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LPC or LCSW? Why an MSW Opens the Door to More Jobs

July 9, 2024

Earning either a licensed professional counselor (LPC) or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) will allow you to impact individuals, families, and communities. But which one makes the most sense for your career?

The path you choose determines which master’s degree you earn — a Master of Counseling or a Master of Social Work (MSW). It also impacts your job opportunities and salary. 

Earning a Master of Social Work and taking the LCSW exam opens the door to more job potential. With this degree, you can work as a counselor or in a social work position, giving you added flexibility in your career to do work that matters.But before you make a decision, you want to weigh your options and how they align with your career goals. Here’s what to consider when choosing between the LCSW or LPC path.

What Is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)?

An LCSW is a professional who can affect change at the personal or social level by providing their clients with services or connecting them to resources. The National Association of Social Workers says, “Social workers assist people by helping them cope with issues in their everyday lives, deal with their relationships, and solve personal and family problems.”

While a social worker considers a wider social system, they also gain the skills needed to perform individualized therapy.

As an LCSW, you can apply your skills from therapy to policy development. Social workers empower their clients — whether individuals, families, or communities — to leverage their strengths so they can make change or reach their goals.

An LCSW can assess, diagnose, treat, intervene, and evaluate outcomes of individuals, couples, families, and groups. They can also act as liaisons between various groups, individual family matters, and personal matters.

Other social workers focus on research, system design, and planning and policy formation.Becoming an LCSW allows you to choose from a variety of roles across industries in the public and private sectors. According to the American Board of Clinical Social Work, social workers “provide more behavioral healthcare, of more types and in more settings, than any other profession.”

What Is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)?

LPC stands for a licensed professional counselor, but you may see some states use the term “licensed mental health counselor.” This title is the same as LPC, but other counseling specializations may have different educational requirements from state to state.

As an LPC, you can work with individuals, groups, families, and couples with a focus on behavioral, emotional, and mental issues.

You can provide counseling services in private practice, hospitals, and mental health clinics, among other areas.

What Is the Difference between an LPC and LCSW?

If you’re drawn to helping people and communities, you might be wondering if you should pursue an LCSW or LPC. The two career paths do overlap and you may find jobs in similar workplace settings.

However, while an LPC focuses primarily on counseling services, counseling is only one aspect of social work. Social workers also work with individuals, families, and communities to evaluate available resources that can improve their lives. For example, they may work with them to find housing or career opportunities.

LCSWs also employ strategies like advocacy and case management to tackle social and environmental factors that affect an individual’s overall well-being.

Social workers may also take part in the legislative processes involving individuals, families, or communities they’re working with.

There are also opportunities in social work that involve little to no clinical counseling. These include program development, advocacy, policy development, and research.

 LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor)LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)
DegreeMaster of CounselingMaster of Social Work (MSW)
ExaminationNational Counselor Examination (NCE) or National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE)  Association of Social Work Boards clinical exam
Training Hours3,000 minimum clinical training hours (some states require additional hours)3,000 minimum clinical training hours (some states require additional hours)
Salary$53,710 median annual salary$63,770 median annual salary
Career OptionsPrimarily work as counselorsCan work as a counselor or in social work roles

MSW vs. Master of Counseling: What’s the Difference?

A Master of Social Work gives you training in both clinical social work and clinical mental health counseling. In addition to core courses on counseling and social work intervention, elective courses may include diversity and social justice, human behavior and the social environment, community organizing and policy advocacy, and human development.

Degree Program for LPC vs. LCSW

To become a LPC, you must earn a Master of Counseling. To become an LCSW, you need to earn your MSW.

If you are going to pursue a Master of Counseling, the American Counseling Association recommends choosing schools that are “either by a counseling-specific accrediting organization or by a regional graduate education accrediting body.” Many states require either accreditation from or a curriculum based on the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

If you’re pursuing a Master of Social Work, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the only accrediting body in the United States for both undergraduate and graduate social work programs. Tulane School of Social Work is accredited by CSWE and has maintained full accreditation status since 1927, the first year of national accreditation for social work education.

Training for LPC vs. LCSW

To become a LPC or LCSW, you must complete a certain number of hours of training after graduation.

As the American Counseling Association says, to become an LPC, states typically require you to complete “between 2,000 and 3,000 hours of supervised experience within a certain time period, including a specific number of face-to-face supervision hours.”

Becoming an LCSW has similar requirements, typically 3,000 hours of supervised experience at minimum. Depending on the state, there may be nuances to these hours. For example, in addition to face-to-face individual and group therapy hours, your hours may also include consultation, evaluation, and research, as well as diagnoses, assessments, and treatments.

Some states may require you to complete these hours in a certain time period (for example, California requires you to complete these hours over 104 weeks, while Colorado requires a minimum of two years to accrue the time). Other states may require additional hours beyond the 3,000 minimum (for example, New York requires three years of experience).

Check licensure requirements with the state in which you intend to practice.

LPC vs. LCSW Examination

The examinations required to become a LPC or LCSW are different.

To become an LCSW, you need to pass the advanced clinical exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards. However, some states have additional exams. For example, Texas also requires you to pass the Texas jurisprudence examination.

To become a LPC, you will typically complete either the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Both are administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. Check your state’s requirements to determine which exam you need to take. 

Depending on the state in which you want to practice, there may be other exams accepted. For example, Minnesota also accepts the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Examination or Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP). 

There are also ongoing education requirements for both LPCs and LCSWs.

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), social workers need to complete at least 48 hours of continuing professional education every two years. This ensures you stay up-to-date on practice trends and research. While requirements vary from state to state, most social work licenses have a renewal process that involves continuing education and a renewal fee.

For LPCs, recertification occurs every five years. While you can take the NCE or NCMHCE for recertification, you can also earn continuing education hours. Your state may have specific rules around recertification, including how many hours are required. Certain states may also require you to recertify more frequently for certain specializations.

A Master of Counseling focuses on education in mental health care. Typically, curricula include courses in ethical practice, humanistic and cognitive behavioral theories, leadership, advocacy, and more. 

You can take the degree in numerous directions with counseling concentrations, such as substance abuse and marriage and family counseling.

What Careers Can I Have with an MSW?

With a Master of Social Work, you can expand your leadership capacity in a number of roles. MSW graduates work as counselors, case managers, clinicians, administrators, researchers, community organizers, nonprofit managers, and educators, among other roles. 

Master of Social Work graduates work in schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, elected offices, private practice, prisons, military, corporations, government, and public and private agencies that serve both individuals and families.

Social workers, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), are the largest group of mental health services providers in the United States. Clinically trained social workers make up a larger group than psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric nurses — combined. Given that social workers play such a key role in mental health services, the opportunities are only growing.

What Careers Can I Have with a Master of Counseling?

Graduates with a Master of Counseling degree work in a variety of counseling roles, including school counselor, drug and substance abuse counselor, and mental health counselor. Within these roles, you may work with your clients to set goals and work with them to gain the skills and tools to reach those goals.

You may also lead counseling programs within residential facilities or mental health clinics. Or you may opt to go into private practice.

3 Pros to Getting Your MSW vs. Master of Counseling

If you’re still wondering whether an MSW is worth it, there are three things to consider.

  1. You can work as a counselor with an MSW.

Whichever path you choose — LPC or LCSW — requires making a decision before you earn your master’s degree. Both require a master’s degree, but they each require a different master’s program. That means you have to plan ahead to choose the right school offering the right program.

And, while you may not be 100 percent certain about what career path you want to take, choosing to earn your Master of Social Work sets you up for more options. Essentially, you can earn your Master of Social Work and still focus on counseling. But if you earn your Master of Counseling, you will not have the option to focus on social work.

  1. You can also work in a number of other roles.

Earning your Master of Social Work gives you the added flexibility of being able to work in a number of jobs as opportunities in your career arise. You may opt to start as a counselor, but you leave yourself open to more possibilities in a range of fields.

You have the option to transition into policy roles that can help impact the future of social work and counseling services. You also can step into leadership roles in a range of organizations from the private sector to nonprofits.

  1. You have higher earning potential.

While salary is certainly not the top reason most students pursue social work, it does allow graduates to have an even greater impact in their communities.

Those with a Master of Social Work degree who go on to become an LCSW have a higher earning potential than those who become an LPC.

Pursue an MSW to Become an LCSW

If you want to pursue a graduate education in social work, consider Tulane’s top-ranked Online MSW program at our School of Social Work.

At Tulane, social workers are trained in culturally relevant social work practice (CRSWP), which prioritizes the field’s responsiveness to cultural contexts. The curriculum emphasizes noting and building upon individual and community strengths. You graduate ready to engage in competent, ethical, community-led assessments and interventions.

Learn more about our MSW program and find out how you can support change in communities.

omplete additional training to focus specifically on nonprofit management, preparing them to take on leadership roles that will allow them to positively impact the world. Explore Tulane, and become a leader in social change.