What Is an LBSW? Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker Guide

Written by Maura Deering
Reviewed by Danielle Golightly, LMSW

Last Updated: March 2023

More than half of U.S. states require a master of social work for licensure. However, 19 states recognize licensed baccalaureate social workers (LBSWs).

The western states that license bachelor’s degree-holders include Alaska, Hawaii, and Montana, plus Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in the southwest. Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and North Dakota comprise the midwestern states. Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia represent the south. On the east coast are Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

Learn more about becoming an LBSW, what they do, and potential LBSW salaries throughout this guide.

What Does an LBSW Do?

LBSWs help individuals, families, and groups, overcome challenges and improve their lives. Bachelor of social work (BSW) graduates qualify to practice as generalists, with skills in advocacy, case management, and problem-solving skills. Populations served include children experiencing abuse or neglect and clients dealing with substance abuse and addiction.

State policies vary on the scope of practice for LBSWs. Some allow them to work independently, while others require supervision by a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Check with your state board for details.

Key Responsibilities

  • Client Assessment: Assess clients’ backgrounds, current circumstances and environments, goals and needs, strengths, and sources of support.
  • Treatment: Work with clients and help them with strategies to manage and adjust to challenges and changes, including addiction, abuse, divorce, loss of housing, mental illness, and unemployment.
  • Referrals and Advocacy: Research and advocate on behalf of clients for community resources, including childcare, food stamps, healthcare, employment assistance, and twelve-step programs.
  • Monitoring: Follow up with clients to ensure they have connected with resources and that they are improving.

Career Traits

  • Communication Skills: Social workers need to be good listeners to understand and analyze client needs. They also need to be clear communicators, both in speaking and writing.
  • Interpersonal skills: LBSWs need to work with various personalities and people in distress calmly and empathetically. They must effectively interact with clients, family members, co-workers, and other support specialists.
  • Problem-solving: A large part of social work is figuring out solutions, whether provided by the social worker and treatment plan, or referring clients to outside resources.

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Where Do LBSWs Work

Social workers find employment in hospitals, long-term care facilities, mental health facilities, private practice, schools, and substance abuse clinics. Three examples of common work settings are detailed below.

Child and Family Services

Typically working for government agencies and non-profit organizations, social workers provide help with childcare, housing, food stamps, and other benefits. They intervene in cases of child abuse or neglect and may help with adoptions, foster care, and family unification.


School social workers help students struggling with problems like bullying and inappropriate or aggressive behavior. They also assist with special education resources, truancy, and plans for families and school staff to improve students’ academic and social development.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Commonly working in clinics, hospitals, and private practice, these social workers help clients with issues like addiction, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Mental health and substance abuse social workers provide referrals to specialists, rehabilitation centers, support groups, and twelve-step programs.

How to Become an LBSW

You can become an LBSW in 19 U.S. states, although educational, fieldwork, and licensing requirements may vary by jurisdiction. Be sure to confirm your state’s criteria by visiting its social work board’s website.

Earning a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) typically takes 120 credits completed in four years. Make sure to attend a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, as your state will likely require this for licensure.

As part of your BSW program, you will complete fieldwork practicums or internships. State licensure board regulations should specify how many hours are required, so be sure to look into this and confirm that your BSW program complies. Field placements may be arranged by the program. Practicums provide opportunities to observe social work professionals and internships allow undergraduates to perform entry-level duties under the supervision of an LCSW.

Once you graduate, you will qualify to take the bachelor’s-level exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). Candidates can register on the ASWB website or by mail or fax. The exam costs $230. Practice tests are available for registrants to purchase on the website.

Some states merge the exam application and the license application. If so, you will also pay the licensure fee when you register for the exam. Other states require you to apply for your license after the exam.

How Much Do LBSWs Make?

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from May 2021, the median annual wage for social workers totals $50,390. Factors that influence salaries include specialty area, work setting, and geography.

For example, healthcare social workers earn a median salary of $60,840 a year, while child, family, and school social workers make $49,150. Social workers employed with local governments bring in $61,190, but individual and family services pays $46,640.

The highest-paying state that employs LBSWs is Hawaii, with an average healthcare social worker wage of $73,960.

The BLS projects that social worker employment could increase by 9% from 2021-2031, which is a faster-than-average job growth rate.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does LBSW mean?

LBSW means licensed baccalaureate social worker, which refers to a social worker who holds a bachelor’s degree in social work and practices in one of the 19 U.S. states that license BSW graduates. State social work board regulations mandate the licensure requirements and scopes of practice of LBSWs.

What can I do with an LBSW license?

An LBSW license allows you to practice social work in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, government agencies, rehabilitation facilities, and schools. LBSWs work with individuals, families, children, and those dealing with addiction, mental illness, and other challenges. Typical job duties include client assessment, treatment, referrals, and monitoring. LBSWs also advocate for their clients at the legislative level.

What are the requirements for an LBSW?

LBSWs need a BSW from an accredited program, completion of state-required fieldwork hours, and a passing score on the ASWB’s LBSW examination. Candidates apply through the ASWB for the exam and license but should check their state social work board’s website for licensing criteria, which varies by state.

How much does an LBSW make?

The median social worker salary reported by the BLS is $50,390 per year, or $24.23 an hour. Variations in salary can be attributed to work settings and geographical location. For example, child, family, and school social workers average $54,880 per year, healthcare social workers earn $62,310, and mental health and substance abuse social workers make $57,800.

Reviewed By: Danielle Golightly, LMSW

Danielle Golightly is a licensed social worker in Michigan with over 10 years of experience. She is currently the family advocate at a child advocacy center where she works with individuals and families from diverse backgrounds. Previously, Danielle served as a victim advocate at the same agency, providing crisis intervention and psychoeducation services to families impacted by child abuse. She has also supervised graduate-level social work students and mentored undergraduates throughout their internships.

Danielle is passionate about child welfare, victim advocacy, and trauma.

Danielle is a paid member of the Red Ventures freelance Education Integrity Network.