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, either in the U.S. or around the world. 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. The program is great for the intellectually curious who don’t fit neatly in other boxes, and want to build a new one of their own.


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



Under the supervision and mentorship of a faculty advisor, master’s students in the Education, Culture, and Society program undertake individualized and interdisciplinary programs of study in the social foundations of education. The program therefore provides students with a nuanced understanding of education as an historical, socio-cultural, political, and moral activity. ECS students explore the role education plays in reproducing and potentially transforming racialized, classed, and gendered relations and structures of inequality – in the U.S. or around the world. Working in small cohorts, students explore and build a unique vision for the program through collaborative dialogue, intensive writing, and critical inquiry.  

Students may be eligible to pursue a dual-degree with public policy, non-profit leadership, or social work.  Interested students who do not wish to pursue a second degree of study, may also consider the concentration in Community Action and Social Change. Although many ECS students are preparing for a path to doctoral study or academia, many others find the program helpful for establishing careers in schools, administration, educational non-profits, higher education, community advocacy work and/or educational consultancy.


ECS 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 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.

Program Options and Dual Degrees

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:  Euria Chung (echung@upenn.edu)


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. A particular score will neither preclude nor guarantee admission.

Personal statements may certainly (1) reflect on life-path, but should also highlight an applicant's (2) intellectual passion for better understanding education and the context in which it unfolds, and/or (3) professional goals and aspirations. It is not necessary to identify particular program faculty to work with.

In addition to GSE-wide events, 2019 Virtual Open Houses for the master's program in Education, Culture, and Society will be held throughout Spring 2019. Those who have applied, or even those who are just interested, are encouraged to  RSVP here (coming soon)

Applying for a Dual-Degree Program or Concentration

ECS applicants interested in joint studies should discuss their interest in the dual-program in the personal statement of their application to GSE. At the Graduate School of Education, interested applicants in any of the above options may reach out to the Program Manager, Dr. Alex Posecznick.  Students should mention their interest in the Community Action and Social Change Concentration in the application, but need not commit to the concentration until after they are admitted.


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 the process begins in March of each year, and so preference is given to those admitted at that point.

Spring Virtual Open Houses

Register for one of our upcoming, ECS Master's Virtual Open Houses.

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. The Master’s Research Seminar in Education, Culture, and Society (EDUC668) is a year-long, writing-intensive seminar that prepares students to cultivate a narrow area of expertise through the preparation of the capstone: an academic paper that demonstrates mastery through a close examination and original synthesis of previous research and argumentation. The course’s instructional team and the students’ faculty advisors coordinate in support of building a robust paper. The Master’s Paper is reviewed and approved by Program Faculty.


Students must complete the online graduation form in order 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.

The ECS Community Canvas Site is available for current students (PennKey Required), while our Instagram account is open to everyone.  You can also connect with ECS current students at one of our ECS Master's Virtual Open Houses, or you can just ask them a question here


Meet some of our Current Students

View ECS Alumni Careers


Program E-mail: ecs-admin@gse.upenn.edu

Literacy, Culture, and International Education Division

University of Pennsylvania
Graduate School of Education

3700 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104



Paula Rogers
Program Assistant

(215) 898-5023



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