Why This Matters

  • STUDENTS SPEND 12.5 HOURS ON SOCIAL STUDIES WEEKLY

    Eighth graders spend more than ten hours a week studying Social Studies, a number that rises as they move through high school.

  • THE U.S. NEEDS 62,700 MORE TEACHERS BY 2029

    A 4% increase in the number of jobs available, coupled with an aging workforce, means a net increase in the number of middle and high school teachers needed in the next decade.

  • EARN $11,200 MORE PER YEAR WITH A MASTER’S

    The starting salary for a teacher with a master’s degree is $54,800, more than $10K higher than that of a teacher in their first year with only a bachelor’s degree.

Our Research

This list focuses on graduate programs that lead to a master’s degree in Social Studies, enabling you to fulfill state requirements to teach at the secondary level. Many of them are intended for those already working as teachers who have their initial certification, however some are open to those who are just entering the field.

Our chosen programs generally lead to secondary certification, but this depends on requirements at the state level. If you attend an online program in a state other than your own, make sure credits are transferable and may be used for any necessary licensing in your home state.

All programs are accredited by the regional accreditation agency that is active in the school’s region. This includes the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the New England Commission of Higher Education, and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Periodic accreditation is a rigorous process that ensures you will be getting the most relevant and complete curriculum, taught by professors who have the terminal degrees in their field and real-world knowledge.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

  • 58 hours to write this article
  • 51 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 193 education programs we compared

The Top 10 Master's in Social Studies Degree Programs

Slippery Rock University

Intelligent Pick

Slippery Rock University offers an in-person Social Studies Master of Education degree for non-certified educators. This “basic track” program can typically be completed in one year. There is also an “advanced track” for those who already have teacher certification in social studies. For the basic track, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of at least 2.80. The undergraduate degree should show appropriate coursework in history and other social sciences. The School of Education has a long track record of teacher diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, including the founding and operation of RockTEACH — an innovative program to diversify the teacher workforce and build a diverse teacher education pipeline.

Things to Consider:

  • Location: Slippery Rock, PA
  • Cost per credit: $516 (in-state) $774 (out of state)
  • Credits required to graduate: 36
  • Academic calendar: Traditional semester
  • Room and board: $10,446
  • Graduation rate: 66%

More Program Information: 

  • Accreditation: National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Phone: 724-738-2319

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Franklin Pierce University

Best for Hands-On Experience

Franklin Pierce University offers a Master of Education in Middle/Secondary Social Studies 5–12 degree and teacher certification. A unique feature of this program is that students can be awarded credits for life experience. It also boasts a low student to faculty ratio of 13:1. Many courses are hands-on, including Design and Management of the Learning Community. Students who wish to obtain licensure complete a student teaching seminar and placement. Those not seeking licensure complete a capstone project. Franklin Pierce graduates teach in schools across the country, including New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut, Sullivan County Boards of Cooperative Educational Services in New York, and Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention in New Hampshire.

Things to Consider:

  • Location: Rindge, New Hampshire
  • Cost per credit: $665
  • Credits required to graduate: 35
  • Academic calendar: Traditional semester
  • Room and board: $13,900
  • Graduation rate: 52%

More Program Information: 

  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Phone: 800-437-0048

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Fordham University

Best for International Students

A customizable Adolescent Social Studies Master of Science in Teaching degree is offered by Fordham University. Students can choose from three tracks: Adolescence Social Studies, Exceptional Adolescents: Social Studies, and General and Exceptional Adolescents: Social Studies. All tracks lead to a master’s degree along with initial New York certification in teaching. International students are welcome to apply for admission, however, only international students who possess a green card or H1-B visa can be recommended for New York State teacher certification. Fordham offers special supports for international students, including workshops for academic writing, pronunciation guidance, and intercultural expectations.

Things to Consider:

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Cost per credit: $1,500
  • Credits required to graduate: 30
  • Academic calendar: Traditional semester
  • Room and board: $18,510
  • Graduation rate: 77%

More Program Information: 

  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Phone: 212-636-6400

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Columbia University

Best Ivy League Program

Teachers College, Columbia University offers a Master of Arts in the Teaching of Social Studies for students who are current teachers. This program does not have a certification track. It is specifically for teachers who need a master’s degree for professional certification or non-certified teachers teaching at a private school. Students typically finish the program in one to two years. Courses include Contemporary Literature in Social Studies Research and Education and History of Inequality and Social Justice. Candidates must also complete a master’s integrative project.

Things to Consider:

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Cost per credit: $1,839
  • Credits required to graduate: 32
  • Academic calendar: Traditional semester
  • Room and board: $14,490
  • Graduation rate: 92%

More Program Information: 

  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Phone: 212-678-4083

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Johns Hopkins University

Best Internships

Johns Hopkins’ Master of Arts in Teaching with a secondary social studies specialization is a rigorous one year program. It includes coursework, a digital portfolio, and two semesters of clinical internship at local schools in Baltimore. A school liaison from the School of Education’s field experience office works closely with students and local partner schools to make meaningful internship placements. The program leads to teacher certification in the state of Maryland, which reciprocates with most other states. Upon graduation, John Hopkins hosts a teacher recruitment fair, and schools from the local region send representatives to conduct interviews on site.

Things to Consider:

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Cost per credit: $793
  • Credits required to graduate: 39
  • Academic calendar: Traditional semester
  • Room and board: $16,310
  • Graduation rate: 92%

More Program Information: 

  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Phone: 410-516-9797

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New York University

Most Innovative Curriculum

New York University’s innovative Master of Arts in Teaching in Transformational Teaching in Middle and High School is a one-year full time program with an optional social studies concentration. Faculty are some of the country’s leading reformers in social studies curriculum. They’re committed to teaching the next generation of teachers how to develop and implement curricula for teaching social studies in multicultural and multiethnic schools. Courses include Social Responsibilities of Teachers, Key Debates in US History, and Adolescent Learners in Urban Contexts. Candidates complete two semesters of student teaching in the New York City school system. Upon graduation, they’re qualified to teach social studies in grades 7 – 12 in New York state. There is also an option to pursue a certificate extension to teach grades 5 – 6.

Things to Consider:

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Cost per credit: $1,942
  • Credits required to graduate: 30
  • Academic calendar: Traditional semester
  • Room and board: $18,684
  • Graduation rate: 85%

More Program Information: 

  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Phone: 212-998-5030

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Duke University

Best Community Partnerships

Duke University’s Master of Arts in Teaching focusing on secondary social studies education is an accelerated teacher preparation and licensure program that can be completed in one year. A highlight of the program is its strong community partnerships with local school districts, including the Durham Public Schools. Students complete a yearlong internship at two Durham high schools. With financial support from community partners, Duke is able to award fellowship opportunities with partial to full tuition support to students in the teaching programs. Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree in history and at least a 3.0 GPA. A teaching license or education coursework is not required.

Things to Consider:

  • Location: Durham, NC
  • Cost: $49,990 (per academic year)
  • Credits required to graduate: 36
  • Academic calendar: Traditional semester
  • Room and board: $15,588
  • Graduation rate: 95%

More Program Information: 

  • Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Phone: 919-660-3075

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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Best for Veterans

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s College of Education offers a Master of Education in Secondary Education: Social Studies with accompanying licensure for grades 9–12. Upon graduation, 97% of the school’s class of 2020 found jobs in education. Illinois stands out for its commitment to students who are veterans. Several faculty members from the College of Education are veterans or are active in research on veterans and education for veterans. Additionally, the university’s Chez Veterans Center is the largest on-campus veterans center in the United States. It provides a veterans lounge, academic services, life skills training, counseling, peer mentoring, visiting Department of Veterans Affairs services, and more.

Things to Consider:

  • Location: Champaign, IL
  • Cost per credit: $1,098
  • Credits required to graduate: 32
  • Academic calendar: Traditional semester
  • Room and board: $11,480
  • Graduation rate: 86%

More Program Information: 

  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Phone: 217-333-0960

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University of Washington

Best Ph.D. Track

Scholars looking for a social studies-related master’s degree with a smooth track to doctoral study will want to consider the University of Washington’s College of Education. The school offers a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with a social studies specialization. It’s intended to prepare social studies teachers for additional professional roles in education like a social studies curriculum specialist. UW does offer a Ph.D. degree in social studies education. A graduation requirement for master’s candidates is either an action research project, a curriculum development project, or a social studies topic related to their specific interest within the field.

Things to Consider:

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Cost per quarter: $6,174 (resident) $11,128 (non-resident)
  • Credits required to graduate: 45
  • Academic calendar: Quarter system
  • Room and board: $13,296
  • Graduation rate: 84%

More Program Information: 

  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Phone: 206-543-7834

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Vanderbilt University

Best Accelerated Program

The Master of Education in Secondary Education programs at Vanderbilt are unique in their justice-oriented foundation and curriculum. These programs, including social studies, investigate systemic inequities in schools and society and are highly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The social studies program includes licensure, and there’s an accelerated, one-year track available to students who begin their studies in the summer semester. Faculty within the college are distinguished in the field and include American Educational Research Association fellows, National Academy of Education members, and Association for Psychological Science fellows. Additionally, six Peabody faculty are listed on the American Enterprise Institute’s ranking of the top 200 most influential scholars in education.

Things to Consider:

  • Location: Nashville, TN
  • Cost per credit: $2,096
  • Credits required to graduate: 30–32
  • Academic calendar: Traditional semester
  • Room and board: $16,910
  • Graduation rate: 92%

More Program Information: 

  • Accreditation: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)
  • Email: [email protected]
  • Phone: 615-322-8407

Learn more

Other Master’s in Social Studies Programs to Consider

Best Master's in Social Studies Programs
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What You Should Know About This Degree

A master’s degree program in Social Studies combines theory and practice to ensure that you have a firm foundation in educational practice as well as in the field of Social Studies. You may take courses in effective research and pedagogy, American or global history, geography, and more. Some programs require a thesis, and there may also be a student teaching or fieldwork experience that is required for those who are seeking licensure.

Completing the program means that you will be able to teach Social Studies at the secondary level, but there are other career options as well. You may become a curriculum specialist or work in school administration. Museum work is another career venue to explore.

Requirements for a master’s program in Social Studies vary from school to school, but all require an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university. Many programs stipulate a minimum GPA at the undergraduate level — often 2.5.

What’s Next?

Here are some questions to ask when researching social studies programs:

  • Are courses offered synchronously or asynchronously? Online programs offer two possible tracks. You may take the classes on a predetermined schedule where all students meet with the teacher at once (synchronous), or you may take classes on your own schedule when you have time (asynchronous). The latter is a good option if you are continuing to work while attending graduate school.
  • What certification or licensing is required? Your state’s Department of Education will issue licensing as needed upon completion of most of these programs. When you are researching your graduate possibilities, be sure to ask an admissions counselor if the program leads to certification in your state.

Graduate admissions counselors can be your best friends when you’re deciding on a program. They can answer questions, facilitate your application, and assist you in determining your financial aid status with the school. Note that financial aid application deadlines may differ from other deadlines you’ll need to meet.

The available financial aid may play a big role in your determination of the best school for you. It’s also worth checking to see if your employer or any professional organizations you belong to offer scholarships, grants, or loans for advanced study.