Social Policy

Social Policy

Social Policy

The Social Policy concentration explores how policies function as the guiding principles on which social programs are based. Students interested in public service, public policy, public health, and law typically choose to follow the requirements of the social policy concentration. 

Courses analyze how social policies and social institutions influence the course of human lives and how people can influence social policies. Students develop a strong interdisciplinary foundation in the social sciences and gain an understanding of current social policy issues, drawing on research in anthropology, communication studies, economics, ethnic studies, gender studies, history, philosophy, political science, public health, and sociology. Examples of interdisciplinary specializations include education policy and reform, urban issues and policy, health care issues and policy, legal issues, and environmental issues and policy. 

Students are encouraged to use elective credits to build specialties in such areas as juvenile justice, advocacy programs, and policy analysis and to develop the oral and written communication skills important to success in law school and public policy positions. 


As a student in social policy you must complete the following:  

Total requirements—42 units 

Distribution requirements—10 units 

SESP Core—8 units 

Foundations courses—3 units  

Concentration cluster courses—5 units 

Extension courses— units any level, 3 units 300-level courses 

Electives—8 or fewer as needed to complete the 42-unit degree requirement 

 For a in-depth breakdown of these requirements, please visit the 2022-2023 Academic Catalog or reach out to your academic advisor in the SESP Student Affairs Office. 

Real-World Practical Experience

All Social Policy students complete a one-quarter practicum internship for academic credit during their junior year so they can use the skills and knowledge introduced in the classroom. They also conduct social science research. The program is offered year-round in Chicago and during the summer in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Recent Social Policy practicum sites have included:

  • Health and Policy Medicine Research Group
  • Senators Durbin and Obama’s office (Chicago and D.C.)
  • The Sierra Club
  • Public Defender or Attorney General Office
  • Voices for Illinois Children
  • U.S. Department of Education (D.C.)
  • Association for Bay Area Governments (San Francisco)
  • AIDS Health Project (San Francisco)

Flexible Coursework

In addition to core courses in life span development, research, and statistics, students have the flexibility to tailor the program to their unique interests by creating an interdisciplinary specialization. Many students choose to double major or minor while keeping social policy as their primary focus.

Faculty members use lectures, group work, case studies, presentations, field trips, and guest speakers to educate students about the theory of policy development, how policy is implemented, and its impact on human lives. Students use theories and research skills learned in course work to propose solutions to real problems.

Students may pursue research apprenticeships and independent study opportunities with faculty members in the School of Education and Social Policy or the Institute for Policy Research. Faculty research projects include studies of welfare and poverty, community development, public opinion and policy, achievement gaps in education, homelessness and education reform.

Concentration coursework addresses topics such as:

  • The intersection of politics and social policies
  • Child welfare and juvenile justice
  • The role of the courts in social policies
  • Community organization and development
  • Disparities in education, housing, health, and other public programs or services
  • Economic models as they apply to public and private programs

After SESP

Social Policy students combine their strong academic training with real-world experience working with people to open a variety of doors after graduation. Many graduates go directly into the workforce upon graduation while others go to graduate school, often for law, public policy, medicine or public health, or pursue a fellowship. Graduates frequently find jobs of interest in public policy, government, advocacy, policy research and analysis, education, law-related fields, nonprofits and business. Below are some examples of the types of jobs and education programs recent graduates have pursued.


Graduate School and Fellowships

Contact Us

Student Affairs Office

School of Education and Social Policy

Walter Annenberg Hall
2120 Campus Drive, Suite 123
Evanston, IL 60208
Northwestern University

Phone: 847/491-3790