MSW Acceptance Rates
The acceptance rate for MSW programs is nowhere near as predictable as might be found in other popular graduate programs like the MBA. A study done in 2009 shows that acceptance rates show no particular correspondence with the rankings most often cited for U.S university graduate programs; those published every year by U.S. News and World Report. The study was published in the Journal of Social Work Education in January of 2009 and was conducted by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles and Portland State University.
The study surveyed acceptance rates for 128 MSW programs and 61 PhD programs in social work, selected in part because there was acceptance data available for a fifteen year period: 1990 - 2004, inclusive. There is also information on the "yield rate;" that is, the number of students who were accepted and actually chose to enroll. You'll see that rankings and student selectivity are often at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Ten Selective Schools
The ten schools with selective rates of acceptance for those fifteen years are a surprising collection. This data may have changed somewhat over the past five years, but it cannot have changed radically. The most selective schools among those surveyed:
1. San Francisco State University (17.4%)
2. U. C. Berkeley (27.5%)
3. Brigham Young (28.6%)
4. Southern Connecticut State (33.2%)
5. U. of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) (34.3%)
6. U. of Utah (34.7%)
7. Hunter College (NY) (35.1%)
8. Rhode Island College (40.9%)
9. Portland State U. (42.3%)
10. UCLA (42.4%)
Of those, only Berkeley and North Carolina/Chapel Hill are in the U.S. News top ten ranking. There are several factors that play into these figures which aren't necessarily applied in the U.S. News study: affordability and local competition for example. But more to the point, of the ten most selective schools in this study, by the time you get to the tenth most exclusive school, the acceptance rate is over four out of ten students. Those are pretty good odds for the tenth most selective school in the country.
Hunter College is more selective than top ranked cross-town university Columbia. But Columbia's School of Social Work is very large, and a lot more expensive than Hunter. This illustrates an important point about the MSW degree: students are less concerned about the sheepskin than they are the education and the license. MSW schools don't carry the importance with prospective employers that the institution behind a MBA or Masters in Finance would.
Overall Acceptance Rates
Finding a MSW program to fit your budget and your interests is nothing like the challenge of a law school or a business school. In 2005 Columbia University, ranked fourth in the nation, accepted 70% of their 900 applicants - and over half chose not to attend, presumably because of costs. University of Michigan acceptance rate was 70% in the past few years while University of Chicago was 68% and Washington University in St. Louis was 64%. Those are currently the top three programs in the nation according to US News & World Report.
There are some excellent online options for a MSW degree available today, from schools such as the University of Southern California. Some regional schools such as the University of New England are also making this option available. If the program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) it should be acceptable to the licensing agency in your state.