Social Science Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a social science program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Social Science: Degrees at a Glance

Interdisciplinary programs in the social sciences allow you to examine human societies and social behavior from multiple perspectives. The social sciences typically include anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, psychology and history. Social science associate degree programs allow you to explore these disciplines and may serve as a bridge to a 4-year program.

Bachelor's degree programs in social science offer similar curricular breadth and flexibility as well as opportunities to explore some disciplines in greater depth. Social science degree programs don't provide training for specific professions but rather an introduction to these disciplines and critical thinking skills potentially applicable to a wide variety of professions, like probation officer, management trainee and research analyst. According to a 2012 salary survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), graduates in the humanities and social sciences earned an average salary of about $36,000 in 2011, the lowest among eight field-of-study categories.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Students interested in exploring different social science fields Students whose career goals involve an understanding of complex social factors
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) Students may consider a variety of entry-level jobs, such as:
- Teacher assistant ($24,000)*
- Administrative assistant ($32,000)*
- Human/social services assistant ($29,000)*
- Social science research assistant ($39,000)*
- Probation officer ($48,000)*
- High school social studies teacher ($54,000)*
- Archivist ($47,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full time 4 years full time
Prerequisites High school diploma High school diploma
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate in Social Science

Associate degree programs in social science generally require you to take a variety of courses across several social science fields. This interdisciplinary approach may provide you with the ability to view complex social issues from multiple, integrated perspectives. Taking courses in diverse social science fields allows you to consider a variety of career options, though it doesn't prepare you for a specific job. Many programs are designed to meet requirements for transfer to bachelor's degree programs. Some examples of 4-year degree programs you may transfer to include social work, mass communications, political science, anthropology and pre-law.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Provides opportunities to consider a wide variety of career options
  • Several college-transfer options available
  • Can prepare graduates for entry-level jobs as human services assistants or teacher assistants
  • Emphasizes the development of strong writing and critical thinking skills

Cons

  • Doesn't provide training in job-specific skills
  • Program breadth may sacrifice depth of studies
  • Most careers in the social sciences require a minimum of a bachelor's degree
  • Human and social services assistants face low wages and high stress

Courses and Requirements

Typically, 2-year programs in social science are designed to provide the option of transferring to a 4-year college or university. To earn this degree, you will need to take a wide range of general education courses (including courses in math, humanities, science and composition) as well as courses in your core area of study. You may have the option of taking courses in human services fields like administration of justice in addition to traditional social science fields. Some programs require that you study a foreign language.

Some of the diverse courses you may encounter include:

  • Cultural anthropology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Human geography
  • Macroeconomic principles
  • Origins of Western civilization
  • Society, race and ethnicity
  • U.S. government

Online Degree Options

Online associate degree programs in social science are available but not very common. The general structure of online programs is similar to that of on-campus programs, in which you take both general education courses and interdisciplinary social science core courses. Many online programs offer asynchronous courses, which don't require you to be online during specified class times. Rather, you can log in to access lecture notes, assignments, quizzes and discussion boards, among other course tools and materials, according to your personal schedule.

Stand Out with This Degree

Like many students who enroll in this interdisciplinary degree program, you may be searching for the right career. The main challenge of such a broad curriculum may be isolating the best potential career paths for yourself and determining any additional skills and training that may be required. Some of your social science courses may directly address potential careers in that discipline, but others may not. Talking with instructors about possible careers that involve topics of particular interest, as well as utilizing campus career resources, can help you determine a specific educational and career plan.

Once you narrow down these options, you can begin taking steps that will help you get hired in your desired field. If you're interested in a career in human or social services, for example, doing volunteer work can expose you to different client populations and demonstrate your commitment to serving others. Your careers of interest may lead you to seek other forms of training or applied experience outside your degree program. This may mean taking courses to learn computer or business skills, completing an internship or pursuing a career-specific bachelor's degree.

Bachelor's in Social Science

Earning a bachelor's degree in social sciences can prepare you for careers involving social services, public development and entry-level research positions, among others. As in the associate-degree level, a major in general social science may encompass coursework from a number of disciplines, including sociology, history, government and economics. Some programs require you to choose a concentration.

At the bachelor's degree level, you're more likely to study research and analysis in the social studies, which can be helpful if you're interested in pursuing graduate education. Since these programs are broadly interdisciplinary and don't lead to specific careers, you may wish to explore internship options that provide hands-on experience, which can lead to jobs.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The breadth of classes may allow you to tailor your courses toward a thematic focus
  • Social science bachelor's degree programs develop students' skills in understanding people across a number of contexts
  • A background in social sciences may be desired by employers who seek candidates who understand the needs of a diverse workforce

Cons

  • Marketing an interdisciplinary liberal arts degree to employers may be a challenge
  • Some careers in this broad field, such as clinical social worker, require education beyond the bachelor's level
  • Program breadth may prevent you from developing expertise

Courses and Requirements

The various courses offered in general social science bachelor's degree programs are notable for their breadth. These programs engage students in the study of aspects of human behavior, which are examined through academic lenses like economics and history. You also examine social categories, such as ethnicity or age. At the junior and senior levels, you may take seminars on specific topics or develop your own research areas through independent studies.

Course topics might include:

  • Principles of micro- and macroeconomics
  • World civilizations
  • Twentieth-century America
  • Physical geography
  • American government and politics
  • Contemporary history and technology
  • Society and values

Online Degree Options

If you're seeking a bachelor's degree program in social science, a few online options are available. Courses may be taken concurrently with the traditional campus program, though some schools may offer an independent study format, allowing you more flexibility in completing the program. Even in concurrent programs, courses may be asynchronous, allowing working adults to log in to study according to their schedules.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you're looking to stand out with a bachelor's degree in social science, you may want to carve out an area of specialization, giving your degree a 'brand' and helping you to easily communicate what you have learned to possible employers or graduate programs. You may also use some strategies to highlight the strengths of your degree's educational breadth. Some employers may consider social sciences a general degree program. However, if you can show how economics and sociology can be applied to a specific workplace problem, for example, employers may develop an appreciation for the type of insights you can provide with an interdisciplinary social science education.

Degree Alternatives

If you're considering a career in social services, you may want to consider a Bachelor in Social Work (BSW) as an alternative degree. BSW programs prepare students specifically for careers in social work, like case manager or mental health assistant. Because of licensing requirements, the bachelor's degree alone doesn't make you eligible to become professionally licensed as a social worker; a master's degree is necessary for the duties that set a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) apart. Nonetheless, a BSW may have more 'name recognition' than a social science degree for those seeking a career in this field.

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