General Curriculum

The MAPSS curriculum consists of:

  • Perspectives in Social Science Analysis, a course taken by all MAPSS students regardless of track or concentration
  • One graduate methods course, a requirement which can be met through any of over 100 different courses across the University
  • Seven additional graduate-level courses
  • The MA thesis


The University of Chicago is famous for its tradition of interdisciplinary education in the social sciences. Our core class exemplifies this tradition at the graduate level. It is the first mission of the “Perspectives” course to provide all students with the fundamental vocabularies and historical understandings they will need to function as graduate students in the Division of the Social Sciences.

The course presents the social sciences as research perspectives. Each perspective is explored through:

  • Foundational and contemporary theory and research
  • Intensive seminar discussions with preceptors
  • Assignments leading students through the process of formulating their own social scientific research projects

Whatever the student’s specialized field of research or theoretical commitments, the course offers a powerful way of reading social science texts to shape their development not only as a consumer of knowledge, but as a producer. 

Perspectives is also where our students get to know the members of their preceptor section, before they transition to more individualized programs of study.

Graduate-level methods and electives

The methods requirement can be met through more than 100 options at the University of Chicago, including over ten courses offered specifically by MAPSS faculty. In rare cases, students may petition to have a prior graduate course satisfy our requirements and take another graduate course in its place. We advise against this, however, as the methods course is an important cornerstone of our program and successful completion of the course will likely have a positive impact on future PhD or professional applications.

Though MAPSS students most often enroll in courses offered through the Division of the Social Sciences, many pursue coursework across the University of Chicago, including through the Division of the Humanities; the Harris School of Public Policy; the Divinity School; the Crown School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice; the Chicago Booth School of Business; and the Law School. The only caveat is that students must meet the formal or informal prerequisites established by the course instructor, and the course must be open to students outside the offering school or division. Students must discuss their choices with their preceptor.

Thesis Project

The MA thesis is a piece of graduate-level, original research demonstrating the student’s methodological and analytical training and skills. We offer two options for the MA thesis: the academic thesis and the professional thesis. Whether students complete an academic thesis or a professional one, the project will be the centerpiece of their MAPSS year. Students use the Winter Quarter to do their thesis research and write the paper in the Spring Quarter.

Academic Thesis

The academic thesis is an article-length piece of original research and writing, modeled on a professional journal article for the discipline in which students choose to specialize. The goal is to advance a scholarly conversation in the student’s discipline, by means of an original contribution that improves our understanding of their research question in conceptual and empirical ways.

For those who apply to PhD programs after MAPSS, the academic thesis is critical to the success of their application, demonstrating their ability to develop and execute a graduate-level research project. For those who go on to positions outside the academy, the academic thesis is an important part of their resume, showcasing their graduate-level research skills, methods training, and professional writing.

The primary reader for the academic thesis is a member of the Social Science Division faculty or any other person with a doctorate and an appointment at the University whom students can interest in their project. MAPSS preceptors also evaluate their students’ thesis, after guiding the development, execution, and drafting of those projects.

Professional Thesis

The professional thesis applies social scientific knowledge and research methods to a concrete problem. This option is designed for those who know from the outset that they wish to use their MAPSS thesis as an opportunity to position themselves for a career outside the academy. It is also for those who decide during their MAPSS study that they wish to pivot from a scholarly focus to a professional one. Please note, however, that for students who are part of the Education and Society (EDSO), Quantitative Methods and Social Analysis (QMSA), or Geographic Information Sciences (GIS) interdisciplinary programs, the professional thesis may not be an option.

Like the academic thesis, the professional thesis is a demonstration of the skills learned in students’ coursework at UChicago. And like the academic thesis, the professional thesis is based upon a solid grounding in the scholarly literature, with data that has been rigorously analyzed to reach a set of conclusions.

The difference between the academic and professional thesis is in the kind of contribution the project makes. While the academic thesis intervenes in a scholarly conversation, the professional thesis speaks to an audience outside the academy. 

There are numerous forms a professional thesis might take depending upon the student’s aims. It might take the form of an article proposing a solution to a problem faced by a specific organization; a market analysis for a firm; a grant proposal for a non-profit; a policy brief for a legislator or agency leader; an evaluation report on a new mathematics curriculum; a curation of a museum exhibition; a storyboard for a documentary film; or other projects as approved by the student’s preceptor.

We strongly recommend that students who wish to complete a professional thesis register for the Graduate Practicum in the Social Sciences in the Winter or Spring Quarter. That course provides a structured opportunity to identify a community partner with whom students might work and whose organization might benefit from their research.

More information about academic requirements is available in the curricular policy

Students with questions about program requirements and milestones should contact E.G. Enbar ( MAPSS Student Affairs Administrator. Students may also contact Brett Baker (, Associate Dean of Students in the Social Sciences, and Amanda Young (, Director, Graduate Student Affairs in UChicagoGRAD.