The social sciences explore how people interact with others and their environment. The umbrella term encompasses diverse areas, including psychology, sociology, and economics. During social sciences programs, students learn broad skills that apply to careers in many fields.
This guide offers an overview of some of the careers available with a social science degree. Read on to learn about education requirements, salary expectations, and licensure for multiple professions.
Why Pursue a Career in Social Science?
Social science degree programs develop analytical, critical thinking, and research skills. Students can pursue many different careers with a social science degree, most of which involve working with others. Consequently, interpersonal communication, presentation, and writing abilities lead to success in the field.
For example, social workers use interview skills and active listening to assess the needs of their clients. They need good organizational skills to track case histories and prepare reports. They must understand human behavior to make decisions.
Economists study how society uses resources, including financial resources. They combine their social science background with mathematics to understand economic policy. They need good reasoning skills and the ability to use logic in decision-making.
Research each social science career to determine the skills and competencies most important to each field.
Social Science Career Outlook
Careers in social science include health and human services, legal and political professions, and counseling. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) projects growth in many social science fields between 2019 and 2029. For example, the BLS projects 13% job growth for social workers and 17% job growth for social and human service assistants.
The BLS projects 14% job growth for economists. However, this small occupational field will see only about 2,900 new jobs through 2029. Most economists need a master's degree to enter their field.
The following table compares salaries for popular careers for social science students. Salary potential varies based on education, experience, industry, and location.
Skills Gained With a Social Science Degree
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.
Social science majors strengthen their analytical, critical thinking, and research abilities. They also build strong communication and problem-solving skills. The skills that social science learners gain from coursework, internships, and research papers translate to many careers after graduation.
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.
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 many fields.
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.
Social Science Career Paths
Social science degrees generally focus on a specific area within the field. The following jobs offer a sample of the possibilities available. Consider your interests and goals when selecting a social science career, then research the educational requirements for each path.
Sociologists study how people interact in society. They design research projects and collect data through surveys, observations, and interviews. They then analyze that data to make conclusions that can impact policy decisions or community responses to societal problems, including health, crime, and poverty. Related careers include survey researcher, statistician, and demographer. This field may require a master's or doctorate.
Specializing in criminal justice prepares learners for several careers within the justice and corrections system. For example, probation officers work with offenders to build new lives after being released from incarceration. They conduct random drug tests, offer substance abuse counseling, and testify in court about a probationer’s treatment plan and progress.
Economists analyze data on employment, worker productivity, and wages. Their work helps government agencies and legislators evaluate the economic impact of behaviors and policies. These professionals can help companies determine consumer demand and set price points for services. Most economists must earn a master’s or doctoral degree.
Social workers help their clients overcome challenges. They identify needs and connect people to organizations and agencies that address those needs. Social workers may work for government agencies, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations. Most states require a state license and a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.
Some social workers offer counseling services and mental health treatment. These jobs require a master’s degree and supervised practice to qualify for licensure.
Political scientists use quantitative and qualitative research methods to analyze national politics, comparative politics, and political theory. They monitor current events and policy decisions. Their work helps forecast political, social, and economic trends. The federal government hires the most political scientists.
How to Start Your Career in Social Science
Earning a degree in social science is the first step toward achieving your career goals. The curriculum often incorporates general education courses, such as English and math. Foundational courses in your area of specialization introduce theories and concepts that form the basis for more complex study and research.
Social science careers typically require an understanding of statistics and statistical analysis. As a result, social science programs often require multiple courses in analyzing and using statistical data.
Schools also offer electives or minors that complement major coursework. Consider the options available when planning your courses. You may wish to add a foreign language to your resume or explore anthropology or criminal justice.
Read on to learn about the social science careers available at each degree level.
Associate Degree in Social Science
Associate degrees strengthen 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. An associate degree in economics can lead to opportunities as a bookkeeper or financial clerk. Many social science associate degrees are also transferable to four-year institutions.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Social Science?
Administrative assistants perform clerical and administrative duties for organizations. They organize files, schedule appointments, prepare documents, and support staff members. They work in industries such as business, education, healthcare, and law.
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.
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 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.
During social science bachelor's programs, students gain analytical, communication, and research skills. Prospective social science majors can click the following link to learn more about the top online social science programs.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Social Science?
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 teachers teach classes in their content area. They design lesson plans that meet state standards, manage their classroom, collaborate with colleagues, and assess student learning. Social science degrees prepare these professionals to teach classes like social studies, geography, history, government, and civics.
Social and community service managers supervise social service programs and community organizations. They oversee employees, analyze program effectiveness, and suggest improvements for programs and services. Bachelor's in social studies programs teach aspiring social and community service managers analytical, research, and communication skills.
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.
Also called collections specialists, museum technicians 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 professionals with just a bachelor's degree, such as economist, historian, and political scientist. 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 graduate programs, social science students gain specialized training, often completing a master's exam and thesis to demonstrate their expertise.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Social Science?
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, and material goods. Most historians write reports, articles, and books detailing their findings.
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, collect data from interviews and surveys, and present 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 program. Many academic positions require a Ph.D., including tenured professors and academic deans.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Social Science?
Social science professors teach classes in 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.
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 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. Other research scientists often work in academic or business environments.
How to Advance Your Career in Social Science
To begin pursuing careers in social science, take advantage of internship opportunities available through your college or organizations you may want to work for. Internships provide practical, on-the-job experience in your field and can enhance your resume. Volunteer work in social science also bolsters your application when seeking employment in a competitive job market.
Once you begin your social science career, you must keep your skills sharp and your knowledge current. Look for a professional mentor to offer guidance on training and professional development programs.
You may also join professional organizations in your field. These organizations provide access to the latest information in social sciences; career resources, exclusive job listings, and career fairs; and professional development. Some organizations also award professional certifications.
Continuing education ensures you stay informed of new research, new theories, and recent developments. Many employers encourage a certain amount of continuing education each year. If your career requires a state license or you hold a professional certification, you must document and complete required continuing education credits.
You can often find continuing education programs through professional organizations. These groups often offer on-demand training through their websites and in-person learning at workshops and conferences. Presenters often tailor their sessions to new research, policy changes, or training to meet state requirements.
Some schools offer certificates in social science research methods, social science analytics, and community organization management. These certificates often require 3-6 courses and may award credit toward a master’s degree. A certificate can demonstrate specific skills in management or leadership.
Some careers require a return to the classroom. Research-focused professions or postsecondary teaching appointments often require an advanced degree. Most master’s degrees require 2-3 years to complete, while doctorates often require 3-7 years.
As you begin your career in social science, the following steps can help you maintain your skills and advance into new roles.
- Network: Make time to connect with other social science professionals. You can learn from their experiences and build a professional support system. Networking can also help you find a mentor to help guide your career decisions.
- Join a Professional Organization: Membership in a professional organization can help you build your professional network. You also gain access to thought leadership in social science, research resources, and specialized career boards. Many organizations provide volunteer and leadership opportunities.
- Continue Your Education: Consider how earning a graduate certificate or an advanced degree can enhance your skills. An advanced degree could open new career opportunities within your field. Seek out continuing education opportunities that align with your career goals, skills, and interests.
Where Can You Work as a Social Science Professional?
Social science majors work in many industries, including at educational institutions, government agencies, businesses, and nonprofits. The critical thinking, research, and writing skills emphasized during social science programs serve professionals in diverse careers. For example, political scientists can work for the federal executive branch, in social science research, and in higher education.
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.
Social science graduates working in this field conduct research in the social sciences and humanities, applying their education to answer social questions.
In this industry, social science graduates offer environmental, management, and political consulting services. Consultants provide insight, advice, analysis, and potential solutions to their clients. Professionals in this field need strong research and communication skills.
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 science graduates can 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.
Interview With a Professional in Social Science
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.
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.
It is all about people, the world's most valuable asset.
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, and communications.
I landed my first role by cold calling a hiring authority and impressing her with my story, my studies, and my tenacity.
- 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
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 to "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 many 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, and social interactions.
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.
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.
Resources for Social Science Majors
Social science students can access many educational and professional resources. The lists below offer examples of professional organizations, open courseware, and industry publications that can help you develop critical social science career skills.
National Social Science Association: 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.
American Political Science Association: A professional organization for political scientists, APSA dates back to 1903. The association hosts an annual meeting, as well as a teaching and learning conference. APSA also publishes multiple scholarly journals and maintains a job board that connects candidates with employers.
American Economic Association: Founded in 1885, 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. AEA also publishes journals to keep economists current in their field.
Association of Teachers of Social Studies: Part of the United Federation of Teachers, ATSS/UFT brings together social studies educators. The association offers workshops, publications, and conferences with opportunities to share practices and strategies.
National Council for the Social Studies: 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.
American Historical Association: 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. The AHA also provides teaching and learning resources.
H-Net: This network provides resources for social sciences students and professionals, including discussion forums, reviews, and a job guide. H-Net also features bibliographies, professional development opportunities, and media archives.
Social Science History Association: An interdisciplinary organization dedicated to using social science to understand the past, 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 maintains thematic networks that connect students, young scholars, and senior academics in the field.
American Association of Geographers: Founded in 1904 as a scientific and educational society, 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. AAG also promotes interdisciplinary collaboration and features over 60 specialty groups.
Consortium of Social Science Associations: 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.
Introduction to Comparative Politics - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: This course examines democracy as a political system and why it succeeds in some countries and fails in others. Students explore political institutions' impacts on economic development and how the American political system compares to systems in other nations. The course provides an introduction for political science students and an overview for individuals seeking a greater understanding of current events.
How Culture Works - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: This undergraduate course introduces students to the concept of culture. Anthropological texts discuss the family structure, personhood, relations with animals and spirits, and ethnography. The course focuses on how anthropologists have studied and analyzed culture in their work, even as they disagree on what culture means.
Game Theory - Stanford University: Game theory applies mathematical modeling to conflict between nations, political opponents, corporations, and market traders. Game theory models account for logical decision-making. Key concepts include games and strategies, game trees, Bayesian games, repeated and stochastic games.
Social Norms, Social Change - University of Pennsylvania: Social norms, such as customs or social conventions, bind a society together. This course examines how to measure social norms and how social scientists determine if they cause specific behaviors. Understanding the role of social norms can impact the success of policy interventions. The University of Pennsylvania offers this course in partnership with UNICEF.
American Journal of Sociology: Published by the University of Chicago Press, this scholarly journal focuses on building theories and innovative sociology research methods. Launched in 1895, the publication features contributions across social science disciplines, including history, anthropology, and statistics. The journal uses a peer-review process for submissions.
Contemporary Sociology: The American Sociological Association launched this academic journal in 1972. The journal publishes book reviews and peer-reviewed papers from social science researchers.
Journal of Health and Social Behavior: This quarterly publication from the American Sociological Association focuses on research and theories related to health and illness. The editorial focus favors articles that discuss medical sociology or the sociology of mental health.
The Economic Journal: This international journal offers academic and general interest articles on theoretical and applied economic research. The Royal Economic Society based in London, England, began publishing the journal in 1891. Covered topics include economic history, development and innovation, natural resource economics, and labor and demographic economics.
The Economist: This international publication provides news from around the world, with a focus on business, finance, and economics from a journalistic perspective. The Economist publishes weekly. Founded in 1843, the independent publication supports free trade and policies that favor individual freedoms.
Journal of Anthropological Research: Published by the University of Chicago Press, this academic journal serves anthropologists in the United States and internationally through rigorous field research analysis. The journal publishes peer-reviewed articles related to problem-oriented topics, along with about 100 book reviews each year.
The Journal of American History: Considered the journal of record in American history, this academic publication features interpretive essays on American history, book reviews, museum exhibits, and resource guides. The Organization of American Historians, the largest professional organization dedicated to studying American history, publishes the journal.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you enjoy studying human behavior and how people interact with society, social science is a good major. Social science encompasses multiple disciplines and topics. You can specialize in diverse areas of study, including geography, history, and psychology.
The seven social sciences are anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, and sociology.
Careers for a social science major include law, government, social service agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Many graduates go on to work in education or research.
Political scientists command the highest pay among social science careers. According to the BLS, political scientists earn a median annual salary of $122,220.
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