About & People
For more than 100 years, the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration (SSA) has defined the fields of social work and social welfare. Today, SSA is one of the top three graduate schools of social work in the world. Our remarkably diverse students arrive with energy, empathy, intelligence, and a keen desire to serve. We give them the firm theoretical foundation, the clinical and policy perspective, and the hands-on experience to make a meaningful impact in the lives of the most vulnerable people in our society.
10 Reasons to Attend SSA
Our students have lots of reasons why they chose SSA; here’s our top ten:
SSA is one of the top-ranked schools of social work and social welfare in the world and our peers have always considered us to be one of the best.
2. We are the history of social work and the future.
When you read the history of SSA, you’re reading the history of social work. The founders of our School were founders of the discipline, and the professors you’ll learn from today continue to shape theory and practice through their interdisciplinary research. Many of the standard texts for the field were written by SSA professors.
SSA is leading the emerging field of violence prevention and has the largest group of child welfare experts of any school of social work in the nation. Many of our faculty are examining and testing solutions in the areas of home visitation, child maltreatment, youth empowerment and development, school reform, community violence prevention, and advocacy.
3. Our flexible curriculum.
You don’t have to declare a concentration at the time of application—you’ll choose a Clinical Practice or Social Administration concentration during the Winter quarter of your first year. Either way, our curriculum ensures that all SSA students receive a firm grounding in both areas while taking electives from SSA and across the University.
More than 95 percent of our master’s students receive merit- and need-based aid. Each year, SSA awards full and partial tuition scholarships. Last year, 99 percent of scholarships/gifts were renewed for second-year students. SSA makes every effort to help students by offering exceptional scholarship assistance as well as facilitating other forms of financial assistance.
5. Concentrations in clinical practice and social administration.
The difference between SSA and a public policy school? In a word, depth. We start by focusing on the individual (micro), examine top-level systems (macro), and everything in between (mezzo). Every student, regardless of concentration, receives a thorough grounding in administration and clinical practice. Our mantra is ‘how does it work in theory AND practice?’
6. Fieldwork in the city of Chicago, a city of neighborhoods.
SSA has relationships with over 600 agencies—and all of the most influential ones in the Chicago area. Field sites are located in almost all of Chicago’s neighborhoods and in many of its suburbs. While living and learning in one of the world’s great cities, you’ll be able to create new networks at two field placements—hands-on, real-world apprenticeships that will set you up for a career in social change. You’ll be mentored by professionals who will guide you in developing a social work identity and in preparing for a successful career.
7. Sweet home UChicago: an interdisciplinary approach.
You’ll be able to access everything the University has to offer, including classes offered by SSA professors who represent over a dozen different disciplines. Our faculty also represent the largest number of women and minority educators at UChicago, providing a diverse set of voices. And the comprehensive and interdisciplinary nature of our AM degree, which is equivalent to an MSW, will give you greater flexibility and choice in your future career.
8. Do research. Get published.
Opportunities are available to work with some of the nation’s leading scholars on cutting-edge research projects. SSA is also one of the few schools of social work that has a student journal for master’s level students. Get published in our Advocates’ Forum.
9. Your career.
SSA’s Career Office specializes in serving the career interests of SSA students, providing access to an impressive and engaged alumni network, job postings, personal counseling, and networking events where you will meet leaders in the profession. SSA also hosts Washington Week during spring break, an opportunity for students to meet with alumni working in the DC area and visit different agencies to explore careers in advocacy, research, policy analysis, and more.
10. Our mission.
We live our mission, working toward a more just and humane society through research, teaching, and service to the community.
Mission & Approach
The mission of the school
The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration is dedicated to working toward a more just and humane society through research, teaching, and service to the community. As one of the oldest and most highly regarded graduate schools of social work, SSA prepares professionals to handle society's most difficult problems by developing new knowledge, promoting a deeper understanding of the causes and human costs of social inequities, and building bridges between rigorous research and the practice of helping individuals, families, and communities to achieve a better quality of life.
Guiding Principles of the SSA Master's Curriculum
The SSA curriculum promotes social justice through its commitment to pluralism, rigorous inquiry, engaged interdisciplinary scholarship, integrative practice, critical thinking, and informed action. These curricular commitments prepare students to understand the complex contexts and power structures that maintain and reproduce inequality and injustice and to take action to promote individual, social, and structural change.
1) Social Justice
SSA supports students to analyze the social, historical, political, economic, and organizational factors that reinforce inequity and injustice. Students and faculty consider their own and others' positionality within those structures, with an appreciation of how identities and affiliations may intersect to compound or mitigate privilege and oppression. We work to increase access, opportunity, and agency in order to dismantle systems of oppression and to help meet the basic needs of diverse individuals, families, and communities with compassion and humaneness.
2) Intellectual Pluralism
Intellectual pluralism is at the heart of SSA's teaching. The curriculum reflects the intellectual diversity of our faculty, who come from an array of academic disciplines and professions and represent a variety of political perspectives. This pluralism allows our students and faculty to appreciate multiple ways of knowing, to be critical of what counts as knowledge and research, and to be more inclusive of perspectives that have not traditionally been centered in social work curricula. Our intellectual pluralism also encourages ongoing interrogation of the concept of social justice, which is central to the mission of social work. It also provides us with the tools and flexibility to engage effectively with a broad range of individuals, communities, and social institutions.
3) Engaged Scholarship and Teaching
SSA faculty are committed to promoting social justice and social equality through engaged scholarship and education. Scholarship at SSA emerges from interactive engagement with practitioners, policymakers, and communities. SSA faculty members actively integrate their research into curricula and teaching. Students are educated to identify and analyze the causes, consequences of, and approaches to ameliorating human suffering and social injustice.
4) Integrative Practice
Our curriculum is built on the assumption that all social workers need to understand and act to mobilize change and within individuals, families, communities, organizations, public institutions, and political and economic systems. Drawing upon and integrating field and classroom experiences, students will develop skills to practice across multiple levels. In addition, students are trained to use integrative frameworks that move beyond the micro-macro dichotomy.
5) Critical Thinking
Students learn to effectively question, assess, evaluate, and respond to assumptions, claims, and values, including those from social science and social work research. Students learn to consider a range of perspectives, carefully assess their assumptions, validity, and implications, and become skilled and insightful evaluators of their own thinking. This process includes reflection on how one's own affiliations and identities may lead to blind spots and biases. Students learn to integrate a critical sensibility into practice so as to make meaningful contributions to the profession, the client base, and to the analysis and resolution of social problems.
6) Theory to Action
Students prepare for positions of leadership and to be stewards of change while working in dynamic sociopolitical and fiscal contexts in hundreds of vetted field placements throughout Chicago and its surrounding communities. Chicago has a rich history of social reform, social service innovation, and community organizing that gives context and continuity to students' field experiences. The field model provides the opportunity for students to engage in coursework and fieldwork concurrently, challenging students to assess, understand and address the extraordinary range of needs that bring people into contact with nonprofit, public, and private agencies.
Simultaneously, students learn from the tremendous strength, resilience, and knowledge held by the individuals and communities they serve. Students are encouraged to identify practice questions that lead to analysis, research, and new approaches toward ameliorating social exclusion through community-engaged fieldwork.
While we strive to create conditions that will largely negate the need for a social work profession, we realize that social service programs and organizations serve vital safety net functions and can aid in societal transformations toward equity and social justice. SSA faculty recognize that individuals, families, and communities are rarely helped by mediocre interventions and programs. Similarly, society is rarely served by poorly conducted research or poorly crafted social policies. Therefore, SSA strives towards excellence in our practice, teaching, and scholarship.
Careers in Social Work
Thanks to SSA’s uniquely integrated curriculum and student-focused Career Office, our graduates quickly advance to leadership positions in clinical practice, public and private social welfare agencies, community development organizations, policy research institutes, charitable foundations, and academia.
Social work attracts idealists: people with an acute awareness of human suffering and injustice, and people with a strong commitment to reducing that suffering and injustice. At SSA, you’ll be surrounded by impassioned, ambitious, and intelligent classmates, and you’ll be mentored by some of the top minds in the field. This is your community.
SSA offers a wide range of opportunities for students to learn about social welfare policy and practice internationally: through global-focused courses on refugees, adoption, and immigration; experiential learning opportunities in places like India and China; and the new Global Social Development Practice certificate program.
Community & Field Impact
SSA has relationships with over 600 agencies in the Chicago area. Field sites are located in almost all of Chicago’s neighborhoods and in many of its suburbs. While living and learning in one of the world’s great cities, you’ll be able to create new networks at two field placements—hands-on, real-world apprenticeships that will set you up for a career in social change.
From its earliest incarnation in 1908, the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) has never been simply a place to learn about social work; it has helped create and define the profession of social work and the field of social welfare.
SSA has a historic role as one of the first schools of social work in the United States, whose founding pioneers left an indelible commitment on the profession to pursue social justice and alleviate human suffering in rigorous and evidence-based ways. In 1924, Edith Abbott not only became SSA's first dean but was the first female dean of any graduate school in the United States—trailblazing the way for many social work pioneers and women in academia.
While most early schools of social work concentrated on practical training for caseworkers, SSA's leaders insisted on the need for a solid foundation in social science and social research as well. In its first decade, The Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy faculty and students were investigating such issues as juvenile delinquency, truancy, vocational training, and housing in the rapidly growing city of Chicago. The decision in 1920 to merge the School and the University of Chicago opened students to contact with the social sciences.
In the decades since then, the emphases on social research and on applying the insights of social science to solving human problems have continued. Crucial to that effort has been the Social Service Review founded in 1927 with the aim of opening "scientific discussions of problems arising in connection with the various aspects of social work." Like SSA itself, the Social Service Review has not only reflected the social welfare field but helped to shape it. It remains the premier journal in its field.
Early research at SSA had a distinct public policy cast. Investigations of the status of mothers and children, for example, laid the foundations for the child-related provisions of the nation's Social Security System in the 1930s. Beginning in the 1940s, SSA energies turned to issues in the social work profession itself. Such faculty members as Charlotte Towle and Helen Harris Perlman applied the insights of ego psychology to casework and developed the generic casework curriculum, which became a model for social work education. Recent contributions to the direct practice tradition have included Laura Epstein's and William Reid's work in designing and testing the task-centered approach. "Task-centered Treatment" was the first theory and research-based social work model of treatment and this approach is one of the foundations for evidence-based practice. The School is thus in the unique position of having been a pioneer both in policy research and in the development of innovative methods of social work practice.
SSA today continues to establish the connections between the social and behavioral sciences, research, and the real world of policy and practice. The faculty is drawn from the fields of social work, psychology, sociology, political science, public policy, public health, economics, geography, and anthropology. Research at the School reflects this diversity. Our faculty collaborate within the University and throughout academia to forge tangible solutions to real-world problems.
SSA faculty have been honored as White House Fellows, Fulbright Fellows, and Kellogg Fellows. They have strong ties both to public and private welfare agencies and to local, state, and national governments. Among them, for example, is former division chief of the Bureau of the Budget, a former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and a former interim chief education officer for the Chicago Public Schools. Faculty members have contributed their expertise to long lists of national and state commissions on such topics as juvenile justice, mental health, aging, and child welfare.
SSA faculty and alumni have been and continue to be nationally and internationally recognized as among the most influential and talented leaders tackling the major social problems of our time.