Traditionally known as the liberal arts, the humanities and social sciences are academic disciplines that examine human society and behavior, as well as culture and social constructs.
The social sciences focuses on subjects like economics, psychology, and history, while the humanities explore philosophy, languages and literature, and the arts. Students following this pathway develop strong communication and critical thinking skills, as well as an understanding of cultural differences.
The field of humanities and social sciences encompasses diverse industries and career paths. Graduates of this field can pursue careers in a variety of fields, including education, business, media and communication, and social services.
Career Paths in Humanities and Social Sciences
Educational level and field of study affect students' career options in the humanities and social sciences. With an associate degree, students can pursue entry-level roles in education and social service settings, where they can work as preschool teachers, library assistants, and social work assistants.
Bachelor's degree-holders can work in a variety of industries, including education, media and communication, and business. Depending on their major, they can pursue jobs as research analysts, teachers, and journalists. Graduates with a master's degree can explore many advanced roles, such as as economists, political scientists, and school counselors.
Communications explores how humans exchange information and create meaning through various channels. Professionals in this field can pursue many careers, including positions in media, marketing and advertising, and public relations. Most careers in communications require a bachelor's degree.
English focuses on literature analysis and composition, as well as creative writing techniques. While English professionals hold skills that are marketable to nearly every job sector, many of them work as educators, journalists, and content specialists.
In the humanities, geography examines how humans interact with and are influenced by the environment. Professionals in this field often pursue roles as cartographers, environmental planners, and teachers. Most careers require a bachelor's degree, though more specialized positions typically require a master's degree.
Historians study the past by examining evidence from various time periods. These professionals typically earn bachelor's or master's degrees and assume careers in fields such as education, museum studies, and business.
Journalism focuses on gathering and reporting information, either in verbal or written form. Journalists work for all types of media, including newspapers, websites, magazines, and radio channels. The typical educational requirement for entry-level careers in journalism is a bachelor's degree.
A liberal arts education encompasses many different academic disciplines and develops students' analytical, communication, and problem-solving skills. Professionals in this field can work in a variety of industries, including retail, legal, education, and hospitality.
Library science explores ways to collect and preserve books, information resources, and other materials in libraries. Librarians typically hold a bachelor's or master's degree and work for government agencies, elementary and secondary schools, and colleges and universities.
Mathematics refers to the science that deals with numbers, shapes, and quantities. Some mathematician jobs — especially those in the federal government — only require a bachelor's degree; however, careers in the private sector typically require an advanced degree.
Ministry and Theology
Ministry and theology explore religious traditions, concepts, and typology. Ministers often work in religious organizations and may be required to hold at least a bachelor's degree. Ministers with master's or doctoral degrees can pursue leadership positions in counseling or education settings.
This field focuses on the study of music through cultural and historical contexts. Musicians often find work in cities that contain many venues and entertainment activities. Musicians who hold a bachelor's degree can pursue careers in arts administration and education.
Philosophy explores concepts of existence, knowledge, and human nature, with a focus on ethics and morality. Professionals in philosophy often work in academic, law, and nonprofit settings. Most careers in this field require at least a bachelor's degree.
Political science focuses on political behavior and the role of government at all levels. Political scientists typically need a master's or doctoral degree. They can pursue a variety of career paths in government agencies, political organizations, and postsecondary institutions.
Social science refers to the study of social relationships and covers an array of subjects, such as economics, sociology, and history. Professionals in social science typically need to earn at least a bachelor's degree and can pursue careers in social work, education, and public administration.
Social work is a field dedicated to assisting individuals, families, and communities by providing support services and advocacy efforts. Social workers usually hold a bachelor's degree and work in a variety of settings, such as schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, and community organizations.
Sociology explores human behavior and social interaction, as well as social institutions. Sociologists often work in schools, government agencies, and research and development settings. Most sociology jobs require at least a master's degree.
In the humanities, writing is often divided into three categories: research, analytical, and creative. Professional writers can pursue careers in education, media, and business. Writers typically need a bachelor's degree for full-time positions.
Humanities and Social Sciences Career Outlook
The career outlook for careers in the humanities and social sciences varies based on a worker's industry, degree level, and occupation type. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment of all life, physical, and social science occupations will grow by 7% from 2018 to 2018, which is faster than the average projected growth for all other U.S. occupations.
Additionally, the median annual salary for all life, physical, and social science occupations was $68,160 in 2019 — much greater than the average for all other occupations ($39,810). However, because the humanities and social sciences encompass diverse fields, such as economics, psychology, history, and the arts, wages vary greatly by occupation.
For example, while math occupations provided a median annual salary of $90,410 in 2019, workers in community and social services only made a median annual wage of $46,090. Both of these occupations, however, have strong outlooks; the BLS projects employment growth of 26% and 11%, respectively, from 2018-2028.
How To Start a Career in Humanities and Social Sciences
The degree and concentration you select can greatly impact your career path. While an associate degree qualifies you for some entry-level positions, most careers in the humanities and social sciences require at least a bachelor's.
Earning a bachelor's degree provides a strong foundation for careers in education, journalism, marketing, and public relations. Additionally, a four-year liberal arts education equips you with many transferable skills and the multidisciplinary knowledge needed for career advancement opportunities.
There are also many benefits in earning an advanced degree in a humanities and social sciences field. While undergraduate programs provide a basic level of education in a particular field, graduate programs are highly specialized and focus on specific areas within a discipline. This advanced level of study usually leads to higher salary potential and leadership positions.
While an associate degree qualifies you for some entry-level positions, a bachelor's degree typically serves as the minimum degree requirement needed for most careers in the humanities and social sciences. A graduate degree, however, unlocks the most diverse, advanced job opportunities.
The following sections provide an overview of common careers found at each education level in the humanities and social sciences.
Associate programs typically require about 60 credits and take two years of full-time enrollment to complete. Part-time students usually need a few additional semesters to satisfy degree requirements. Rather than focusing on one specific area of study, associate programs generally feature courses in a variety of subjects. In the humanities and social sciences, curricula often include foundational courses in disciplines such as math, English, and the arts.
With an associate degree, graduates can pursue entry-level positions in fields such as business and education. However, a two-year degree typically does not provide the knowledge and skills needed for high-paying roles. In the humanities and social sciences especially, an associate degree often serves as the starting point to a student's academic career.
Most students earn associate degrees at community colleges. However, many community colleges partner with four-year schools, allowing students to complete half of their degree requirements at a much lower cost before seamlessly transitioning to a four-year school. Additionally, many community colleges offer online associate programs, helping students meet family and work responsibilities while working towards a degree.
For most careers in the humanities and social sciences, a bachelor's degree serves as the minimum educational requirement. Most bachelor's programs require 120 credits and take about four years of full-time enrollment to complete.
Unlike associate programs, which usually feature generalized courses in the humanities and social sciences, bachelor's programs allow you to focus your studies by selecting a major or concentration, such as history, journalism, psychology, or sociology.
Most undergraduate programs in the humanities and social sciences include courses in areas such as economics, political science, and literature. These classes expand on foundational concepts taught in associate programs by providing a greater level of breadth and depth in each subject area.
Humanities and social sciences majors commonly find employment working as analysts, teachers, social workers, and public relations managers. While many graduates with a bachelor's degree in the humanities and social sciences choose to enter the workforce upon graduation, some go on to pursue an advanced degree.
A master's degree provides the entry point for many advanced positions in the humanities and social sciences. While the typical master's program requires about 30-40 credits and takes two years of full-time study to complete, they can take anywhere from 1-5 years depending on the field of study and a student's enrollment status.
Humanities and social sciences graduate programs offer advanced courses in a students' focus or major. For example, a mathematics major may decide to build on their undergraduate degree and take advanced statistics and calculus courses to obtain the competencies required for higher-level positions in their field. Alternatively, some occupations, such as school counseling or political scientists, require a master's degree or higher for entry-level roles.
Master's programs typically include more rigorous courses and often require a capstone project or thesis. The advanced knowledge and skills derived from these programs can provide you with a competitive advantage in your field and qualify you for many top positions, like economists, historians, political scientists, and environmental planners.
A doctorate is the highest level of academic degree. Doctoral programs provide advanced knowledge and research opportunities in a highly specialized area of study. Program length and degree requirements significantly vary between programs, though most Ph.D. programs require a dissertation and take 5-6 years to complete. Some doctoral programs, however, can take up to eight years to finish and may require an additional capstone experience.
Given their significant time investment and high degree of difficulty, a doctoral education is not for everyone. Since most careers in the humanities and social sciences can be obtained with a master's degree, doctorates are typically reserved for careers in academia and research; however, there are some highly specialized occupations, such as biophysicists and lawyers, that require this level of education. No matter their career path, individuals who earn a doctorate are recognized as leading experts in their respective fields.
Certifications and/or Licensure
While completing a bachelor's program is a good way to prepare for many humanities and social science careers, earning certifications can help professionals stay competitive and advance their careers. Regional planners, for example, can earn the city planning certification by meeting educational requirements and passing the American Institute of Certified Planners exam. According to the American Planning Association, certified planners earn more than non-certified planners.
Unlike certifications, which are usually voluntary credentials awarded by professional organizations, licenses are state-issued credentials that professionals must earn to practice. Some occupations only require licensure in certain states. Geologists, for example, are required to pass the ASBOG Fundamentals of Geology exam to earn licensure in 31 states. Because requirements vary by state and occupation, you should check with your state licensing board for additional information.
There are some fields, however, that almost always require licensure. Occupations in areas like psychology, law, education, and counseling typically fall into this group.
For example, after meeting educational requirements, clinical psychologists must earn licensure by passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, while school psychologists must earn the nationally certified school psychologist credential. Additionally, professionals in these fields are usually required to maintain their credentials by taking continuing education classes.
Professionals in the humanities and social sciences who earn licensure or certification typically need to engage in continuing education to maintain their credentials. Clinical psychologists, for example, must complete 60 hours of continuing education every three years to renew their license.
Alternatively, professionals who are not explicitly required to maintain credentials by completing continuing education activities should still consider doing so. As jobs in the humanities and social sciences continue to evolve, completing continuing education classes and/or obtaining certificates demonstrates a desire to learn new competencies, which can help maximize your earning potential.
For example, library scientists who already possess a master's degree can earn the graduate certificate in library and information management. Offered by the University of Southern California, this optional certificate program explores advanced concepts in business and can lead to career advancement into leadership roles.
Another way to sharpen your knowledge and stay relevant within your field is by joining professional organizations. While not every professional in the humanities and social sciences has a prominent organization representing their occupation, there are many organizations available for those working in fields such as political science, economics, and education.
For example, the American Political Science Association hosts an annual meeting and learning conference that allows political scientists to connect with professionals from over 100 countries. Additionally, the American Economic Association offers continuing education programs and hosts an annual meeting that features networking opportunities for economists and educators.
Many organizations also provide educational resources and exclusive access to job boards for members. Becoming involved in an organization can help expand your professional network and lead to new job opportunities.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the career options for humanities and social sciences students?
There are many career options available in the humanities and social sciences. With a bachelor's degree, you can pursue a career as a public relations specialist, operations research analyst, or journalist. An advanced degree can qualify you for roles like mathematician, school counselor, and marriage therapist.
- How do I start a career in the humanities and social sciences?
The minimum education requirement for most humanities and social sciences careers is a bachelor's degree. An associate degree can qualify you for some entry-level positions in business and education, but career opportunities and advancement are limited.
- What are the highest-paying jobs in the humanities and social sciences?
Many of the highest-paying humanities and social science jobs can be found in math and science occupations. Careers like mathematicians, economists, physicists, and political scientists can all lead to relatively high earning potentials. However, these occupations typically require a graduate degree for entry.
- Is a humanities and social sciences degree worth it?
While job growth and salary numbers vary by industry and job type, many social science occupations have strong career outlooks. If you're looking to build a foundation across a variety of disciplines, a humanities and social sciences degree should provide ample value.