Our master’s program prepares you to be an educator or scholar with a critical understanding of school in society, using approaches from anthropology, history, and philosophy.

Under the supervision and mentorship of a faculty advisor, students in the Education, Culture, and Society master’s program undertake individualized and interdisciplinary programs of study in the social foundations of education. The program provides students with a nuanced understanding of education as a social, cultural, and historical phenomenon in the U.S. and around the world. 

What Sets Us Apart

6 electives Flexible program options to design your own path
  Humanities and social science focus with practical applications
1:1 Individualized attention, small classes, close faculty interactions

About the Program

In the Education, Culture, and Society program, master’s students acquire expertise in the social foundations of education, which can be individualized around students’ professional goals or research interests. Students explore the role education plays in reproducing and potentially transforming racialized, ethnic, class, and gendered relations and structures of inequality in preparation for doctoral study as well as for a broad array of careers in schools, administration, community advocacy, educational non-profits, and educational research.

Application deadline
Closed for Fall 2023. The application for Fall 2024 will be available September 1, 2023.
Entry term(s)
Course requirements
10 courses (4 required, 6 electives)
Typical course load

Fall: 3.5 to 4.5 courses; Spring: 3.5 to 4.5 courses; Summer: 2.0 courses

Culminating experienceMaster’s research paper

Duration of program12 to 15 months full-time; 2 years part-time

Dual degree optionsMaster of Social Work (MSW)
M.S. in Nonprofit Leadership
Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Concentration optionsCommunity Action and Social Change

  • Full-Time
  • Part-Time

The master's program in Education, Culture, and Society 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. Interdisciplinary study in social foundations engages students in the critical analysis of research and social theory, but with an eye toward practical applications.

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 encourage 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. This program cultivates and values a diverse array of interests, perspectives, life paths, and goals in its students.


The master’s program includes four core courses as well as six electives. The core program provides a common, academic foundation, while electives allow students to individualize the program of study. For example, in conversation with a faculty advisor, ECS students identify elective coursework not only in education, but also in other fields across the university such as social work, political science, sociology, public policy, and so on. All course selections should be reviewed in consultation with a faculty advisor. The program culminates in a robust academic master’s paper.

For information on courses and requirements, visit the Education, Culture, and Society M.S.Ed. program in the University Catalog

Sample Courses

Core Courses
  • School and Society in America
  • Master’s Seminar in Education, Culture, and Society
Diciplinary Courses

Disciplinary Foundations courses critically bring to bear a disciplinary perspective on the understanding or practice of education.  Students should select any one of the following:

  • Philosophical Aspects of Education Policy
  • Anthropology and Education
  • American Education Reform: History, Policy, Practice
  • History of American Education
Research Methods Courses

Methods courses prepare students in both the practical and theoretical implications of collecting, interpreting, analyzing, and presenting data on the human condition broadly—and education/learning in particular. Options include (but are not limited to) courses such as:

  • Qualitative Methods: Principles and Techniques Ethnographic Filmmaking
  • Advanced Qualitative and Case Study Research 
  • Ethnographic Research Methods
Elective Courses

In conference with a faculty advisor, students are encouraged to identify graduate level courses that align with their planned program of study from across the university. As such, electives may be taken in Education, Culture, and Society, other programs in the Graduate School of Education, or from programs across the University of Pennsylvania. Options include (but are not limited to) courses such as:

  • Politics and Education
  • Basic Education in Developing Countries
  • Global Citizenship
  • Merit and America
  • Education and the American Metropolis
  • The Social and Political Philosophy of Education
  • Examining the School to Prison Pipeline
  • Culture Wars and American Education
Program of Study

Our recommended course of study is to complete the program in 1.5 years (fall, spring, summer, fall). This allows students to build relationships with faculty and make the most of their time at Penn. We also offer an expedited option (fall, spring, summer), which is very intensive, or a part-time option across two years. Students are expected to work closely with their advisor in planning their course of study.

Concentrations and Dual Degrees

Although many students find that the one-year master’s program is well-suited to achieving their goals, others feel that a second year of focused study can powerfully shape their career path. For such students, a second year in one of our dual-degree programs can solidly ground students in two communities of practice.

Or, for students who do not want to add a second year, the concentration in Community Action and Social Change is an option. This concentration focuses on community advocacy, activism, educational non-profits, or other forms of community engagement.

Learn more about Dual and Joint Degrees at Penn GSE.

Program Option

Degrees Obtained

Length of Study

Capstone Experience

Distinguishing Features

Contact for more information

ECS Program


10 courses

Master’s Paper

The core program maximizes flexibility and is suited for a variety of career paths.

GSE: Dr. Alex Posecznick (alpos@upenn.edu)

ECS Program with a concentration in Community Action and Social Change

M.S.Ed. with transcript notation

10 courses

Master’s Paper focusing on relevant topic

The concentration requires specific electives: (1) academically based community service course and (2) community-centered electives from across different schools.

GSE: Dr. Alex Posecznick (alpos@upenn.edu)

Dual Degree Program in ECS and Social Work

M.S.Ed. and M.S.W.

22 courses

Master’s Paper

Extensive and Field Experience

The dual degree program with Social Policy and Practice allows students to blend their educational studies with work on child welfare, social policy, clinical social work, prisoner reentry, etc.

GSE: Dr. Alex Posecznick (alpos@upenn.edu)

Social Policy and Practice (SP2): Emily McCully (emccully@upenn.edu)

Dual Degree Program in ECS and Non-Profit Leadership

M.S.Ed. and M.S.

14 courses

Master’s Paper

The dual degree program with Social Policy and Practice provides students with additional expertise in leading social enterprises, NGOs, social services and institutions with a civic mission. 

GSE: Dr. Alex Posecznick (alpos@upenn.edu)

Social Policy and Practice (SP2): Adam Roth-Saks, (adamsaks@upenn.edu)

Dual Degree Program in ECS and Public Policy and Administration

M.S.Ed. and M.P.A.

14 courses

Master’s Paper

The dual degree program with the FELS Institute of Government prepares students to take on a leadership role in policy, government administration, and civil and public service.

GSE: Dr. Alex Posecznick (alpos@upenn.edu)

FELS Institute of Government: Mindy Zacharjasz (mindyzac@sas.upenn.edu)

Our Faculty

The program faculty oversee and are responsible for the curricular and intellectual integrity of the academic program. Please contact our program for information on selecting a faculty advisor. 

Penn GSE Faculty Kathleen D. Hall
Associate Professor of Education and Anthropology
Ph.D., University of Chicago
Penn GSE Faculty Roberto G. Gonzales
Richard Perry University Professor
Ph.D., University of California, Irvine
Penn GSE Faculty Jonathan Zimmerman
Judy and Howard Berkowitz Professor in Education
Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University
Penn GSE Faculty Sigal Ben-Porath
Ph.D., Tel Aviv University
Penn GSE Faculty Alex Posecznick
Adjunct Associate Professor
Ph.D., Teachers College, Columbia University

Affiliated Faculty

Our affiliated faculty members are valued as part of our intellectual community, and students are encouraged to take their courses and to connect on research matters and for mentorship.

Asif Agha
Professor of Anthropology, Penn Arts & Sciences
Ph.D., University of Chicago

Camille Z. Charles
Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Social Sciences, Penn Arts & Sciences
Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles

Amitanshu Das
Senior Fellow and Director
M.A., New York University

Karen Detlefsen
Professor of Philosophy and Education, Penn Arts & Sciences
Ph.D., University of Toronto

Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher
Senior Lecturer
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University

Joan F. Goodman
Ed.D., Harvard School of Education

Leigh Llewellyn Graham
Ph.D., Columbia University

Amy Gutmann
President and Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Penn Arts & Sciences
Ph.D., Harvard University

Emily Hannum
Professor of Sociology and Education, School of Arts & Sciences
Ph.D., University of Michigan 

Jessie Harper
Assistant Dean, Faculty Affairs and Diversity
Ed.D., University of Pennsylvania

Nancy H. Hornberger
Professor Emeritus of Education
Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison

Richard M. Ingersoll
Professor of Education and Sociology
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

John L. Jackson, Jr.
Walter H. Annenberg Dean, The Annenberg School for Communication
Ph.D., Columbia University

Jerry A. Jacobs
Professor of Sociology, Penn Arts & Sciences
Ph.D., Harvard University

Michael C. Johanek
Senior Fellow
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University

Annette Lareau
Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Professor in the Social Sciences, Penn Arts & Sciences
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Jennifer Morton
Presidential Penn Compact Associate Professor of Philosophy
Ph.D., Stanford University

Hyunjoon Park
Korea Foundation Professor of Sociology, Penn Arts & Sciences
Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Madison

John L. Puckett
Professor Emeritus of Education
Ph.D., University of North Carolina

Rand Quinn
Associate Professor
Ph.D., Stanford University

Sharon M. Ravitch
Professor of Practice
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Rogers Smith
Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Penn Arts & Sciences
Ph.D., Harvard University

Deborah Thomas
R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology, Penn Arts & Sciences
Ph.D., New York University

Greg Urban
Arthur Hobson Quinn Professor of Anthropology, Penn Arts & Sciences
Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Chicago

Daniel A. Wagner
UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy
Ph.D., University of Michigan

"While at Penn GSE, I was exposed to the debates that are defining education today, and the complex history of these issues. This deep analysis helped me develop distinct positions on key issues like philanthropy in education, which I continue to explore in my research."

ArCasia James

Education, Culture, and Society M.S.Ed., 2016

Our Graduates

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

Alumni Careers

  • Director of College and Career Counseling, YSC Academy
  • Assistant Director of Enrichment, Mastery Charter Schools
  • Associate Director of College Counseling, Horace Mann School
  • Civics and U.S. Government Teacher, New Orleans Charter School
  • Director, Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem
  • Ph.D. Student, Harvard University
  • Ph.D. Student, Oxford University
  • Ph.D. Student, University of Pennsylvania
  • Ph.D. Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Ph.D. Student, Vanderbilt University
  • Social Worker, Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania (dual degree program with social work)
  • Student Involvement Coordinator, University of Colorado, Boulder

Admissions & Financial Aid

Please visit our Admissions and Financial Aid pages for specific information on the application requirements, as well as information on tuition, fees, financial aid, scholarships, and fellowships.

Contact Information

Contact us if you have any questions about the program.

Office of Admissions and
Financial Aid

Graduate School of Education
University of Pennsylvania
3700 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 898-6415

Program Contact

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

Paula Rogers
Program Assistant
(215) 898-5023

Please view information from our Admissions and Financial Aid Office for specific information on the cost of this program.

Penn GSE is committed to making your graduate education affordable, and we offer generous scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships.