You are here: Master of Arts in Social Enterprise

guy typing on laptop with words on a whiteboard behind him as he plans for a startup company

Drive social change through innovation and entrepreneurship

The Social Enterprise (SE) program is designed as a customizable incubator for your entrepreneurial ideas and blends management know-how with social change. The program is housed in a top-10 school for international affairs, rather than in a traditional business or public policy school, which allows students to address a social problem and tackle it through both global and entrepreneurial perspectives.

Some students will enter the program with business backgrounds; others will have experience in the social sector. However, all will possess a global mindset and value societal benefits over private profits. It’s not just business as usual here; it’s business working for social justice.

The MA in Social Enterprise (SE) program, offered both on campus and online, requires 39–42 credit hours of graduate coursework. The curriculum is built around the interests, passions, and needs of students and is designed to provide them with the knowledge, skills, and mindset necessary to launch a new venture or play a key leadership role in an existing organization. The curriculum is focused on practice, not theory, through a heavy use of hands-on, experiential learning.

All students will complete the SE Practicum, which serves as the capstone of the two-year master’s program and enables students to integrate what they learn in their graduate coursework, consulting projects, study abroad, internships, and paid employment.

Explore degree flexibility options

Full degree and admission requirements

Students in the Social Enterprise program have access to a multidisciplinary faculty poised to meet their diverse needs and passions. The program’s core faculty all have practitioner backgrounds. SIS is home to economists, communications professionals, ecologists, human rights and international development specialists, political scientists, sociologists, and management consultants-just the mix needed to stimulate creativity and provide multiple perspectives on issues Social Enterprise students are most interested in tackling.

Meet the Social Enterprise faculty

The Social Enterprise program is offered both on campus and online, providing even more opportunity and flexibility for this customizable degree. No matter where you choose to pursue your degree, the Social Enterprise program will connect you with like-minded people who help you grow your entrepreneurial ideas. The program is strategically based in DC, a city with an abundance of strongly-supported, vibrant social enterprises. Students will have access to consulting firms, development agencies, nonprofits, local social enterprises, and a network of faculty, alumni, and classmates around the world.

American University is the first school to build a partnership with 1776, an incubator and accelerator for entrepreneurs. Located near the White House, 1776 is the epicenter of DC’s start-up community and a key intersection in a worldwide network of similar facilities. It provides members with shared workspace, mentorship, connections to sponsors and capital, media attention, and talent. This allows SE students access to many of their events and programming, as well as an opportunity to apply for reduced rate nights and weekends use of their facilities. Students can also sign up to use our reserved table there on selected days. 1776 gives the SE program a downtown presence where we occasionally have classes, meetings, and events. Some of our professors hold office hours there, too.

We Know Success

% of Graduates are now Working, Grad School, or Both

A key to peace

I’m bridging a divide between Israel and Palestine through music.

Through a nonprofit I founded, Heartbeat, I bring together high-school musicians from Israel and Palestine to compose music, learn about each other, and reshape the otherwise divided world around them. These youth form relationships based on equality—a sharp contrast to the inequality that exists outside of Heartbeat.

15 credits of concentration & elective courses allow SE students to pursue their passions.

Core values: Collaboration over competition, falling in love with problems not solutions, and small wins over master plans

The Social Enterprise program has an average of 10 students per cohort

Frequently Asked Questions

When you should apply to the program depends on what semester you want to start taking classes in and whether you are a domestic or international student.

Application deadlines for the on-campus Social Enterprise program are as follows:

  • Fall semester (all applicants): January 15 ( note: after this date, applications will be accepted on a rolling basis, space permitted)
  • Spring semester (international applicants): September 15
  • Spring semester (domestic applicants): October 1

View required application materials

Prospective students are encouraged to schedule an interview with Social Enterprise Program Director Robert Tomasko.

Application deadlines for the Online MA in Social Enterprise vary each year. There are three program entrance dates per year. Learn more about the Online MA in Social Enterprise application.

Missed a deadline but still interested in applying? Email the SIS Graduate Admissions office.

Careers in social enterprise start with students making a commitment to tackle difficult and often intractable social issues and to meet global problems head-on with sustainable and innovative business solutions. The program is geared toward preparing action-oriented doers—people who start their own organizations or have the knowledge and skills to make existing ones run better. If you are motivated along these lines, the SE program can serve as an incubator for a social enterprise you might create and run, perhaps prior to graduation. You will, in-effect, create your own job, having learned how to approach potential funders and start a self-sustaining “more-than-profit” organization.

Alternatively, you might choose to contribute problem solving and leadership expertise to existing social enterprises, funders, consultants, incubators, and infrastructure. One of the largest sources of employment opportunities in this field will be the thousands of new social enterprises created worldwide each year concerned with disaster relief, education, environment, fair trade, internet and mobile phone access, health, human rights, micro-credit, and other poverty-reduction strategies.

Looking for more information or help? SIS has a dedicated career development center to assist current students and alumni.

The School of International Service (SIS) is a founding member of the prestigious Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (ASPIA). While we have more than 20 different master’s degree programs ranging from national security to ethics and peace, SIS’s unifying theme since our founding has been service.

As such, we teach social enterprise (SE) with an accent on the “social.” That means our central emphasis is on social innovation designed to tackle pervasive global challenges. We selectively draw from the private sector and adapt business skills and tools that will help us achieve this goal. The SE program gives attention to management skills, but considers profit to be just one outcome of our efforts and not the primary goal. This is a distinctive feature of the SE program.

The School of International Service offers merit-based aid in the form of scholarships and fellowships at the time of admission. On average, almost 30% of current SE students’ tuition cost is covered by scholarship aid. SIS also has partnerships with a number of organizations like the Peace Corps and Pickering Fellowship that provide qualified individuals with funding.

Financial aid information for prospective students

Need-based aid is available through AU Central Office and generally takes the form of a federal low-interest loan package.

Federal loan and work study information for graduate students

Still have questions? Send Program Director Robert Tomasko an email at tomasko@american.edu