Written by Rebecca Munday
Last Updated: July 2023
If you live in Washington, D.C., West Virginia, or Minnesota and want to practice master's-level social work, consider becoming a licensed graduate social worker (LGSW). Find out more about how to become an LGSW, what you'll do as an LGSW, and how much you can make.
What is a Licensed Graduate Social Worker?
Available only in Washington, D.C., West Virginia, and Minnesota, a licensed graduate social worker (LGSW) credential is the equivalent of a licensed master social worker (LMSW) in other states.
LGSWs practice generalist social work at the macro and mezzo levels. They help clients navigate challenges or improve the circumstances in their lives.
LGSWs perform the same duties as LMSWs. Learn more about the responsibilities, traits, and work settings of LGSWs below.
- Supervise other social workers.
- Maintain case files.
- Assess clients' needs to develop an intervention plan.
- Connect clients to the resources they need.
- Follow up with clients to ensure their circumstances improve.
Traits of an LGSW
- Organizational skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Communication and interpersonal skills
Workplaces for an LGSW
- Individual and family services
- Local and state governments
- Secondary and elementary schools
- Community, food and housing, emergency and other relief services
- Residential care facilities
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How to Become an LGSW
To become a licensed graduate social worker, you must earn a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in social work (MSW), pass the Association of Social Work Board (ASWB) master's exam, and apply for licensure. Requirements vary by state, so check with your state's licensing board to make sure you meet all their requirements.
- Earn a Bachelor's Degree: A bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) qualifies you for advanced standing when you enter your MSW program, which means you could finish the MSW program in as few as half the credits. However, MSW students come from a variety of fields, such as political science, sociology, psychology, and biology.
- Earn a Master's Degree in Social Work: During the MSW program, you learn about social welfare policy, research methods, and human behavior in the social environment. You also complete at least 900 hours of fieldwork experience in generalist social work, where you learn to assess client needs, manage large caseloads, and advocate for policy changes.
- Pass the Association of Social Work Board's (ASWB) Master's Exam: The ASWB master's exam comprises questions about human development, diversity, and behavior in the environment; professional relationships, values, and ethics; and assessment and intervention planning. The exam fee is $230. Learn more about the exam format and topics with the ASWB exam guidebook.
- Secure Social Work Licensure in Your State: The final step in becoming an LGSW is getting your license. Every state has different steps, so check your state's social work license requirements to make sure you qualify for an LGSW before applying. Once you are ready, you need to pass a background check, fill out your license application, and pay the application fee.
LGSW Salary and Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 9% job growth for all social workers between 2021 and 2031.
Social workers with an MSW, including LGSWs, earn an average of more than $26 per hour, according to Payscale data from July 2023. This salary totals to an average of $52,770 per year. The lowest paid social workers earn $40,000 per year, but the highest paid social workers earn $71,000 annually.
Your average salary as a social worker depends on your work setting, years of experience, and specialty. Local and state governments and individual and family services pay social workers higher than average salaries. Social workers with more than 20 years of experience make an average of $17,000 more per year than social workers who have less than a year of experience.
You can also make more than average if you work in healthcare. According to BLS data from May 2022, healthcare social workers make a median salary of $60,280 per year, or about $10,000 more than the median annual wage for all social work careers.
Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming an LGSW
What is required to become an LGSW?
To become an LGSW, you need a bachelor's degree, an MSW, a clean background check, a passing score on the ASWB master's exam, and a completed application. If you live in Minnesota, you also need to complete 4,000 hours of post-degree supervised experience in generalist social work.
How long does it take to become an LGSW?
It will take 6-7 years to become an LGSW. Prepare to spend most of that time in school earning your bachelor's degree and master's degree in social work. If you live in Minnesota, you could take longer to become an LGSW because they require 4,000 hours of post-degree supervised generalist experience.
What can you do with an LGSW license?
With an LGSW license, you can pursue leadership roles and careers in healthcare, social work education, and research. You can practice master's-level generalist social work in West Virginia, Minnesota, or Washington, D.C., the three states that use this license title.
How much does an LGSW make?
Social workers with an MSW, including LGSWs, make an average of $52,770 per year, according to Payscale data from July 2023. You may earn more as an LGSW if you live in Washington, D.C., one of the highest-paying locations for social workers in specialties, such as children, families, schools, mental health, or substance misuse.