Licensed Graduate Social Worker Guide

Do you love helping others? Can you show empathy when others are in challenging situations? If the answer is yes, then a career in social work may be a fit for you. But becoming a licensed social worker takes effort, especially when it comes to seeking licensure from your state. 

Some states different types or titles of licenses. A licensed graduate social worker, or LGSW, is one such title, offered by a few states across the country. This path may be a fit for social workers who want to perform non-clinical social work in a wide variety of settings or supervised clinical social work.

On this page, we’ll discuss some key points to know when it comes to obtaining an LGSW license and how it may lead to a fulfilling career.

States that Offer an LGSW License

Before committing to an LGSW license, you should understand where these types of licenses are offered. Not every jurisdiction in the country offers this level of licensure under this name—but a few do. Here’s a list, as of September 2020:

For these states, the title of LGSW may be used in place of other graduate level licenses; be sure to check with your state’s board for more information:

Should I Obtain an LGSW license?

Obtaining an LGSW license may be a way to start your career in social work within the states above. Because it requires a Master of Social Work (MSW), an LGSW may provide opportunities to work with individuals and communities directly.

In turn, this allows social workers to perform all the duties within the scope of practice of a licensed social worker and provisional social worker. LGSWs in West Virginia can also formally teach social work theory and methodology to bachelor’s and master’s level students, or conduct clinical or psychotherapeutic work—though that must normally be done under the supervision of another experienced and credentialed behavioral health professional.

However, before you obtain an LGSW license, you should be aware of what the process calls for. Because this credential requires a graduate degree, you’ll need to invest significant time, effort, and money into your education beyond your undergraduate courses. Some states also require you to take a specialized LGSW examination, as well as undergo a criminal record check.

Path to Becoming a Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)

License requirements vary by states. Be sure to check with your state’s social work board for more information. With an exam and deadlines to meet, becoming an LGSW might be tough. Here’s a simplified guide to help you understand the process.

Sponsored online social work programs

University of Denver


Master of Social Work (MSW)

The University of Denver’s Online MSW Program is delivered by its top-ranked school of social work and offers two programs. Students can earn their degree in as few as 12 months for the Online Advanced-Standing MSW or 27 months for the Online MSW.

  • Complete the Online Advanced-Standing MSW in as few as 12 months if you have a BSW; if you do not have a BSW, the Online MSW Program may be completed in as few as 27 months.
  • No GRE Required
  • Customizable pathway options include Mental Health and Trauma or Health, Equity and Wellness concentrations

Fordham University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

Fordham’s skills-based, online MSW program integrates advanced relevant social work competencies, preparing students to serve individuals and communities while moving the profession forward. This program includes advanced standing and traditional MSW options.

  •  Traditional and advanced standing online MSW options are available.
  • There are four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy.
  • Pursue the degree on a full-time or part-time track.

Hawaii Pacific University


Master of Social Work

The online Master of Social Work prepares aspiring social work leaders to develop a multicultural social work practice, advocate for social and economic justice, and empower diverse communities affected by systemic inequities within civilian and military-focused areas. 

  • Learn how to develop a multicultural social work practice.  
  • Pending accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
  • Complete in 18 months full time, or in 36 months part time on the traditional track.
  • Complete in 12 months full time or 24 months part time on the Advanced Standing Track. 

Simmons University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

Aspiring direct practitioners can earn their MSW online from Simmons University in as few as 9 months. GRE scores are not required, and the program offers full-time, part-time, accelerated, and advanced standing tracks.

  • Prepares students to pursue licensure, including LCSW 
  • Full-time, part-time, and accelerated tracks 
  • Minimum completion time: 9 months

Howard University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

The online Master of Social Work program from Howard University School of Social Work prepares students for advanced direct or macro practice in culturally diverse communities. Two concentrations available: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice. No GRE. Complete in as few as 12 months.

  • Concentrations: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice
  • Complete at least 777-1,000 hours of agency-based field education
  • Earn your degree in as few as 12 months

Syracuse University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

Syracuse University’s online Master of Social Work program does not require GRE scores to apply and is focused on preparing social workers who embrace technology as an important part of the future of the profession. Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks are available.

  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks
  • No GRE required
  • Concentrate your degree in integrated practice or clinical practice

Case Western Reserve University


Master of Social Work (MSW)

In as few as a year and a half, you can prepare for social work leadership by earning your Master of Social Work online from Case Western Reserve University’s school of social work.

  • CSWE-accredited
  • No GRE requirement
  • Complete in as few as one and a half years


  • Take the exam. To receive an LGSW license, you must pass the Association of Social Work Board’s specialized exam. As of May 2020, the ASWB associate, bachelors, or masters exam costs $230 and consists of 170 multiple-choice questions. The board notifies you by mail when they have reviewed your application and granted approval for you to register for the exam.
  • Apply for LGSW licensure and pay fees. Once you’ve completed the educational prerequisites, you can apply for your license. Though the specifics vary by jurisdiction, an application typically costs between $100 and $250 in total. 
  • Background check (if necessary). If you don’t already hold an LGSW license in the state you wish to practice in, you will likely have to undergo a background check. 
  • Receive your license. After you pass the ASWB exam, you may then be eligible to receive your license as an LGSW. Each state has different processes. Be sure to check with yours for more specific information..
  • Complete supervised practice. After receiving your LGSW license, you must complete a certain amount of supervised practice. The specifics vary, but some states expect you to complete the equivalent of two years of supervised work with a licensed independent social worker.

Factors to Consider When Obtaining LGSW License

From the study involved to the skills needed, there are plenty of factors to consider before obtaining an LGSW license. 

Educational Requirements

Candidates for LGSW licenses can expect to gain a robust understanding of social work in all its forms. A master’s in social work program will introduce them to the principles of the field, teach them about addiction and mental illness, and help them prepare for more advanced study. 

If you hold a bachelor’s in social work, you may have the option of completing a master’s faster by way of an advanced standing MSW, which requires fewer credits than the traditional MSW.  

Clinical Experience

LGSW candidates normally have to complete a period of supervised work experience according to the Minnesota Board of Social Work, West Virginia Board of Social Work, and DC Health, in order to pursue your next level of license. The specifics vary by state, but some require newly qualified LGSWs to shadow independent social workers for the equivalent of two years of full-time practice. In clinical settings, LGSWs have to be permanently supervised until they’ve gained a license for independent work.


In obtaining the LGSW license, you can build on a range of marketable skills. This starts with your education and extends into field experience. Some skills revolve around developing character, empathy, patience, and critical thinking. By focusing on clinical social work, you’ll gain expertise in the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness and other behavioral issues. You may also specialize in certain types of therapy, including group and family therapy.

Careers Opportunity for LGSWs

Becoming a social worker with an LGSW license may lead to careers across social services and health care. Here are a few of the social worker careers you may qualify for with an LGSW:

  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker. Many LGSWs dig deep into mental illness, helping patients manage or overcome their psychological challenges (under supervision). These types of social workers may also serve as the link between medical caregivers and a patient’s community, home and family life. Clinically trained, these LGSWs are also members of their diagnostic and therapeutic team.
  • School Social Worker. With so much education behind them, LGSWs may work in schools to support students struggling with life challenges. 
  • General Social Worker. Social workers can be found in a range of settings, including non-traditional ones, such as corporations and other organizations. There, they educate employees about the importance of mental health, helping those who are grieving or have experienced trauma, and promote community outreach.

Salary Expectations for LGSWs

Though it doesn’t have pay data for LGSWs, and exact figures vary by job and location, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that social workers earned a median salary of $51,760 in 2020. Because LGSWs are trained to work in clinical settings, their salaries may be higher than that of general social workers. Having said that, your social work salary will depend on your location and your position, so be sure to research before committing. The BLS also reports that the projected job growth for social workers is 13% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the national average. 

Licensure Fee and Renewal

State licensure applications for LGSWs are likely to require a fee. The price varies by jurisdiction, but an application typically costs between $100 and $250. It’s also important to note that once you receive your social work license, you’ll then have to renew it regularly, typically every two years. That involves a fee too. The exact price depends on where you’re licensed. Renewal fees can increase if you submit your application late.

Conditions for renewing your license may vary, but you’ll usually have to prove that you’re continuing your education as a social worker and submit supervised practice verification forms. Requirements will vary by state, be sure to check with the state you are practicing in for more specific information.


Understanding LGSWs and how they work may take you some time as there are other licensed social workers whose scope of practice overlaps with LGSWs. Here are some answers to questions aspiring license-holders may have: 

What is an LGSW?

An acronym for licensed graduate social worker, an LGSW is a license for Master of Social Work graduates. It allows social workers in Minnesota, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. to work in a wider range of clinical and non-clinical settings than general or baccalaureate-level social workers.

How long does it take to obtain an LGSW?

How long it takes to become an LGSW depends on your individual path. An undergraduate degree in social work or a related field lasts around four years, while a full-time master’s typically takes another two. From there, you can apply for the LGSW license—though some accelerated courses may allow you to study faster. 

What’s the difference between an LGSW vs LCSW?

Unlike LGSWs, licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) practice independently and provide clinical social services to their clients, including diagnoses, treatment planning and psychotherapy. Conversely, LGSWs work across a range of clinical and non-clinical settings.

Information on this page was retrieved in September 2020.