Social scientists use quantitative and empirical methods to study human behavior in arenas as diverse as economics and linguistics. Existing at the intersection of science and the humanities, social science offers rigorous preparation for careers in public administration, business, and education. A master's degree in social science challenges you to develop critical transferable skills in both quantitative statistical analysis and qualitative research such as interviews and surveys.
Master of Science and Professional Master's Degrees in Social Science
Master's degree program options have diversified in response to rising demand for professional career-focused graduate social science education. Today's graduate schools in social science offer both traditional academic and applied master's degrees to accommodate the full range of career objectives. Working professionals also have improved access to the degree, with the option to earn a master's degree online via distance graduate education.
Social science master's degrees include:
Academic Master's Degrees
- Master of Arts (MA): The classic master's degree in social science combines an advanced liberal arts education with a self-directed research project.
- Master of Science (MS or MSc): The MS program may be indistinguishable from the MA, or it may place more emphasis on related science disciplines and quantitative research methods.
Professional Master's Degrees
More and more universities are answering workforce demand for applied social science education with professional master's degree programs.
- Professional Master's Degree in Social Sciences (PMD): The professional master's degree emphasizes interdisciplinary and skills-based coursework rather than a specific research agenda. The degree incorporates practical training in administrative and business skills, with elective courses in areas like nonprofit management, marketing, and media skills. Other career-focused features include faculty with industry experience, internship opportunities, and the ability to earn a master's degree online.
- Master of Social Science (MSSc): The MSSc is a relatively rare degree title, similar in function to the professional master's degree. The MSSc is also interdisciplinary and course-intensive, but tends to focus more on academic social science disciplines than applied job skills such as business management. Students often study the intersection of two or more social science disciplines, in service of a specific social science career goal (for example, psychology, public administration, and criminology to prepare for a leadership position in law enforcement).
Career-Specific Master's Degrees
- Master of Social Work (MSW): The MSW focuses specifically on the skills needed to work in social services, either in clinical practice or public administration.
- Master of Public Administration (MPA): This professional master's degree prepares students for government or nonprofit leadership roles. The curriculum focuses on public policy, administration, management, and research methods.
- Master of Education (MEd): The education master's degree qualifies students to teach K-12 social sciences courses or community college courses in their specialty area. The MEd may also prepare you for a career in school counseling or education administration.
All of these master's degrees are available online, making them more easily accessible for working adults. The professional social science master's degrees are specifically geared for distance graduate education.
Social Science Disciplines
The social sciences touch every aspect of human behavior and endeavor. The following disciplines offer master's degrees:
- Anthropology studies human behavior in groups, using scientific methods and field observation. The field brings together archaeology, biology, linguistics, and ethnology.
- Communications & journalism deals with the phenomenon and applied practice of conveying information through speech, writing, and broadcast media.
- Criminal justice studies criminal behavior and institutional responses to crime, bringing together sociology, psychology, and law.
- Economics considers the phenomenon of commerce, taking into account the production and distribution of goods, commercial behavior, financial systems, and public policy.
- Geography takes a holistic view of the environment, including both human and physical features. Geographers study climate and natural ecosystems as well as the physical infrastructure and cultural practices of human societies.
- History, the study of human civilizations over time, incorporates both humanities and social science research methods.
- Linguistics is the study of the cognitive, structural, and social features of language.
- Psychology & behavioral science is a broad discipline spanning the scientific study of human behavior and cognition.
- Political science deals with the theory and practice of politics and political behavior. To gain insight into present phenomena, political scientists also study the history of political systems.
- Public administration is a professional field dedicated to the "pursuit of the public good" via government policy, public agencies, and nonprofit organizations.
- Social work & human services focuses on policy responses and community-based solutions to alleviate social problems.
- Sociology takes a systematic approach to the study of human society and social phenomena, drawing on related disciplines such as public policy, history, demography, political science, criminology, and cultural studies.
- Women's studies focuses on the social and cultural forces shaping the experiences of women and the construction of gender in modern society.
The Road Ahead for Graduate Social Science Programs
Traditionally, graduate social science programs were a stepping stone to a teaching career or doctoral program. Today, the degree is more likely to function as a means of professional career advancement. As a result, many master's degrees in social science are trending toward pre-professional curricula, which emphasize advanced skill-building over academic research. Graduates develop high-level abilities in:
- Quantitative research
- Analytical thinking
In addition to increasing your employment prospects, the master's degree in social science can boost your earning power. A 2007 study by the College Board found that the master's degree confers a salary premium of 20 percent above the bachelor's degree. The average graduate salary was $61,300, compared with $50,900 for the undergraduate degree.
Graduate-Level Careers in Social Science
Social science graduates go on to careers in:
- Program administration
- Political advocacy
- Policy analysis and development
- Social work
- Government agency administration
- Historical and archaeological preservation
- Urban and regional planning
- Criminal justice system administration
- K-12 teaching or administration
- Market research
- Public relations
- Business administration and management
The career outlook for social scientists varies widely depending on the field. Demand is high for social service workers; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment will grow 40 percent over the coming decade. Geographers, anthropologists, and sociologists will find increasing opportunity in scientific and management consulting, with employment increasing by as much as 28 percent through 2018. The federal government is expected to increase employment by 10 percent overall, with particular demand for public health and law enforcement workers.
A master's degree in social science offers versatile training for a broad range of careers and gives you a competitive edge in the job market. Today's graduate social science programs are designed to accommodate professional career ambitions. Earn a master's degree online and develop the advanced skills you need to take your career to the next level.
- "Government and advocacy, grantmaking, and civic organizations," Career Guide to Industries. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Jobs in the Social Science Fields, Riley Guide
- Master of Social Sciences, Ohio University
- Shellenbarger, Sue. "Work & Family Column." The Wall Street Journal (Jan 6, 2010)
- "Social Assistance, Except Child Day Care," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2008-2009). Bureau of Labor Statistics
- "Social Scientists," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2008-2009). Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Spalter-Roth, Roberta. "Trends in Professional Master's Degrees in the Social Sciences," American Sociological Association (Jul-Aug 2002)