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What can you do with a social science degree?

We explore just how beneficial a degree in the social sciences can be for your future career

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There can occasionally be some snobbery on the part of those working within the physical sciences (Chemistry, Physics and Biology) about whether social sciences are actually science, and this spills over into the world of graduate employment, where STEM subjects are widely regarded as more desired and respected by employers...


However, research shows that this isn’t true, and in fact social science graduates are highly employable or more employable than graduates in other fields, according to some reports.


In 2013, the British group Campaign for Social Science produced an extensive report into the career destinations of social science graduates three years and a half years after graduation. Here's what they found:

  • 84.2% of social science graduates are in employment
  • 7.6% of these graduates are in high level manager, director and senior official roles
  • This is compared to 77.8% of STEM graduates after the same period of time, of whom 3.6% are in comparable positions



The results of this study are mirrored in a more global survey produced by the British Council in 2015. They surveyed 1,709 professional leaders (defined “those who are in a position of influence within their organisation and their sectors more broadly”) in 30 countries and found that 44% had a social science degree, and 46% have worked or studied abroad.


The social sciences provide future leaders with “multicultural awareness, critical thinking, and the ability to express complex ideas clearly,” while working or studying abroad also positively shapes ones “ability to communicate and work with people from different backgrounds.”


Professor Rebecca Hughes, British Council Director of Education, reflected on the importance of social sciences and studying abroad:


“The world needs leaders who can handle complexity and give diverse perspectives on the challenges we all face.

"Globally, we need to go beyond a simple 'two cultures' binary outlook these days and [...] it is those with backgrounds that enable them to draw from multiple cultural reference points, and the academic training that encourages them to explore the human dimensions behind empirical data, who have tended to succeed and reach positions of leadership.”


This view is echoed by Amalia Tsalanidis, a graduate materials engineer at AECOM, in Melbourne, Australia, who recently left Monash University. Alongside her Engineering bachelors, Amalia took an Arts bachelors which allowed her to study two social sciences, majoring in Urban Development, and minoring in Linguistics.


This was important in her development as an engineer, a role which requires her “to have a ‘whole of life’ view of the world.” Studying Urban Development, for example, allowed her to “understand how our built environment interacts with the natural or pre-existing surrounds,” gaining a “greater sense of the interaction between the needs of the city and the people, which is essential for the future development of our urban life.”


Additionally, six months spent studying abroad at the University of Leeds, left Amalia with a “wealth of knowledge, a raft of international friends, and a new confidence that has greatly assisted me in my professional career.” At Leeds, “the quality of the lecturing staff was second to none, lead by members of staff who were truly passionate about educating students and imparting their worldly knowledge.” 


However, for Amalia the most beneficial aspect of studying abroad was in her “growth as a person…being forced to come out of my shell more, become more independent and push myself, both academically and personally.”


What is social science, and why is it scientific?


If the promising career prospects of social science graduates has got you interested in studying a subject in the discipline, it's worth getting a good idea of what this will entail, and what options you have for studying.


There are many social sciences, and we've already written about two of them: Anthropolgy and Economics. If the physical sciences study the behaviour of the physical and natural world, as defined above, then the social sciences study the behaviour of humans within society. This might be the way humans develop modes of communication, or how humans govern the societies they live in; it could be how we build the structures that surround us, or how we produce and distribute the commodities we need.


What makes social science a science though? In Mass Communication Theory, one of the world’s leading social scientists, Denis McQuail, described social science as the “disciplined and systematic study of society and its institutions, and of how and why people behave as they do, both as individuals and in groups within society,” what makes this study scientific is that it “entails a systematic and disciplined method of acquiring knowledge, and that knowledge must be verifiable knowledge.”


Other than Anthropology and Economics, which we’ve already mentioned, many disciplines make up the social sciences, including:

  • Communication Studies
  • Geography
  • History
  • Law
  • Linguistics
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology


What if you want to study more than one social science?

The Arthur Lewis Building, home to the School of Social Sciences at the University of Manchester


If you’re interested in economics, you’ll probably also have an interest in politics; if human geography fascinates you, then sociology will be a familiar area of study. All of the social sciences are in some way connected. After all, they are all concerned with the same thing, even if they have different focuses and they often complement each other when studied together.


In order to bring together the diverse range of social sciences, many institutions have developed combined social science courses. These allow you to study two or more social science disciplines at the same time, approaching them in an interdisciplinary manner.


An example of such a course is the BA Social Sciences (BASS) degree at the University of Manchester. Over three years, students are given a broad introduction to six social science subjects, from Social Anthropology to Social Statistics, with the opportunity to focus on particular areas that interest them as they progress. This provides students with a well-rounded grasp of the social sciences, while also allowing them to identify areas of special interest.




It's clear that both a social science degree and studying abroad have very positive outcomes for those willing to work hard and apply themselves. If you're interested in pursuing a social science degree abroad, there are many options to choose from - why not start your journey today?

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About Author

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Ben Conway is a content intern for Hotcourses Abroad and WhatUni. He’ll be writing lots about why students should consider studying everything from Anthropology to Physiotherapy. If he looks distracted he’s probably deep in thought about what words should go where. Outside of work he enjoys weird electronic music and weirder books.