Social Science Defined: What Are the Major Pathways?

Psychologist having session with her patient in her private consulting room

Social science is sweeping the nation. More than 200,000 degrees in social science were awarded in 2019. Nearly four million social science majors are in the workforce.

If you want an education that makes you an informed citizen, a social science major may be right for you. But don’t sign up for classes just yet.

What exactly constitutes social science? What are some examples of social science majors and classes? How can you get your degree, and what can you do with it?

Answer these questions and you can learn about the people around you in innovative ways. Here is your quick guide.

What Is Social Science?

As the name suggests, social science is a discipline that examines society in some way. It may focus on a particular subset of people, or it may track a certain phenomenon. But all social sciences develop understandings of how people interact with each other and develop cultures.

Social science is independent of natural science, which examines how the natural world functions. The humanities also help develop an understanding of society. But the humanities focus more on culture, while social science examines relationships amongst people.

Nonetheless, the three can overlap with each other. Social science informs activities like Touch Math, using art and textile sensations to help kids learn math. Google “what is touch math” for examples of their overlap.

Social Science Majors

Each college and university has its own social science definition. Some have departments of social science, while others break their majors down into individual departments – but you can appreciate some common majors.


History is the academic study of previous events. Many classes break history down based on geography and time frames. You may take a course on modern Korean history, or you may study medieval Europe.

History has many subdisciplines. Art history allows students to learn about the evolution of artistic techniques through time. Diplomatic history lets students understand relationships between different nations.

Political Science

Political science is the academic study of politics and government. Comparative politics lets students compare different systems of government together. They can determine how the American system functions in comparison to India’s system.

International relations is similar to diplomatic history. Students learn about efforts between nations to craft relationships with each other. But international relations students also focus on multinational bodies like the United Nations.

Political theory tackles the philosophy behind governments. Students tackle questions about the purpose of governments and how politicians should improve their constituent’s lives.


Psychology focuses on the mind and human behavior. Students examine mental processes like the development of memory and emotions.

Many psychologists connect phenomena in the mind to phenomena in the brain and body. They study the brain to determine how people express and conceive of themselves.


Sociology examines the development of human society through time. Students can focus on a particular aspect of society.

They can trace the development of gender, sexuality, and social class. They can also examine institutions, including the Internet.

How to Get a Social Science Degree

Nearly all colleges and universities have social science programs. Many community and online colleges also have programs.

In general, a social science degree requires a four-year program. Students often take an introductory course in the discipline. They learn about how to read primary texts and develop arguments for long-form research papers.

Once a student has decided on a particular major, they may take an introduction into that major. They learn about the expectations for academics, including in delivering their findings in speeches. They read many essays in order to learn about academic analysis.

Majors are intentionally broad so students can learn about many different issues. A student studying American history may take courses on the American Revolution and then on modern-day politics. They may read novels, make art, and follow scientific developments.

The majority of students end their degree programs with capstone projects. They write a long paper about an important issue in their major. They may have to give an oral defense or a presentation to a group of fellow majors.

Social Science Professions

Social science majors can pursue a wide range of jobs. Some of them become professors and academics themselves. They go in-depth in their fields of study, publishing books on what they find.

Many history, political science, and sociology students become politicians. Some of them become public servants, working for city halls and federal departments.

Others use their major as a launching point for a legal career. They may take pre-law classes in addition to the classes for their major. They then go to graduate school to study the law formally.

Psychology students generally become psychologists. This is a field of medicine that requires advanced classes, adding years of study on top of the undergraduate program. They then help patients with their mental health.

Many creative writers have been inspired by their social science classes. They used what they learned about history to inform their storytelling.

How to Study Social Science

Social science will let you understand how cultures and societies function. You will learn about why people interact with each other the way they do.

You can choose from a number of majors. History lets you study previous events, while political science lets you focus on current political trends.

Social science classes are designed to give you a good sense of important issues. But you can go in-depth, taking courses about particular periods of time. After college, you can find many different jobs, including in law.

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