The social sciences are, in their broadest sense, the study of society and how people behave and influence the world around us.
They inform us about the world beyond our immediate experience and can help explain how our own society works: from the causes of unemployment or what contributes to economic growth, to how and why people vote, or what makes people happy. According to the Libraries Unlimited Social Sciences Guide (2002), it provides vital information for governments and policy makers, local authorities, non-governmental organizations and others.
The role of social sciences in higher education
In the 19th century, the French philosopher Auguste Comte argued that scholars should use scientific methods to analyze society. Comte and his followers called this new approach “sociology” and sought laws of society that met the same scientific criteria as the laws of nature.
Today, many universities offer social science careers through their Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and most require social science classes as part of their general education requirements.
Classes and general education requirements
General education courses provide extensive training for students. Many universities require general education classes in subjects such as mathematics, English, communication, natural sciences, history and social sciences.
These courses are a fundamental part of liberal arts education.
Also, these courses foster critical thinking and analytical ability, making them a fundamental part of liberal arts education. That’s why many schools include social science classes in their general education requirements.
For example, students at the University of Virginia School of Arts and Sciences must take general education courses in three distinct categories of social sciences. In addition, the New York State University system requires undergraduate students to choose from several elective subjects – including the social sciences – to meet general education requirements.
Skills acquired in these courses
These sciences play a key role in a bachelor’s degree program because they reinforce key skills, which have immense value in the labor market. According to Kibbee (1991), in social science classes, students analyze texts to understand their meaning, collect data to project trends, and investigate changes in social institutions.
The following are some of the most important skills acquired in a social science program:
These sciences emphasize the ability to analyze various types of sources, including written sources, numerical data, and survey results. Students perform qualitative and quantitative analyses and learn to reach conclusions based on their analyses. Social science courses empower students to make data-driven recommendations.
Social science students learn about research methods in their field, including qualitative and quantitative research. Tasks teach students to identify reliable data sources and evaluate a research question using various sources. Depending on the school, students can conduct research as part of a thesis or final project.
Good communication skills benefit professionals in almost all fields. Social science students learn to communicate their ideas in writing and orally. A bachelor’s degree in social sciences also emphasizes persuasive communication, as students must practice to convince others of their interpretation of the data.
This training can help sharpen problem-solving skills. Students learn to define problems, collect data, and evaluate information to come to a conclusion. Problem solving is based on many other core social science competencies, such as analysis, research and decision-making.
The latter skill synthesizes the capabilities of analysis, research and evaluation. Critical thinking requires the ability to identify the most useful sources, question evidence, and identify patterns. Social sciences foster critical thinking skills by teaching students to thoroughly analyze information so they can come up with logical conclusions backed by their sources.
According to Cambridge University Press (2000), the social sciences cover a wide range of disciplines.
Demographics and social statistics, methods and computer science
Demographics is the study of populations and population changes and trends, using resources such as birth, death and disease statistics.
Social statistics, methods and computing involve the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data from the social sciences.
Development studies, human geography and environmental planning
Development studies are a multidisciplinary branch of the social sciences that deals with a number of social and economic issues related to developing or low-income countries.
Human geography studies the world, its people, communities and cultures, and differs from physical geography primarily in that it focuses on human activities and their impact, for example on environmental change.
Environmental planning explores decision-making processes to manage relationships within human systems and natural systems, and between them, in order to manage these processes effectively, transparently and equitably.
Economics, management and business studies
The economy tries to understand how individuals interact within the social structure, to address key issues about the production and exchange of goods and services.
Management and business studies explore a wide range of aspects related to business activities and management, such as strategic and operational management, organizational psychology, industrial relations, marketing, accounting, finance and logistics.
Law, economic and social history
The law focuses on the rules created by governments and individuals to ensure a more orderly society.
Economic and social history examines past events to learn from history and better understand the processes of contemporary society.
Politics and international relations
Politics focuses on democracy and the relationship between people and politics, at all levels, from individual to national and international.
International relations are the study of country relations, including the role of other organizations.
Psychology and sociology
Psychology studies the human mind and tries to understand how people and groups experience the world through various emotions, ideas and states of consciousness.
Sociology deals with groups of people, without individuals, and tries to understand how people relate to each other and function as society or social subgroups.
Social policy and social work
Social policy is an interdisciplinary and applied matter that deals with the analysis of societies’ responses to social needs, focusing on the aspects of society, economics and politics that are necessary for human existence, and how they can be provided.
On the other hand, social work focuses on social change, problem solving in human relations, and training and liberation of people to improve social justice.
What are the most popular social science careers?
As a fundamental branch of the liberal arts, the social sciences remain popular with university students.
The most popular careers are psychology, political science, economics and sociology.
Data published by the National Center for Educational Statistics show that several social science subjects are among the most popular careers. In 2017, 14% of careers belonged to the social sciences, with 159,000 students who earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences or history and 117,000 who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
The most popular careers are psychology, political science, economics and sociology, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Education and Workforce. Many students also focus on anthropology, geography, criminology and international relations.
Some people’s list of social sciences includes closely related fields such as social work, public administration and education, which are also among the most common university careers.
The professional value of a social science degree
Georgetown research indicates that social science graduates earn the typical salaries of college graduates. The initial average salary of social science graduates ($33,000) is slightly lower than that of graduates in business ($37,000) and slightly higher than those licensed in humanities ($29,000).
Midway through the race, professionals with a social science degree typically earn about $60,000 a year, or $24,000 more than the average annual salary of a high school graduate with no college degree.
This degree can lead to several career paths, including a career as a social scientist. For example, geographers apply their degree training to study Earth and human geography. A bachelor’s degree is eligible for many positions, including those in the federal government.
Many social science jobs require a postgraduate degree. A master’s degree represents the typical entry training for political scientists and economists. Psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists often also require a higher degree.
More than 40% of social science students earn a master’s or doctorate. Obtaining a graduate degree results in a 45% increase in average annual salary.
Other careers you can pursue with a specialization
Students can pursue many different careers after graduation. In addition to social science jobs, a degree can lead to positions in fields such as law, education and business.
In the business sector, social science students can work as data analysts, market research analysts, or economic researchers. The growing field of data analytics often hires candidates with social science training. All of these works are based on the analytical and research skills of a social science degree.
A degree can lead to positions in fields such as law, education, and business.
Graduates can also access a job in the public administration. Having a background in geography or political science can open doors in urban planning, public finances and public administration.
Some graduates may prefer to work in education. High school teachers educate students in various social science disciplines, such as geography, social studies, and civic education. It should be noted that teaching jobs often require a state-issued teaching license.
In addition, analytical and critical thinking training obtained with a social sciences degree can prepare graduates to pursue a career in law. Many students in political science, economics and psychology choose to continue their education through law school.
PayScale’s 2019 University Wage Report identifies numerous careers in demand for social science graduates, including financial analyst, intelligence analyst, fraud researcher, and director of social services.
Should you get a degree in social sciences?
These careers study exciting topics such as crime, elections, decision-making and abnormal behavior, while reinforcing their ability to analyze and think critically. A social science degree can prepare you for success in various professional fields.
Compared to humanities careers, social science students have a higher employment rate after graduation.
In a U.S. study, these graduates declared a higher employment rate after college graduation: 84% of social science graduates had a job 3.5 years after graduation, compared to 78% of STEM graduates and 79% of humanities graduates. Social science graduates are also more likely to hold a high-level or leadership position.
While there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get a job as well as getting out of college, a degree can offer many advantages. In a social sciences program, you will not only develop critical skills such as problem solving and data interpretation, but you will also learn how you can apply your new knowledge and skills to a number of possible career paths.
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The Cambridge Economic History of the United States. Cambridge [England] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996-2000. Call Number: Ref HC 103 . C26 1996.
Kibbee, Josephine Z. Cultural Anthropology: A Guide to Reference and Information Sources. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1991.
The Social Sciences: A Cross-Disciplinary Guide to Selected Sources. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2002.