M.S.Ed. in Education, Culture & Society

Part of the Literacy, Culture, and International Education Division

The Master’s degree in Education, Culture, and Society offers training in a broad array of theoretical and methodological approaches to the nuanced study of education as a social, cultural, and historical phenomenon. Following a traditional yet flexible/individualized academic curriculum, this program invites students to examine and study the social and cultural contexts of learning in preparation for doctoral study as well as for careers in schools, administration and educational research.

Fast Facts


  • Number of Courses: Required: 3 core, 1 methodology. Elective: 6 elective.
  • Typical course load: Fall:3.5 to 4.5. Spring: 3.5 to 4.5. Summer: 2.0.
  • Entry terms: Fall only.
  • Scheduling Options: Full time or part time. Part-time students have limited options in financial aid and scholarships/grants.
  • Culminating Experience: Master’s Paper.


View Admissions Requirements



The ECS Master’s degree program encourages students to explore education as a deeply social, cultural, political, and moral activity. Faculty challenge students to reflect critically upon the fundamental structures and purposes of education in society. Coursework introduces students to research, theory, and conceptual frameworks that underlie a broad range of educational practices in and out of school, providing opportunities to explore how education, broadly conceived, is shaped by the dynamic and changing structures of society, culture, and political economy in the contemporary world. The program design allows students to individualize their studies around topics and disciplines for which they have an intellectual passion. Elective courses and topics for a master’s research paper allow students to focus on education across a wide range of contexts, including schools, out-of-school programs, families, peer groups, media, neighborhoods, and transnational communities.


The program considers disciplinary approaches to studying the role of education in a variety of social processes, such as citizenship and nationalism, identity formation, immigration, globalization, and political and economic transformations. Students focus on the interplay between these broader processes and the local contexts in which they play out. Many courses are interdisciplinary, emphasizing urban and international issues and perspectives and drawing on frameworks from disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, political science, philosophy, psychology, and linguistics.

The program follows a traditional yet flexible academic plan, preparing students for doctoral study as well as for careers in schools and educational research. Graduates go on to work in K–12 schools, non-profit curriculum consulting groups, and research and evaluation groups, in addition to doctoral programs. The program requires a minimum of 10 courses of approved graduate work beyond the baccalaureate degree, which most students choose to complete in about a year. Students complete a set of core courses, including one that satisfies a distributional requirement, and write a master’s research paper in order to complete the degree requirements.

Additional offerings

Area of Concentration: Community Action and Social Change

Students in the ECS master’s program may opt for an “Area of Concentration” in Community Action and Social Change.   This concentration challenges students to deploy disciplinary training toward efforts at producing meaningful social change, with an emphasis on the United States.  A student in this concentration thus focuses his/her efforts on understanding the dynamics and challenges that local communities face and the potential role of education in fostering positive, socially just and equitable change.  This concentration is best suited for students interested in community advocacy, activism, practitioner oriented inquiry, educational non-profits, or other forms of community engagement.

In addition to all of the requirements laid out by the ECS program, students opting for this concentration use three of their elective courses to focus on these issues.  In particular, they are required (1) to have a community field experience in greater Philadelphia, usually through a graduate-level Academically Based Community Service course at Penn; and (2) to complete two community-concentration electives in conference with their faculty advisor.  The students master’s paper must further highlight issues central to this concentration.  ECS applicants interested in the concentration program should discuss his/her interest in the personal statement of his/her application to GSE and will need to declare the concentration in his/her first semester of study.

Dual Degree Master's Program: Education, Culture and Society & Social Work

The Master of Social Work and the Education, Culture and Society Program are coming together to offer a two and a half year, dual-degree program.  This program allows students to bring to bear a strong foundation in educational theory and practice on a mission of social justice and social change for individuals, families and communities. 

ECS applicants interested in the joint program should discuss his/her interest in the dual-program in the personal statement of his/her application to GSE.

Notes on Admission

Teaching experience is not required. All aspects of the application are reviewed, including personal statement, transcripts, GRE scores, GRE Writing scores, previous degrees and GPA, TOEFL scores (where appropriate), and letters of recommendation. Strong personal statements are critical. A particular score will neither preclude nor guarantee admission.


The Education, Culture and Society program has scholarship funding available that can provide partial tuition support to full-time students in their first year of study at the master's level. The Program seeks to provide assistance to as many eligible candidates as possible, currently awarding scholarships to 75% of our incoming master’s students. There is no separate application for these scholarships – award decisions are made at the time of application review. Program funding is based on an overall evaluation of academic merit. For more information visit the Financial Aid website.

Graduate Assistantships

The Education, Culture and Society program offers a handful of graduate assistantships each year for students to provide assistance in community building, social media, event planning, and faculty support. The GA positions are not centrally research positions,  although opportunities to work on research projects may arise. All applicants admitted to the program are invited to apply for Graduate Assistantships, although preference is given to those who are admitted before April 15.

Program of Study

Core Requirements


  • EDUC 544 School and Society
  • EDUC 547 Anthropology and Education
  • EDUC668 Master's Research Seminar
  • One research course
  • A minimum of 6 elective courses (students electing the Area of Concentration in Comminity Action and Social Change must use three of these toward community-based coursework).
  • One distribution course, taken at GSE but outside of ECS, approved by advisor. Qualifies as one elective course.



Note: Courses must be 500 level or higher to qualify as graduate level.

Master's Research Paper

In order to graduate, ECS M.S.Ed. students are required to write a master's paper on a core content area in Education, Culture, and Society. Students are supported in this endeavor with EDUC 668 (Master's Paper Seminar) in the fall semester and with guidance of both their EDUC 668 instructional team and their academic advisor for their independent work on the master's paper in the spring semester. The Master's Research Paper must be approved by a standing program faculty member.


Students must complete the online graduation form in the semester in which they plan to graduate.


ECS Course Descriptions and listings of Recent Course Offers are available. 

Core and Basic Courses

  • EDUC 544 School and Society in America
  • EDUC 547 Anthropology and Education
  • Masters Paper Seminar 

Research Methodology Courses include (but are not limited to):

  • EDUC 667 Introductory Statistics for Educational Research
  • EDUC 682 Qualitative Modes of Inquiry

Advanced Methodology Courses may generally be taken (with approval from the advisor) if students have prior research experiences. Such courses include (but are not limited to):

  • EDUC 721 Ethnographic Research Methods
  • EDUC 703 Advanced Qualitative and Case Study Research

One Distribution Course:

One course taken within GSE, but outside of the academic division.

Elective Courses:

To be determined in conference with advisor as they align with the Planned Program of Study. In general, each course carries 1 course unit, and all courses counted towards the degree must be at the 500 level or above. With faculty advisor approval, electives may potentially be taken in Education, Culture and Society (ECS), other programs in the Graduate School of Education or from programs across the University of Pennsylvania. The following are ECS courses that may be drawn upon as electives:

  • EDUC 595 Politics and Education
  • EDUC 524 Philosophical Aspects of Education
  • EDUC 548 American Education Reform: History, Policy, Practice
  • EDUC 503 Global Citizenship
  • EDUC 509 Liberalism & Multiculturalism: Theory and Policy
  • EDUC 570 Education and the American City
  • EDUC 576 The Social and Political Philosophy of Education
  • EDUC 602 Youth Cultural Formations
  • EDUC 646 Examining the School to Prison Pipeline
  • EDUC 545 Theorizing Activism and Education
  • EDUC 545 Culture Wars and American Education
  • Other graduate courses across programs at GSE, or even in other departments across the University. 

Meet our Students & Alumni

The M.S.Ed. program in Education, Culture, and Society is well suited for students interested in educational research, consulting, teaching, community advocacy, educational non-profits, practitioner-orientated inquiry, higher education, evaluation groups, community work, doctoral study, or broad leadership roles in education.

For the 2016-2017 academic year, ECS student Uyen has chosen to write about her experiences in the program and at Penn through her blog.  Aya's blog documented her experiences in 2015-2016.

The ECS Community Canvas Site is available for current students (PennKey Required). Alumni and current students may request membership in the ECS LinkedIn group page.


Meet some of our Current Students

View ECS Alumni Careers



Literacy, Culture, and International Education Division

University of Pennsylvania
Graduate School of Education

3700 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104


Lauren Scicluna-Simon
Program Assistant
(215) 898-5199


Sharon Lipscomb
Program Assistant
(215) 898-9372


Alex Posecznick, Ph.D.
Program Manager and Associated Faculty
(215) 573-3947