Master’s (M.Ed.) and Doctoral (Ph.D.) Degrees in Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) with an emphasis in Social Studies Education build expertise in this K-12 school subject area and in the professional development of teachers for it. Social Studies Education at the graduate level allows flexibility in choosing intellectually rich academic experiences that support specialization in social studies topics as well as interdisciplinary connections to related fields.

  • The M.Ed. serves practicing educators seeking to upgrade their certification and professional expertise. Master’s Degree students work with a faculty adviser to choose classes that contribute to their understanding of K-12 social studies curriculum, teaching and learning, and educational research. Student work includes academic writing that leads to a Master’s project before graduation.
  • The Ph.D. serves educators interested in an academic career in social studies teacher education at colleges or universities or a research career in industry, foundations, or government. Doctoral students work closely with an adviser to create a program of study individualized around academic interests and career goals, culminating in a doctoral research dissertation. You do not need a Master's Degree to apply for the Doctoral Degree program.

Graduate-Level Social Studies Education May Include

  • civic education
  • democracy education and democratic pedagogy
  • history education
  • Holocaust, genocide, and human rights education
  • media literacy and technology
  • global education
  • place and community
  • public issues and ethical reasoning
  • social sciences (e.g., economics, political science, sociology)
  • sustainability and ecological issues

Classes On-Campus or Online

We offer a number of graduate courses that include these social studies topics. Some are on-campus seminars; others are available online. It is possible for our residential graduate students to take most of our online courses and for students in our online program to take residential classes. Our graduate students are able to take intellectually diverse coursework—including some courses more broadly in Curriculum and Instruction (C&I), from Language, Culture, and Society (LCS), and possibly from across the College of Education (such as Educational Theory and Policy, Educational Psychology, or Learning Design and Technology) or even different University departments (such as History, Political Science, or Sociology).

For more information on our online program, please see the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction at Penn State's World Campus.

For more information on how to apply to our Master's and Doctoral programs, please see Curriculum and Instruction's How to Apply and our Frequently Asked Questions below.


This course examines current and influential theory and research on social studies and history teaching, learning, and curriculum in K-12 education. This overview provides you with a grounding in reading and analyzing this literature, synthesizing ideas from across research, and applying research findings and interpretations to curriculum and educational practice, problems, and contexts. Course activities and assignments give you practice in critically evaluating this research and scholarship and applying research findings to instructional planning, curriculum design, professional development, or future academic inquiry.

Offered typically once a year (online)

Instructor: Dr. Scott Metzger

This course examines the educational uses, tensions, and implications of historically oriented media for teaching and learning historical literacy, focusing on adolescent and teenage learners in the context of K-12 schooling. Lessons support your understanding of historical literacy relevant to educational uses and culturally wider implications of media that are about or situated in the past. Course activities and assignments engage you in academic writing and exchanges of ideas about the educational potential as well as problems and cultural complications of historically oriented film and other media forms, such as music, art, documentaries, and video games.

Offered periodically through World Campus (online)

Instructor: Dr. Scott Metzger

This course studies academic and popular nonfiction history and their historical interpretations for application to K-12 teaching and curriculum. Lessons will immerse you in reading and analyzing historical nonfiction literature to form generalizations and reach conclusions that strengthen history teaching and learning in schools. Course activities and assignments will engage you in academic writing and exchanges of ideas on how to apply professional historical publications about important periods or themes in the past to the context of history education.

Offered typically once a year (online)

Instructor: Dr. Scott Metzger

This course explores notions of active citizenship—and, by extension, K-12 education for active citizenship. Lessons revolve around three essential questions: What kind of citizens does a 21st century democracy need? What should these citizens know, believe, and be able to do? What practices, programs, and structures in educational settings promote active citizenship? Activities and written assignments work to answer each of these questions, encouraging students to grapple with competing theories of citizenship that have shaped citizenship education programs in schools and universities.

Offered typically once a year (online)

Instructor: Dr. Stephanie Schroeder

Through a seminar format, we study conceptions of place and places—“place(s)”—from a diverse set of interdisciplinary perspectives, including our own, and consider what these mean for living, learning, and teaching. Readings draw from the fields of anthropology, curriculum, ecology, geography, indigenous thought, journalism, literature, philosophy, popular culture, and sociology, all intersecting with education. Assignments include personal reflection about lived place(s), critical analyses of place(s) texts, and a final project focused on one aspect or theme related to place(s) in education. 

Offered typically once a year at University Park (on-campus only)

Instructor: Dr. Mark Kissling

This course is an examination of foundations and practices of place-based education in schools with a focus on generating related curricula and/or policies. We engage a diverse range of texts that explain and espouse place-based education, some of which identify as place-based education and others that demonstrate implicitly the principles and practices of place-based education. We also engage local place-based educators to understand the nature of their work in settings near and familiar to us. Assignments include critical analyses of course texts, exploration of personal experiences in place-based education, facilitation of class dialogue, and a final project focused on development of curriculum or policy related to place-based education.

Offered typically once a year at University Park (on-campus only)

Instructor: Dr. Mark Kissling

Penn State’s Graduate Social Studies Faculty Team

We encourage you to look at our faculty members and their teaching and research interests:

If you are interested in working with any of our faculty members, please call or email them at the contact information linked to their name above.

Graduate Social Studies: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Our Master (M.Ed.) 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 the M.Ed. graduate degree program to apply also for Post-Bachelor Teacher Certification. 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.

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 an academic career as a professor of education to have at least 2 years of classroom teaching experience beyond student-teaching.

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). 

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

M.Ed. applicants (whether residential or online) do not need to take the GRE or MAT. 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 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.

Offering graduate 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 possible for residential graduate students to take these online courses too. Participating in these courses also may support structured academic advising and development, as directed by your adviser or doctoral committee.

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).

Our M.Ed. Degree requires ten courses that can be completed in 3 semesters, though it is more commonly completed across 2-3 years. A Master’s Paper is required before graduation (Fall or Spring), and this can be submitted in the last semester of classes or after finishing coursework. The degree needs 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.

Master’s Degree students often receive some financial reimbursement from their employer, typically a school district. Graduate students can cover tuition and other expenses through graduate assistantships in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction or College of Education (most assistantships are for Ph.D. students). Residential Master’s Degree and Ph.D. students may be able on their own to find different assistantships or other paid work available elsewhere at Penn State by searching the PSU.JOBS website. Prospective graduate applicants who need outside financial aid (typically loans) should contact Penn State’s Office of Student Aid for more information and assistance. 

Cost to attend Penn State can be estimated using Penn State’s Student Tuition Calculator.

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. 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.

Assistantships from this Department usually are available only to full-time residential graduate students (mostly Ph.D.). 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.

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. 

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/provisional/level I 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 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. graduates find employment at colleges or universities as professors of 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 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.