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Tennessee provides a particularly fertile ground for social workers. All fields — child, family, and school; healthcare; and mental health and substance abuse — continue to grow, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures.

Plenty of opportunities exist for individuals who earn their social work degree in Tennessee.

Nationally, social work expands at a 16% rate, much faster than the national average. Because of this, plenty of opportunities exist for individuals who earn their social work degree in Tennessee. Workplace settings for social workers can include hospitals, community health organizations, schools, prisons, and even military bases.

To become a social worker, students must first earn a bachelor’s degree in social work, with many schools in Tennessee allowing students to earn their degrees online. Students who want to practice as clinical social workers must complete a master’s in social work and two years of work in a supervised setting.

Below, we highlight some of the best online social work programs in Tennessee and discuss licensure, scholarships, careers, and resources.

Featured Online Programs in Social Work

How to Become a Social Worker in Tennessee

The Tennessee Board of Social Workers governs the profession by determining which candidates qualify for licensure. In most cases, applicants need at least a bachelor’s in social work from a board approved program and to complete post-graduate work. Post-graduate work consists of passing a relevant Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam — a $230 cost — and paying the state licensing fees — totaling $60 — in addition to passing a criminal background check. Professional social workers who apply at the master’s and doctoral level must pass additional requirements and ASWB exams. No matter the level of licensure, all approved academic programs include some sort of practicum experience.

Once students submit their applications, they can become licensed within approximately 45 days after the board review. Post licensure, professional social workers must complete at least nine hours of continued education annually to keep licenses current. As a benefit, social workers who “opt in” can receive renewal notices from the Tennessee Board of Social Workers 45 days before their license expires. If you already hold an endorsement from another state, you can apply to this board for Tennessee licensure.

Types of Social Work Degrees in Tennessee

Earning a higher level degree can bring greater opportunity, both in terms of the variety and quality of jobs and salary earned. While certain social work fields only require a bachelor’s degree, those interested in a clinical area must hold at least a master’s degree and two years of relevant work experience.

A bachelor’s degree often takes four years to earn, while master’s degrees take an additional one to two years and doctoral degrees can take an additional four to five years. Students who earn doctoral degrees may find employment teaching other social workers, an option not available to those with only a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Associate Degree

Associate degrees consist of two-year offerings that prepare students for entry-level assistant positions. Students learn the basics of social work theory. Generally, students with two-year degrees cannot earn actual social work positions, but they may serve as assistants to social workers.

Bachelor’s Degree

This four-year degree option prepares students for social work positions through both theory and practice. Most programs include practicum or internship experiences. Graduates can become social workers in both nonprofits and government agencies.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in social work opens doors to individuals who want to become clinical social workers. This degree enhances professional credibility in social work, salary, and promotion potential.

Doctoral Degree

A doctoral degree in social work can lead to the opportunity to teach social work in an academic setting. Many students with such degrees teach at universities and perform original research, preparing the next generation of great social workers and contributing to the national and global knowledge base.

Finding a Social Work Program in Tennessee

Several programmatic factors can help students differentiate between programs and make the right choice for them.

  • Cost: Simply put, students should consider program affordability. Several online social work programs in Tennessee allow out-of-state online students to pay in-state or discounted tuition, so students should investigate these possibilities before committing to a program.
  • Location: In-state programs — even online programs — often make good choices for local students because of ease of access to practicum placement sites. Additionally, students enrolled in an in-state program can ensure that their program meets their home state’s licensure requirements.
  • Asynchronous vs. Synchronous: In a synchronous delivery format, students must attend online classes through video conferencing at set hours. Asynchronous learning does not require students to attend classes at set times and lets them complete coursework at their convenience.
  • Program Length: Prospective students should consider how long they wish to spend in school, as programs vary in length.
  • Specializations: Students with an idea of the specific social work field they would like to enter should make sure their program offers their chosen specialization.
  • Cohort Model: Some students do best with the discipline and support of a cohort model, in which students complete the prescribed course sequence with the same peer group. Programs that run on cohort models can often provide more concrete completion times and higher graduation rates.

Can You Earn a Social Work Degree Online in Tennessee?

Online social work programs in Tennessee may prove beneficial to students with family, work, and financial obligations. In addition, this degree often costs less than a traditional on-campus program.

The main difference between online and on-campus social work education involves the completion of practicum experiences, as students may need to arrange those at sites in their local communities. Online students can often complete all of their requisite coursework in their local communities without ever having to visit campus.

The regional and national accreditation agencies that handle on-campus programs — the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) — also grant accreditation to online programs.

See The Best Online MSW Programs

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

Factors that affect program length include the following:

  • Asynchronous vs. Synchronous: In a synchronous delivery format, students must attend online classes through video conferencing at set hours. Asynchronous learning does not require students to attend classes at set times and lets them complete coursework at their convenience. Though most online programs deliver asynchronous coursework, synchronous learning can sometimes create additional accountability and lead to more defined completion times.
  • Self-Paced vs. Cohort: In a cohort program, students complete the prescribed sequence of courses with the same group of peers. In a self-paced program, students often progress through competency-based education at a speed most convenient to their schedule. Cohort programs lead to increased accountability and more concrete completion times.
  • Credits: Programs vary in terms of the number of credits required to graduate. Most bachelor’s programs require around 120 credits, master’s programs an additional 36 credits, and doctoral programs an additional 54-72.
  • Accelerated or Not: Several online programs include accelerated options that allow students to accrue credits and graduate sooner.

How Much Does a Social Work Program Cost in Tennessee?

Becoming a social worker includes several requisite costs. As most social workers ultimately earn master’s degrees in order to advance their careers, future social workers should plan on completing at least two social work degrees to improve their chance of earning a lucrative salary. Below, we highlight some of the main expenses on the path to becoming a social worker.

  • Degrees: Online bachelor’s degrees vary greatly in cost, with tuition ranging from $8,000-$40,000 annually. Fortunately, online students can avoid some on-campus costs, such as lodging, food, and activities fees. Master’s degrees often cost $10,000-$40,000 per year. Doctoral students can often earn scholarships and stipends by committing to graduate assistantships or research on campus.
  • Exams and Licensure: ASWB exams cost $230-$260, with the GRE currently at $160.
  • Continuing Education: Social workers in Tennessee must complete nine hours of continuing education each year: four hours in social work; three in ethics; and two additional hours in either of the two categories.

Types of Social Work Licenses in Tennessee

In Tennessee, licensure requirements for clinical social workers require students to hold a master’s in social work in addition to two years of post-MSW supervised work experience. These professionals must also pass a relevant clinical exam.

Non-clinical social workers must also pass licensure requirements. As we highlighted above, these professionals need at least a bachelor’s in social work from a Tennessee Board of Social Workers-approved program, must complete a background check, and must pay all relevant fees. Social workers can apply for licensure at their highest level of education. To obtain licensure in Tennessee, professionals need satisfactory scores on the appropriate ASWB exam.

To obtain licensure in Tennessee, professionals need satisfactory scores on the appropriate ASWB exam.

While some individuals use “licensure” and “certification” interchangeably, the two differ significantly. Third-party organizations, such as the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), award certificates/credentials, while licenses are industry standard and awarded by states. Many licenses revolve around education level and include titles, such as licensed bachelor social worker and licensed master social worker. However, certification signals professional competence and can lead to promotions and higher salary potential.

Qualifications differ by state, and future social workers can see the different levels in Tennessee by visiting the Board of Social Workers website.


Most entry-level social work jobs in Tennessee require a license at this level. To become an LBSW, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree in social work from an institution accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). In addition, you must pass a criminal background check and the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) bachelor’s-level exam, which costs $230. Additional application fees total $110.


Advanced Practice Specialty Credentials


Social workers who work in case management pursue this credential that requires a bachelor’s degree from a CSWE-accredited program and three years of full-time work experience. No exam is required.


Career and Salary Outlook for Social Work Degree Graduates

Many social services occupations require employees willing to work long and irregular hours with plenty of one-on-one interaction. Most professions require case management and counseling of some kind. Below, we highlight five of the most common social services professions.

Social and Human Service Assistants

This umbrella term refers to social services professionals who work for government, nonprofit, and for-profit agencies. They provide case management and assist social workers.

Social Workers

Social workers provide case management for struggling populations, while clinical social workers also administer diagnoses. Many social workers hold master’s degrees.

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors often hold master’s degrees and focus on assisting people with disabilities in living independently. Rehabilitation counselors can work in youth centers, senior living centers, or rehab centers.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Many of these counselors hold master’s degrees. They advise people who suffer from afflictions, such as eating disorders, addiction, alcoholism, or mental health issues.

Social and Community Service Managers

These professionals take charge of programs that benefit the community for nonprofit or governmental agencies.
Median Salaries and Employment For Social Work Specialties in Tennessee
Type of Social WorkerEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
Child, Family, and School Social Workers5,670$40,670
Healthcare Social Workers3,030$51,990
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers1,790$36,370
Social Workers, All Other1,130$51,560
Source: BLS

Featured Programs in Social Work

Scholarships for Social Work Majors in Tennessee

High school students who plan to pursue a social work degree may be eligible for a variety of scholarships, including several specific to Tennessee. The following list includes some of the best national and state scholarships available to prospective social work students.

Tennessee Association of School Social Workers Louise Mullican Memorial Scholarship

Amount: Varies

Who Can Apply: Applicant must be either a social work undergraduate, a graduate student with a particular interest in school social work, or seeking licensure in Tennessee.

View Scholarship

Council on Social Work Education Minority Fellows Program

Amount: $6,500

Who Can Apply: Applicant must be a full-time master’s student enrolled in a social work program. Applicants should possess an overt focus on “mental health and/or substance use disorder service delivery to racial/ethnic minority populations” with intention to enter that field upon graduation.

View Scholarship

National Association of Social Workers Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial MSW Scholarship

Amount: $4,000

Who Can Apply: All applicants must be pursuing a master’s in social work and must demonstrate commitment to work with Native American and Hispanic populations.

View Scholarship

National Association of Social Workers Verne LaMarr Lyons Memorial MSW Scholarship

Amount: $4,000

Who Can Apply: All applicants must be pursuing a master’s in social work and show commitment to work with African-American patients.

View Scholarship

Resources for Social Work Students in Tennessee

  • Tennessee Board of Social Work Licensure The board governs all matters related to social work statewide and ensures applicants meet standards. The organization’s website provides a comprehensive list of licensure requirements.
  • Metro Nashville Social Services The city government’s social services department offers different social work services to citizens within Davidson County (Metropolitan Nashville) who need help. The organization provides potential job opportunities and services for future social workers.
  • National Association of Social Workers A preeminent organization for social workers, NASW offers a national conference, professional development, advocacy, and networking. The organization also operates local chapters throughout the U.S., including one in Tennessee.
  • National Association of Social Workers-Tennessee Chapter The Tennessee Chapter of the NASW maintains a local focus, offering conferences, continuing education, advocacy, and licensure strictly to Tennessee social workers. The Tennessee Chapter offers networking and job opportunities for students enrolled in social work programs in Tennessee.
  • Council on Social Work Education A national accrediting body for social work programs throughout the U.S., CSWE offers a website listing accredited programs. CSWE also offers events and access to relevant publications.