Looking for a M.Ed. option?

Check out our Master's in Educational Foundations, Leadership, and Policy, which features a specialization in Social & Cultural Foundations. 

What you can earn


Within 10 years

Credits earned

90 for Ph.D.



Time commitment

Full-time, Part-time

Upcoming deadline

January 3, 2025

Explore the meaning and impact of education through the liberal arts and humanities

What is education? What should it be? What has it been? Who should have it? How much? What kind? And why? 

The Social and Cultural Foundations (SCF) program helps students understand, critique, and construct ideas about educational goods, values, and purposes. We explore key educational concepts like justice, equity, opportunity, diversity, pluralism, tolerance, freedom, ethics, access, and community, and how these ideas have been addressed in schools, universities, and informal educational spaces. 

Education sparks passionate debates among parents, teachers, students, administrators, politicians, and people in general. These debates address what to teach, how to teach, school organization and funding, leadership and decision-making, and the very principles guiding education. In our program, students dive into the history and contemporary landscape of these disagreements to grasp the significance of education in society.

SCF doctoral students work closely with their advisors to create a highly tailored program of study while grounding their work primarily in the disciplines of philosophy of education or history of education.

Teacher speaking with student in the commons area of an elementary school

What you'll learn

  • Identify and critically analyze the purposes of education
  • Recognize how the multiple (and often competing) purposes of schools and universities show up in policy and practice 
  • Learn how educational institutions have been sites of social and political struggle over time
  • Understand what's at stake in an educational conflict from multiple perspectives
  • Appreciate how educational goods and values are often in tension with each other
  • Develop expertise using academic methods and approaches grounded in the liberal arts and humanities
  • Recognize how you can be involved in ongoing struggles over educational justice and equity

After graduation

Our graduates often advocate for policies in P-12 and Higher Education, teach in schools and universities, work in educational non-profits, and support social justice movements. You might become a professor, aim for a new career outside of academia, or enhance an existing career in a specific educational setting. 

Let's connect

We're excited that you're interested in our program! By joining our mailing list, you can receive updates on info sessions, deadlines, financial aid and more!

Connect with us


    At the Ph.D. level, students develop a highly individualized course of study that is based on your skills, knowledge, and interests. Your customized doctoral program will include coursework in other departments across the University of Washington and in other areas of the College of Education. For example, students have developed areas of competency in women’s studies, ethnic studies, law and legal studies, policy studies, political philosophy, cultural studies, cognitive science, environmental studies, religious studies, and multicultural education. 

    Ph.D. students take a required two-quarter Inquiry Course with other 1st-year doctoral students at the College. They are also expected to move through other milestones of the doctoral program in a timely manner (e.g., the Research & Inquiry paper, advancement to candidacy, qualifying exams, dissertation proposal defense, etc.). In the Social & Cultural Foundations program, Ph.D. students ground their work in the disciplines of history or philosophy:

    History of Education

    History of education investigates educational ideas, experiences, policies, or practices of education in a particular historical time and context. Successful Ph.D. applicants for this area will have a strong background in history (i.e., an undergraduate major or minor in history or related discipline and/or a Masters degree in history or related field). They also expect to complete at least one or two graduate courses in the Department of History and/or related fields at the University of Washington. 

    Examples of history dissertations:

    • Learning Place: Education and Planning in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, 1934-1955
    • Girls’ Vocational Education at Chemawa Indian School 1900-1930
    • The Imagined Schoolhouse: A Mass Cultural History of Education in America
    • The Critical Turn in Education: The Rise of An Academic Left From the 1960s to the 1980s
    • Education for a New Race: American Schools, Child Labor, and Constructing the Mexican in Wyoming, 1917-1943
    Philosophy of Education

    Philosophy describes not only the kinds of questions and topics one pursues, it is also a method for systematically developing and defending normative and conceptual arguments. Successful Ph.D. applicants for this area will have a strong background in philosophy (i.e., an undergraduate major or minor in philosophy or related discipline and/or a Masters degree in philosophy).

    Examples philosophy dissertations:

    • Conversations That Matter: De-colonizing the Inclusive Discourse of Indigenous Education
    • A Philosophical Consideration of School Bullying
    • A Philosophical Inquiry into the Promise to Close the Achievement Gap: Rhetoric or Resolution?

    Admission requirements and process

      Degree from an accredited institution
      • A bachelor's degree is required for the Master of Education (M.Ed.) program
      • A master's degree is required for the doctorate program
      • Your degree can be in-process at the time of your application but must be completed before the program starts.
      Unofficial transcript(s) with minimum 3.0 GPA
      • Include one from each institution from which you've earned a degree and one from every institution you have attended in the previous 5 years.
      • Your transcripts must include your name, coursework and degree (if completed)
      • If you are offered admission, the UW Graduate School will request an official transcript from your most recent degree earned

      The UW Graduate School requires a cumulative GPA of 3.0, or 3.0 for your most recent 90 graded quarter credits (60 semester credits). However, we review your application holistically. If your GPA is below 3.0, contact us at edinfo@uw.edu for advice on how to strengthen your overall application by connecting with a Graduate Admissions Advisor.

      Three letters of recommendation for Doctoral, two letters for Masters

      During the online application process, you will be given instructions for adding your recommenders and getting their letters submitted electronically.


      A current academic and professional resume or vita is required. In addition to educational degrees and professional experience, you should include a listing of all relevant awards, publications, presentations or other achievements that will help us evaluate your application.

      Statement of Purpose
      • 1-2 pages for M.Ed.
      • 3-5 pages for Ph.D.

      Admissions committees use your statement of purpose, along with other evidence, to determine whether your goals are well-matched with our programs. Your statement should address goals, relevant experience, future plans and how the desired specific program meets your needs. Be sure to include personal experiences that have prepared you for the challenge of graduate school, topics like:

      • Scholarly interests
      • Career goals
      • Your match for the program
      • Faculty interests
      Personal History Statement (Optional)

      While optional, you can add to your application by submitting a personal history statement with each application. This statement should address your intellectual growth and development, inclusive of and beyond your academic goals. Speak to topics like:

      • Educational, cultural and economic opportunities and disadvantages you've experienced
      • Ways these experiences affected the development of your special interests, career plans and future goals.

      Statements should be no longer than two pages long. And while there are no standard formatting requirements, we encourage double-spaced text with a legible font.

      Writing sample (Doctoral only)

      Doctoral candidates must submit one sample of scholarly writing (e.g., course papers, articles, essays). The sample should demonstrate how well you can analyze or synthesize and critically reflect on information. The writing sample must have been written by you alone.

      If you have no appropriate examples of scholarly writing, we urge you to consider preparing a medium-length (10-12 page) critical essay review of a book that you feel is central to your interests in education. The writing sample will be uploaded in your online application. Faculty will only review one writing sample. 

      1. Gather all required documents
      2. Visit the Graduate School website
      3. Log into your account or create a new profile if you are a first-time applicant
      4. Complete all steps in application process and upload your documents
      5. Pay the nonrefundable $90 application fee
        • You may request a fee waiver during the application process
      6. Submit your application

      Here is our general timeline for decisions. Have questions about the process? Visit our graduate admissions page.

      Step 1: Application processing

      • Within 7 business days after the deadline, we will check if your application if fully complete
      • We will email you whether your application is complete or incomplete
      • If your application is missing anything, you will have a short amount of time submit these items
      • You can also log into the online application and check your status and see any missing items

      Step 2: Application review

      • Committees begin reviewing applications about three weeks after the deadline
      • You will receiving an email when your application has entered the review phase

      Step 3: Decision notification

      • The final decision will be emailed to you
      • Your status will also be updated in the online application

      We value and welcoming applications from international students! If you are applying from outside the United States, there are additional requirements and application materials.

      Prior degree requirements
      • At minimum, you must have the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor's degree (a four-year degree from an institution of recognized standing)
      • Evaluation of your degree will be based on:
        • The national system of education in the foreign country
        • The type of institution
        • The field of study and level of studies completed
      • International transcripts must be submitted in the original language.
      • Your transcript should include date of graduation and title of the awarded academic degree
      • If your transcript is not in English, you must also provide a certified English translation
      • You do not need to have your transcript evaluated for the degree by an agency
      English language proficiency

      Per UW Graduate School policy, you must submit a demonstration of English language proficiency if your native language is not English and you did not earn a degree in one of the following countries:

      • United States
      • United Kingdom
      • Australia
      • Bahamas
      • Canada
      • Ireland
      • Jamaica
      • New Zealand
      • Singapore
      • South Africa
      • Trinidad and Tobago

      The following tests are accepted if the test was taken fewer than two years ago:

      • TOEFL
        • Minimum score: 80
        • Recommended score: 92+
        • The UW's 4-digit code is 4854
      • IELTS
        • You must request from the center where you took the test that your scores be sent electronically using the IELTS system (E-TRF) to the following address:
          • University of Washington All Campuses, Organisation ID 365, Undergrad & Graduate Admis, Box 355850, Seattle, WA, 98105, United States of America
        • Minimum score: 6.5
        • Recommended score: 7.0+
        • School information for submission:
          University of Washington, All Campuses
          Undergraduate & Graduate Admission
          Box 355850
          Seattle, WA 98195
      • Duolingo
        • Minimum score: 105
        • Recommended score: 125+
        • Follow the instructions on the Duolingo website to submit your scores
      Financial ability

      If apply and are offered admission to UW, you will need to submit a statement of financial ability.

      Costs and funding

        We are a tuition-based program. Estimated tuition rates are based on your residency: 

        • Washington state residents: $19,584 per year
        • Out-of-state students: $35,352 per year

        Estimates are subject to change and may differ due to course load and summer quarter enrollment. Estimates include building fees, technology fees, U-Pass, etc. Additional program-specific fees are not included in this estimate.

        View the UW tuition dashboard →
        Visit the Office of Planning & Budgeting →

        Federal financial aid is available for students. Visit the UW Financial Aid website for information and resources. The College of Education also provides scholarship and other funding opportunities.

        Graduate students can be awarded $2,000 - $5,000 if they are earning their M.Ed, Ed.S, Ed.D or Ph.D through a College of Education program.

        Program Faculty

        Assistant Professor

        Program Affiliated Faculty

        Assistant Professor
        Associate Professor