The Successes of Masters Programs in the Social Sciences Division

By John Mark Hansen

I oversee the Master of Arts programs in the Social Sciences Division (SSD), and was Dean of the Division in 2011.The Maroon’s article about the University’s master’s programs and the years since the Wellbery Report did not report significant developments in the social sciences and its M.A. programs; this has left an incomplete, and I fear, misleading impression of the programs and their students. I would like to add to the information your readers have about us.

The SSD master’s programs have grown since 2011, to be sure, but so has the SSD faculty and the faculty’s participation in the programs. The SSD faculty has grown by 20 percent. The Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, which had never before participated in the Masters of Arts Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS), launched MAPSS-Econ in 2016. Excited about the promises of computational approaches, SSD faculty members proposed a new master’s to the division, and the M.A. program in computational social science began in 2016. More recently, other faculty members have started “concentrations” in MAPSS in quantitative methods and social analysis, education and society, and gender and sexuality studies, with more to come. The division has accommodated much of the growth of the M.A. programs by bringing more faculty into them—and providing students with more offerings.

The social sciences division has also attracted a larger and deeper pool of applicants to the M.A. programs. The largest program, MAPSS, is growing increasingly more selective in its admissions. The average GRE scores for students in MAPSS have been rising for two decades. They are never far off from the average scores for Ph.D. students. The grades earned by SSD master’s students in SSD courses have also risen steadily. Selecting winners of our best thesis awards is always an exciting but difficult task. Every year, among our Center on International Relations (CIR) and MAPSS students, are a number who earn an M.A. along with an B.A. in the College.

The M.A. students are a capable bunch doing impressive things. The majority of our graduates take their talents into a wide range of rewarding careers outside of the academy, in government, nonprofits, research organizations, business, education, journalism, and more. Those who decide to go on to doctoral studies do very, very well. Last year, MAPSS helped 111 students win funded offers for Ph.D. studies, 30 of them in programs at the University of Chicago. The SSD faculty can be proud of the M.A. students and the role we play in the development of their talents.

The M.A. programs have been integral to the Division’s mission since its earliest days. (In fact, the CIR program slightly predates the SSD) In the years ahead, I expect the M.A. programs to help the Division and its faculty in the pursuit of an even greater range of goals. For example, SSD already invests substantial amounts of money in merit-based financial aid for M.A. students. We are working now to find the resources to offer more need-based aid, so that the Division can provide the opportunity of a University of Chicago education to a still more diverse and inclusive population of able and eager students.

John Mark Hansen is the Charles L. Hutchinson Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science and the College.