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Social Science Degree and Programs

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Covering such fields as sociology, economics and political science, social sciences degree programs offer a rich environment in which to explore the trends and cultural norms of modern society.

"Social scientists deal with the gap between how things ought to be and how they appear," says John W. Hawthorne, professor of sociology and chair of the Social Science Division at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. "These are valuable skills for organizations, non-profits, policy groups and the like."

Graduates from traditional and online social sciences programs may find they are plenty of employment opportunities, ranging from jobs in the field to research positions in academia. However, students must first earn the right degree before they can start on these career paths.

Online Degrees in Social Sciences

While some schools may offer a general degree in social sciences, most students choose to major in a specific subset of the field. The following are some examples of common social sciences majors:

  • Sociology
  • Political science
  • Economics
  • Women's studies
  • Ethnic studies
  • Anthropology
  • History
  • Psychology

Social sciences degrees are available at both the undergraduate and graduate level. While education requirements vary by occupation, most positions require one of the following degrees.

  • Bachelor's degree: Traditionally completed in four years, a bachelor's degree offers a solid foundation in the social sciences and can lead to a variety of entry-level positions. "Students at the bachelor's level will find themselves working with social service agencies, local companies or non-profits," Hawthorne says.
  • Master's degree: Often requiring an additional two years of study after the completion of a bachelor's degree, a master's degree is usually required for occupations such that of economists and political scientists. Hawthorne explains, "Master's students may find themselves working in policy areas."
  • Doctoral degree: University professors and researchers are among those with doctoral degrees, the highest level of education available in the field. "Those with doctorates will be involved in academia or government agencies," Hawthorne says.

In addition, associate degrees in social sciences are available from many schools. While these degrees may lead to entry level positions, they are also frequently used as a starting point for a bachelor's degree in the field.

Online social sciences programs are offered at all levels by many institutions. While not for everyone, online degrees can be a convenient way for busy adults to complete their education. Online students can often log in and complete class activities at whatever time fits into their day, which allows them to study without interrupting their work schedule or interfering with family events.

What's Career Outlook for Social Sciences Jobs?

The job outlook for social sciences careers is a mixed bag. Some occupations, such as those of political scientists and sociologists, are expected see a slight decline in the coming years. Other jobs in the field will see growth. The greatest opportunities may be available to those with at least a master's degree.

The chart below highlights some of the growing social sciences career choices, along with their typical education requirements and average annual salaries.

Occupation Level of Education Average Annual Income (2014) Expected Job Growth (2014-2024)
Survey Researcher Master's Degree $54,730 12%
Urban and Regional Planner Master's Degree $69,010 6%
Economist Master's Degree $105,290 6%
Social Sciences Teacher, Postsecondary Doctoral Degree $78,690 - $102,120, depending on subject taught 13%
Psychologist Doctoral Degree $89,810 19%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Actual income and job opportunities may depend on a variety of factors including a person's experience, education and geographic location.

How Can I Choose the Right Social Sciences School?

Prospective students have no shortage of choices when it comes to selecting a school. Excellent traditional and online social sciences programs are offered at both public and private institutions nationwide.

Hawthorne suggests students pay particular attention to a school's faculty when choosing their school. "Look for faculty members who are engaged in impacting the world around them," he says. "Look for opportunities to shadow their activities."

Another factor to consider is whether the school offers internships. Getting hands-on experience through an internship not only looks good on a resume but can also let students network with professionals already in their chosen field. While internships may be more commonly found through on-campus degree programs, online social sciences programs may also provide assistance in arranging these opportunities.

The right social sciences school will be different for everyone. Students should consider an institution's academics, faculty and campus culture. In addition, ask about retention rates and the placement of recent graduates to determine how many are working within their major.

Rather than relying on second-hand information, one of the best ways to compare schools is to request information from each institution you're considering. If possible, talk on the phone with a representative or schedule a campus tour to be sure you're going to a school that meets your needs, both personally and academically.

Sources:
1. Hawthorne, John W, Interview with Author (December 20, 2015)
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition,
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014
4. Social Sciences, Academic and Career Information Center, Kansas State University

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