LMSW: Licensed Master Social Worker

The wide range of acronyms used in counseling professions can feel overwhelming. If you don’t know what LMSW stands for or what it means as a career path, then it’s time to review your degree program options.

A Master of Social Work degree prepares you to become a licensed master social worker, or LMSW. These licensed professionals work closely with individuals, groups, communities, and institutions to provide therapy or coordinate services. The specific tasks of a licensed master social worker vary considerably, so you have the opportunity to have a diverse range of daily tasks or choose the specific working conditions that best fit your personality and skills.

Explore the steps required to enroll in one of these programs, a program overview, and the skills that can help you succeed as a licensed master social worker. Specific program features vary by institution, but there are many standardized elements you can expect from an online degree program in this field.

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What Is an LMSW?: How to Become a Licensed Master Social Worker

In order to become an LMSW, you need to earn the right degrees and pass the required licensing process. These steps are typically required in most states and most situations to become a licensed master social worker, but there are some exceptions. Review any state-specific differences or unique program entry requirements that fit your situation as you prepare to pursue a career as a licensed master social worker.

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Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a Related Field

A Master of Social Work, or MSW, program requires a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite. In most cases, this must be a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, but there are some online master of social work programs that don’t require a BSW

In these cases, you can apply to an MSW program with a different bachelor’s degree, but you may need to take additional courses or prove competency in related areas of study.

A bachelor’s degree can be completed in about four years. You may be able to earn your degree in as little as three years through an accelerated online program. If you’re considering studying as a part-time student, then expect your course to take six years or more to complete.

Review GPA and GRE Minimums, if Applicable

Many MSW programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0 and a GRE score submission. However, you can find programs that don’t require a GRE score and are more flexible about GPA scores. You don’t need to give up on your dream of becoming a social worker just because you have a low bachelor’s degree GPA or haven’t taken the GRE.

Complete MSW Program

Search for highly rated MSW programs for online or in-person study. An accredited program can help you receive the required training and coursework to complete the LMSW licensing process.

An MSW program typically requires just two years to complete. If you have a Bachelor of Social Work degree, you may be able to complete your MSW in just one year. You can choose to focus your coursework in a specific setting, like mental health or geriatrics, or you can receive an MSW with a broad knowledge base to prepare for an unknown career path.

Types of MSW Degree Programs: 

Review State-Specific Master Social Worker Licensing

You can’t fully answer, “What is the LMSW licensing process?” Without reviewing state-specific guidelines. The Council of Social Work Education has an accreditation process to verify programs prepare you for the licensing process, but every state has its own regulations and requirements for licensing.

In some states, a licensed master social worker program is only a single step in the process of becoming a licensed clinical social worker, or LCSW. Other states allow you to practice as either an LMSW or LCSW for your entire career, depending on the clients you wish to work with and the tasks you wish to perform.

What Does LMSW Stand for?: LMSW Meaning and Overview

An LMSW degree prepares you to become licensed in your state as a practicing social worker. This degree option can help you qualify for your first position in the industry or improve your ability to perform your current role with more confidence and clarity.

Most LMSW degree programs are general in nature. You can, however, find programs with the following concentrations:

  • Community social work
  • Mental health
  • Administrative leadership
  • Children, youth, and family
  • Clinical practice
  • Social justice

Typical Courses in an MSW Program

You have some opportunities to tailor your coursework to match your career ambitions. Now that you know the LMSW meaning and program requirements, review these courses to consider your career options and prepare for your program:

  • Health and aging
  • Clinical social work with families
  • Child welfare
  • Social policy
  • Culture, diversity, and human rights
  • Human behavior
  • Social justice and advocacy

The courses you need to take to become an LMSW vary, meaning you may not be able to complete all these courses or you may need to pass others as part of your program requirements. If you choose to study online, you have greater flexibility in comparing local and national programs to receive a quality education at your location.

Career Opportunities as a Licensed Master Social Worker

Social workers primarily work in individual and family services, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS. Other common work environments include ambulatory services, local government facilities, and state government facilities. Here are some of the most common roles performed by social workers.

School Social Worker

A school social worker works closely with school counselors, psychologists, and other professionals to review child welfare. Social workers may look for external agencies and resources that can assist struggling students, or they can provide advice and career prep to help students.

If you’re interested in finding ways to promote social, emotional, physical, and academic welfare throughout your school system, then a school social worker may be a competitive career option for you. Most positions require you to be a licensed master social worker, but some school social works only have a bachelor’s degree.

Medical Social Worker

Connect medical patients with essential resources and support as a medical social worker. These professionals organize support groups, provide psychological support, and help patients access essential services.

Some medical social workers are highly specialized, such as gerontological or ambulatory social workers, while others work with a broad range of patients. Choose this career path to work in a hospital setting or with patients recently discharged from the hospital.

Clinical Social Worker

An LCSW, or licensed clinical social worker, conducts individual and family therapy sessions. This professional role requires state licensure and the duties can vary by state. For example, some states allow an LCSW to officially treat and diagnose mental health disorders. In these states, you may work closely with individuals or groups struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders.

Other LCSW tasks include managing cases, describing assessments, and recommending therapeutic strategies. Some social workers don’t work directly with patients, but use their administrative skills to manage cases and recommend services.

Private Practice Social Worker

These professionals provide counseling, mediation, education, psychotherapy, and other support services to individuals, families, or groups. The specific tasks a licensed master social worker can perform are regulated by each state.

Establishing a private practice can give you the freedom to tailor the services you offer. You still need to adhere to state requirements, but you can establish your own private psychotherapy practice to help your community through conflict resolution, couples therapy, or individual counseling.

LMSW vs. LCSW Programs

As you pursue a career as a social worker, it can be easy to confuse the terms LMSW and LCSW. Understanding the differences between the two is an important step as you train to become a social worker and provide therapy or case management in your community.

There are many pros and cons to consider as you compare LMSW vs. LCSW roles. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but they allow you to practice social work in different ways in different states.

Common Roles of an LMSW

As a licensed master social worker, you’ll likely be working with administrative professionals to provide a broad range of services in clinical and community settings. Some states don’t allow LMSWs to open a private clinical practice, so you may not be able to diagnose and directly psychotherapy services.

Instead, you’ll likely be updating case files, providing outpatient consultations, or working in schools to offer external resources for students. In some states, you can provide psychotherapy services under the direct supervision of an LCSW.

Common Roles of an LCSW

LCSWs, in participating states, concentrate on clinical tasks. An LCSW is much more likely to be offering direct counseling, mental health therapy, and crisis intervention. Some states require an LCSW license to diagnose mental health disorders, so these professionals often supervise LMSWs in therapy settings.

Learn more about the differences between a licensed master social worker and a licensed clinical social worker: LMSW vs LCSW

Program Length

Most Master of Social Work degree programs take one to two years to complete. If you already have a Bachelor of Social Work degree, then you’ll likely be able to complete your MSW in one year. Online programs offer more flexibility in course load, so you can work ahead on courses or study at a part-time pace while you work.

Bachelor’s degree programs typically require four years to complete. You can still pursue a career as a licensed master social worker without a bachelor’s degree, but most programs require you to complete this four-year program before applying to a master’s-level program.

LMSW License and Certification Overview

First, you must earn a bachelor’s degree to be considered for a place in an MSW program. After you apply, are accepted, and complete your master’s degree program it’s time to review the internship requirements. Many programs require a number of hours of fieldwork before you receive your degree.

All state LMSW license testing is handled by the Association of Social Work Boards. Once you decide to sit for the LMSW exam, it’s important to review the required documents and preparation. While the test covers a broad range of social work topics and information, an accredited MSW program can improve your chances of passing the exam. In 2020, the pass rate for master’s students was approximately 75%, according to the Association of Social Work Boards.

LMSW Salary and Career Outlook

According to BLS, the median salary for social workers in 2020 was approximately $51,800. Payscale, which separates LMSW salary from other levels of social work licensure, reported a median annual salary of around $53,000 in November 2021.

BLS also reports a faster than average job outlook for social workers. It estimates the number of jobs will grow approximately 12% between 2020 and 2030.

Key Social Worker Skills

Social workers are counselors, mediators, support professionals, and advocates. If you’re considering a career in social work, then reflect on these important skills:

  • Patience: This is a critical skill as you navigate a broad range of resources and fill out case management documents to assist individuals and communities.
  • Self-care: It’s easy to become burnt out as you provide various levels of care. Know how to unwind and care for yourself to create a sustainable pace in your career.
  • Organization: Managing multiple cases, piles of paperwork, and the various emotional needs of your clients is a daily requirement for most social workers.
  • Communication: You can’t provide all the services and emotional support your clients need. You’ll need to communicate not only with your clients in therapy sessions or advocacy groups but also with other professionals.
  • Critical thinking: Social workers need to evaluate cases on a large scale and deliver decisions based on a number of factors. You can make some decisions based on your emotional intelligence, but others require critical thinking and objective actions.
  • Cultural competence: Practice ways to respectfully communicate with clients from other cultural backgrounds. This can include a thorough examination of your own background, as well as active, non-judgmental listening to your client.
  • Active listening: Your clients likely want to have more interaction than just filling out forms. As a social worker, you’ll need to know when to take time to listen to personal stories and use active listening techniques to ensure you’re hearing your clients properly.

These are skills that you will work on throughout your coursework. If you struggle with one or more areas, be willing to grow in these areas as you enroll in a master’s program.

Prepare for a Career as a Licensed Master Social Worker

If you’re ready to become an LMSW, then it’s time to explore the next step in your career journey. Find highly rated Master of Social Work programs and see what you need to sit for an exam to become a licensed master social worker.

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