Inquiry-based master's program for educators and reading specialists committed to educational change and social justice.

The Literacy Studies master's is an interdisciplinary program focused on the study of literacy and language from sociopolitical, cultural, psychological, historical, and linguistic perspectives.

This program was previously known as Reading/Writing/Literacy M.S.Ed. Beginning in Summer 2024, this program will be titled Literacy Studies M.S.Ed.

What Sets Us Apart

  Internship in urban educational setting
  Focus on social justice, equity, and transformation
  Qualify for the Reading Specialist Certification from the Pennsylvania Department of Education

About the Program

The master’s degree program in Literacy Studies can be completed in just one year. Students can tailor the program to their area of interest, through selecting electives from our courses, from other Penn GSE programs, and from across the University of Pennsylvania. During fieldwork and research, students have the opportunity to work with learners from diverse age groups and cultures, building their expertise as researchers and practitioners.

Application deadline
Closed for Fall 2024. The application for Summer and Fall 2025 will be available September 1, 2024.
Entry term(s)
Fall, Summer
Course requirements
10 courses (4 required, 6 electives)
Typical course load

Fall: 4 courses; Spring: 4 courses; Summer: 2 courses

Research apprenticeshipInternship

Culminating experienceAcademic portfolio

Duration of program1-2 years (full-time)
2+ years (part-time)

Transfer courses accepted1 course

  • Full-Time
  • Part-Time
Teacher Programs & Certifications

The M.S.Ed. in Literacy Studies is a master’s degree program that prepares students to be literacy practitioners, researchers, and policymakers in a wide range of contexts. Four principles guide the program: 

  • The program is interdisciplinary because literacy, language, and culture interact in rich and complex ways. Literacy and language are studied from sociopolitical, cultural, psychological, historical, linguistic, and literary perspectives. 
  • The program is inquiry-based, intended to raise questions about the relationships among theory, research, policy, and practice while encouraging students to build their own theories of research and practice.  
  • The program focuses on diversity, urban settings, and the contexts of different schools, communities, families, and cultures.  
  • The program is committed to educational change and recognizes that educational institutions are sites in which to work for social justice, equity, and transformation.

Certificate/Licensure offeredReading Specialist certification (PA) available

Dual degree optionsMaster of Social Work (MSW)


The master’s in Literacy Studies program includes 10 courses: four required courses as well as six electives. One of the program’s highlights is the flexibility in choosing electives. Students can take electives from our program, electives from other programs at Penn GSE, or even courses offered elsewhere at the University. The culminating experience is the presentation of the student’s academic portfolio.

The Literacy Studies master’s program with Reading Specialist certification requires 10 courses: eight required courses and two electives. An eleventh course is required for students without a teaching certification or one year of teaching. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to apply for Pennsylvania Reading Specialist certification after the completion of coursework.

For more information on courses and requirements, visit the Literacy Studies M.S.Ed. program in the University Catalog.

Internships and Research

The internship in the Literacy Studies master’s program gives students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom. Through internships in settings such as the Weingarten Learning Resources Center; public, charter, and independent schools; community colleges; and community and social service agencies, students will work with learners across generations and cultures.

During their internships, students work with our faculty in research associated with some of the most distinguished research centers and professional development projects in the country: the Philadelphia Writing Project, the Penn Literacy Network, the National Center on Fathers and Families, the National Center on Adult Literacy, Penn’s Early Childhood and Family Studies Institute, and the International Literacy Institute.

Other Options: Certification, Dual Degree, and Accelerated Program

Reading Specialist Certification

The Reading Specialist certification can be part of the master’s program, or students can enroll in it as a stand-alone program. Read more about the stand-alone Literacy Studies certificate in the University Catalog.

Dual Degree

Students enrolled in the master’s program have the option of pursuing a dual degree in Literacy Studies (M.S.Ed.) and Social Work (M.S.W.) with Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice. Interested students should consult with their academic advisor. Learn more about Dual and Joint Degrees at Penn GSE.

Accelerated Bachelor's to Master's Degree Program

The Accelerated Bachelor's to Master's Degree Program (Accelerated Program) is an exclusive offer for undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania to explore graduate education and apply up to four specific courses to both degrees, at no additional cost while they are full-time undergrads.

Funding Opportunities

In addition to the funding opportunities available to students applying to any of our master’s degree programs, the following opportunity is available specifically for students applying to the Literacy Studies M.S.Ed. program.

Philadelphia Writing Project Fellows Program

All full-time Literacy Studies, M.S.Ed. applicants are encouraged to apply for the Philadelphia Writing Project (PhilWP) Fellows Program.  Each PhilWP Fellow will work as a graduate assistant for the Philadelphia Writing Project, gaining research experience while assisting in nationally-recognized studies and professional development experience activities.  Additionally, fellows will receive:

  • A half-tuition scholarship to be applied toward their graduate coursework
  • Enrollment in PhilWP’s exclusive Summer Invitational Institute.  This two-week professional development experience will yield students a certificate and status as a Teacher Consultant, making them eligible to facilitate paid professional development activities across the district and region.
  • Opportunities to participate in professional learning experiences and community partnership work across Philadelphia and the U.S.

Students can apply for this fellowship opportunity when completing the GSE Application.  In addition to the general application requirements, students applying for this fellowship will be asked to write a 250-word statement on their interest in becoming a PhilWP Fellow.  There will be two fellowships awarded annually.

Our Faculty

Our faculty are renowned scholars who are committed to the study of literacy and language, to educational change, and to educational institutions as agents for social justice, equity, and transformation.

Penn GSE Faculty H. Gerald Campano
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
Penn GSE Faculty Vivian L. Gadsden
William T. Carter Professor of Child Development and Education
Ed.D., University of Michigan
Penn GSE Faculty Jen McLaughlin Cahill
Lecturer in Educational Practice
Ph.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Penn GSE Faculty Amy Stornaiuolo
Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Affiliated Faculty

In addition to Penn GSE faculty, our program draws on scholars from across the University of Pennsylvania as members of its affiliated faculty.

Myrna Cohen
Adjunct Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Adrianne Flack
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Ed.D. University of Pennsylvania

Adelyn Heidi Gross
Lecturer, Penn GSE
Ed.D., University of Pennsylvania

Jessica Whitelaw
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

"I’m using the skills I developed at Penn GSE to collaborate with my colleagues to deliver targeted literacy supports for students, while also constructing a vision for literacy across our school."

Alicia Heffner

Reading/Writing/Literacy M.S.Ed., 2017

Our Graduates

The M.S.Ed. program in Literacy Studies prepares students as practitioners, researchers, and policy makers in educational settings that include K-12 schools, colleges and universities, community-based literacy programs, educational publishing, and government programs.

Alumni Careers

  • Basic Skills Teacher, Plumsted Township School District
  • Doctoral student, English Education, Teacher’s College, Columbia University
  • English Teacher, Olney Charter High School
  • Language Arts Teacher, Ocean City School District
  • Reading Specialist, Cristo Ray Network of Schools
  • Reading Specialist, Southeast Delco School District
  • Seventh Grade Teacher, Khepera Charter School
  • Editor, Chinese News
  • Literary agent (e.g. Penguin Random House)
  • Planning Director, United Jewish Appeal
  • Assistant Fine Arts Librarian, University of Pennsylvania
  • Marketing Manager, AWE Learning
  • Product Development, American Reading Company

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

Tamika Easley
Program Manager
(215) 898-3245

Kemba Howard
Administrative Assistant

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.