What is a Women’s Studies Degree?

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.

Students of women’s studies consider questions like these:

  • How have women shaped the direction of the nation?
  • How have women influenced global events?
  • How have women influenced public life and politics throughout history?
  • How have women’s health issues been politicized?
  • How do men and women communicate differently?
  • How have women authors used literature to express political and business ideas?
  • Have the work and contributions of women been underrepresented?

In exploring these topics, the curriculum aims to provide students with an understanding of both feminist theories and movements.

Program Options

Certificate or Associate Degree in Women’s Studies – Up to Two Year Duration
Certificate and associate degree programs in women’s studies are aimed at students who are curious about, but not yet committed to the field and at individuals who simply wish to learn something new, purely for the sake of learning.

These programs introduce students to the field through basic classes. The typical curriculum would offer some of the courses listed in the bachelor’s degree section below, but with a less in-depth approach.

Bachelor’s Degree in Women’s Studies – Four Year Duration
At the bachelor’s level, students of women’s studies gain a sound understanding of the discipline and the issues of social justice and equality that it explores. Programs address privilege, oppression, and the visible and invisible local and global structures that have sustained them. Common courses include:

  • Feminist Theories
  • Feminist Views on Women and Violence
  • Gender and Communication
  • Issues in Women’s Health
  • North American Women’s Movements
  • Psychology of Women
  • Sociology of Women
  • Third World Feminism
  • Women and Addiction
  • Women and Film
  • Women and Literature
  • Women and Politics
  • Women and Religion
  • Women, Culture, and Society
  • Women of Color, Activism, and the Liberation Struggle
  • Women’s History

Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies – One to Two Year Duration
Women’s studies master’s candidates generally focus their studies on a specific area of research, on which they base their master’s thesis. Possible concentrations are:

  • Feminist Theory
  • Health and Embodiment
  • Representation and Culture
  • Globalization, Equity, and Social Structures
  • Sexuality

Here are some sample core courses offered in women’s studies master’s programs:

  • Feminism Theory and Practice – across the arts, media, social sciences, health sciences, science, and law
  • Lesbian Culture
  • The Transgender Woman
  • Women and the Military
  • Women and the Law
  • The History of Sex Education
  • Sexualized Violence
  • Gender and Sexuality Research Methodologies

Degrees Similar to Women’s Studies

American Studies
As the name implies, students who major in American Studies study the United States, its history, literature, politics, economy, people, and popular culture. Increasingly, programs in this field incorporate examination of the wider Americas and the Caribbean.

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.

In English degree programs, students read, study, and write about the literature and culture of the English-speaking world. Coursework also includes the history, linguistic structure, and use of the English language.

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.

Liberal Arts
An education in liberal arts is broad and diverse. Therefore, students who pursue a degree in the field can choose courses from several subject areas. Programs encompass coursework in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and mathematics. This degree equips students with a well-rounded, foundational education that can be applied in almost any occupation.

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.

Public Policy
Students in a public policy degree program study the world of public affairs and leadership. They take courses from various disciplines to attempt to answer complex questions like: What do we need to do to find solutions to social problems? Classes span political science, law, criminal justice, economics, public administration, human services, and sociology. Coursework includes analysis of governments and other public institutions and how they tackle issues and policy problems.

Skills You’ll Learn

  • Ability to analyze inequities and initiate change
  • Ability to understand texts, concepts, and theories
  • Ability to work independently and in groups
  • Capacity to debate and lead discussions
  • Capacity to summarize material
  • Creative and critical thinking, reasoning, and analysis
  • Cultural awareness
  • Research
  • Understanding of social and political processes and structures

What Can You Do with a Women’s Studies Degree?

The women’s studies degree is not career-specific. Because of its interdisciplinary nature, it is a particularly versatile degree that can be applied in a very wide spectrum of fields and roles, only some of which are directly connected to women’s issues.

Career services’ job databases reveal that businesses and organizations not directly aligned with women’s issues have sought out women’s studies graduates. This suggests that employers see value in the perspectives and knowledge gained from earning a degree in the field. Below are some of the occupational categories that may be open to women’s studies grads. Working in some of these sectors may require further education and/or on-the-job training.

  • Domestic violence programs
  • Minority women’s outreach programs
  • Rape crisis centers
  • Women’s business training centers
  • Women’s health clinics
  • Communications and public relations firms
  • Community centers
  • Government (example: Congressional Aide)
  • Human rights organizations
  • Human / social services administration
  • Journalism
  • Law enforcement
  • Lobbying organizations
  • Market research analysis
  • Non-profits administration and fundraising
  • Public policy analysis
  • Social Work


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