Social science, at its core, focuses on how social factors affect people. Social sciences fields study changes in the world and society at large, working to understand how individuals and groups influence one another and their surroundings.
As an interdisciplinary major, social science can stretch to include health care, music, social work, marketing, business and more. According to Dartmouth University, the common thread underlying diverse disciplines within the social sciences is the study of human behavior.
Human behavior can be studied within the frame of a number of degree programs. Common degrees include anthropology, history, communications, political science, sociology, psychology, economics and comparative human development. Within those degree programs, further specialization is possible, particularly at the graduate level.
Coursework in a social science degree program might focus on a particular region, a political movement, a social phenomenon or a theoretical problem within the social sciences. Much of the coursework that is completed for this major transfers well to online study, and online degrees in social science include many of the same courses and learning methods that are found in campus-based programs. The skills gained in social science classes are applicable to a wide range of professional paths and prepare students to enter the workforce ready to ask questions, analyze information and communicate findings.
What skills are learned in online social science programs?
Essential skills are gained from social science online liberal-arts degree programs. Students at the undergraduate level hone their critical thinking ability, learn to research and cite sources, gain a global perspective on the world around them, and improve their ability to communicate.
At the graduate level, students customize and further develop their skills. Social Science graduate students often have a research focus, and work with existing and emerging critical theory. Doctoral students work to add new pieces to existing research and theory by working closely with professors. Additionally, these students often teach undergraduate students.
While social science degrees inspire students to examine larger communities, students often learn more about their place as individuals in the process. Famous people with social science degrees include Ronald Reagan, Michelle Obama, and the Rev. Martin Luther King--all of whom sought to make their mark on the world while gaining a full perspective of it.
Who goes into the social sciences?
Social science students want to learn more about the world around them as well as their place in it. "Sociology was a major where I was encouraged to go wherever my mind would take me," one student told the American Sociological Association. "I was given the tools to test my ideas and discover actual data to support my theories."
A student enrolling in a social science degree program might learn that the portion of the world's population over the age of 65 is projected to double by the middle of the 21st century and wonder what effect that growth might have on their local community. Or they could learn that only 3 percent of the richest Indians are wealthier than the poorest Americans and devise a study to learn how India's rising middle class could change global and local patterns of consumption.
Top careers for social science graduates
Wherever teamwork is involved, social scientists thrive. For this reason, jobs in business, government, education, and sales and marketing are particularly common for social science graduates. Research and academia are other big draws for social science majors, many of whom continue on to earn doctoral degrees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the following mean annual wages from 2009 for popular social science careers:
- Market research analysts: $67,500
- Public relations specialists: $59,370
- Managers of office and administrative support workers: $49,990
- General and operations managers: $110,550
In addition to careers in business, public relations and marketing like those listed above, many students in social science programs go on to law school or other related graduate degrees. Michelle Obama's career as an attorney, for example, began with a major in sociology and a minor in African American studies.
Social science at a glance
- Skills gained: critical thinking, global perspective, communication, research
- Common industries for social science degree holders: public relations, management, marketing, research, government, non-profit organizations, office administration, sales, education, social work
- Salary ranges: marketing managers ($78,340 - $149,390), social workers ($36,700 - $62,780), geographers ($55,310 - $86,920), historians ($32,630 - $76,360). 2009 salary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
- Job growth: The BLS projects over 2,400 new jobs for social scientists (anthropologists, geographers, and historians) between 2008 and 2018
- Professional organizations: Consortium of Social Science Associations, American Council of Learned Societies, Social Science Research Council, American Sociological Association
- Famous people with sociology degrees: Rev. Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, Michelle Obama, Regis Philbin, Robin Williams