Georgia Social Work Licensing Requirements

By SocialWorkGuide.org Staff

Georgia, one of the fastest-growing states in the country, currently employs more than 14,000 social workers and can expect opportunities to grow with the surging population. According to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers in the state earn an annual mean wage of $50,345 -- slightly higher than the state's annual mean wage for all occupations combined.

Candidates interested in becoming a social worker in Georgia should understand the state's field-specific licensing and educational requirements. The Georgia Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social Workers and Marriage and Family Therapists regulates and sets the state's licensing guidelines for social workers. Based on Board-mandated standards, the following article details how to become a social worker in Georgia.

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How to Become a Social Worker in Georgia

Educational Paths

Georgia professionals who earn a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited program may legally practice under the supervision of a more experienced social worker. However, candidates must hold a master’s degree in social work (MSW) to obtain state licensure. Individuals who wish to increase their earning potential or teach clinical social work may pursue a doctoral degree in social work. Read on to learn about Georgia's educational requirements for licensed master’s social workers (LMSWs) and licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs).

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

The first step to becoming a social worker in Georgia is to obtain a BSW. While BSW-holders cannot obtain state licensure, they may practice as social workers in many settings under supervision. Some also use the degree as a springboard to obtaining an MSW. Individuals with a CSWE-accredited BSW can often enter an MSW program with advanced standing status and complete their degree in just one year.

Most BSW programs take three to four years to complete. Coursework typically provides an overview of social work, exploring clinical practice, community empowerment, social welfare policy, and program development.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in a different field may still pursue an MSW. However, they must earn their MSW at a school accredited by the CSWE to obtain state licensure. Seven Georgia universities offer CSWE-accredited master’s programs. Some schools may also offer a fast track option for students who hold a BSW. This pathway allows students to earn an MSW in one year instead of the usual two years.

Courses in MSW programs often include human behavior and social environment, social welfare policy, ethics, and intervention strategies. Most curricula also include a research and field practice component, which offers a firsthand glimpse into the profession. Master’s candidates acquire advanced skills for dealing with children and families, mental health issues, and students. Earning an MSW is the first step to becoming an LMSW or LCSW in Georgia.

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

A doctorate of social work (DSW), or PhD in social work, is an ideal option for individuals interested in clinical practice. While this degree is not required to become an LCSW, more opportunities may arise for LCSWs who hold a DSW. Furthermore, LCSW candidates with a doctoral degree in social work or a related field like professional counseling or marriage and family therapy may use the degree to fulfill one of the three years of supervised experience required for licensure.

Advanced practitioners are more likely to obtain a DSW or a PhD in social work, and may use the degrees to practice professionally, conduct research at a higher education institution, or teach undergraduate- and graduate-level clinical social work programs.

DSW curricula cover topics such as neuroscience and epistemology for clinical methods and practice, interpersonal psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, addictions and diagnosis treatments, trauma-focused interventions, and clinical leadership. Most DSW programs focus on research and teaching, preparing students for careers in academic research settings. A doctorate in social work ordinarily takes 3-4 years to complete.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Georgia

While professionals may practice social work in Georgia without a license, individuals who obtain state licensure enjoy more professional opportunities. Georgia offers two levels of licensure: the LMSW and the LCSW credentials. Both require candidates to hold an MSW from a CSWE-accredited social work program. The type of licensure you choose should be based largely on the type of clinical or nonclinical social work you wish to practice.

Licensed Master’s Social Worker (LMSW)

In Georgia, only individuals with an MSW degree or higher may become LMSWs. However, LMSWs enjoy greater job opportunities and higher salaries than unlicensed social workers in the state. Georgia LMSWs are free to practice privately if their practice does not include counseling or psychotherapy. LMSWs may only provide those two services while being supervised in preparation for obtaining their LCSW licenses. While the LMSW credential is not a prerequisite for the LCSW, the Georgia Society for Clinical Social Work recommends that prospective LCSWs become LMSWs first. To become an LMSW in Georgia, candidates must:

  • 1. Submit an LMSW licensure application to the Board.

    The first step towards obtaining LMSW licensure is to complete and mail an application to the Board, or apply online. As of March 2020, the LMSW application fee is $100. Applicants should also ask two professional references to complete forms and have their school submit their MSW transcript to the Board.

  • 2. Take and pass the ASWB master’s exam.

    Candidates must take the ASWB master’s exam before applying for an LMSW license. MSW-holders may practice under supervision for up to a year after graduation before taking the licensing exam, but cannot obtain a license until they have passed the exam. Applicants can sign up for the exam after the Board reviews their application notifies them that they are eligible to register. As of March 2020, the ASWB master’s exam fee is $230. The four-hour test consists of 170 multiple-choice questions.

  • 3. Receive your LMSW license from the Board.

    After completing the steps outlined above, candidates are eligible to receive the LMSW license. The Board notifies professionals when they have issued licenses and applicants can begin practicing.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

In Georgia, an LCSW is the only type of social worker who can practice independently in a clinical setting. Prospective LCSWs must hold an MSW from a CSWE-accredited school. While highly recommended by the Georgia Society for Clinical Social Work, an LMSW is not a necessary prerequisite for earning an LCSW.

  • 1. Gain the necessary experience.

    One major difference between an LMSW and LCSW is the amount and type of experience required. LCSW candidates with an MSW must acquire 3,000 hours of supervised social work experience over a time period of 3-9 years. LCSW candidates must complete 120 documented, supervised hours. LSCW candidates with a DSW or doctoral degree in a related field that included a supervised internship must complete 2,000 hours of supervised, clinical social work experience, within 2-6 years of documented supervision.

  • 2. Apply to the Board for licensure.

    Prospective LCSWs must apply to the Board, pay a $100 application fee, and provide an official MSW transcript and two professional references from teachers or supervisors. The applicant's previous clinical supervisors should also submit forms verifying that they have fulfilled the supervised experience component.

  • 3. Take and pass the ASWB clinical exam.

    Like clinical social work applicants in most states, LCSW candidates in Georgia must take and pass the ASWB clinical exam. The four-hour exam costs $260 as of March 2020 and consists of 150 multiple choice questions, Candidates cannot register for the exam without the Board's approval.

  • 4. Receive LCSW license from the Board.

    The Board issues an applicant's license after receiving notification from the ASWB that the candidate has passed the Clinical exam. Professionals must wait to begin practicing as LCSWs until they have received their licenses.

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Social Work License Reciprocity in Georgia

According to the Board, the state does not offer reciprocity licensure for LSWs or LCSWs. Social workers wishing to transfer their license to the state of Georgia must have taken the ASWB master’s exam (for LMSWs) or clinical exam (for LCSWs) and should have their scores transferred to the Board from the ASWB. If you meet the criteria for LMSW or LCSW licensure in Georgia and have already passed the required exam, submit the application for your level of licensure and indicate you are applying for licensure by examination waiver. As part of this application, you will also need to provide verification of your current license in another state.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

Due to changing laws and advances in practice, LMSWs and LCSWs must complete 35 hours of continuing education every two years to renew their Georgia social work license. Of those hours, five must come from in-person activities pertaining to ethics. Professionals may acquire no more than 10 hours online. Licensed social workers can explore qualifying continuing education programs at the National Association of Social Workers: Georgia Chapter.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

All Georgia social workers draw an annual mean wage of $50,345. Social workers in the “all other” category are the highest paid, earning a mean salary of $67,630 a year. Nearly 14,500 social workers are currently employed across the state, with the majority being employed in child, family, and school social work. Job growth in the field is projected to increase significantly across Georgia through 2026. The fastest growth should occur in the healthcare social work category, with a 17.4% increase projected during the same 10-year period.

Type Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers 8,660 $41,040
Healthcare Social Workers 3,550 $53,110
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 1,160 $39,600
Social Workers, All Other 1,100 $67,630

Source: BLS

Social Work Associations in Georgia

The National Association of Social Workers, Georgia Chapter

Members can join regional chapters across the state, attend meetings and conferences, and take part in continuing education opportunities.

The Georgia Society for Clinical Social Work (GSCSW)

A statewide organization dedicated to the professional advancement of LCSWs, the GSCSW provides access to professional development and continuing education opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I begin practicing independently once I become registered as an LMSW?

Yes. After completing two years of supervised social work practice, an LMSW can practice social work privately and independently. However, they are not eligible to provide clinical services such as counseling and psychotherapy unless they are under supervision in preparation for LCSW licensure.

Can I count experience I gained years ago towards the 3,000 hours of work experience required for the LCSW?

You may apply any qualified supervised experience completed after earning your MSW to your LCSW application. However, the experience must have been acquired over a period of at least three years but less than nine years or 108 months after receiving an MSW.

What kinds of qualifications should my experience supervisor hold?

Your supervisor must possess an LCSW or hold a similar position, such as professional counselor, marriage and family therapist, psychologist. They must have completed at least 2,000 hours of work experience within two years of obtaining licensure.

What kind of degree do I need to practice social work in Georgia?

Candidates must earn an MSW from a program accredited by the CSWE to obtain a Georgia LMSW or LCSW license.