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Online schools in social science

A better understanding of the ways in which humans interact with each other and the world at large can give us the tools we need to create healthier, smarter, kinder and more effective systems for individual communities and all of society. Social science disciplines like history, sociology, anthropology, political science and economics work to contribute to that understanding and can train you to make use of it in your career.

Campus-based and online social science degrees offer knowledge and skills that are equally valuable in academia and in the career market at large, particularly when it comes to jobs in marketing, mass communications or the public sector. Most jobs that make use of social science skills require an education that goes beyond the bachelor's level, and advanced degrees offered online can help you get the training necessary to find the job you want.

Social science program options are numerous, both online and on campus. This table shows the number of traditional and online social science degrees available in each region of the country, according to data published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):

Region No. of schools offering social science degrees No. of schools offering online social science degrees
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 252 37
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 57 18
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 174 39
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 164 31
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 370 59
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 228 19
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 293 36
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 124 18
Total (all 50 states) 1662 257

Entry-level social science degrees

Undergraduate degrees in the social sciences typically contain general education core coursework alongside social science training specific to your chosen discipline. Here's a short primer on a few different types of entry-level study plans at social science schools:

  • Associate degrees - On-campus and online social science degrees at two-year schools are typically offered as broad, introductory programs, designed to prepare you to transfer into a more focused, single-discipline study plan at the bachelor's level. Typical courses include society and culture, basic human behavior, introduction to psychology and beginning political science, among others. Associate degrees in psychology, which have similar coursework requirements to generalized degrees but include a few additional introductory psychology courses, are also available.
  • Bachelor's degrees - The bachelor's level is where degrees in the social sciences begin to engage you substantially with the subject matter of a specific discipline. Available major concentrations can include anthropology, psychology, sociology, economics, criminal justice, political science, history, environmental studies and more, depending on the institution. Some programs may include courses in statistics or quantitative reasoning, to help students take their first steps on the path to a research career.
  • Non-degree study - Non-degree coursework and undergraduate certificates in the social sciences can be found both on campus and online, for any schoolteacher looking to switch to social studies or market analyst hoping to add a sociological or psychological approach to their set of data comprehension skills. Also, if you're looking for a way to stand out in your business or management profession, taking a few light semesters of social science coursework might help give you a competitive edge.

Study plans in certain social science disciplines contain a primarily theoretical and lecture-based curriculum with a limited amount hands-on coursework, which tends to make for an equitable transition to the virtual classroom. Exceptions to this rule may include disciplines that require laboratory sections — anthropology, for example — although improvements in distance education technology are beginning to make it possible for institutions to offer certain types of lab work online as well.

Advanced-degree social science programs

Jobs in marketing, secondary school teaching and some other disciplines may only require a bachelor's degree, but you'll need to continue on to graduate or post-graduate study if you're hoping to lead research teams, teach at the college level or work independently at the top of your field. Here's some general information about traditional and online social science degrees beyond the bachelor's:

  • Master's degree programs - At the master's level, your study of anthropology, psychology, sociology, political science or economics often tightens its focus and dives deeply into particular aspects of your chosen social science discipline. Students typically concentrate their study on one segment of their subject — choosing among the counseling, clinical or developmental branches of psychology, for example — and also decide whether an applied or theoretical approach is right for them. Most graduate programs require students to complete a capstone research project or written master's thesis before they may graduate.
  • Doctorate programs - Those who hope to conduct independent research or teach graduate students in their discipline will typically need to continue their education to the doctoral level, where their specialized study is further refined and integrated with sophisticated research methods and experimentation techniques. Some professional fields commonly require their practitioners to hold a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or other terminal degree — other degree titles at this level include Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) and Doctor of Education (Ed.D.).
  • Graduate and post-graduate certificates - A wider range of non-degree study is available for graduates than undergraduates, with certificates in subjects such as social research, public anthropology, child psychology, applied sociology and community and economic development all available at select institutions. Given that they're typically used as continuing education or workforce enrichment for working professionals, graduate certificates in the social sciences can often be earned online.

Anthropology, archaeology and a few other social science disciplines require fieldwork sections at the graduate level, which may make fully online study somewhat difficult to find. Even so, certain universities may offer hybrid programs that allow students attend online or pre-recorded seminar courses and only appear in person at fieldwork locations and other modes of hands-on learning.

Q&A with an expert

We talked to Pete Abilla, founder and CEO of education startup FindTutorsNearMe and longtime Web marketing entrepreneur, about social science degrees in the workforce and how his own social science training comes into play in his career:

Pete Abilla, founder and CEO of education startup FindTutorsNearMe

How do you use social sciences in your career?

I've spent the majority of my career managing people and have spent time in product management, operations, and marketing. A degree in the social sciences is incredibly valuable.

Why would you encourage someone to consider a social science degree?

A degree in the social sciences teaches you about methods to better understand and explain human behavior. Fields such as marketing and consulting actively seek out students with backgrounds in psychology, anthropology, sociology, and economics.

What would have been helpful to know when you were looking into your own education?

Not all social science concentrations are equal. I'd say that a social science with a strong emphasis in mathematical and statistical methods and research methods in general are highly valued. Economics, psychology, and sociology are strong in quantitative research methods.

Do most positions in the field require a master's degree or can graduates start their careers with a bachelor's?

From my experience in business, a degree in the social sciences is very good background to get into business, especially marketing, investment banking (economics), and also in consulting. To go into an advanced field within the social sciences, a master's degree is most likely required.

Types of social science careers

It's fairly well-known that a social science education can lead to a career as an anthropologist, psychologist, sociologist or academic researcher, but the range of careers available to graduates with traditional and online social science degrees extends further than you may expect. Take a look at this table of careers in the social sciences and related fields and compare salary, job outlook and minimum education info from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2014)
Projected job growth
(2012-2022)
Total U.S. employment
(2012)
Entry-level education
Sociologist $78,810 15 percent 2,600 Master's degree
Political scientist $104,000

21 percent

6,600

Master's degree

Historian $61,180 6 percent 3,800 Master's degree
Economist $105,290 14 percent 16,900 Master's degree
Survey researcher $54,730 18 percent 18,000 Master's degree
Anthropologist or archaeologist $61,980 19 percent 7,200 Master's degree
Psychology teacher, postsecondary $76,390 14 percent 47,500 Master's, doctoral or professional degree
Psychologist $75,790 12 percent 160,200

Doctoral or professional degree

Common misconceptions about social science degrees

Even though campus-based and online social science degrees are fairly common, there do remain some misconceptions about the offerings at various academic levels. Here are a few of the most common mistaken notions that unfortunate students often learn about the hard way:

Misconception: It's impossible to get a job with a social science bachelor's degree.

  • Fact: While it is the case that most independent social science practitioners earn at least a master's degree before striking out into the workforce, there are definitely jobs on the market for which you can qualify with an undergraduate degree. Depending on regional demand where you live, you may be able to work as a teacher, mentor, PR rep, marketing specialist, academic adviser or member of higher education staff or administration, not to mention some entry-level positions at consultancies or other agencies in your field.

Misconception: Fully online social science degree programs are hard to find.

  • Fact: Certain branches of the social sciences don't translate exceptionally well to the online educational environment, but others seem particularly well suited to it. Criminal justice is one of these — NCES data indicate a total of 594 schools around the country that offer online programs in criminal justice, criminology, police science, law enforcement administration and criminalistics. Psychology programs are fairly common online as well, with 283 schools nationwide offering online degrees in various psychological disciplines.

Misconception: Online social science degrees are easier because they're designed for students who can't handle a full-time education.

  • Fact: The self-directed motivation it takes to earn a degree outside of the traditional campus environment can make studying online quite a bit more difficult than it sounds. The schedule is much more flexible, and tuition and fees can be more affordable online than on campus, but if any one among the two degrees is easier than the other it's almost certainly not the self-supervised online version.

How can I enroll in an online social science degree program?

Colleges and universities all over the country offer social science degrees, particularly at the bachelor's and master's level, and admissions counselors or registrars at individual schools are your best resource for the exact series of steps you need to follow to get enrolled. Choose an accredited program or three from our school listings below and find out just how far your interest in the social sciences can take you.

Sources:
1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed November 24, 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. School pages, accessed November 24, 2015: Associate in Science in Social Sciences, Essex County College, http://www.essex.edu/onlinecatalog/social-sciences-a-s-degree-program/; Social Sciences - Associate of Arts, Cochise College, http://www.cochise.edu/catalog/social-sciences -- -associate-of-arts-major-code -- -ss.htm; AA in Psychology, Liberty University, http://www.liberty.edu/online/associate/psychology/; Associate of Science in Psychology, California Coast University, http://www.calcoast.edu/a.s.-associate-of-science-in-psychology.html; Social Sciences Degree Program, Franklin University, http://www.franklin.edu/social-sciences-major-course-descriptions; Social Sciences Bachelor's Degree, University of Maryland University College, http://www.umuc.edu/academic-programs/bachelors-degrees/social-science-major.cfm; Social Science Degree Online, Ashford University, http://www.ashford.edu/degrees/online/ba-social-science.htm; Social Science Degree, Excelsior College, http://www.excelsior.edu/programs/liberal-arts/social-sciences-without-concentration-bachelor-degree; Online Bachelor's Degree in Applied Social Sciences, Colorado State University, https://csuglobal.edu/undergraduate/programs/bachelors-degrees/applied-social-sciences; Psychology Certificate Online, Ashworth College, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/undergraduate-certificates/psychology/; Social Sciences (MA), University of Michigan - Flint, https://www.umflint.edu/graduateprograms/social-sciences-ma; Online Master of Social Sciences (M.S.S), Ohio University, https://www.ohio.edu/cas/history/grad/mss/; Online Master's in Applied Anthropology, University of North Texas, https://anthropology.unt.edu/grad-online.php; Master of Arts in Anthropology, Northern Arizona University, https://nau.edu/sbs/anthropology/degrees-and-programs/master-of-arts/; Online Master's in Applied Economics, University of North Dakota, http://und.edu/academics/extended-learning/online-distance/degrees/applied-economics/; The Political Science Master's Degree - Online & On-Campus, University of Illinois Springfield, http://www.uis.edu/politicalscience/curriculum/academic/; Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Social & Behavioral Sciences, http://www.jhsph.edu/departments/health-behavior-and-society/degree-programs/phd-in-social-and-behavioral-sciences/; Ed.D. Middle Grades Social Studies, Kennesaw State University, http://bagwell.kennesaw.edu/majors-programs/doctoral-degrees/edd-middle-grades-education-socialstudies/courses; Doctor of Psychology Degree, California Southern University, http://www.calsouthern.edu/online-psychology-degrees/doctor-psychology-degree/; Sociology (Certificate), Appalachian State University, http://distance.appstate.edu/graduate-programs/52; Graduate Certificate in Public Anthropology, American University, http://www.american.edu/cas/anthropology/CERT-GPAN.cfm; Graduate Certificate in Social Research, American University, http://www.american.edu/cas/sociology/cert-gsr.cfm; Online Certificate, Child and Professional Psychology, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, http://www.thechicagoschool.edu/Online/Our_Programs/Online_Certificate_Child_and_Adolescent_Psychology; Graduate Certificate in Community and Economic Development, Penn State World Campus, http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/degrees-and-certificates/community-and-economic-development-certificate/overview; Graduate Certificate in Applied Economics, Georgia Southern University, http://coba.georgiasouthern.edu/dfe/graduate/graduate-certificate-in-applied-economics/
3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed November 24, 2015: Sociologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/sociologists.htm; Anthropologists and Archaeologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/anthropologists-and-archeologists.htm; Economists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/economists.htm; Historians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/historians.htm; Political Scientists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm; Urban and Regional Planners, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/urban-and-regional-planners.htm; Survey Researchers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/survey-researchers.htm; Psychologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm
4. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed November 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

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