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Most schools have rolling admissions and financial help so you can start your degree in a few weeks!

Social studies is a multidisciplinary approach to examining human society. Individuals engaged in these courses discuss history, economics, sociology, geography, government, and anthropology.

An online master’s in social studies can prepare participants for advanced roles in the social sciences or, more often, for a teaching position. A master’s in social studies program does not necessarily lead to teacher certification (though some do). Still, it can help current educators meet state requirements for continuing education or pursue leadership roles or postsecondary teaching positions.

Prospective students can complete an online master’s in social studies program within two years, with many programs demanding only a 12-month commitment. Requisite credits can vary between 30 and 40 credit hours. Tuition depends mainly on your residency and the school; some degrees cost less than $10,000, whereas others cost $30,000.

However, data predicts employment opportunities for education occupations will grow 7% over the next decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, high school teachers earn a median salary of $61,000; postsecondary teachers can earn $80,000, and sociologist pay surpasses $90,000.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Social Studies Program

Choose your area of study

Interested candidates can select either a Master of Arts (MA), a Master of Science (MS), or a Master of Education (M.Ed). The latter is the most common, as many prospective students are interested in teaching positions post-graduation. MA programs are more humanities-driven, with coursework spanning anthropology, sociology, and political science. Individuals interested in obtaining a Ph.D. or entering a more research-driven field should pursue an MS option instead. If you want to become a teacher, you can select a program that leads to teacher certification within the state you hope to practice.

From there, consider whether you have a specific concentration. Some teacher-focused degree programs feature specialty tracks for particular grade levels (i.e., middle or high school). Some online master’s in social studies integrate additional certification options, such as an Advanced Certificate in Online Teaching or an Advanced Certificate in Program Evaluation.

Research schools and programs

Choose institutions that house social studies programs that ultimately serve your professional goals. You can then compare other aspects of each degree program to narrow down your list.

Consider the following:

  • Does the school/program meet accreditation standards? The institution itself should showcase its accreditation status on the website. Specific programs could also receive accreditation from relevant professional agencies, such as the Teacher Education Accreditation Council. Accreditation is necessary for those requiring financial aid or continuing education credentials for their teaching licensure.
  • Is coursework entirely online? Research the online delivery format for each program. If you continue working full-time while completing coursework, prioritize those programs that facilitate asynchronous, self-paced learning. Conversely, some programs may integrate internship components or other forms of beneficial hands-on practice.
  • What student resources do online learners have? Online attendees should have access to traditional higher education resources such as advising, technology support, and library services. Some programs dedicate more effort toward building a sense of community online, with remote mentorship programs and faculty one-on-ones.
  • Are there additional requirements to graduate? Most social studies degrees require a comprehensive assignment before attendees can graduate; this may be a lengthy research paper, thesis, or capstone project.

Find specific information through program websites or connect with an admissions counselor to get your questions answered. Some schools may even allow you to try an online course before fully committing to the program.

Prepare for tests and applications

Social studies programs mandate different requirements, so research whether you meet the basic eligibility standards. For example, many teacher-focused degrees expect attendees to have at least one year of professional experience teaching before applying to the program. Most programs have undergraduate curricular prerequisites as well.

Once you check your eligibility for the program, prepare for upcoming admissions deadlines. You may need time to gather your application materials, especially transcripts and professional recommendations. Most programs no longer require GRE scores, but international students or non-native speakers will likely need to submit test scores proving English proficiency.

Select your program

Determine the program or programs for which you’d like to apply. Most applications demand a fee, so applying to several schools can be costly. Select those programs that best match your professional goals and learning style. From there, be mindful of application deadlines. Some programs operate on a rolling admissions basis, but most have strict application deadlines.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

A master’s degree, online or otherwise, is costly. However, many schools provide financial assistance to students, especially those seeking teaching positions post-graduation. There are some scholarships for individuals who can commit to teaching following graduation. You might also be eligible for scholarships seeking to improve diversity among teaching professionals. Be sure to contact your school’s financial aid professionals to learn about any tuition assistance options.

Current educators should also speak with their employers, as some institutions provide tuition assistance for continuing education or teaching certifications. All master’s students should also submit the FAFSA to ascertain their options for federal loans and grant assistance.

Best 50 Accredited Online Master’s in Social Studies Programs

Best Online Master's in Social Studies Degree Programs

University of Missouri

SUNY Brockport

Pennsylvania State University

New England College

Wayne State College

University of Northern Iowa

University of the Cumberlands

Ball State University

Ohio University

University of Pittsburgh

UB's Graduate School of Education

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How We Rank Schools

Our research focused on finding high-quality programs in social studies education. There are a few different degrees students can earn in this field, including a Master of Education (M.Ed), Master of Arts (MA), or Master of Science (MS).

We concentrated our research on programs delivered entirely or primarily online so that they are accessible to the greatest number of students, regardless of availability or location.

All of the programs on our list are offered by regionally accredited institutions. Many programs are also accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), which specifically accredits teacher preparation programs.

Once we found the programs that met our criteria, we evaluated each based on faculty, flexibility, reputation, cost, and outcomes. Using this information, we calculated an Intelligent Score for each program on a scale of 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out our ranking methodology.

What Can You Expect from an Online Master’s in Social Studies Program?

Applicants for an online master’s in social studies can anticipate interdisciplinary coursework incorporating research and hands-on practice. Theory-heavy programs will explore tenets of anthropology, history, culture, and economics and their relationships with human society. Education-minded programs will integrate skills needed for success in the teaching profession.

Many courses are exclusively online, though individuals seeking a teaching certification or other credentials can expect some hands-on, immersive requirements. This degree is flexible and adapts well to individuals working full-time throughout their studies. Most full-time students can graduate within one to two years.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online master’s in social studies program

  • Teaching Citizenship for Civic Engagement. This course focuses on active citizenship. Students consider what citizenship means in a modern-day context and how they can inspire citizenship within the classroom.
  • Research on Social Studies Education. Students examine social studies theories and practices regarding K-12 education. Participants will then apply research principles to curriculum planning.
  • Immigrant Issues in Education. Attendees of this course build cultural awareness and teaching skills for working in classrooms with immigrant students. Participants practice intercultural interactions and appropriate approaches to assist students from traditionally marginalized communities.
  • Seminar in Social Science. Students learn the foundations and debates around social scientific research.

What Can You Do With an Online Master’s in Social Studies?

Career outlook

The importance of social studies education in fostering informed and engaged citizens is noteworthy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of high school teachers, including those specializing in social studies, is projected to grow by five percent by 2031. Individuals in this field make a median pay of $61,820 annually. As society recognizes the significance of a well-rounded education that encompasses social, cultural, and historical perspectives, the demand for skilled social studies educators remains strong.

Career paths

In an increasingly interconnected world, educators who can impart critical thinking, cultural understanding, and civic engagement are essential. A master’s in social studies equips educators with the knowledge and skills to prepare students for active participation in their communities and a globalized society.

An online master’s degree in social studies offers a versatile foundation for a variety of impactful careers. Here are some potential career paths to consider:

  • Educational consultant — provide expertise to schools, districts, or educational organizations, offering guidance on social studies program development, assessment, and instructional strategies
  • Instructional coordinator — collaborate with educators to enhance teaching methods, develop educational resources, and facilitate professional development
  • Online educator — teach social studies courses in virtual classrooms, leveraging technology to engage students and create interactive learning experiences
  • Civic education specialist — design and implement programs that promote civic literacy, political engagement, and informed decision-making among students
  • Museum educator — develop educational programs and materials for museums, cultural institutions, and historic sites

High School Social Studies Teacher

Earning Potential: $44,120-$101,660 annually

Education Required: Master’s degree in social studies education or related field

A high school social studies teacher guides students in the exploration of history, government, economics, culture, and more. They create dynamic lesson plans, foster critical thinking, and facilitate discussions on societal issues. Social studies teachers engage students in understanding historical events, cultural diversity, and civic responsibilities. They assess student progress, provide constructive feedback, and cultivate an inclusive classroom environment. By passing on knowledge and promoting informed citizenship, high school social studies teachers empower students to become active participants in shaping their communities and the world around them.

Curriculum Specialist

Earning Potential: $47,660-$109,290 annually

Education Required: Master’s degree in social studies education or related field

A curriculum specialist designs, refines, and evaluates educational curricula to enhance learning experiences. They align curriculum with academic standards, integrate innovative teaching strategies, and create engaging lesson plans. Curriculum specialists collaborate with educators to provide resources, training, and support for effective implementation. They analyze student performance data, identify areas for improvement, and adapt curriculum to meet diverse learning needs. By ensuring a cohesive and relevant curriculum, curriculum specialists play a pivotal role in optimizing student engagement, academic achievement, and overall educational excellence.

Education Policy Analyst

Earning Potential: $57,770-$134,170 annually

Education Required: Master’s degree in social studies education or related field

An education policy analyst evaluates educational policies, conducting research to assess their impact on students, teachers, and institutions. They analyze data, draft reports, and provide recommendations to improve policy effectiveness. Education policy analysts advocate for evidence-based changes to educational systems. They collaborate with stakeholders, contribute to policy development, and address issues related to curriculum, funding, and equity. By examining the intersection of education and policy, these analysts play a vital role in shaping education reform, promoting equity, and enhancing the overall quality of learning experiences for students.

Online Master’s in Social Studies Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online master's in social studies degree program?

Candidates for online master’s in social studies programs should already possess an undergraduate degree in a related field (such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, or history), and many institutions also set a GPA minimum for bachelor’s-level coursework (often a 2.75 or better). In addition, you must submit a completed application packet with all supplemental materials. Associated materials typically include the following:

  • An application form
  • Copies of undergraduate transcripts showing completion of core social studies work
  • A resume
  • A personal statement
  • Professional letters of recommendation
  • An application fee

Before submitting your application packet, contact an admissions counselor for the school. They help answer any specific questions and can occasionally waive the application fee.

How much does an online master's in social studies degree cost?

Average tuition costs for online master’s in social studies programs can be affordable (costing less than $10,000). Still, out-of-state students or those attending private institutions can pay up to $30,000 or more. According to Affordable Colleges Online, public institution attendees paid an average of $13,000; private school attendees paid closer to $27,000.

Online programs can be more cost-effective than traditional in-person degrees, but some schools charge a flat rate either way. Moreover, online students tend to pay similar, if not more, associated fees in addition to the base tuition (such as library, technology, and sustainability fees).

Online students must also pay for their books and other class materials. You should also consider personal costs related to being an online student, such as home computers and reliable internet.

How long does it take to earn an online master's in social studies degree?

Students taking one to two courses each semester can finish the typical program within two years, though many accelerated programs can last just 12 months. Part-time students will likely need three years. Some schools integrate a master’s paper or thesis component to graduate, which could demand a longer commitment. Most schools mandate that students graduate within a five-year window. Credit hours can fluctuate, with some schools requiring 30 credit hours (or ten total classes) and some exceeding 36 credits (12 classes or more).

Is an online master's in social studies worth it?

This advanced degree equips educators with the specialized knowledge, instructional strategies, and leadership skills needed to excel in social studies education. One of the key benefits of earning a master’s in social studies is the potential for increased earning potential and career advancement. Graduates with this degree often qualify for higher-paying teaching positions, curriculum development roles, and leadership positions within schools and districts. According to the BLS, the top ten percent of high school teachers earn more than $100,310 annually.

An online master’s degree in social studies can be a strategic investment in your teaching career. Whether you aspire to become a classroom educator, a curriculum leader, or an advocate for informed citizenship, this degree equips you with the tools and knowledge to make a meaningful impact on students’ intellectual growth and civic development.

Online master’s programs in social studies education provide flexibility, enabling students to enhance their skills while balancing work and personal commitments. Virtual learning platforms offer access to innovative teaching techniques, instructional technology, and collaborative opportunities, allowing educators to stay current with the latest trends in education.

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