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Your guide to graduate degrees in social studies education

Whether you’re passionate about history, geography, government, or civics, a master’s degree in social studies can help teach you how to present these topics to students in engaging, meaningful ways.

People who have a master’s degree in social studies teach in postsecondary positions and work in administrative roles.

Is an advanced degree in social studies education right for you?

Does a master’s in social studies education suit your personal and professional interests?

If your ultimate goal is to hone your instructional approach and develop innovative, effective teaching methods, then a master’s degree in social studies education can help you achieve those goals.

While requirements vary based on state rules, in general, you usually have to hold a master’s in social studies education before you can pursue subject endorsements, specialized licensure, or certification.

You may want to ask yourself these questions to determine whether or not a master’s in social studies aligns with your personal and professional interests:

  • Do you enjoy working closely with school administrators and discussing curriculum teaching practices?
  • Are you interested in becoming a postsecondary instructor in social studies?
  • Do you want to eventually pursue doctoral study in social studies? If so, many individuals use a master’s in social studies education as a stepping stone toward entrance into that type of program.

Does a master’s in social studies education fit your career goals?

You also need ask if you could see yourself devoting your life’s work to social studies education:

  • Can the skills you learn help you grow your own career?
  • Can you make a difference in the community and with your students?
  • Are you okay with being a “go-to” person for social studies?

Consider these questions a starting point. After all, your own needs and desires are certainly unique, so there may be more you need to ask yourself. It’s crucial to be honest with yourself and to ask probing questions that will help you decide if this is the right educational path for you.

How do I choose a graduate-level social studies education program?

So, you know why earning a master’s degree is good for your career, and you’re pretty sure that a master’s degree in social studies education meshes with your interests and goals. This is a great start, but there’s still more to think over. 

First off, you need to explore the many program options in social studies education. It is important to note that while an advanced degree in social studies education may be well suited to teachers (especially those in the middle and high school grades), these programs also could be suitable for people in the corporate world. 

Educational program titles — what you need to know

Because a master’s in social studies education is so specific, schools that offer this type of program are going to usually call it by the same name. You might see a few slight variations, however, and these may include:

  • Master’s in Social Studies Education
  • Master of Arts in Teaching Social Studies
  • Master’s in Social Studies

Also keep in mind there are many variations of master’s degrees. Some are Master of Arts (MA), Master of Education (M.Ed), and Master of Science (MS).

For social studies, because it’s liberal arts, you usually won’t see a Master of Science option — it’s more likely you’ll see either an MA or M.Ed as the degree offered upon completion.

What kinds of courses are offered in master’s in social studies education programs? What do they teach?

No matter how a social studies education program is titled, it will include both foundation curriculum and hands-on learning that lets you try different strategies for sharing career-related knowledge with students of all abilities.

Sample courses in social studies education programs:

While you’ll likely find that every master’s program in social studies education offers a unique curriculum, some core courses are offered in most programs. Many of these fundamental courses are centered around education theory, research methods, and instructional strategy. Some examples of these courses include:

  • Methods for Teaching Social Studies — In this course, you’ll examine a wide variety of tools, strategies, and techniques for effective social studies instruction. Through the exploration of multiple educational theories, you’ll learn how to implement grade-level- and age-appropriate teaching practices for effective instruction. And as with other teaching methods courses you may have taken in the past, you’ll learn how to adapt curricula and individual lessons to meet student needs, incorporate technology into lesson plans, and evaluate the effectiveness of different instructional styles. Part of your coursework may involve simulated classroom activities, which might include presenting a lesson to your classmates as if they were your students.
  • Issues in Social Studies Education — This type of course typically explores contemporary issues and problems related to social studies instruction. It may cover topics such as social justice, fund allocation, globalization, and diversity. It might also cover how to introduce sensitive topics in the classroom, and how to make the course material relevant for your students.
  • Research in Social Studies Education — In this course, you usually learn how to conduct different types of research in the social studies field, including qualitative and quantitative. You may learn how to gather information by designing surveys, conducting fieldwork exercises, or using software. Other tasks might include evaluating data, developing research questions, and communicating findings on a chosen topic.
  • Applied Experience in Social Studies — This type of course is usually taught in a workshop-style setting and allows you to practice teaching techniques and strategies through role-playing activities. You also may analyze in-depth readings on educational theory and incorporate knowledge from experts in the social studies field.

Variations in coursework in social studies education programs

Program curricula will vary depending on the school’s goals. Some of the factors of your decision will include cost and time to complete, but you cannot underestimate the importance of the coursework in the program. Make certain to research all the courses in a program you’re considering to make sure they are relevant to your goals.

What else makes graduate social studies education programs unique?

Social studies is generally thought of as a competitive endorsement area, and so achieving a master’s in this field can be a sensible choice.

Other qualities that make a master’s degree in social studies education unique include:

  • Numerous potential career paths — Whether you enjoy teaching at a specific level, such as high school, postsecondary, or even middle school, or you prefer to help dictate educational policy and curriculum, a master’s in social studies education presents numerous career options to degree holders.
  • Multiple focus areas — Social studies is a fairly broad subject area, so it’s easy to specialize your program and coursework in the areas you’re most interested in, whether that’s government, civics, American history, or world history.

What jobs are available to people with a master’s in social studies education?

Education — PreK-12 and universities or colleges

With a master’s degree in social studies education, you’ll be qualified for several jobs both inside and outside the classroom.

Education Coordinator: Social Studies

  • Develop social studies curricula that meets state guidelines and classroom needs
  • Monitor student progress and adjust social studies curricula goals and milestones based on teacher feedback, while ensuring it aligns with district-wide policies and state regulations
  • Address concerns of parents, community, and school district

Social Studies Program Director

  • Develop, implement, and oversee a school’s educational goals for social studies
  • Specialize in one subject area, such as social studies, or work with a particular grade or range of grades
  • Manage social studies program budgets

Middle School Teacher: Social Studies

  • Teach grades 6-8
  • Create lesson plans and coursework in social studies that align with state and local standards

High School Teacher: Social Studies

  • Teach grades 9-12
  • Design lesson plans and assignments in social studies — you might teach a specific class, such as American history, government, or European history

Postsecondary Teacher: Social Studies

  • Teach students at the college level
  • Create syllabi and develop curricula for social studies courses you teach, which might be centered around a specific era or subject within social studies, such as European history or world history.