The social sciences encompass diverse disciplines like economics, political science, psychology, history, and sociology. In these fields, students examine human society, studying cultural practices, economic motivations, and human behavior. A social science degree builds strong analytical, research, and critical thinking skills, preparing graduates for positions in diverse industries.
Social science graduates can work in roles as data analysts, museum technicians, and economists, demonstrating the field's versatility. With a master's degree, social science graduates can pursue work with greater responsibility and higher salary potential. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that economists — who typically need a master's degree — earn a median salary of over $104,000 a year.
Social science majors should begin career planning and job searching long before graduation. By adding an in-demand specialization or gaining professional experience through an internship, social science students can strengthen their resumes and stand out in the job market.
Skills Gained in Social Science Programs
While earning a social science degree, students examine human society and social institutions. Depending on their discipline, social science majors may review past societies, examine individual motivations, and analyze behavior. While earning their degree, social science majors strengthen their analytical, critical thinking, and research abilities. They also build strong communication and problem-solving skills. The skills gained from coursework, internships, and research papers benefit social science majors after graduation.
- Analytical Skills
Social science majors gain strong analytical skills. The ability to analyze various sources and types of data, draw conclusions from data, and make recommendations based on that analysis benefits professionals in diverse fields.
- Critical Thinking
Social science students research and analyze data and information to reach conclusions and solutions that address societal challenges. Critical thinking skills benefit professionals in nearly every area of the workforce.
Social science students conduct research as part of their degree. Students learn how to formulate a research question, find information to answer that question, and analyze their findings. Research skills help social science graduates pursue jobs as analysts and researchers.
Social science students strengthen communication skills by completing assignments like research papers, group projects, and presentations. The ability to communicate in diverse formats helps graduates succeed in every field.
Social science majors must possess strong investigative and problem-solving skills to understand society and draw conclusions from data. Problem-solving abilities benefit many social science professionals, including educators, business professionals, and government employees.
Why Pursue a Career in Social Science?
A social science degree prepares graduates for diverse and rewarding careers. The critical thinking, research, and analytical skills gained during a social science program help prepare graduates for diverse job titles, including economist, psychologist, political scientist, and historian. Social science graduates can also work as postsecondary teachers, museum curators, and social workers.
While some career paths require a graduate degree, individuals with a bachelor's degree can pursue entry-level roles working for businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits. A bachelor's in social science also prepares graduates for law school and other graduate programs that require strong research, writing, and analytical skills.
How Much Do Social Science Majors Make?
A versatile degree, social science graduates work in many industries. Social science careers generally offer above-average salary potential, with entry-level economists making about $57,000 a year, according to PayScale.
Several factors affect the salary of a social science major, including a worker's industry, job title, experience, and degree. A psychologist, for example, typically earns more than a historian or urban planner due to their additional licensure and education requirements. Typically, as a professional gains experience or earns a higher degree, their salary increases.
Interview with a Professional
Lisa Dorenfest earned a BA in sociology, studying at Western Kentucky University, Sophia University in Japan, and The University of Chicago. Ten years later, she went on to earn an MBA at DePaul University with a focus on economics. For most of Lisa's career, she has facilitated large-scale transformation programs in the financial services industry, drawing on her ability to manage complex group dynamics.
- Why did you decide to pursue a career in social science?
My interest in world cultures, organizational dynamics, communications, relationships, and social interactions attracted me to this course of study, and the resulting career opportunities are endless.
- What makes a career in social science unique?
It is all about people — the world's most valuable asset.
- What was the job search like after completing your degree?
Initially, it was a real challenge. I started my job search in the middle of a deep recession. Jobs were scarce. I had a degree but no idea what I wanted to do with it. I considered going straight into a master's program but wanted to earn some money and gain experience outside of academia before doing so.
As someone who was taught to view problems as opportunities, I began my job search with more study, this time using Richard Bolles' book — What Color is Your Parachute — as my text for a course on career development. I learned about resumes, identifying job vacancies, networking, and interviewing. But mostly, I learned about myself and what industries and roles might be suitable for someone with my interest in world cultures, organizational dynamics, communications, etc.
I landed my first role by cold calling a hiring authority and impressing her with my story, my studies, and my tenacity.
- What are some of the necessary qualities someone pursuing a career in social science needs?
- Passionate about cultures, relationships, and group dynamics
- Creative, innovative, and collaborative in analyzing and solving problems*
- Strong communication skills, organizational skills, and study habits*
*These skills can be developed over time
- What advice would you give to students considering pursuing a degree and career in social science?
Study what you love!
Following in my father's footsteps, I started out my undergraduate studies majoring in accounting, and I loathed it. After mustering up the courage, I disclosed my concern to my father that if I continued on this path, I might not be able to finish my degree. His wise advice was "study what you love." So I switched to a major in sociology and I never looked back.
Work for a few years in a field of interest before pursuing an advanced degree!
I loved studying sociology but had little sense of the practical applications until I went to work. Had I continued straight to graduate school, I would not have fully understood my career preferences and might have opted for the wrong field of study (e.g., becoming a teacher rather than a program manager, which would not have been suitable for me).
Ten years after earning my BA in sociology, I went on to earn an MBA with a concentration in economics. Again, it was the focus on "studying what you love" that got me through the academic program while working full time.
Think broadly when pursuing career opportunities!
A degree in social science provides a great basis for a broad range of jobs. Having little sense of the work I wanted to pursue initially with a sociology degree, I sought out opportunities that allowed me to leverage my interest in cultures, organizations, social interactions, etc. I started out in hotel sales, attracted to the opportunity to travel and interact with people from all over the globe. I subsequently worked in a variety of roles at The Chicago Board Options Exchange, drawn to the very unique culture of a place right in my own backyard.
Eventually, I became a financial services program manager, drawing on my ability to manage complex group dynamics. My education as a sociologist allowed me to act as a translator and cultural attaché of sorts, helping distinct cultures (e.g., trading, operations, accounting, legal, and compliance) understand and communicate with each other in order to deliver the firm's objectives in unison.
- Any final thoughts for us?
As a hiring authority, I found social science majors very adept at coming up with creative solutions to problems and seeing them through to implementation.
How to Succeed in Social Science
Social science careers often set a minimum education level for entry-level positions. An associate degree in social science prepares graduates for careers as legal assistants, administrative assistants, and social service assistants. Alternatively, a bachelor's degree in social science meets the requirements for many positions requiring research, analytical, and writing skills, such as data and market research analysts. A master's degree creates opportunities for higher-level research and professional roles. For example, a master's degree in psychology can lead to a career as a therapist. Some career paths, including many academic positions, require a doctorate.
Careers in social science fields sometimes have experience requirements, particularly for management-level positions. Graduate programs often confer professional experience through research, internships, and projects. In some fields, such as psychology, clinical experience makes up part of a graduate program. In other fields, like political science and history, social science majors can participate in faculty research projects to build their experience.
Licensure and Certification
Many social science careers do not require licensure or certification. However, some fields, including psychology, do require a license. Additionally, earning certification can help social science professionals stand out in the job market. Because licensure requirements vary by state and field, students should research the requirements in their specific region and industry.
Practicing psychologists must hold a license from their state's licensing board. To earn a psychology license, candidates need a doctoral degree in psychology from a regionally accredited institution. Candidates must also demonstrate clinical experience, pass an examination, and complete supervised clinical hours.
City Planning Certification
A voluntary certification offered by the American Institute of Certified Planners, the City Planning Certification recognizes planning professionals who meet education and experience requirements. Candidates must pass an examination that covers planning knowledge standards. Certified planners must maintain their credential by engaging in continuing education.
Offered by the Global Academy of Finance and Management, the Chartered Economist credential recognizes experienced economics professionals. Candidates must complete a master's degree in economics with a minimum 2.5 GPA or earn at least 18 credits of economics courses through an accredited master's or doctoral program.
Concentrations Available to Social Science Majors
The social sciences cover a broad variety of disciplines, including psychology, economics, political science, history, and sociology. Each discipline draws on similar academic abilities, building analytical, research, and writing skills. However, different programs and concentrations cover different subjects and prepare graduates for differing careers. The majors offered within a social science division vary depending on the school, but most colleges and universities offer degrees in the following areas.
- Economics: Economics majors study how individuals and organizations make financial decisions, including how to allocate resources. Students may study microeconomics, which reviews the decisions of individual consumers and organizations, or macroeconomics, which examines overall economies.
- History: History examines the past, from ancient civilizations to contemporary societies. History majors may study world history and U.S. history, with the option to specialize in a subfield or theme, such as medieval Europe, 19th-century empires, political history, military history, or environmental history.
- Political Science: Political science majors study political institutions, government organizations, and elections. Students study political movements over time, theories about politics, and globalization through a political lens. Students can specialize in areas like American politics, political theory, or international relations.
- Sociology: In sociology, students examine human social relationships and institutions. Learners examine social phenomena like the family and the state, social class, and crime. Students learn how to understand human action, social structures, and shared beliefs within a culture.
What Can You Do With a Social Science Degree?
A social science degree builds strong reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical skills, preparing students for diverse careers. Social science careers include opportunities in psychology, sociology, economics, political science, and history. Some of these fields require a master's degree, but an associate or bachelor's in social science may lead to entry-level positions in areas like museum studies, education, data analysis, and research.
Many social science careers offer above-average salaries and opportunities for advancement. While the careers available to social science majors vary by degree, earning certification or licensure can help professionals advance their careers. This section introduces common social science career opportunities for different degree levels.
Associate Degree in Social Science
An associate degree strengthens critical thinking and analytical skills, preparing graduates for entry-level roles in many industries. With an associate degree in social science, graduates can pursue jobs as paralegals, administrative assistants, and social service assistants.
Potential careers vary by degree focus. Earning an associate degree in human services, for example, prepares graduates for entry-level roles in social and human services organizations. Alternatively, an associate degree in economics can lead to opportunities as a bookkeeper or financial clerk. Many social science associate degrees can also be transferred to four-year institutions.
- Administrative Assistant
Administrative assistants perform clerical and administrative duties for organizations. They organize files, schedule appointments, prepare documents, and support staff members. They may work in industries like business, education, healthcare, and the legal sector.
Paralegals support lawyers by maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and gathering evidence for attorneys to review. They may investigate the facts of a case, conduct research on laws and regulations, and draft legal documents. Paralegals often interact with clients and witnesses to schedule interviews or depositions. Paralegals must hold a certificate in paralegal studies.
- Social and Human Service Assistant
Social and human service assistants offer client services in fields like psychology and social work. They help clients identify benefits and community services. Social service assistants may also help to create treatment plans, research resources, and coordinate services.
Bachelor's Degree in Social Science
Professionals with a bachelor's degree in social science can pursue careers as researchers, analysts, and educators. Graduates interested in education, for example, can become high school teachers in many social science subjects, such as social studies, geography, and history.
Social science majors can also pursue graduate-level study to advance their careers. During a social science bachelor's program, students gain analytical, communication, and research skills. Prospective social science majors can learn more about the top online social science programs.
- Data Analyst
Data analysts design and conduct surveys, interpret data, draw conclusions, and create reports and recommendations based on their findings. Data analysts work in many different industries, helping organizations make decisions. A background in social science prepares data analysts to conduct research and interpret the results.
- High School Teacher
High school teachers work in secondary education, teaching classes within their specialization. They design lesson plans that meet state standards, manage their classroom, collaborate with colleagues, and assess student learning. A social science degree prepares these professionals to teach classes like social studies, geography, history, government, and civics.
- Social and Community Service Manager
Social and community service managers supervise social service programs and community organizations. They oversee employees, analyze a program's effectiveness, and suggest improvements for programs and services. A bachelor's in social studies teaches aspiring social and community service managers analytical, research, and communication skills.
- Market Research Analyst
Market research analysts examine market conditions and analyze data to help an organization determine consumer demand for products and services. They collect data on customer needs, assess the effectiveness of marketing strategies, and forecast trends in their organization's market. A background in social science helps market research analysts conduct research and draw conclusions from data.
- Museum Technician
Museum technicians — also called collections specialists — protect the objects in a museum's collection. They oversee the acquisition, risk management, and loaning of objects, keeping detailed records on objects' conditions and locations. Museum technicians may also help the public and scholars engage with collections. Most positions require a bachelor's degree in a field like history or archaeology.
Master's Degree in Social Science
With a master's degree in social science, graduates can pursue specialized roles that are not available to individuals with just a bachelor's degree, such as economist, historian, and political scientist positions. In these careers, social science graduates conduct research, analyze data, and present conclusions. They may publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals, create reports, and write books.
During a graduate program, social science students gain specialized training, often completing a master's exam and/or thesis to demonstrate their expertise.
Economists study the production and distribution of goods, services, and resources. They analyze economic data, look into trends, and evaluate economic issues, presenting their findings in publications and reports. Economists advise businesses, individuals, and government agencies on economic challenges and recommend solutions. Most positions require a graduate degree.
Historians study the past by looking at historical documents and sources. They conduct research, analyze documents and material objects, and interpret historical records. They often work with archival sources, books, material goods, and other documents. Most historians write reports, articles, or books detailing their findings.
- Political Scientist
Political scientists examine the origins, development, and operation of political systems. They analyze government institutions, policies, and political trends. Political scientists also collect and analyze data and forecast political trends. Most positions require a graduate degree in political science.
Sociologists study social behavior and society, examining the groups, cultures, social institutions, and processes that develop during human interactions. They conduct research projects to test social theories and collect data from interviews and surveys, presenting their findings through reports and publications.
Doctoral Degree in Social Science
Earning a Ph.D. in a social science field prepares graduates for high-level jobs, including academic and research positions. During a social science Ph.D. program, doctoral students complete advanced coursework, comprehensive examinations, and an original dissertation based on their research.
Doctoral students gain an expert-level understanding of their specialization, often publishing scholarly work during their graduate program. Many academic positions require a Ph.D., including tenure-track professors and academic deans.
Social science professors teach classes in their specialties, such as economics, sociology, psychology, or history. They design syllabi, assess student learning, and mentor undergraduate and graduate students. Many professors also conduct research and publish their findings in scholarly journals. They can work for community colleges as well as four-year colleges and universities.
- Provost or Dean
Provosts and academic deans help colleges and universities run smoothly. Provosts assist college presidents by developing academic policies, managing budgets, and overseeing faculty appointments and promotions. Academic deans direct the activities of a college or school, overseeing faculty members and operations. Both positions typically require a Ph.D. and experience as a professor.
- Research Scientist
Research scientists with a Ph.D. in social science conduct and interpret research. They often create reports and articles based on their findings, which they may submit to peer-reviewed journals. In psychology, research scientists may work in a laboratory setting, while other research scientists often work in academic or business environments.
What Industries Can You Work in With a Social Science Degree?
Social science majors work in nearly every industry, including at educational institutions, government agencies, businesses, and nonprofits. The critical thinking, research, and writing skills emphasized during a social science program serve professionals in diverse careers. For example, political scientists can work for the federal executive branch, in social science research, and in higher education.
- Federal Executive Branch
The federal executive branch comprises many government agencies, including the FBI, the State Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Social science graduates conduct research, analyze information, and produce reports for the federal government.
- Scientific Research and Development Services
Social science graduates working in scientific research and development services conduct research in the social sciences and humanities, applying their education to answer social questions. The field offers management-level opportunities.
- Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
In this industry, social science graduates offer environmental, management, and political consulting services. Workers require strong research and communication skills.
- Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools
With a graduate degree in the social sciences, graduates qualify for teaching positions at colleges, universities, and professional schools. The higher education sector also hires social science graduates for administrative roles.
- Social Advocacy Organizations
Social science graduates work for social advocacy organizations, which promote specific causes or political goals. Sociology majors, for instance, can apply their training to support goals and outcomes for marginalized communities.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How Do You Find a Job as a Social Science Graduate?
With so many potential career paths, social science students should begin their job search early. Pursuing an in-demand certification or specialization can help social science graduates stand out in the job market, while an internship strengthens a job candidate's resume by providing professional experience.
Students can find a variety of social science job opportunities through the NCSS Career Center. Graduate students pursuing education openings can find opportunities by visiting the Inside Higher Ed Careers and Teaching Jobs websites.
Professional Resources for Social Science Majors
An interdisciplinary association dedicated to the social sciences, NSSA provides conferences and seminars with networking opportunities. The association also publishes the National Social Science Journal and offers a job board focused on academic positions.
A professional organization for political scientists, APSA dates back to 1903. The association hosts an annual meeting and a teaching and learning conference. APSA also hosts a job board that connects candidates with employers and publishes multiple scholarly journals.
Founded in 1885, the AEA represents the field of economics. The association offers an annual meeting with networking opportunities, resources for economics students and educators, and a job board. It also publishes journals to keep economists up-to-date in their field.
Part of the United Federation of Teachers, the Association of Teachers of Social Studies brings together social studies educators. The association offers workshops, publications, and conferences with opportunities to share practices and strategies.
Founded in 1921, NCSS represents social studies educators, including K-12 classroom teachers, college and university faculty, and curriculum designers. The council offers professional learning resources, publishes research, and hosts an annual conference with networking opportunities.
A professional organization for historians, the AHA provides career support for historians and history majors, including a career center, professional development resources, and grants and fellowships to support students and early-career historians. The AHA also provides teaching and learning resources.
The humanities and social sciences network provides resources for social science students and professionals, including discussion forums, reviews, and a job guide. H-Net also offers bibliographies, professional development opportunities, and media archives.
An interdisciplinary organization dedicated to social science history, SSHA hosts an annual conference, awards book prizes, and offers conference travel grants for graduate students. The association publishes Social Science History — a scholarly journal — and offers thematic networks that connect students, young scholars, and senior academics in the field.
Founded in 1904 as a scientific and educational society, the AAG promotes the study of geography. The association publishes multiple scholarly journals, hosts an annual meeting with networking opportunities, and provides news through its newsletter. The AAG also promotes interdisciplinary collaboration and offers over 60 specialty groups.
A nonprofit organization, COSSA promotes social science research and advocates for federal funding for the social sciences. COSSA publishes annual reports, hosts events, and provides advocacy resources.