What is a Social Science Degree?

Social science is the scientific study of social, cultural, psychological, economic, and political forces which influence the world around us.

Social scientists and the students who wish to join their ranks ask and explore important questions about the nature, growth, and functioning of human societies. Why do people act the way they do? How have they been shaped by their past and present cultural and physical contexts? What motivates their behavior and ways of thinking? How do their interactions influence their own identities and the societies in which they live?

In short, social scientists study the human condition and look for ways to improve it. Degree programs in social science approach this broad mission through the lenses of its disciplines, which include anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history, law, linguistics, political science, psychology, and sociology.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science – Four Year Duration
Bachelor’s programs in general social science are composed of foundation courses that span the primary social sciences, courses in the liberal arts that expand critical thinking and analytical skills, and methods and theory courses. An internship and capstone project are common components of most programs.

Here is a snapshot of a sample social science bachelor’s degree curriculum:

Foundation Courses in the Social Sciences

  • American Politics
  • Business Organization and Management
  • Cultural Anthropology
  • The Global Economy
  • History of Economic Thought
  • International Relations
  • Introduction to Macroeconomics
  • Introduction to Microeconomics
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Oral Communications
  • Understanding Media
  • The Language of Contemporary Images
  • Political Thought

Liberal Arts Courses

  • Creative and Expository Writing
  • Critical Thinking
  • Quantitative Reasoning – Mathematical Reasoning, Calculus with Applications to Business and Economics
  • Scientific Issues – Biology of Hunger and Population
  • Historical Perspectives – Renaissance to Revolution, The American Experience
  • Global Perspectives – Word Cultures: Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Literary and Artistic Expressions – Oral Traditions in Literature, Visual Expressions in Society

Methods and Theory Courses

  • Contemporary Social Theory
  • History of Social Thought
  • Current Issues in Organizational Behavior
  • Theory of Media and Cultural Studies
  • Social Sciences Research Methods

Master’s Degree in Social Science – Two Year Duration
Doctoral Degree in Social Science – Five to Seven Year Duration At the master’s and doctoral levels, social science degrees are standalone, distinct degrees, such as those summarized in the section below, Degrees Similar to a Social Science Degree. Some schools, however, do offer interdisciplinary programs structured around core courses from two or more of the social sciences. Graduate students focus their master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation research in a specific area of interest. Master’s programs often offer both thesis and terminal examination options. Here is a list of some of the social sciences with examples of focus areas:


  • Agricultural practices
  • Ancient Roman culture
  • Clothing / costume
  • Cultural appropriation
  • Gender roles
  • Language / linguistics
  • Marriage
  • Polygamy
  • Religious beliefs / practices
  • Social networks
  • Sub-cultural groups (examples: hippies, Hell’s Angels)
  • Traditional medicine


  • Bias
  • Bot journalism (robot journalism, algorithmic journalism in which new articles are computer-generated)
  • Cartoons and comic strips
  • Fake news
  • Media ethics
  • Privacy
  • Social media as social justice
  • Social media influencers
  • Social media literacy
  • Social networking
  • Tabloids
  • Yellow journalism (journalism that emphasizes sensationalism over facts)

Criminal Justice

  • Capital punishment as deterrent
  • Community policing
  • Cyber crime
  • Death penalty
  • Domestic violence
  • For profit prisons
  • Hate crime
  • Hate groups
  • Innocence projects
  • International terrorism
  • Mandatory minimum sentencing
  • Prison overcrowding
  • Prostitution
  • Racial profiling


  • American Sign Language
  • Borrowed words
  • Constructed languages (examples: Esperanto, Klingon)
  • English language learning
  • Indo-European language history
  • Language revitalization
  • Regional languages
  • Southern dialect

Political Science

  • Campaign finance laws
  • Donald Trump
  • Effect of mass media
  • Facebook campaigning
  • Gerrymandering (attempts by a political group to change a voting district to create a result that helps them or hurts their opponents)
  • Global politics and international relations
  • Populism
  • Supreme Court powers


  • Autism
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Birth order
  • Depression
  • Dreams
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Grief
  • Internet addiction
  • Kleptomania
  • Multiple personalities
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Personality types
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Resilience
  • Speech disorders


  • Aging
  • Anti-vaccination
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Class
  • Consumerism
  • Cults
  • Ethnicity
  • Family issues
  • Fandom
  • Flocking behavior
  • Gender issues
  • Internet communities
  • Nationality
  • Online dating
  • Patriotism
  • Police brutality
  • Poverty gap
  • Social media activism
  • Social stratification
  • Spirituality and religion
  • Stereotyping
  • Superstitions
  • War

Graduate Certificate in Social Science – One Year Duration
The graduate certificate program in social science allows students to acquire additional academic credentials without committing to a full master’s program or to supplement a bachelor’s or master’s degree. The grad certificate curriculum is also attractive to individuals in the workforce seeking further professional development.

Topics discussed in certificate curricula vary greatly. Here are some examples:

  • Certificate in Government Analytics
  • Certificate in Policy Making
  • Certificate in Diversity and Inclusion Leadership
  • Certificate in Terrorism Studies
  • Certificate in Business, International Relations, and the Political Economy
  • Certificate in Intercultural Studies
  • Certificate in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
  • Certificate in Global Studies
  • Certificate in Latin American Politics
  • Certificate in International Relations
  • Certificate in International Development
  • Certificate in Development Studies and Diplomacy
  • Certificate in Counseling
  • Certificate Bereavement, Trauma, and Loss
  • Certificate in Applied Forensic Anthropology
  • Certificate in the Principles of End of Life Care
  • Certificate in Self-harm and Suicide Awareness and Prevention
  • Certificate in Social and Community Work
  • Certificate in LGBTQ Studies
  • Certificate in Ethnic Studies
  • Certificate in Women’s Studies
  • Certificate in Aging Support
  • Certificate in Spirituality and Human Development

Degrees Similar to Social Science

Students of anthropology study the evolutionary history of people, how they interact, how they adapt to various environments, how they communicate and socialize with one another, and how their bodies and cultures have changed over time. The field attempts to answer big questions on many of the fundamentals of human culture, from gender to political systems to violence, religion, race, and economics.

The focus of archaeology degree programs is the study of how people lived in the past. Students of this social science learn about the culture and evolution of extinct civilizations. They attend lectures and work in labs and on research projects. They get a sense of archaeology degree jobs by conducting excavations to recover artifacts like tools, clothing, decorations, and ancient ruins.

Criminal Justice
Criminal justice is concerned with society’s response to crime. Degree programs in the field teach students about the agencies and processes that governments have created to control crime and punish those who violate laws. At the heart of training are the five components that make up the criminal justice system: law enforcement, prosecution, defense, courts, and corrections.

Economics asks wide questions about world economies, how governments should respond to financial crises, how stock prices and exchange rates are set, and how to help people living in poverty. The degree field is focused on how to use the concepts and theories of economics to study and solve real-world problems.

Students of geography study the Earth’s surface; its climate, soil, and water; and the relationship between people and the land. Some typical courses in a geography program are cartography, climatology, geology, political geography, human geography, statistics, and spatial analysis.

Gender Studies
Degree programs in gender studies explore gender through the lenses of feminism, racism and antiracism, social justice, privilege and oppression, and popular culture.

History is the study of change over time. Degree programs in the field examine political history, diplomatic/international relations history, cultural/ideological history, social/living standards history, economic history, intellectual/philosophical history, and military/armed conflict history.

The humanities examine the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the human condition and experience. Coursework in the field spans many subject areas, from psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and religion to language, communication, history, arts, and ethics. The goal is to learn how to learn and how to continue learning about humanity and the development of culture and society, past, present, and future.

International Relations
Degree programs in international relations are concerned with looking at how states/governments relate to one another. These relations include trade, cooperation, disputes, conflicts, and war. The principles of diplomacy and foreign policy, international law, and organizations like the United Nations are also studied.

A law degree prepares students to work as lawyers.

Linguistics explores the nature of language variations and dialects, how language evolves over time, how it is processed and stored in the human brain, and how it is acquired. It is the scientific study of language and communication, both within a single language and across language groups.

The primary sub-areas of linguistics are phonetics – the study of the production, acoustics, and hearing of speech sounds; phonology – the patterning of sounds; morphology – the structure of words; syntax – the structure of sentences; semantics – meaning; and pragmatics – language in context.

Mass Communication and Media Studies
Degree programs in mass communication and media studies are concerned with the critical study of communication and media. The typical curriculum explores topics like communication infrastructure, as well as issues in communication from all of these perspectives: social, cultural, historical, political, economic, technological, and legal.

Political Science
Political science degree programs focus on the theory and practice of government and politics. ‘Poli sci’ students learn about the structures of politics and government and issues like the nature of political power, the causes of conflict, and globalization.

The scientific study of the mind and behavior is the focus of psychology degree programs. In simple terms, psychology students study the way that humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn.

Degree programs in sociology are focused on studying groups, from two people and beyond. Sociology students examine human behavior patterns and relationships at both the micro-level and the macro-level. They study interactions between individuals as well as in families, peer groups, cultural groups, gender groups, racial groups, religious groups, and social classes.

Women’s Studies
Degree programs in women’s studies focus on feminism and the history, culture, and politics of women. Courses examine the categories of identity – gender, sexuality, race, class, age, ability, and geopolitical affiliation – as well as the social processes and structures that frame them.

Skills You’ll Learn

Throughout the course of their studies, social science students develop a set of valuable and transferable skills:

  • Ability to accept and respond positively to critical feedback
  • Ability to consider and discriminate between opposing theories
  • Ability to learn and apply new ideas
  • Ability to work both independently and as part of a team
  • Adaptability
  • Attention to detail
  • Capacity to deal with complex subject matter
  • Capacity to work under pressure and meet deadlines
  • Computer literacy
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Cross-cultural awareness
  • Debating skills
  • Ethical decision-making skills
  • Foreign language skills
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Numeracy skills and knowledge of statistical methods
  • Oral communication
  • Patience
  • Problem-solving and pattern recognition skills
  • Research, data collection, assessment, organization, and interpretation
  • Self-confidence and self-awareness
  • Self-discipline
  • Writing and presentation skills

What Can You Do with a Social Science Degree?

Social science explores the complex relationships between humans, society, and the environment. Because of this wide scope, different schools structure their general social science programs differently. Therefore, employment opportunities in the field depend somewhat on the course content of the specific degree or certificate program completed.

Below are some examples of career pathways associated with the major social sciences, based on the key learning outcome of courses in each of them. Some careers listed require further education and/or on-the-job training.

Anthropology / Archaeology – key learning outcome: cross-cultural perspectives

  • Archaeologist
  • Community or youth worker
  • Cultural impact assessor
  • Filmmaker, photographer and other media-related occupations
  • Anthropologist
  • Healthcare / health services
  • International agency representative
  • Archivist
  • Marketing researcher
  • Multiculturalism educator
  • Museum educator / curator
  • Public health educator
  • Social policy research
  • Social service worker
  • Support worker for immigrants and refugees

Economics – key learning outcome: understanding of how humans make decisions in the face of scarcity

Political Science – key learning outcome: understanding of governance, power, and politics, and the relevance of political thought

Psychology – key learning outcome: understanding of why people think, feel, and behave the way they do

Sociology – key learning outcome: understanding of social differences and the social causes and consequences of human behavior


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