MA in Philosophy and Social Policy

Dr. DeGrazia teaching a graduate course

GW’s MA in Public Policy with a concentration in Philosophy and Social Policy addresses questions of public policy from a humanistic perspective. Through small classes, students apply the normative, historical and logical tools of philosophical inquiry to today’s policy issues. And through case studies, they analyze the underlying concepts and implications of policies relating to welfare programs, access to health care, the environment, health and safety, human rights and equal opportunity.

While most policy programs train students to be quantitative analysts, our program emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach. In addition to philosophy and policy material, MA students choose from a wide variety of courses in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration (TSPPPA) and interact closely with graduate students from all over the university. Many pursue internships in think tanks and government agencies, often leading to full-time positions upon graduation.

Program Highlights

  • Part-time or full-time options available, and evening classes designed to accommodate working professionals.
  • Customizable curriculum tailored to professional and academic ambitions.
  • Undergraduate degree in philosophy not required
  • Networking opportunities through social events and lectures both on campus and around Washington, D.C.
  • Non-thesis option leading to the degree.
  • Strong foundation for students pursuing a PhD in public policy and other social sciences or humanities.


A version of the Philosophy and Social Policy Program option has been offered continuously since the mid-1970s, when it was titled the Master of Arts in Special Studies. The program is administered by a committee within the Philosophy Department. While the committee cooperates closely with TSPPPA, curricular and admissions decisions are decided by the Philosophy Department.

Course Requirements

    The following requirements must be fulfilled:

    The general requirements stated under Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Graduate Programs.

    Thesis and non-thesis options are available at the discretion of the faculty. Thesis option—36 credits, including 24 credits in required coursework, 6 credits in elective courses, and 6 credits in thesis; non-thesis option—36 credits, including 24 credits in required coursework and 12 credits in elective courses.

    Four graduate Philosophy (PHIL) seminars.
    One course from each of the following areas of study, to be selected in consultation with the academic advisor:
    Applied policy—example courses:
    PPPA 6066U.S. Environmental Policy
    PPPA 6069Science and U.S. Public Policy
    PSC 8212Urban Policy Problems
    Economics—example courses:
    ECON 6217Survey of Economics I
    ECON 6237Economics of the Environment and Natural Resources
    PPPA 6003Economics for Public Decision Making
    PPPA 6007Microeconomics for Public Policy I
    Policy analysis—example courses:
    HIST 6011Reading and Research in History and Public Policy
    PPPA 6006Policy Analysis
    PPPA 6011Politics and Policy Analysis
    PSC 6103Approaches to Public Policy Analysis
    SOC 6248Race and Urban Redevelopment
    WGSS 6240Gender and Public Policy
    WGSS 6265Gender, Welfare, and Poverty
    Research methods—example course:
    PPPA 6002Research Methods and Applied Statistics
    Required for the thesis option
    PHIL 6999Thesis Research (taken twice for a total of 6 credits)
    6 credits in elective courses for thesis, 12 credits for non-thesis.
    Electives may focus on a particular policy area (e.g., biomedical/healthcare, urban/welfare, or environmental policy) or may explore varied approaches and policy and policy issues.