Community Studies Graduate Programs

Jun 19, 2018

This article covers graduate degree options for those interested in community studies. Students can pick from a broad range of program options including community development, research, sustainability and direct action.

The multi-discipline field of community studies primarily draws on anthropology and sociology to study human communities and the recurring problems that arise in them. Some programs may have more of an anthropological focus in terms of studying community formation and dynamics, while others will focus more on social justice issues and various means of addressing inequalities and conflicts.

General Program Information

Community studies is a relatively young academic field, and there is a good deal of variation in the content of programs offered by the community studies departments of schools. While some graduate degree programs do use the term 'community studies', there are a number of others that overlap with the discipline but have different names.

Some of these programs will focus specifically on one particular aspect of community studies, such as direct action to develop communities or sustainability in urban settings. Some courses that are common to many programs include those covering public policy formation, community organization and sustainable business and environmental practices. Each individual program will have its own course content and entrance requirements, but there are some general expectations that are reasonable for students to have coming in.

In terms of admissions, most programs will require that the student have some sort of bachelor's degree. Some programs require a certain minimum score on the GRE. They may also require students to show sufficient prior knowledge in terms of related coursework at the undergraduate level, for example classes in sociology or research methods.

Some examples of the variety of community studies graduate degrees are listed below.

Community Studies Degree Options

Community Development and Planning

A graduate degree program that focuses on community development and planning usually prepares students to work directly in an actual community in some way, addressing local problems by engaging and organizing community members. Some programs focus specifically on issues common to cities, while others take a broader approach to prepare students for work in rural areas or tribal communities.

Coursework focuses on how communities form and operate, as well as the ways in which problems develop. Examples of classes that students might take in these programs include management of non-profit organizations, community planning and zoning, community organizing, grant writing, microeconomic planning and social analysis of communities. Expect this program to take two years to complete.

Community Research and Action

A Community Research and Action graduate degree overlaps with community development and planning coursework to some degree, but this degree tends to be offered at the PhD level only. It has more of a focus on academic research in the field and the development and implementation of public policy.

One example of a Community Research and Action PhD curriculum has the student taking a relatively small core of community-focused courses, an equal amount of credits in research methods, a larger selection of specialization area courses, as well as classes and projects related to the development of the student's thesis. Expect this program to take at least 2.5 years to complete.

Social Responsibilities / Sustainable Communities / Urban Sustainability

Degree programs that focus on sustainability are appropriate for students who have an interest in environmental issues that impact communities, particularly communities that are disadvantaged. Students learn about public policy, clean air and water issues, renewable energy and basic needs for everyday living.

Examples of coursework categories include social policy, social justice, urban infrastructure, environmental planning and regulations, sustainable business operation and organizational behavior. Overall course completion time will vary by school, but expect this type of program to take a minimum of 1.5 years to complete.

Students who are interested in a community studies graduate degree have a broad range of options to choose from. Programs tend to have some overlap in their coursework, but there is plenty of room to specialize in a particular area of interest.

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