Admission to a bachelor’s degree in social science requires admission to the institution first, followed by admission to the specific social science department. After being admitted to the institution, freshmen and sophomores should take undergraduate courses in the specific discipline that often serve as prerequisite courses for their major. More importantly, taking these classes provides the potential applicant with the opportunity to see if the potential major is a good fit. Moreover, students should focus on earning high marks in these prerequisite courses to increase the competitiveness of their application and to meet GPA standards set by the respective department.
For students interested in graduate school, it is important to gain undergraduate research experience while pursuing their bachelor’s degree.
Master’s degree admission is less uniform than undergraduate admission. Since this is the case, students should consider the purpose and intent of the graduate degree and find a program that meets their needs. With the proliferation of online learning, there are several quality programs for potential graduate students to choose from. A bachelor’s degree is required but not always in the same discipline. Many programs, especially online ones, cater to individuals seeking a career change and will accept students from virtually any academic background. More prestigious institutions will require GRE scores. Additionally, applicants should prepare to submit a writing sample, personal goal statement, letters of recommendation, and transcripts.
Doctoral degrees generally require a master’s degree in the same or similar academic discipline. Additionally, applicants should possess at least two years of professional work history beyond their bachelor’s degree, with many programs requiring management experience. Because doctoral programs are more career-oriented, the focus is on helping students develop career skills related to leadership within their specific career context. Applicants should submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, writing sample(s), and an updated resume to complete the application packet.
Ph.D. programs are research-oriented. As such, the main goal is to prepare graduates for careers in academia where research and teaching are the main goals for graduates. A bachelor’s degree is required. Applicants with master’s degrees or undergraduate research experience should have increased odds for acceptance. Application materials include a statement of purpose (SOP), letters of recommendation (highlighting research experience with faculty), transcripts, and resume.
Careers and Pay
There are innumerable career paths for individuals with a social science degree. While not universally agreed upon, the major branches of the social sciences include anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history, law, linguistics, political science, psychology, and sociology. Below we outline some of the more popular career paths in the social sciences.
Archaeologists search for and study cultural artifacts of past civilizations in an effort to understand and preserve the history, daily habits, and patterns of the particular culture or civilization. Most archaeologists specialize in a specific time period, geographic area, or type of object. These professionals mainly work for resource management firms, federal government agencies, and research and development organizations. They vacillate between office settings with typical business hours and fieldwork settings where hours and travel may be irregular. The average archeologist earns $63,670 per year. The occupation is expected to grow by 10% through 2028. A master’s degree or Ph.D. is needed.
The role of the economist is to study economic information such as production, distribution, and demand of goods and services to provide analysis on the current and future state of economic health in specific regions, industries, and environments. These professionals need a master’s degree or above. Economists may work for several types of organizations such as colleges and universities, all levels of government, research firms, think tanks, and the like. The median wage is $105,020 per year with the lowest 10% earning $59,450 compared to the highest 10% earning $185,020. Demand is expected to be 8% through 2028, which is 3% faster than the median rate of growth for all other occupations.
The common misconception is that financial advisors must have an academic background in business, finance, economics, and other business-related majors. In fact, personal financial advisors come from a variety of backgrounds, including the social sciences. While the occupation requires specific investment and monetary management licenses, the occupation is one that fits with the social sciences due to its social contexts, where advisors must understand communication, data analysis, and human behavior. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary is $87,850. Advisors work for investment firms and other financial institutions in a self-employment context.
Considered a criminal justice career, forensic anthropologists are tasked with collecting and analyzing physical evidence to determine a cause of death, many times within the context of a potential crime. They are deeply involved with the criminal justice system and may work for organizations such as the FBI. They also work for anthropology centers such as the Smithsonian Institute. The career pathway includes a master’s degree and internship hours. Many forensic anthropologists earn professional certifications once they enter the profession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track wages for this specific occupation but does track the median wage for general anthropologists, which was calculated at $62,280.
Geographic information specialists, also referred to as GIS specialists, technicians, and analysts, use geographical tools and technology to develop and maintain geographic information systems databases. The occupation requires at least a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions. A master’s degree is required for more advanced positions including management. Because the field of geography is so broad, students must choose a specialization while in school. Many of these professionals work for government agencies; in fact, the federal government employs more than 60%. While industry certification is not a requirement, many GIS professionals are required to obtain industry certification.
The median annual salary is $81,540. The field is expected to grow 3% through 2028 due to the increasing numbers of candidates for a small number of occupations. Those with master’s degrees should have increased employment odds.
Historians spend their time studying, analyzing, and preserving archival materials. They may take those findings and publish reports and articles in several media channels, including specialty journals, websites, news outlets, and magazines. In addition, many historians share their findings with the general public through tours, exhibitions, and other public events. These professionals work in museums, archives, historical societies, and research institutions. They generally work traditional business hours but may work evenings or weekends to accommodate tours and presentations for the public. Most positions require a master’s degree. The median pay is $63,680, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The expected occupational growth is 6% through 2028, slightly above the average growth of 5% for all other occupations.
The role of a political scientist is to study various political systems through research methods. Most political scientists specialize in an area of politics such as comparative politics, international politics, national politics, and political theory. They may also work as a public policy analyst for government organizations or stakeholders such as unions, political groups, and educational institutions. Much of their work is used to develop government policies that impact people’s way of life. The federal government employs over half of all political scientists. Other major employers include private firms and postsecondary institutions like colleges and universities. The median wage for a political scientist is $122,220 per year, which is far above the national average of $39,810 for all other occupations. The employment of political scientists is expected to be 5% through 2028. A master’s degree is required for most positions.
Professors spend their time conducting research, publishing their findings, and teaching undergraduate and graduate students. University and four-year colleges require a Ph.D. in the discipline being taught, with the main focus being research. Two-year institutions require a master’s degree and require their professors to focus on teaching. Postsecondary teacher jobs employ nearly 1.5 million individuals. The largest cadre of professors is health specialties, followed closely by performing arts and business professors. The median salary is $79,540 per year. Overall employment will be 11% through 2028, which is double the rate for other occupations. Both adjunct and full-time positions are included in the data. Full-time jobs are highly competitive.
Social workers manage client caseloads in a variety of contexts, including social services organizations, health care organizations, mental health clinics, and private practices. They must have a master’s in social work (MSW). The median pay is $50,470 as of May 2019. The projected growth is expected to be 11% through 2028 due to increased demand for their services. Of the approximately 700,000 social workers, half work as child and family caseworkers. Their time is split between an office setting and in the field working with clients.
Statisticians compile and analyze data using mathematical concepts to solve complex problems in a variety of concepts. These professionals work in several different industries, including private business, healthcare, education, information technology, government, and more. Many social science degrees such as sociology and anthropology consists of courses that teach statistical analysis and research methods using time-tested methods along with the latest in statistical analysis software. A master’s degree is needed to enter this field of work. With the need for data analysis increasing, the field is expected to grow substantially at a rate of 30% through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual salary is $91,160, which is significantly higher than the average of $39,810 for all other occupations.
With education costs rising, it is critical for today’s college students to search out institutions that provide value. The average cost of an undergraduate social science degree from a public college or university is approximately $21,000, including tuition, fees, room, and board. Private institutions cost $47,000. A master’s degree will cost between $30,000 and $120,000, but students can expect to pay towards the lower end for a social science degree. Many online degree programs from reputable institutions cost between $10,000 and $20,000 for an undergraduate degree or even a master’s.
Social science graduate students spend their time narrowing in on a specific field within their discipline. They learn theory and research methods and work closely with professors. Courses are much smaller and more interactive than undergraduate courses and encourage discussion.
As the discipline name implies, many social science occupations study and interact with people. As such, those who enjoy direct contact with society, will find the work fulfilling and worthwhile.
Analytical Thinking – Social science involves the study and analysis of people, cultures, groups, and other social phenomena. Social science professionals need to think analytically and follow sound scientific principles.
Communication – Both large group and interpersonal communication are important in working with stakeholders and clients. In addition, being able to communicate in writing is a critical skill as social science occupations involve writing complex reports and research findings.
Empathy – The ability to understand and share the same feelings of another person is critical in the social science field. Many social science occupations study or directly communicate with marginalized populations that have face many barriers and deal with problems that impact their lives.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, life, physical, and social science occupations are expected to grow by 7% through 2028. For context, the average growth rate across all occupations is expected to be 5%. Those with master’s degrees and above should have increased employment opportunities.
Anthropology majors study culture, behavior, and biology. The interdisciplinary coursework involves biology, cultural anthropology, psychology, and sociology.
Aspiring archaeologists typically major in anthropology with a focus in archaeology. Courses include biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistics.
Economics majors take courses including accounting, finance, macroeconomics, microeconomics, and statistical methods. Available at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Available as both an undergraduate and graduate major, geography majors take a wide spectrum of courses dealing with how the earth’s surface is laid out and utilized. Courses include GIS modeling, human geography, and research methods.
A popular major with both undergraduates and graduate students, political science covers coursework across several areas, including communication, economics, history, literature, and statistics.
Available as a master’s degree, social work coursework involves class content across disciplines such as abnormal psychology, biology, and family sociology.
Sociology studies the social forces that impact behaviors among people groups, organizations, and societies. As a popular major with both undergraduate and graduate students, coursework covers anthropology, history, political science, psychology, public policy, and statistical methods.
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