College of Education > Department of Curriculum and Instruction > Social Studies Education > Graduate Social Studies: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Graduate Social Studies: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can I get certified to teach social studies through your graduate program?

Our Master’s (M.Ed., M.S.) and Doctoral (Ph.D.) Degrees do not lead to initial teacher certification. A graduate degree can be used by currently certified schoolteachers to meet state-mandated requirements to upgrade or renew teaching certification.

It is possible for an applicant to a graduate degree program (usually M.Ed.) to apply also for Post-Bachelor Teacher Certification (as a non-degree graduate route). Pursuing teacher certification adds additional time to the graduate degree’s normal timeline. Teacher certification is only possible at Penn State’s University Park campus and cannot be done online.

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How much teaching experience should I have before applying for your graduate program?

Normally applicants to the Master’s Degree program have at least a year of teaching experience before applying, but this is not mandatory. It is possible to apply for our Master’s Degree program, particularly online through the World Campus, before completing teaching experience beyond student-teaching—or even without teaching experience if you are working in or interested in a non-teaching educational field.

We strongly encourage doctoral applicants interested in a faculty career in higher education to have at least 2 years of classroom teaching experience beyond student-teaching.

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Should I earn a Master’s Degree before applying for your Ph.D. program?

 It is not necessary to have a Master’s Degree before applying for our doctoral program. It is possible to begin in a Master’s program and later apply to transition into the doctoral program (either before or after completing the Master’s Degree).

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Is your Ph.D. Degree specializing in Social Studies Education available online?

No, the doctoral program is not available online. Though it may be possible to take online classes for the doctoral program, there are other requirements that only can be completed in residence at Penn State’s University Park campus.

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What GRE or MAT scores are expected for Social Studies Education graduate applicants?

M.Ed. applicants (whether residential or online) do not need to take the GRE or MAT. Only M.S. and Ph.D. applicants must provide GRE or MAT scores.

Test scores are just one of multiple factors that the faculty take into consideration when reviewing M.S./Ph.D. applications. While Social Studies Education has no minimum "cut" scores, above-average (at least 50th percentile) Verbal scores and Analytical Writing scores are considered valuable indicators of scholarly potential. High GRE/MAT scores also are useful to be nominated for competitive fellowship awards.

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Should I pick “LCS” or “Social Studies Education” if I want to be involved in both areas?

Language, Culture, and Society (LCS) consists of a group of faculty with interdisciplinary interests (including some in Social Studies Education). LCS students are invited to take Social Studies Education classes, and Social Studies Education students are welcome also to take some classes with LCS faculty.

Your choice simply determines which group of faculty will consider your application and provide your academic adviser. If you are in communication with a faculty member with whom you want to work, you may make your choice based whether this person is identified as LCS or exclusively Social Studies Education.

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What is it like to take your courses online? What if I am a residential student on campus?

Offering graduate (500-level) classes online through Penn State’s World Campus allows us to have courses specialized in social studies topics. These classes attract students from around the country and even the globe—many are practicing teachers pursuing their M.Ed., others are pursuing a Master’s Degree while working or seeking to work in a non-teaching educational field, and some are advanced research students pursuing their Ph.D. A web-based platform is used to guide all students through the instructor’s commentary, assigned readings, audio-visual media clips, interactive activities, and writing assignments. Students interact via online communication tools such as chat tables, voice/video messaging, and text or video forums. Instructors can offer real-time interaction through “virtual office” tools.

It is often possible for residential graduate students to take these online courses too. Residential doctoral students are usually expected play a leading role in the online class community. Participating in these courses also may support structured academic advising and development activities, as directed by your doctoral adviser or committee faculty.

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Can I take any classes to try out what your program is like before applying?

Yes, it is possible to take up to 15 credits (typically 5 classes) prior to applying and subsequently transfer them to a graduate degree after being admitted. Even if you end up at a different college or university, Penn State is a globally recognized institution and our courses are likely to transfer. To apply to take classes pre-admission, visit Apply to the Graduate School at Penn State, select “non-degree” status, and choose “World Campus” (if taking classes online only) or “University Park” (if you plan to be residential or a commuter).

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How long does it take to complete a graduate degree?

Our M.Ed. Degree requires just ten courses that can be completed in as little as 15 calendar months (2 courses in a Summer term, 3 in a Fall semester, 3 in a Spring semester, and 2 in the next Summer term). More commonly this degree is completed across 2 full years. A Master’s Paper is required before graduation, and this can be submitted in the last semester (Fall or Spring) of coursework or subsequent to finishing coursework (even another year later). While our M.S. Degree doesn’t require any more classes than the M.Ed., it does require a least one semester of thesis credits after finishing classes and a longer research thesis (in place of the Master’s Paper). Master’s Degrees need to be completed within 5 years from admission.

Our Ph.D. Degree takes a typical candidate 4 years to complete (full-time). It cannot be completed in less than 3 years. Generally only doctoral students who begin taking courses part-time should take longer than 4 years. All Penn State doctoral students are required to be registered full-time (9 credits) for at least two consecutive semesters (Fall-Spring or Spring-Fall). The doctoral program must be completed within 8 years from admission.

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How do graduate students pay for tuition, and how much does it cost?

Master’s students commonly receive some financial support from their employer, typically a school district. Doctoral students can cover tuition expenses through teaching or research assistantships.

Cost to attend Penn State (including the online World Campus) can be estimated using Penn State’s Student Tuition Calculator.

Federal and state financial aid generally is limited to the initial baccalaureate degree and is not widely available to graduate applicants. Prospective applicants who need outside aid (such as loans) should contact Penn State’s Office of Student Aid for more information and assistance.

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What are assistantships in Social Studies Education, and how do I apply for them?

Graduate assistantships provide financial support in return for work duties performed for the College of Education (typically 10-20 hours per week). The graduate assistant (GA) receives a waiver for most tuition costs, basic health insurance, and living stipend (approximately $18,500 a year pre-tax as of 2016). Specific duties are assigned by the academic department and can include teaching undergraduate education classes, assisting with undergraduate programs, supervising new teacher-candidates in local school placements, and helping with research.

Generally assistantships are available only to full-time residential doctoral students. If you wish to be considered for assistantship support, you must include this request as part of your application for admission. Applicants also are encouraged to discuss possible assistantships with the Social Studies Education faculty with whom they are interested in working. If accepted, a separate offer of assistantship support will be sent to the applicant. Assistantships must be renewed each subsequent year pending academic progress, good performance of duties, and faculty approval.

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Are there scholarships for graduate students?

Donors to the College have funded a number of scholarships for which Master’s and Ph.D. students can apply. See the College of Education Scholarships webpage for details

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What will I be qualified to do with a Master’s Degree?

The M.Ed. is a professional degree for educators. The M.Ed. can be used to meet state-mandated requirements for currently certified, practicing teachers to upgrade certification (from initial or provisional to what is usually referred to as a continuing, professional, or level II certificate or license) or to renew existing certification. The M.Ed. also can enhance the professional résumé for non-teaching educational work, such as publication or curriculum development. The M.Ed. typically does not open new avenues to teaching at colleges or universities (most of which require applicants to have a Ph.D.). The M.S. meets the functions of the M.Ed. but also is a research degree (some jobs at research foundations, policy centers, or government agencies may accept applications from M.S. holders).

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What will I be qualified to do with a Ph.D. Degree?

The Ph.D. is an advanced research degree. It signifies high scholarly attainment in a field and is the required degree for faculty appointments at most colleges and universities. While many Ph.D. holders find employment as professors in higher education, this degree also can qualify you for top research and leadership positions in government educational agencies, policy centers, the educational materials industry, think-tanks, and private advocacy foundations. Ph.D. holders write much of the published scholarship (including trade books) on education. Ph.D. holders who maintain state-issued teacher certification can continue to work in schools as expert educator-leaders for their schools and districts.

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