Master’s in Social Policy Degrees

Last Reviewed: April 28, 2020

Consider an online MPA program currently accepting applications.

Social Policy Degree Programs

Social policy is the idea of creating legislation in order to improve health and lifestyles within a community, and there is plenty of higher education in public administration and public policy to prepare students for a career in policymaking with an emphasis on social issues. These programs are often specialized and oversees policies on education, criminal justice, health care, and race and wealth inequality. Other social issues that can be explored and discussed are controversial subjects within LGBT issues, abortion, and recreational drugs.

Consider a Featured Online MPA Program

University / School Online Program Admissions
Johns Hopkins University AAP
MS in Government, MS in Public Management Website
Drake University
Master of Public Administration Website
Aurora University
Online MPA (one year) Website
Johns Hopkins University AAP
MA in Non-Governmental Organization Management Website
Lindenwood University
Master of Public Administration Website

What is Social Policy and Why Consider this Degree?

Social policy is very important for government agencies to consider when developing and evaluating rules and regulations. This includes the evaluation and implementation of policy toward the improvement of life and bridging the inequality gap amongst the community. Both individuals and family must have some relief when facing temporary work, health, and housing issues, and there should be programs available to improve services and job opportunities. Frequent subjects within the curriculum include law enforcement, education, racial discrimination, poverty and low-income housing, taxes, children, health care, and more.

Students will have an opportunity to explore a general foundation of social policy within public administration, and many of these specialized topics can be selected from electives or within a concentration. They will find higher education toward social policy in Master's degrees with a discipline in Public Administration and Public Policy. Frequently, there are core courses or areas of emphasis in how to observe and implement these policies. Some institutions offer social policy as its own discipline either through a Master of Arts or Sciences format, but these are less likely available to be pursued online.


Consider an online MPA program currently accepting applications.

NASPAA Accreditation

When it comes to gaining an education in social policy, students should look for programs that have been accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). Institutions that have been accredited by NASPAA has shown that they are constantly reviewing their curriculum to expose their students to the most up-to-date policy impacts, looking for ways to continue improving their education distribution, and have top-level faculty members with plenty of professional experience and are geared toward bringing that expertise to the classroom. All schools must continue to give an annual report to NASPAA to hold onto the accreditation, and they must reapply to receive accreditation after a certain number of years.

Learning Online: Different Methods and Reasons

For those already established within public administration and public policy, gaining higher education can be difficult with the time commitment and possible need to stay or commute to an institution that offers social policy courses. While programs that hold this discipline are more limited when offering online programs, many Master of Public Administration degrees can be pursued in a virtual environment. Students that find universities offering an online format should review the curriculum to determine if courses within social policy are available online and what semesters they are available due to the specific nature of these courses.

Students gaining an online education need to determine that they meet the minimum requirements necessary to pursue the degree. Not all programs available across the country will be offered in every state. In order to access most learning management systems, students will need to have a modern computer with a Windows or Mac operating system. Typical compatible internet browsers are Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, and at least high-speed internet access is necessary to view on-demand video lectures and various course material.

Examples of Graduate Programs

SUNY Empire State College

Through the School for Graduate Studies, students can pursue the Master of Arts in Social and Public Policy. This is a NASPAA-accredited program that exclusively looks at building policymaking skills to be more effective. There are 36 credit hours needed to complete the program, which includes four core courses, four electives, and four based on the concentration selected. A Public Administration concentration is available, with the courses needed for that portion of the curriculum include an overview of Public Administration, Public Finance, State and Local Government, and Public Sector Decision Making.

A final project culminates the program, requiring the student to either do a thesis or a project that demonstrates what they have learned throughout the curriculum. Two-day residencies for new students are required and they must make their own arrangements for staying in the area. Returning students only need to spend one day on campus to prepare for their next year. Incoming students will need to hold a Bachelor’s degree and transcripts must show they will be prepared for the program, including the completion of specific prerequisites and submitting entrance exams.

University of Washington

The Evans School at Washington offers a Master of Public Administration program with a concentration in Social Policy. These studies will prepare eventual graduates to create policies within nonprofit and government organizations that are focused on the improvement of social issues and education. They will also understand how these policies have impacted communities and the economy. Examples of courses within the concentration include Immigration Policy, Housing and Social Policy, Crime and Punishment Policy, Income Inequality, and Policy and Governance of Kindergarten through 12th Grade Education. Not all of these courses are available each semester.

This concentration is part of an extensive MPA program that requires 72 total credit hours to complete. Even on a part-time format, the entire program can be completed within three academic years with equal splitting of eight credit hours, or two courses, in each of the fall, winter, and spring semesters. Up to 12 credit hours can be transferred in from a different program. Another step in the program is an internship that requires 400 hours of professional work to be completed, specifically within policy development and implementation. This can be waived for those that already have established this professional requirement.

University of Pennsylvania

The School of Social Policy and Practice offers a Master of Science in Social Policy that can be completed within a year. The goal for this degree is to help eliminate the divide amongst our population through policy implementation, understanding current issues and getting an overview of how these solutions have effected communities at various levels. Students that hold a Bachelor’s degree within policy development and have already established themselves in this profession will get the most out of this program. There are various degrees that can be combined with this program, including Master’s degrees within Social Work and Public Health, and a certification in Data Analytics for Social Policy.

The Data Analytics certification provides a unique look at creating policy through the use of data-driven solutions. These courses will include topics in computer science and statistics along with the core curriculum in social policy. Example courses students will take include Quantitative Reasoning, Law and Social Policy, and Applied Linear Modeling. With additional courses, this will take up to two years to complete. The capstone project subject will change based on what program is being pursued, and the internship will be more focused on data analytics for students picking the latter option.

Typical Courses

Research and Evaluation

These courses will give students the foundational skills necessary to perform research on how policymaking has impacted the community and the various effects they have had, both positive and negative. They will discover the process in how policy is implemented at all forms of government. Students can determine changes to specific policies in real-life situations to improve the quality of life and how to gather reliable information and analyze them through various statistical methods in order to have evidence-based data to make changes.

Housing Inequality

One of the many elective opportunities within social policy is observing housing inequality and how communities can implement changes to eliminate poverty. Housing inequality focuses on the lack of affordability, discrimination based on race or income, and segregation issues. Courses can also focus on economic inequality and how that impacts housing based on access levels.

Criminal Justice

Statistics on criminal activity and the policies that are enforced in various communities are reviewed in these specialized courses. Students will typically see how policy is implemented to protect families and individuals and the history of criminal behavior. These courses may also explore various aspects of crime, such as communities creating correctional facilities or bringing in advanced criminal investigation technology and how these improve criminal statistics.

Taxes and Social Policy

Provides a look into using the tax system to create social policy, and also dives into the economics and social safety net to protect those that are struggling with income. This includes the creation of welfare, food stamps, and unemployment insurance, and students typically explore how these have impact within the community. Other topics may include how raising minimum wage and creating new taxes to improve the quality of life within the community will impact the economy.


Many of these programs will require a certain number of hours of professional experience in order to graduate with a degree in social policy. Students will directly work with others that are experienced in policy-making to learn how the process is done, be it analyzing information to form ideas or how to get them passed in various levels of government. Those that already have professional experience can typically waive this portion of the program.

Career Options

Social Policy Analyst

These analysts will look at social issues within a community, such as poverty levels, unemployment rate, criminal activity, and health care, and determine policies that will aid in solving these issues and improving the quality of life in the area. They will look at data that has been gathered to either bring up new policy ideas or analyze the implementation of a policy already in place. Other related titles for this position include political scientists and urban planners. Experienced professionals in this field, specifically political scientists or lawyers, will make around $120,000 or more annually according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Housing Manager

Also known as a landlord or tenant, these managers will be in charge of the maintenance within the housing complex. Duties include analyzing the apartments and related temporary housing buildings to determine if there are any updates needed throughout its lifespan, and they will provide tenants with any help needed to maintain appliances and various other aspects of their living space. They are also responsible for tenant information and making sure they are following all rules and regulations from the owners of the building, and within city laws.

Social Researcher

The difference between social policy analysts and researchers is the latter focuses on collecting, analyzing, and organizing information from their research and will distribute that data toward other parties. Various methods of collecting this information include sending out questionnaires, doing interviews, or holding focus groups to get a better understanding. Topics that are researched can include how well the local educational system is performing, public transportation, and environmental standards.