advance in the career of social work, there are various credentials available through the NASW to members and non-members.


To be eligible for the C-SWCM, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college, three years experience in client-level case management, and a professional reference. Applicants also need a passing score on the ASWB bachelor’s level exam, as well as one additional year of experience or a current BSW-level license or certification. The cost is $310 for members and $385 for non-members.


Career and Salary Outlook for Social Work Degree Graduates

Social work graduates are prepared to pursue a variety of different careers. Social work is a field with vast specialities, including gerontology, addiction, and child welfare. Students can tailor a career to their personality, strengths, and long-term career goals. That means graduates can choose an ideal work setting, whether that’s a school, in the home, or in a hospital. Social workers have a broad range of career options, from health educator to child welfare social worker. These professionals work in a wide variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, and social service agencies.

Health Educator

Health educators work in colleges, public health facilities, nonprofits, health departments, and companies to educate people about health and wellness. They are also responsible for collecting research and data from specific populations to better understand health issues. Health educators also help people access health services and assist in developing education materials.

Social and Community Service Manager

Social and community service managers are supervisors who are responsible for administrative duties associated with social service programs. These professionals work with a variety of different community demographics, including children, seniors, or veterans. They also participate in grant writing to secure social service funding.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Substance abuse and mental health counselors work with clients suffering from addiction, mental health issues, or alcoholism. These addiction counselors help their clients get treatment and work with the family of addicts to teach them about addiction and how to access resources. Some of these professionals even conduct interventions and work with physicians, psychologists, and nurses.

School or Career Counselor

School counselors work with elementary, middle school, high school, and college students to guide them towards achieving their career and academic goals. These professionals also work with teachers and parents to ensure everyone is on the same page. Most school counselors have a master’s degree.

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors work with people who have mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. These professionals develop treatment plans, provide counseling, and locate resources and equipment to make their clients’ lives easier. These counselors sometimes work with employers to ensure that work settings are disability-friendly and comply with state and federal disability laws.


 EmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
Child, Family, and School Social Workers3,500$43,060
Healthcare Social Workers1,480$47,750
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers990$45,750
Social Workers, All Other380$61,340

Source: BLS

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Scholarships for Social Work Majors in Iowa

Undergraduate and graduate students who are pursuing a social work degree in Iowa are eligible for many scholarships. Social work schools in Iowa offer scholarships directly to their students. There are also scholarships on the state level, which are open to students of all majors. Below are some scholarships that are ideal for social work students.

Social Work Scholarships


Who Can Apply: The Jean H. Winter and Robin Odem Award is open to undergraduate social work students who are residents of Iowa. Students must write an essay on their interest in social work and how they will contribute to the field. They also need to show financial need, demonstrate a passion for social work, and have an excellent academic record. View Scholarship


Resources for Social Work Students in Iowa

Social work students and working professionals in Iowa have access to an expansive network of resources. Some of the best resources available to students and graduates are directly offered through social work schools in Iowa. Below are a few resources that can be helpful for social work students and working professionals.

  • Iowa Board of Social Work The IBSW serves to connect the consumer and the social worker. Social workers can find applications for licenses and information about renewals and continuing education. The organization’s website also lists laws and rules to keep workers and students informed about current legislation.
  • Iowa School Social Workers’ Association ISSWA hosts conferences that allow professionals to network with one another. The organization was founded in 1968 to provide a supportive community for social workers. Members receive discounted registration to conferences, receive updates on current legislation, and can attend local and national meetings.
  • School of Social Work Association of America SSWWA is a network for school social workers that was founded in 1994. The association is a hub for news in social work and offers members with practical professional development advice. Membership benefits include malpractice insurance, research tools, promotional products, technical assistance, and other benefits.
  • Association of Social Work Boards ASWB is a nonprofit organization that handles social work regulation. The organization, which is run by regulatory boards, is responsible for issuing licenses and administering exams. Students and professionals can register for exams through the ASWB. They can also find answers to their questions about licenses on the ASWB website.
  • National Association of Social Workers-Heartland NASW Heartland is a collective of seven state chapters, including Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Members benefits include networking opportunities as well as discounted or free continuing education and legal resources.