HBCU MSW Programs – Online and On-Campus Guide

Interested in attending a historically Black college or university (HBCU) for a master’s in social work program? We discuss the importance of HBCUs, their rich history and how an HBCU can meet your educational needs. Read on to learn more about HBCU graduate programs.

History of HBCUs

A lack of higher education opportunities for Black students led to the establishment of HBCU colleges in the early 19th century. These colleges and universities were created to provide undergraduate and graduate-level education for the Black community at a time when other educational institutions were not available to them. What began in Pennsylvania in 1837 with Cheyney University has grown to more than 100 HBCU post-secondary institutions. 

Throughout the past two centuries, HBCUs have helped prepare students for excellence and success. Notable graduates of HBCUs include social rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Martin Luther King Jr., Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, Vice President Kamala Harris and talk show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey. 

According to 2019 congressional testimony, despite only educating 10% of Black college students, HBCUs support:

  • 27% of all Black American STEM graduates
  • 40% of all Black American engineers
  • 50% of all Black American lawyers
  • 50% of all Black American public school teachers
  • 80% of all Black American judges

How to Apply for an MSW Program at HBCUs

Applying to an HBCU master’s in social work program is similar to that of other colleges or institutions. You will likely need to provide the required materials prior to a set deadline. Some schools may have individual requirements like entrance exam scores while others have a “no GRE required” policy. HBCU graduate admission requirements for Master of Social Work (MSW) programs may include: 

  • Completed bachelor’s degree in liberal arts or a field related to social work such as psychology or sociology. 
  • Completed bachelor’s of social work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited program for advanced standing applicants.
  • Completed graduate application, which is typically online.
  • Letters of recommendation from professionals such as former instructors or employers.
  • Official transcripts from all previous post-secondary institutions you have attended. 
  • A personal statement that discusses who you are, your strengths, education and/or experience, and why you would like to enroll in an MSW program.
  • Current resume that includes previous and current academic, work, or volunteer experiences.
  • An interview, which is an opportunity to show your personality and speak directly with the MSW admissions panel or board.  

HBCU MSW Curriculum

Your master’s in social work concentration or chosen field of practice may determine your ultimate curriculum. However, there are several primary courses such as Foundations of Social Welfare and Social Work and Research Methods in Social Work that students must take regardless of their specialization. 

The MSW curriculum may include various classes on different social work theories and practice models. As part of the educational base for an MSW degree, some HBCU MSW courses like Multicultural Practice with Diverse Populations focus on issues facing oppressed populations like racial inequality and social and economic injustice. Preparing graduates with the necessary skills to be leaders and voices on such issues is an essential component of the mission of HBCUs.     

Historically Black Colleges and Universities’ Online vs. On-Campus Classes

Of the more than 3 million post-baccalaureate students, almost 31% take classes exclusively online. If you are undecided between HBCU online degree programs and on-campus learning, it may help to take a closer look at the similarities and differences between the two. 

Most HBCU online graduate classes follow the same coursework as on-campus and confer the same degree. HBCU graduate programs online may offer a level of flexibility that on-campus classes lack, whereas face-to-face interactions on campus may present you with a unique sociocultural experience compared to virtual learning. If you have self-discipline and motivation to work on your own, an online class format may prove ideal. On the other hand, if you thrive better in a structured environment with deadlines and strict attendance policies, an on-campus program may be a better option for you. 

While both bring advantages and disadvantages, it is up to you to decide which format feels right and would best fit your needs. 

Compare HBCU Online MSW Programs

Although very few HBCUs offer an MSW degree online, the following institutions offer the option to complete your degree remotely. Some programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), indicating they meet a set of standards necessary for the social work profession. In addition, most states require CSWE accreditation for licensing.

Compare HBCU On-Campus MSW Programs

If you live near an HBCU you may want to consider obtaining your MSW degree on campus. Be sure to also take into account a program’s location, concentration and format options.


Choosing the right MSW program out of the many HBCU graduate programs is a difficult task. However, asking questions can help make the decision easier. 

What are the benefits of attending an HBCU? 

Getting a college education is more than a diploma. It’s also about experiences and personal growth no matter your age, race, ethnicity or background. Due to their inclusive approach, HBCUs celebrate a great degree of cultural and racial diversity in their student body. Other HBCU benefits include a welcoming community, faculty support, strong and active alumni associations, affordability, scholarships and grants. 

What’s the best HBCU MSW program? 

It’s important to think about your personal and career goals when searching for the right HBCU MSW program. Maybe you prioritize the flexibility of an online MSW program. Perhaps the culture of an HBCU may be the deciding factor. An available concentration or specialization may be the most important part of your decision. Which program is best is a personal choice that depends on your individual plans and goals. 

Do HBCUs offer financial aid or scholarships for grad students? 

Concern over how to fund education can keep students from pursuing an advanced degree. Because HBCUs recognize the financial challenges many students may face, these schools offer a wide range of financial aid and scholarships for graduate students. The types of financial aid and HBCU scholarships can vary based on the school. However, there are other common options like grants and fellowships that may help offset the costs. 

Do HBCUs offer other graduate programs? 

While there are numerous HBCUs offering social work master’s degrees, if you are uncertain about whether the MSW programs offered by historically Black colleges and universities are the right path to take, you may want to explore the wide array of other HBCU online graduate programs. Program options can vary from school to school, including business administration, special education, environmental studies, nursing and sports administration. 

Last updated August 2021