Social Science Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a social science career? Get real job descriptions and training requirements to see if a social science career is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Social Science Career

The social sciences encompass a number of occupations, including psychologist, sociologist and political scientist. A comparison of these professions is shown below:

Psychologist Sociologist Political Scientist
Career Overview Psychologists study human behavior and develop therapies or programs to help clients. Sociologists study human social behavior and societies. Political scientists study political systems by collecting and analyzing data.
Education Requirements Master's, specialist or doctoral degree, depending on position Master's degree Master's degree
Program Length2 years beyond bachelor's for master's; 3 years beyond bachelor's for specialist degree; 4-5 years beyond master's for doctoral degree2 years beyond bachelor's1-2 years beyond bachelor's
Additional Training Internship/residency required None None
Certification and/or Licensing License or certification required None required None required
Experience Required Related work experience None None
Job Outlook for 2012-2022Average job growth (12%)*Faster-than-average job growth (15%)*Faster-than-average job growth (21%)*
Median Salary (2014)A range of around $68,900* (varies according to psychologist position)Around $72,810*Around $104,920*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)


There are different specializations in the field of psychology, and each has a different pay scale. Clinical and counseling psychologists diagnose problems and treat patients with mental conditions, while school psychologists work with students to assess student learning and behavioral issues; according to the BLS, all of these psychologists earned mean salaries of around $74,000 in 2014. Industrial-organizational psychologists focus on behavior in the workplace and work with management on issues like employee training and productivity improvement; the BLS reported that people in this branch of psychology earned mean salaries of around $91,000 in 2014. Other types of psychologists who don't work in any of the above categories typically earned around $90,000 in 2011. Psychologists are employed in various settings, including schools, hospitals, mental health centers and rehabilitation facilities.


While most psychologist positions require a doctorate degree, some psychology positions may only require a master's or a specialist degree, such as a school psychologist and industrial-organizational psychologist. Psychology degree programs are often designed to focus on a specific specialty. In all graduate-level psychology programs, you can expect to learn research methods, consulting and assessment techniques and theories relevant to the program's specialty. Research papers and internships are common requirements in all psychology graduate degree programs. However, doctoral programs are more intensive. In non-clinical programs, you may conduct research and prepare a dissertation based on your research; clinical programs are grounded more in hands-on training. In many doctoral programs, you may complete internships that last up to a year.

In a majority of state, you must be licensed or certified to use the title of psychologist, and if you plan to practice independently, the licensure is mandatory in all states. The licensure requirements vary with each state, but clinical or counseling psychologists normally need doctorate degrees in psychology, supervised practical training, professional experience and passing scores on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, reported the BLS. School psychologists must also obtain state licensure or certification, most likely from the state's education department. Requirements for this licensure also vary for each state, but you can consult the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) for specifics.

Here is a sample of what some employers were looking for in November 2012:

  • A counseling center in Alaska was hiring for a psychologist with a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and a state psychology license to provide therapy for individuals, families and groups in a clinical setting. Duties included performing patient assessments and determining treatment plans.
  • A healthcare services facility in West Virginia was seeking a licensed psychologist with a doctorate to conduct psychological testing, develop treatment plans, treat patients and supervise other non-licensed psychologists.
  • A psychology center in Pennsylvania was looking for an experienced school psychologist with a master's degree and state certification to work on a part-time basis conducting student evaluations and developing educational plans.

Standing Out

If you are a licensed psychologist working in the healthcare field, you can become board certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). ABPP certification demonstrates your expertise and can increase your value in the job market. The ABPP offers certification in various specialties, including organizational and business consulting, cognitive and behavioral psychology, forensic psychology, school psychology and clinical psychology. The requirements vary for each specialty, but a doctorate and state licensure or certification are necessary. Membership in this professional organization also offers opportunities to network and receive referrals through the ABPP website.

Another way to make yourself stand out in the field of psychology is to have your practice accredited by the National Institute of Behavioral Health Quality (NIBHQ). NIBHQ accreditation raises your professional status. The NIBHQ offers accreditation for different types of practices operated by psychologists with a doctoral degree, such as marriage and family and clinical psychology practices.


Sociologists study the behavior of people in societies and examine the influence that various societal factors like religion and education have on individuals. They conduct research, analyze data collected through observation and other methods and issue reports about what they've learned. Some specialize in different subject areas, such as criminology, healthcare, families or poverty. Sociologists are employed in various fields, including social services, criminal justice, education, business and government.


The BLS stated that most sociologists obtain graduate degrees. Some master's programs prepare you to continue your education at the doctoral level, and others prepare you for professional employment. In a master's degree program in sociology, your classes typically cover theory and research methodologies, and you can usually choose from various electives that allow you to customize your education to meet your career goals. You should also expect to complete a research project or thesis. If you want to pursue a teaching career at the university-level, you may need to continue your education in a PhD program.

You must be proficient in verbal and written communication to be successful in the field of sociology since conducting interviews and writing reports are key components of the job. You should also have strong analytical and critical-thinking skills so that you can apply the information gleaned through your research.

Employers were seeking the following in November 2012:

  • A professional association in Washington, D.C. was looking for a program coordinator with a master's degree in sociology to identify and institute practices that would increase the stature of sociology in academia and support sociologists in their careers. Specific duties included assisting with webinar marketing and sponsorship, managing an online library and processing membership forms.
  • A Wisconsin university was seeking an assistant professor of sociology with a PhD in Sociology or a related field to teach undergraduate sociology courses on campus and online.
  • A non-profit organization in Washington, D.C. sought a research analyst with a master's degree in sociology or a relevant discipline and at least 2 years of experience in substance abuse research or a similar field. Duties included collecting and analyzing data, supervising staff and writing reports.

Standing Out

Sociology encompasses a wide array of specialty areas. By focusing on a specific area, you can establish yourself as an expert in that area. When comparing degree programs, look for those that offer a variety of electives in your chosen specialty.

You can also join the American Sociological Association (ASA) and participate in any of the 52 sections that pertain to various research interests, such as family, sexualities, aging, education and religion. Membership in the ASA can also help you stay abreast of the most recent research in the field by offering discounts on its 9 scholarly journals.

Political Scientist

Political scientists study political systems and governmental policies by collecting information through various means, such as interviews, economic information, historical documents and surveys. They develop theories, analyze domestic and international politics and write reports about their conclusions. This information is used by various organizations to develop their own policies. Political scientists work for non-profit, labor and lobbying organizations, governments and universities.


The BLS stated that sociologists usually hold graduate degrees, but some entry-level positions may be attained with bachelor's degrees in political science. Master's degrees in political science are available at numerous colleges and universities, and you can also enter the field with a master's degree in public affairs, public policy or public administration. In a typical political science master's degree program, you'll study courses on the 3 branches of the U.S. government, political parties, international politics and international relations. If you'd like to teach at the university level, you most likely need to obtain a doctoral degree, but you may qualify for teaching positions at community colleges with a master's degree.

Some employers were seeking the following in November 2012:

  • An international organization in New York City was looking for a political affairs officer with a graduate degree in political science or a related discipline and at least 5 years of experience to monitor political developments in an African region and issue reports. Knowledge of Arabic or French was a plus.
  • A college in Ohio sought a political science instructor with a master's degree in political science and at least 3 years of experience to teach students, attend meetings and monitor student attendance.
  • In New Mexico, an association for healthcare professionals was seeking a state legislative manager with at least 5 years of experience and a bachelor's or master's degree in political science or a similar discipline to monitor and predict legislative actions that could impact association members.

Standing Out

You may increase your chances for career advancement by taking advantage of the member resources offered through the American Political Science Association (APSA). Membership in this professional organization grants you access to job postings in the political science field, educational resources, mentoring and networking opportunities. You can also increase your value in the job market by focusing on an area of interest in the political science field and gaining experience in that area. Developing proficiency in a foreign language can also help your resume stand out if you plan to work in international affairs, especially if you learn the language of the region where you want to work.

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