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What Are the Social Sciences And Why Study Them?

Many students spend many weeks — even months — deliberating on the choices of school or programme to attend. This certainly is time well spent, as a university education represents a major investment of time and money that will impact one’s future.

But one question that students often spend less time considering is the type of studies they eventually decide to pursue. There are many options: vocational training, community colleges, technical universities, art schools, liberal arts universities, trade schools and special interest schools.

While there is a role for each of these, many authorities in education strongly advocate the study of the social sciences.

What Are the Social Sciences?

The social sciences form a core part of a liberal arts education. Concerned with the human world and society, the social sciences delve into how society works and examine institutions such as the government, the economy and the family unit. The social sciences also examine how individuals and groups interact with one another and what drives human behaviour.

The social sciences provide knowledge of the social environment and nature while developing students’ human qualities and desirable attitudes. By discovering different facets of the social sciences, such as cultural and social beliefs, religions, nationalities, languages, festivals, clothing, food, etc., students learn that the society they live in is multicultural, diverse and interrelated between countries, cultures and religions.

This makes them more responsible, active and reflective towards society. In short, it makes them well-informed citizens.

The Role of Social Sciences in Higher Education

In the 19th century, philosophers argued that scholars should use scientific methods to analyse society. Calling this original approach “sociology”, these thinkers searched for laws of society that would meet the same scientific standards as the laws of nature. Today, many universities offer social science majors and most include them as part of their general education requirements.

The social sciences build critical thinking and analytical skills. Here are the objectives of teaching the social sciences:

  • It imparts knowledge about civilisation and culture.
  • It provides knowledge of social development.
  • It develops social behaviour and civil qualities.
  • It produces the power of thinking and reasoning.
  • It creates the feeling of universal brotherhood.
  • It inculcates good habits and moral and social values.
  • It forms an all-around personality.

Steven Rathgeb Smith, Ph.D., Executive Director, American Political Science Association notes, “Put simply, social science is important because it develops better institutions and systems that affect people’s lives every day. The study of social science makes us efficient citizens of a democracy and helps us to solve the practical problems in our daily life. It also helps the students know how different societies are managed, structured and governed.”

Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) shares this belief. Through a focus on the social sciences, the University’s mission is to develop learners so that they can impact the world around them to make their mark for the greater good. Its curriculum was created to impart professional knowledge, a passion for society and a thirst for lifelong learning. To date, over 42,000 SUSS graduates have gone on to make a mark in their careers, in life and in society.

What Are the Most Popular Social Science Majors?

As a fundamental liberal arts branch, the social sciences remains popular among university students. The most popular social science majors include psychology, political science, economics and sociology.

Data released by the National Center for Education Statistics1 shows that several social science subjects rank among the most popular majors. In 2020, 14% of majors belonged to the social sciences, with 161,200 students earning a Bachelor’s degree in the social sciences and 120,000 earning a degree in psychology.

According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the most popular social science majors include psychology, political science, economics and sociology. Many students also focus on anthropology, geography, criminology and international relations.

Studying Social Sciences Develop Learning Skills for Life

Social sciences play a central role in a university programme because they strengthen vital skills that hold immense value in the job market and contribute to society. Here are some essential skills gained in a social science programme:

Analytical Abilities

The social sciences emphasise the ability to analyse several information sources, including written sources, numerical data, and survey results. Students then conduct qualitative and quantitative analyses to gain insights and reach conclusions. Such coursework trains learners to make data-supported recommendations.


Effective communication skills benefit professionals in nearly every field. Social science students communicate their ideas in writing and speech persuasively to convince others of their interpretation of the data.


Problem-solving draws on many core skills, such as analysis, research and decision-making. Social science students thus learn to define problems, collect data and evaluate information to resolve a problem.

Critical Thinking

This final skill synthesises analytical, research and evaluation abilities. Critical thinking utilises the ability to identify the most useful sources, question the evidence and identify patterns. Social sciences build critical thinking skills by teaching undergraduates to thoroughly analyse information so they can distil logical conclusions supported by their sources.

Studying Social Sciences Prepares You for a Myriad of In-Demand Careers

The skills learnt through studying social sciences bring about real economic value in your career. A social science degree can prepare you for success in many professional fields.

While there is no guarantee you will land a job right out of university, a social science degree can offer plenty of opportunities. A social science programme helps you build critical skills such as problem-solving and data interpretation, while learning how to apply your newfound knowledge and abilities to a number of potential career tracks.

Career Search giant Indeed created a 2020 list of the most in-demand skills in today’s workforce2. It ranks analytical and problem-solving skills near the top. The ability to interpret data, identify trends and make data-backed decisions helps social science majors succeed in their chosen careers.

Compared with STEM and humanities majors, social science majors reported a higher rate of employment after graduation. In a study by the Campaign for Social Science3, social science majors reported a higher rate of employment after graduation: 84% of social science graduates held a job 3.5 years after graduation, compared with 78% of STEM majors and 79% of humanities majors. Social science majors were also more likely to hold managerial or senior roles.

Research from Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce4 indicates that social science majors earn typical salaries for university graduates. The median starting salary for social science majors ($29,000) falls slightly below that for STEM majors (US$38,000). By mid-career, professionals with a social science degree typically earn around US$60,000 a year, or US$24,000 per year higher than the median annual wages for a high school graduate without a university degree.

Many jobs in social science sectors require a graduate degree. A master’s degree represents the typical entry-level education for political scientists and economists. Over 40% of social science majors go on to earn a master’s or doctoral degree. Obtaining a graduate degree translates to a 45% increase in median annual wages.

In addition to jobs, a social science degree can lead to positions in fields like law, education and business. In the business sector, social science majors may work as data analysts, market research analysts or economic researchers. The growing field of data analytics often hires candidates with a social science background. All these jobs draw on the analytical and research skills of a social science degree.

Some social science degree-holders may prefer to work in education. High school teachers educate students in several social science disciplines, including geography, social studies, and civics.

If You Expect More from Your Degree, Consider the Social Sciences

Steve Rathgeb Smith answered this question with the title of his article, “Why Study Social Science - Because Social Science Makes Sense of the Institutions That Shape Our Lives” (July 18, 2017). He notes that “social science is fundamental to understanding—and making the best of—the world around us.”  

Smith continues, “Social science often challenges ‘common-sense’ or prevailing understandings. These studies provide a better evidence-based grounding for evaluating our social and political world. Clearer evidence and greater knowledge can help strengthen institutions by providing data for policy outcomes and better mechanisms for promoting civic participation and engagement.

Just as significant, beyond building more accurate and functional general understandings of the world and its institutions and social and political systems, social science helps individuals better understand how to engage with these systems both for their own and society’s benefit.”

If you believe that the goal of your higher education is simply to provide you with technical or job-specific training, there are many options available.

 However, if you:

  • expect more from your education
  • want to develop critical life and social skills
  • ·need to understand the context of human interactions with our society and our world
  • are committed to learning for life
  • desire a career that contributes to your personal growth and society’s gain
  • believe in a well-rounded education infused with Head, Heart and Habit

Then, studying the social sciences is right for you and SUSS is the ideal place to do so. We invite you to join us and make your mark for the greater good!

National Centre for Education Statistics. (n.d.). The NCES Fast Facts Tool provides quick answers to many education questions (National Center for Education Statistics). National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from

Birt, J. (2019, June 9). 20 in-demand skills for today’s work environment | 20 In-Demand Skills for Today’s Work Environment. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from

Academy of the Social Sciences. (n.d.). Campaign for the social sciences. Academy of the Social Sciences. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from

4 Georgetown University. (2015). The economic value of college majors. The Economic Value of College Majors. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from


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