Master’s in Social Studies Program Guide

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Published on July 27, 2021 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Earning a master's in social studies education degree provides a valuable opportunity to enhance your pedagogical knowledge and acquire deeper insight into topics like history, geography, government, and civics. Master's programs offer current and prospective teachers new strategies and technologies for presenting social studies content in relevant and engaging ways.

While the BLS projects an 8% job growth rate for middle school and high school teaching positions between 2016 and 2026, postsecondary teachers are projected to enjoy a 15% growth rate during the same period.

Learners who pursue a social studies master's degree also obtain the communication and leadership skills needed to take on high-level administrative roles. Along with numerous career opportunities in middle and high school settings, professionals who hold a master's in social studies qualify for many postsecondary teaching positions at community colleges and technical schools. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% job growth rate for middle school and high school teaching positions between 2016 and 2026, postsecondary teachers are projected to enjoy a 15% growth rate during the same period.

Should I Get a Master's in Social Studies?

Would you like to hone your instructional technique and develop new, effective teaching methods, or pursue a specialized teaching license? A master's degree in social studies can help you acquire the advanced education and classroom experience needed to take your career to the next level. In many states, candidates must hold a master's in social studies education before obtaining subject endorsements, specialized licensure, or certification.

Both on-campus and online programs present many opportunities to collaborate and network with other teachers. Through discussion sessions, brainstorming, and group projects, candidates explore best practices, pedagogical methods, and curriculum development specific to social studies education. While working teachers may prefer to enroll in on-campus programs that offers evening classes, others find that an online degree provides a convenient, flexible option that can be adapted to fit busy schedules.

Students pursuing a master's in social studies education also enjoy working closely with current school administrators and discussing curriculum and teaching practices with other professionals. Some programs present teaching residency options, which offer the chance to teach diverse student bodies in unique situations. Individuals who earn a master's often find that their program introduces networking opportunities that lead to career growth. A master's degree in social studies also benefits prospective postsecondary instructors, who acquire in-depth knowledge of historical theory and advanced research skills through applied study, projects, and thesis seminars. Many students use a social studies master's degree as a stepping stone on the path to doctoral study.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Social Studies?

A master's in social studies degree opens up a variety of new career opportunities, including postsecondary positions and administrative roles. Instructors who wish to develop a subject specialty or teach at a higher grade level acquire a thorough understanding of the relationship between social studies and contemporary social issues. Teachers and other education professionals interested in curriculum development, program coordination, and pedagogical research positions gain a holistic view of how social studies curricula are designed and taught.

Education Coordinator

Education coordinators develop curricula that meet classroom needs and guidelines. By monitoring student progress and teacher feedback, they adapt and adjust curricula while ensuring that course content aligns with policies and regulations. They also address parent, community, and district concerns that may arise, as well as issue reports as needed.

Median Annual Salary: $44,521*

Education Program Director

Education program directors develop, implement, and oversee a school's educational goals. They may specialize in one field or subject, or work with an entire school district, institution, or grade. Many train instructors to execute academic programs at middle schools, high schools, or postsecondary institutions, and are often tasked with managing educational programming budgets.

Median Annual Salary: $60,416*

Middle School Teacher

Middle school teachers instruct students in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. They create lesson plans, present lectures and coursework, and assess learning outcomes while maintaining communication with parents and school administrators. Middle school teachers may specialize in one subject or teach multiple topics. Some also oversee student activities and clubs.

Median Annual Salary: $57,720*

High School Teacher

High school teachers instruct students in grades nine through 12. They typically specialize in teaching a single subject to multiple grade cohorts. They design lesson plans and assignments, and may work with colleagues on curriculum development initiatives. High school teachers must also communicate with parents and administrators about student progress and classroom concerns.

Median Annual Salary: $59,170*

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers are employed in college or technical schools, where they provide advanced instruction in a single specialized field. These teachers must develop curricula and syllabi, provide instruction, and help students acquire the skills needed for future careers or continued study. Most postsecondary instructors also conduct original research outside of the classroom.

Median Annual Salary: $76,000*

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale

How to Choose a Master's Program in Social Studies

Most master's degrees in social studies consist of 30 to 40 credit hours. While full-time students can generally complete a master's in social studies education in as little as one year, part-time learners may take three years or more to earn their degree. Many working professionals choose to enroll in online masters in social studies programs, which offer convenient, flexible programs developed with full-time teachers in mind. Online degrees may also be ideal for part-time students unable to attend traditional programs on campus or hybrid programs that feature residency requirements.

Before selecting a master's program, you should thoroughly research each school's entrance requirements. Some programs expect candidates to have completed a certain amount of teaching experience before they enroll. In addition, many schools offer master's in social studies degrees that complement state licensure requirements, which may also impact your final decision. An in-state school may offer preparatory coursework for the state licensing exam, as well as lower tuition rates, more funding opportunities, and chances to build professional relationships within local school districts.

If you plan to pursue a doctoral degree or a position in research or academia, you may benefit from choosing a program that includes a thesis or research project component. Some students do not have the time or desire to complete a thesis. Many colleges and universities offer non-thesis master's in social studies degree options, which typically require additional coursework or field study.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Social Studies

Choosing an accredited school is crucial to your academic success. Accreditation ensures that educational institutions operate according to the highest standards, and only accredited schools qualify to receive federal financial aid. Regional and national accrediting agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education are approved to evaluate schools nationwide. Regional accrediting bodies typically assess academic standards within public and private nonprofit schools, while for-profit, career-oriented, and technical institutions usually receive national accreditation. Many regionally accredited colleges and universities do not accept degrees or transfer credits earned from nationally accredited schools.

In addition to institutional accreditation, master's in social studies degrees often hold programmatic accreditation. Usually granted through field- or subject-specific organizations, programmatic accreditation is reserved for programs or academic departments within a school. Many graduate-level social studies degrees hold programmatic accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Education Preparation, or from their state's department of education.

Master's in Social Studies Program Admissions

All master's in social studies education programs maintain slightly different admissions requirements. Most request certain documents and materials, such as transcripts and letters of recommendation. Before applying to a school, it is important to ensure that a prospective program aligns with your needs, experience level, and career goals. Some programs offer specialized curricula related to special education, high school instruction, or curriculum development. Others require applicants to hold a certain amount of professional experience. A school's location may also influence curriculum content, tuition costs, and licensing opportunities after graduation.

While on-campus social studies master's programs tend to admit students once or twice a year, many online programs maintain rolling admissions. If you are applying to more than one program, you should keep a log of each school's admissions deadlines and required application materials.


Anyone applying to a master's in social studies program must hold a bachelor's degree in history, government, or a related subjects. Most institutions require that graduate school applicants hold a minimum 3.0 GPA. Those with lower GPAs may be admitted on probationary status. Those applying to master's in social studies education programs are usually expected to have some teaching experience, although a bachelor's degree in teaching or requisite coursework may fulfill this requirement.

Admission Materials

A graduate school application asks candidates to provide basic biographical and academic information. Most can be submitted online and take around 30 minutes to complete. Nearly all programs request potential students' undergraduate transcripts. Your former or current institution's registrar's office can provide these documents for a small fee. Applicants are usually asked to provide at least one letter of recommendation from individuals who can attest to their academic abilities, teaching experience, and character. Give potential writers plenty of time to prepare their letters. You may need to submit GRE scores along with your application. After taking the GRE, your scores may be sent directly to prospective institutions. Most schools charge an application fee to help cover processing costs; typically between $20 and $100. Students who demonstrate financial need may apply for a fee waiver.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Social Studies?

Graduate-level social studies programs vary considerably between schools, states, and specializations. Many offer the chance to perform original research and explore certain focus areas in greater depth. Some master's in social studies education programs include residency opportunities or chances to integrate degree coursework with your current teaching career.

Courses in a Master's in Social Studies Program

While every master's in social studies education offers a unique curriculum, most programs feature core classes like the examples below. Foundational courses in education theory, research methods, and instructional strategy offer valuable insight into contemporary classroom issues and strengthen crucial teaching skills.

Methods for Teaching Social Studies

Candidates survey a variety of techniques, tools, and strategies used in effective social studies instruction. By exploring numerous educational theories, students learn to select and implement grade- and age-appropriate instructional practices. Candidates also learn to adapt curricula to meet student needs, incorporate technology into lesson plans, and evaluate different instructional styles. Coursework may include simulated classroom activities.

Issues in Social Studies Education

This course addresses contemporary topics and problems related to social studies instruction, including globalization, diversity, social justice, and fund allocation. Coursework introduces techniques for presenting sensitive content in the classroom and making social studies material relevant to young learners.

Research in Social Studies Education

In this foundational course, students learn to conduct qualitative and quantitative research as part of larger educational exercise. Candidates may gather information by employing specialized software, participating in fieldwork, or designing surveys. Hands-on activities present opportunities to evaluate data, develop research questions, and articulate findings on a chosen topic.

Education and Society

Offering a broad view of the interplay between educational institutions and governments, communities, and economic forces, this course explores the history of instruction. Lectures may examine the relationship between education and discipline, school reform history, or cultural influences on public education.

Applied Experience in Social Studies

Combining in-depth readings on educational theory, knowledge from experts in the field, and guided practice, this class explores social studies instruction in a workshop-style setting. Students may participate in role-playing activities intended to demonstrate and develop teaching techniques.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Social Studies?

On average, most full-time students can complete their master's in social studies in around one year. Part-time students may take up to five years to finish their degree. Many programs culminate in a thesis, seminar, or research project, which may further affect degree length, and some candidates spend an additional semester completing their thesis or project. Some specialized programs that focus on areas like special education include additional course requirements, and generally take longer to complete. Students enrolled in dual degree social studies master's programs can also expect to spend more time in the classroom.

A degree's total number of required credit hours also affects program cost. While tuition per credit hour varies according to school and degree, longer programs usually cost more. Full-time students and those interested in pursuing accelerated coursework may reduce expenses by selecting an institution that charges tuition by semester or term.

How Much Is a Master's in Social Studies?

Although tuition rates vary considerably between schools, most social studies master's programs cost between $920 and $1,800 per credit hour. Costs often depend on student residency status; many colleges charge out-of-state students a higher tuition. However, many schools allow distance learners to pay a flat, per-credit rate, regardless of where they live.

Along with tuition, you should budget for additional expenses such as housing, fees, and books. On-campus students must pay for transportation, meals, and parking, as well as facility and lab fees. While online learners can avoid many of these expenses, they are often required to pay a per-course technology or distance learning fee. Online students may also need to purchase new computers, software, or devices. In general, distance learning is more affordable than traditional, on-campus programs, and may help to offset the cost of out-of-state tuition.

When you apply to a master's in social studies program, you should also apply for financial aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) automatically determines if you are eligible to obtain federal loans, scholarships, and grants. The FAFSA also presents any state and institutional financial aid options you may qualify to receive. You can also contact potential schools to learn more about university-sponsored funding opportunities.

Certifications and Licenses for Master's in Social Studies Graduates

While licensing and certification requirements vary by state, many master's-level social studies curricula are developed with regional licensing standards in mind. Typically, candidates must obtain an initial teaching certification and pass a formal exam measuring their knowledge of the field.

Middle School Social Studies License/Certification

While most middle school social studies instructors teach students in grades six through eight, some states categorize middle school certification as an elementary education credential. Certified instructors must hold a bachelor's degree, student teaching experience, and a teaching license. Some states require candidates to earn a master's degree and pass specialized licensing exams.

High School Social Studies License/Certification

High school social studies teachers usually specialize in one or more subjects within a larger curriculum. They must acquire a bachelor's degree, student teaching experience, and secondary education teaching certificate for grades nine through twelve. Most states require candidates to pass a content exam that covers numerous aspects of social studies education.

Resources for Graduate Social Studies Students

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress provides researchers, educators, and the general public with free access to document collections, artwork, pictures, and other classroom materials. Visitors to the website can sort materials by common core, state content, or organization, as well as seek further information and assistance by contacting a Library of Congress librarian.

National Archives

The National Archives offers extensive educational resources, including primary document collections, student visit opportunities, distance learning materials, and professional development programs. The website is also home to a History Hub, where educators can network, discuss curricula, and share teaching tips.

National Geographic

This website offers a vast amount of content for social studies instructors, including information related to science, culture, environment, and travel. Global content includes news, insights, and updates on issues and affairs around the world, as well as games and videos designed specifically for children.

The Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History

The Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History provides instructors and the general public alike with instructional programs, teaching seminars, free books and posters, and panel exhibitions developed to supplement classroom content. The Institute also sponsors internship, scholarship, and grant opportunities for students and teachers.


Founded by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, iCivics promotes civic studies by providing young learners with free educational materials. Electronic resources include games and curriculum unit lesson plans. iCivics' partnership programs allow instructors to connect with colleagues and other professionals in the field. Additional content may be purchased through the iCivics website.

Professional Organizations

Current students and recent graduates alike can benefit from joining professional organizations. Groups like the organizations below provide valuable resources, community support, and networking and career development events. Members may take part in nationwide educational initiatives, and many organizations offer regular updates on educational policies, regulations, and research. In addition, some groups provide exclusive funding opportunities for students pursuing a master's in social studies education.

A subset of the UFT, this association brings together social studies educators and related professionals under the common goal of social studies education advocacy. The Association of Teachers for Social Studies/UFT provides instructors with cutting-edge research, strategies, and teaching tips. All UFT members may join, and other social studies professionals in New York state may become associate members. The NCHE seeks to promote historical literacy among students of all ages. Members receive regular newsletters and other NCHE publications, as well as discounted conference tickets and admission to historical venues. Professionals may also build a profile in the NCHE career center. By creating the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies Education, NCSS established a definitive framework for teaching, learning, and assessment. Supporting history, geography, and other social studies teachers by providing professional development opportunities, NCSS offers numerous resources, funding opportunities, and publications. Created to promote geographical studies at all educational levels, the AAG unites geography professionals from public, private, and academic sectors. Membership benefits include regular updates on research and trends in the field, access to special interest groups, and networking opportunities. The AAG also participates in interdisciplinary projects and programs with groups from other fields, including history, ethics, and social justice. One of the country's largest professional organizations, NEA advances public education through community, corporate, and government programs and initiatives. Members include teachers, teaching affiliates, students, and administrators. Along with association news and updates, members receive discounted legal services and access to discussion forums.
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