The social sciences encompass a number of related academic disciplines as diverse as economics, sociology, political science, and anthropology. Through all these different lenses, the social sciences help to explain how society works, providing valuable insights for businesses, politicians, journalists, and anyone else who wants to understand the world.
These insights can be just as important and valuable as any produced by “hard” sciences such as biology, chemistry, or physics, but the objects of study as well as the analytic methods used are different in the social sciences. Unlike the highly quantitative approach typical of laboratory work, social scientists typically rely on a mix of both quantitative and qualitative methods of analysis in studying different aspects of our complex society.
For instance, if you're trying to understand the homelessness crisis, data on trends in homelessness in different cities may provide an important foundation for analysis, but an urban anthropologist would also use field work and case studies to see how these factors interact in the real world. Similarly, an economist might look at GDP, the stock market, and unemployment data to help predict trends in economic growth, but will also factor in more qualitative analyses of elements such as trade politics, technology development, and more.
While every branch of social science uses a different mix of analytic tools, they are all united by a common interest in interpreting the world of human beings.
Having a background in the social sciences means you have tools to analyze our shared world and explain why things happen the way they do -- and potentially predict future trends. This skill set is a powerful foundation for many types of jobs, but the career paths available to you in social science can vary widely depending on your field of study.
Some of the highest-paying jobs in the social sciences are for majors in economics, who often study the way money moves through society to produce goods and create wealth. Economics majors can put their skills to work as financial analysts, responsible for sophisticated financial modeling and industry analysis work used to guide investment decisions for banks, mutual funds, and other financial institutions.
Political science majors may also find high-paying careers as well. Because they are experts on the interactions between politics, policy, and society, they may also find work at investment firms, where the analysis of political risk can be of critical importance. They may also become paralegals or lawyers, using their knowledge of the political processes that create laws to assist in their interpretation. And political science majors may go into a career in government themselves, which can be a rewarding path for many even if pay is typically less than in the private sector.
Indeed, many economics and political science majors, as well as students of other fields like anthropology and sociology, go into the social sciences with career goals that aren't only related to salary. The social sciences are fundamentally about people, and they tend to draw many learners who want to make our world a better place.
For example, someone with a major in anthropology might become a social worker or probation officer, using their insights into human nature and culture to help make positive changes in the lives of individuals. A sociologist might work with a non-profit housing organization, analyzing eviction data to advocate for tenants' rights. In cases like these, the social sciences can provide a foundation for a career filled with purpose.
The field of social science encompasses a diverse range of topics, but Coursera's vast and growing catalog of high-quality courses, Specializations, Guided Projects and degrees can meet your needs no matter what your specific area of interest is.
As the world's leading online learning platform, Coursera gives you the opportunity to learn about the social sciences from top-ranked schools like Yale University, the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Amsterdam. You can get the same high-quality education as on-campus students with the flexibility and lower cost offered by online learning.
People who are good at strategic thinking with an interest in sharing their insight with others are best suited to study social sciences. The key to studying social sciences is finding a topic you are passionate about and learning as much as you can about it. People who study social sciences need to be able to read, understand, and interpret data and explain why it matters and how it will impact the world. In addition to analyzing data, it’s important to know how to find quality information backed by science that you can communicate to a team or business.
A beginner's level knowledge of a topic is all you need to begin studying social sciences. Social sciences is the study of behaviors, so it’s important to have an interest in how humans interact, communicate, and behave in social settings. Organizational skills and an ability to interpret data will help you sort through the information and present your findings in a clear, concise manner.
People with an interest in social sciences centered on public health can explore careers related to COVID-19 contact tracing and managing COVID-19 in senior housing facilities including nursing homes and independent living communities. For those interested in social sciences related to human rights, career paths may include working with organizations who help refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers. Another career path for those studying social sciences is conducting anti-racism workshops and seminars in workplaces. This may include defining systemic and institutional racism and how to talk about race and racism.
If you are curious about how financial markets work, you may want to explore topics in social sciences with a focus on economics or model thinking. People with an interest in social justice, inequality, and race may benefit from social science courses centered around community organizing and inclusion in the workplace. Topics that examine game theory are useful for people studying political science or competition amongst firms. Social science topics related to American law can give learners a glimpse of the law in different settings, including criminal law, constitutional law, and civil procedure.