The Best Online Master’s in Social Studies Programs

by TBS Staff

Updated September 29, 2022

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If you are a secondary school educator interested in advancing into leadership roles specializing in teaching social studies, pursuing a master’s in social studies education is a sensible choice. Social studies is among the most competitive of endorsement areas for teachers; obtaining a graduate degree in the field can improve your career prospects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, projected job growth for high school and middle school teachers is 8% through 2026. Furthermore, graduates who hold master’s degrees may also become eligible for state–issued permanent or professional social studies teaching certification for grades seven through 12.

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Online Master’s in Social Studies Degree Program Ranking Guidelines

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We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Our Methodology

Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

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The Best Online Master’s in Social Studies Degree Programs

#1

Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus

School Information
Location University Park, Pennsylvania
Admission Rate 76%
Graduation Rate 71%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 50% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

The master's in social studies education at Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus, located in University Park, uses a flexible distance learning format. The program emphasizes industry-relevant knowledge and skills, preparing students for decision-making responsibilities. A master's degree helps candidates advance in their current field or pursue a new career.

The curriculum explores advanced methodologies and research in social studies. Learners choose electives and concentrations to prepare for focused careers. The program recommends that applicants bring a background in social studies or a related field.

Online enrollees coordinate with the program to complete internships at approved sites in their local area. The program hosts networking events and other professional development activities to help students expand their professional connections.

Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus at a Glance:

Type of School: Public, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 76%

Total Online Master's Programs: Data not available

Program Name: Master's in social studies education

Graduate Tuition In State: $21,960

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $37,694

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#2

University of Missouri-Columbia

School Information
Location Columbia, Missouri
Admission Rate 81%
Graduation Rate 71%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 32% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Graduate students interested in a master's in social studies education can earn their degree from University of Missouri-Columbia. The program uses a rigorous curriculum to prepare graduates for advanced roles in the field. With a master's degree, candidates can also pursue new career opportunities.

The curriculum emphasizes research methods and analytical skills. Learners take electives and other specialized courses to gain career-specific training. The program recommends that applicants bring a background in social studies or a related field.

Online enrollees complete internship requirements at approved sites in their own community. The program hosts networking events and other professional development activities to help graduate students expand their professional connections.

University of Missouri-Columbia at a Glance:

Type of School: Public, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 81%

Total Online Master's Programs: 21

Program Name: Master's in social studies education

Graduate Tuition In State: $9,264

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $25,363

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#3

University at Buffalo

School Information
Location Buffalo, New York
Admission Rate 61%
Graduation Rate 75%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 25% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

New York-based University at Buffalo offers a flexible online master's in social studies education. Graduates prepare for advanced roles in the field during the rigorous program. A master's degree also helps candidates pursue new careers.

The master's curriculum examines advanced theories and practices in social studies education. Learners choose electives or a specialization to gain focused career training. Applicants without a background in social studies education may need to complete prerequisite courses.

Online enrollees complete internships in their local community to gain real-world experience. Graduate students also participate in networking events to expand their professional connections.

University at Buffalo at a Glance:

Type of School: Public, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 61%

Total Online Master's Programs: 4

Program Name: Master's in social studies education

Graduate Tuition In State: $11,310

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $23,100

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#4

SUNY College at Brockport

School Information
Location Brockport, New York
Admission Rate 55%
Graduation Rate 64%
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 31% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

SUNY College at Brockport enrolls master's students in its online master's in social studies education program. The program emphasizes industry-relevant knowledge and skills, preparing graduates for decision-making responsibilities. Earning a master's degree helps candidates move into a new career path or advance in their current field.

The curriculum emphasizes research methods and analytical skills. Learners often choose a specialized concentration, which can help them stand out in a competitive job market. Applicants without a background in social studies may need to complete prerequisite courses.

Online enrollees participate in internship programs at approved locations in their local area. The program encourages students to attend networking events to expand their professional connections.

SUNY College at Brockport at a Glance:

Type of School: Public, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 55%

Total Online Master's Programs: 7

Program Name: Master's in social studies education

Graduate Tuition In State: $11,310

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $23,100

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Choosing a Program

A master’s in social studies integrates pedagogical and content coursework from many disciplines, and provides a strong foundation for career advancement. Sample core coursework for a social studies degree includes global citizenship, history and sociology of American education, gender and ethnicity in education, and technology to advance learning. Pedagogical coursework also includes techniques in social studies, materials and methods in social studies, theories of teaching and learning, contemporary educational thought, social studies lab work, social justice, critical pedagogy, media and popular culture, and educational research methods.

Programs are typically 30 credits including a capstone, take two years to complete, and give equal emphasis to subject matter and pedagogical methods. Many programs allow for six to nine elective credits, allowing you to select courses to suit your interests. Graduation requirements for most programs include a portfolio, a thesis defense, and an applied experience requirement in which students demonstrate effective teaching practices. If you have a background or a certificate in museum studies, transfer credits may also be applied toward a master’s degree program in social studies education. To help you gain a competitive advantage in the job market, you may also consider obtaining a teaching endorsement in another area, such as language arts.

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Online Master’s in Social Studies Careers

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While most graduates of online social science master’s degree programs teach in secondary schools, alternative career paths include educator roles in museums, educational consulting, tutoring for individuals or businesses, and creating curricular materials for organizations. Some teachers at the master’s level also pursue program facilitation and educational administration roles.

Middle School Teacher
Middle school teachers instruct students at the secondary level , which usually means grades six through eight, but sometimes includes fifth or ninth grade. They teach lessons and supervise activities that build on earlier foundations and prepare students for high school. Bachelor's degrees and state licensing are required for teachers in public middle schools.
  • Median Annual Salary: $56,720
  • Projected Growth Rate: 8%
High School Teacher
High school teachers instruct secondary students in ninth through twelfth grades, building on the lessons learned in middle school and preparing students for college and employment. They plan and teach lessons, supervise activities, conduct assessments, and grade assignments. Some teachers, particularly at the master's level, advance into educational administration.
  • Median Annual Salary: $58,030
  • Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Museum Worker
Museum workers and educators plan, research, design, build, and maintain museum exhibits and collections. They also develop and administer community outreach programs, lead events, present at conferences, conduct tours and gallery talks, train tour guides, organize interactive workshops for guests,and oversee and coordinate production of educational program materials, including training manuals.
  • Median Annual Salary: $47,230
  • Projected Growth Rate: 13%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Featured Image Credit: Andreas Selter | Moment | Getty Images

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