What Is an LGSW? Licensed Graduate Social Worker Guide


Did you know that only Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia recognize licensed graduate social workers (LGSW)? You need a master’s degree to become an LGSW,a mid-level license that offers a large scope of practice in clinical and nonclinical settings.

LGSWs work in a wide variety of settings, which we explore further in this guide. Continue reading to learn how to become an LGSW and what you can earn.

What Does an LGSW Do?

LGSWs provide direct counseling services in specific communities under clinical supervision. To identify a client’s issue, LGSWs commonly perform assessments to document contributing biological, psychological, and social factors. When needed, LGSWs provide interventions and crisis management.

Aside from clinical duties, LGSWs may also handle grant reporting, data collection, and external communication with community stakeholders. In West Virginia, you can also find LGSWs teaching social work theory to undergraduate and graduate students.

Key Responsibilities

  • Advocacy for high-risk populations: LGSWs advocate for the most vulnerable populations, including children, people experiencing homelessness, and survivors of sexual assault. In this capacity, LGSWs also provide therapeutic services to high-risk clients and manage support groups.
  • Make referrals: LGSWs often refer their clients to resources for career skills, education, financial help, housing, and/or healthcare services. Part of the job also requires fostering relationships with community organizations that help vulnerable communities.
  • Provide assessments: As an LGSW, you need to get to the root of a client’s issues. For instance, you may need to explore their home life, family support system, and childhood trauma. This helps you to better understand their behavior and feelings.

Career Traits

  • Conflict resolution skills: A key trait for all social workers is active listening skills. Working as an LGSW requires listening to your clients to identify resources and advocate on their behalf.
  • Maintain mindfulness: Working as an LGSW can be physically and emotionally draining. Therefore, practicing mindfulness — being aware of your own feelings and thoughts — can help you cope with stressful situations.
  • Objectivity: Being empathetic does not mean that you should sacrifice your professional relationship with a client. As an LGSW, you should maintain objectivity and approach every situation in social work judgment-free.

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Where Do LGSWs Work?

LGSWs work in clinical and non-clinical settings. Some work onsite, and others primarily serve their clients through telehealth. You can find LGSWs helping seniors at home care centers, providing art or recreational therapy in hospitals, working in nonprofit health clinics, helping students in charter schools, and counseling clients in private practices.

Hospice Care Facilities

At hospice care facilities, LGSWs help patients and families provide palliative consultation. Also, they identify bereavement resources for families and prepare them for end-of-life plans.


Healthcare nonprofits need LGSWs to help underserved children, families, and individuals experiencing crises, such as homelessness, domestic violence, drug and substance misuse, and terminal illness. Working in underserved populations often requires LGSWs to have a level of cultural competency and the ability to work with clients from diverse backgrounds.

Public Schools

LGSWs offer behavioral, social, emotional, and academic support to students in schools. They may work with all learners or focus on students with disabilities or learning differences. In this role, they partner with teachers, outside organizations, parents, and caregivers. Taking into consideration school rules and policies, LGSWs create behavior management systems.

How to Become an LGSW

Three states recognize LGSW as a licensable social worker title. In all states, it takes a master’s degree to apply for licensure, but to become a social worker, each state’s fieldwork requirements vary. For this reason, be sure to check your state’s social work board to verify criteria for licensure.

LGSWs get started by earning an accredited bachelor’s in social work and then a master’s in social work. After, they must pass the Association of Social Work Boards exam to satisfy the basic requirements to become an LGSW in Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia. Depending on the state, prospective LGSWs may need to meet fieldwork requirements.

Minnesota requires licensure applicants to have completed at least 360 clock hours in different clinical areas, such as diagnosis and biopsychosocial assessments, and clinical intervention methods. In Washington, D.C. and West Virginia, applicants do not need to complete clinical hours to become LGSWs.

How Much Do LGSWs Make?

States compensate LGSWs differently, as do various work settings. While the average LGSW makes a salary of $52,000, according to Payscale, they can make more depending on where they work.

In southeast Minnesota — one of the top-paying nonmetropolitan areas for social workers — child, family, and school social workers earn an annual mean wage of $60,460. In Washington, D.C. area, they earn an annual mean salary of $70,910.

What you earn also depends on your experience level and education. Demand for all social workers is high, especially for healthcare and mental health and substance abuse social workers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment for these social workers to grow by 11% from 2021-2031.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an LGSW?

An LGSW is a mid-level licensed social worker who holds a graduate degree. In select states, this title lets you work in schools, hospitals, health centers, and nonprofits that offer clinical psychotherapy and counseling. That said, LGSWs can only provide clinical help under the supervision of a licensed professional. You must live in Minnesota, Washington, D.C., or West Virginia to become licensed as an LGSW.

Which states offer LGSW licensure?

Only Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia offer LGSW licensure. However, with this license you could move to another state and obtain licensure by endorsement. Other states would recognize the clinical hours you spent working as an LGSW.

What do LGSWs do?

At schools, outpatient mental health clinics, hospitals, senior centers, and drug and substance abuse clinics, licensed graduate level social workers provide counseling and resources to people in need. They resolve social problems hindering a client’s life, through biopsychosocial assessments, treatments, and therapeutic services.

Are LGSW and LMSW the same?

No. However, LGSWs and licensed master social workers (LMSWs) perform the same psychotherapy and counseling services under the supervision of a licensed medical professional. The main difference between LGSWs vs. LMSWs is the licensing requirements. While both LGSWs and LMSWs hold a master’s degree, LGSWs may not need clinical hours to become licensed, depending on the state.

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.