Master of Arts in Community Psychology and Social Change

School of Behavioral Sciences and Education

The graduate program in Community Psychology and Social Change leads to a master of arts degree with concentrations in Children, Youth and Family; Diversity Issues; Environmental Issues; and Individualized Studies. The nontraditional program emphasizes planned social change, and is based on both sociology and psychology. The program equips students with skills useful in coping with the multifaceted problems facing communities. Students learn to assess problems at the level of communities or organizations, to plan and implement possible solutions to these problems, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the solutions. Learning takes place both in courses and in a master’s project that entails fi eldwork and the writing of a master’s paper.

To act as a change agent, the student must be aware of contemporary community needs, along with the impact of the community structures upon its individual members and the techniques best suited to initiate productive changes. After completing this interdisciplinary program, the graduate should be able to approach problems with a more integrated point of view and work cooperatively with community individuals and agencies toward practical solutions. Problems related to crime, education, child and family development, employment, the lack of effective social power, and other factors affecting psychological well-being are approached from bases in community service agencies or informal community groups. The majority of students work full-time in agencies or governmental units. To accommodate working students, 500 level graduate courses are scheduled in the evening.

Degree Conferred: M.A.

Program Requirements for Admission

Requirements More Information
GPA The minimum grade-point average (GPA) in the junior and senior years must be 3.00 or higher (on a 4.00 scale).
Supporting Materials
  • Admission essay 
  • A letter of about 500 words outlining significant community work experience, along with career and academic objectives.
  • Three professional letters of recommendation, special forms provided. Please include at least two letters from academic sources


Admission to the Community Psychology and Social Change program is based on clear suitability for the program as evidenced by the application as a whole; it is limited to the number of spaces available for Masters Project supervision. However, students with experience in carrying out planned social change are particularly encouraged to apply. Applicants with strong records but whose suitability for the program is unclear may be asked to visit the campus for an interview.


Application Deadline *

Semester Deadline
Fall April 1
Spring December 1

Application Process

Gather supporting materials and begin the standard graduate application.

*Courses in the program are sequenced on the assumption that students will be entering in the fall semester. Students may apply for admission for the spring semester, but they may not start taking 500-level required courses until the following fall.  

Prerequisite Course Requirements

Ideally, applicants will have taken courses in developmental, personality, and social psychology, along with work in social change, social problems, and social conflict. Students from diverse other backgrounds are welcome to apply, particularly if they have had work or other experience effecting change in community settings. Applicants will be asked to take additional course work without graduate credit, chosen after consultation with an adviser, if they have had no psychology or sociology courses beyond the introductory level.

The Curriculum

An important part of this degree is a Master’s Project, made up a total of nine (9) credits, comprising from 3 to 6 credits of Practicum (CMPSY 522), and from 3 to 6 credits of Research (CMPSY 594). The project is planned in the context of the course Roles and Methods in Community Psychology (CMPSY 521); it is supervised by a Master’s Committee of graduate faculty. The particular mix of Practicum and Research is worked out by the student in consultation with the faculty. The variable mix of Practicum and Research credits results in the student’s being able to choose course work that emphasizes study in the area in which she or he needs most skill-development. In the usual case, a student with a strong background in fi eldwork would be asked to emphasize Research in her or his Master’s Project, and a student with a strong research background, but with limited fi eldwork, would be asked to emphasize the Practicum. The output of CMPSY 522 is a Practicum; the output of the Research course CMPSY 594 is a required master’s paper of at least 3 credits. The master’s paper may be based on the field experience. Students often choose to structure their master’s paper around a specifi c community research problem. Again, students can apply for Practicum (522) credit, or, at their choice, ask for a waiver of the requirement on the basis of documented prior experience. Decisions about such applications are made by the student’s Master’s Committee.


The program offers four concentrations, each including all the required Community Psychology courses. The Children, Youth, and Families Concentration uses as its electives 9 approved credits from courses in psychology, education, and sociology. The Environmental Issues Concentration uses electives approved by an adviser and drawn from special courses in environmental issues and from various other programs. The Diversity Issues Concentration uses as its electives 9 approved credits from courses in behavioral sciences, sociology, and women’s studies. The Individualized Concentration uses elective courses chosen to meet individual needs, with the approval of an adviser.

Graduation Requirements

To qualify for the degree, 36 credits are needed, 24 of which must be at the 500 level. There is a sequence of substantive courses, starting with Theories and Issues in Community Psychology (CMPSY 500). The 36 credits are distributed over three groups of courses: Prescribed Courses, Additional Concentration Courses, and Elective Courses.

Prescribed Courses - 27 credits

  • CMPSY 511 SOCIAL IMPACTS ON PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTIONING (3). Prerequisite: CMPSY 500, permission of program
  • CMPSY 519 RESEARCH METHODS I (3). Prerequisite: "C" or better in an introductory statistics course within the past two years or a passing grade on the Community Psychology competency examination in introductory statistics; status as graduate student in CMPSY program
  • CMPSY 520 RESEARCH METHODS II (3). Prerequisite: CMPSY 519
  • CMPSY 522 PRACTICUM (3-6). Prerequisite: CMPSY 500, CMPSY 510, CMPSY 511, CMPSY 520 and CMPSY 521 for degree candidates only
  • CMPSY 594 RESEARCH (3-6). Prerequisite: for degree candidates only

Additional Concentration Courses – 9 credits

In addition to the core curriculum, students will complete the requirements of one of the four concentrations described below:

Children, Youth, and Families Concentration

Students working toward a Master of Arts degree in Community Psychology and Social Change with this concentration must complete three of the following courses. Students should check for prerequisites when deciding which courses to take.

  • PSYCH 410 CHILD DEVELOPMENT (3). Prerequisite: PSY 002
  • SOC 030 SOCIOLOGY OF THE FAMILY (3). Prerequisite: general sociology

Diversity Issues Concentration

Students select from a wide variety of 400 or 500 level courses offered at Penn State Harrisburg. The object is to gain expertise in the intersection of issues of classism, racism, and sexism. Other areas of diversity may include disability studies, GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) issues, or cross-cultural studies. Students work with faculty advisers in gaining approval of electives and in choosing topics for the master’s project. Students should check prerequisites when deciding which courses to take.

  • BESC 464 FEMININE/MASCULINE (3). Prerequisite: general psychology or general sociology
  • SOC 455 WORK AND OCCUPATIONS (3). Prerequisite: 3 credits in sociology
  • SOC 456 GENDER, OCCUPATIONS, AND PROFESSIONS (3). Prerequisites: WMNST 001 or 3 credits in sociology

Environmental Issues Concentration

Students working toward a Master of Arts degree in Community Psychology and Social Change with this concentration must complete three of the following courses. Students should check for prerequisites when deciding which courses to take.

  • SOC 448 ENVIRONMENTAL SOCIOLOGY (3). Prerequisite: 60 credits, at least nine of which are in the social sciences, graduate status, or permission of the program
  • SOC 449 ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENTS (3). Prerequisite: 90 credits, at least nine of which are in the social sciences or which include SOCIO/CMPSY 470, graduate status, or permission of the program
  • SOC 450 JUSTICE AND THE ENVIRONMENT (3). Prerequisite: 90 credits, graduate status, or permission of the program
  • ENVE 460 ENVIRONMENTAL LAW (3). Prerequisite: senior standing, graduate standing, or permission of program
  • C E 471 ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION (3). Prerequisite: seventh-semester standing, 3 credits in biology, 3 credits in chemistry
  • C E 497 SPECIAL TOPICS: The Human Environment (1-9)

Individualized Concentration

Students choose electives from a wide variety of courses offered by the Behavioral Science and other faculties. The object is to support a special interest or mix of interests, in, for instance, adult education, criminal justice, urban sociology, women’s studies, or issues of classism, racism, or sexism. Students work with faculty advisers in gaining approval of electives and in choosing topics for master’s projects.

Additional Courses in Community Psychology (CMPSY)

  • CMPSY 590 COLLOQUIUM (1-3)

Transfer Credits and Course Substitutions

Off-campus and transfer credits from accredited institutions will be evaluated by the program coordinator for appropriateness to the student’s course of study. Approval for up to 10 transfer credits may be given. Documented applications for credit for work experience will be evaluated by students’ Master’s Committees made up of members of the graduate faculty. Approval for up to 6 credits may be given. If granted, approval for this credit can take the place of the fi eldwork usually undertaken in CMPSY 522, Practicum. The student must register for the number of credits approved, either in CMPSY 522, or, if the student prefers, after having asked for a waiver of the CMPSY 522 requirement, in additional elective course work, chosen with help from an adviser.

Grade-Point Average and Time Limit

Students must have a 3.00 grade-point average to graduate from the program. Part-time students who are able to take two courses in each term can complete the degree in seven to eight semesters. Since the processes of designing a Master’s Project and of writing a Master’s paper are labor-intensive and frequently take more time than the student expects, even full-time students will often take six or more semesters to complete the degree.

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