Learn How to Become a Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
Written by Ann Feeney
Last Updated: May 2023
Social workers help individuals, families, and communities in need. Because these professionals provide services for vulnerable populations, every state requires licensure to become a social worker. This guide explains how to become a licensed baccalaureate social worker (LBSW). Learn more today and explore this fulfilling career.
What Does an LBSW Do?
LBSWs address issues such as unhoused individuals, re-entry after incarceration, or specific populations like children, military members, or older adults. These professionals work in schools, hospitals and medical facilities, military bases, and other settings to assist individuals in need.
Each state has its own regulations about the services that an LBSW is licensed to provide (often called a “scope of practice”), but roles and responsibilities generally include:
- Acting as a case manager for clients
- Identifying client needs and the appropriate providers
- Tracking changes in a client’s life circumstances
- Connecting clients to services from other providers and helping them navigate bureaucracy
- Advocacy at the community or state levels
Featured Online Programs in Social Work
Steps to Become an LBSW
Each state applies specific rules and regulations for becoming an LBSW, but the licensing process typically includes these steps:
- Earn a BSW Degree From an Accredited Program: You must earn a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). All the programs in this guide and on this website are accredited. You can also check the CSWE list of accredited programs.
- Pass ASWB Bachelor’s Exam: You must also pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) bachelor’s examination. This multiple-choice test covers human behavior and development, diversity and how it affects society and social work, client needs assessment, social work interventions, and professional ethics and legal issues.
- Apply for LBSW Licensure: Each state sets distinct application forms and processes, so make sure to check with your local board for specifics. In general, you must pay an application fee, pass a criminal background check, and document your qualifications.
ASW degrees offer several benefits. Community colleges are typically considerably more affordable than a four-year school and generally require only a high school diploma or GED certificate for admission.
This two-year degree requires less time and money than a four-year program, allowing you to dip your toe into the social work world. If it is the right career path, you can continue to earn a BSW and qualify for an LBSW.
- Admission Requirements: GED certificate or high school diploma with no minimum GPA
- Program Curriculum: Principles of human development and social work, legal and ethical principles for social work, introductory courses in social work intervention, basic statistics, report writing, fieldwork experience
- Time to Complete: Two years
- Skills Learned: The fundamentals of social work and social work interventions
A BSW is the minimum degree requirement for an LBSW license. A BSW also prepares you for earning an MSW. While you can apply for an MSW program with another undergraduate degree, many MSW programs include accelerated pathways for full-time students with BSWs to complete master’s degrees in approximately one year.
- Admission Requirements: High school diploma or GED certificate, typically a 3.0 or higher GPA
- Program Curriculum: Fundamentals of social work, advanced courses in human development and social work interventions, legal and ethical issues in social work, field placement
- Time to Complete: Typically four years for students with no college credit, approximately two years for students with an ASW, depending on the program
- Skills Learned: How to assess needs and plan an intervention
LBSW Licensure and Certification
You must first apply to your state board of social work and then pass the ASWB bachelor’s examination to receive an LBSW license. Individual states may have other requirements, such as passing a criminal background check. After the state board has reviewed your application, you will be authorized to take the examination. The ASWB examination is a multiple-choice test that costs $230.
To maintain your license, you must participate in continuing education. In general, you can meet the continuing education requirements by taking classes, participating in webinars, and attending conferences.
Once you have your LBSW license, you can earn other certifications from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Each certification has different requirements, but in general, you must have a certain number of hours of work experience in a particular discipline and pass an examination. Certification can help you to pursue promotions or more advanced roles. Available credentials for LBSWs include case management, gerontology, hospice and palliative care, and military certifications.
Working as an LBSW
Your job hunt may benefit from joining a professional association, such as the NASW. Many organizations offer student memberships, which you can use to help build your network. Aim to align your professional network with your intended geographic area, specialty, or both. Many social workers consider their work a calling and happily offer advice or other support to students and new professionals.
All social work careers involve client intake, needs assessment, developing a plan, and tracking results. Work settings and client types, however, can vary widely. In a hospital or emergency department setting, social workers may support families and loved ones as violence interrupters.
In a geriatric setting, they may work with palliative healthcare professionals, clergy, and other partners to support clients with terminal conditions, along with their families and friends. In education specialties, they may work with children to address bullying, homelessness, foster families, or individuals who have experienced abuse.
According to Payscale data from June 2023, the average salary for a licensed social worker is $51,000. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median annual salary of $50,390 as of May 2021. Salaries vary based on geographic region, specialty, certifications, and work setting, among other factors.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the requirements to become an LBSW?
Each candidate must hold a BSW from an accredited program and pass the ASWB examination. Additional requirements typically include a criminal background check and three references. Depending on the state and nature of the conviction, you may be able to apply for an LBSW license even with a criminal conviction on your record.
How long does it take to become an LBSW?
You must have a BSW and pass the bachelor’s ASWB examination. If you have a high school diploma or GED certificate, you can generally earn a BSW in four years or sooner if you already have an ASW or other college credits.
What degree is best for a social worker?
A BSW is the most valuable entry-level degree and prepares you to become an LBSW. To become a licensed clinical social worker, you must earn a master of social work (MSW) degree. If you have a BSW, you may be eligible to earn an MSW in approximately one year.
How do you know if social work is for you?
While social work can be tremendously challenging and frustrating, the field also provides fulfilling rewards. Talk to social workers in your community, ask to shadow them where appropriate, and follow social workers on social media to develop a sense of whether this career is a good match for your abilities and interests.