Your Complete Guide to Social Science Jobs

Masked shoppers in Lyon, France after lockdown

At its core, the social sciences study human behavior. They cover a huge umbrella of sub-disciplines – criminology, psychology, political science, economics, sociology and anthropology, to name a few.

If you’re enrolled in a liberal arts undergraduate program, getting a job in the social sciences is a logical next step after you graduate. Your coursework will help you explore many questions social scientists ask themselves:

By dissecting these and other questions, you’ll acquire the soft skills social scientists need: critical thinking and strong communication. What happens after you graduate? What specific jobs could you get in the social sciences?

As we mentioned, social science is a vast field of study. Depending on what you want to do after you graduate, you’re going to have to zero in on a specific discipline. Many of those disciplines require a master’s or PhD.

An Overview of Social Science Jobs in the Social and Behavioral Sciences

Many social and behavioral science jobs necessitate a social science degree. In addition, job candidates with master’s or PhDs often get a second look over those who only have their bachelor’s.

That isn’t always the case, though. There are a few social and behavioral science jobs which don’t require advanced degrees. Some roles in public service or health do have licensing requirements. Let’s look at some of the most popular.


Psychiatrist session with young manPsychiatrists identify and treat moderate to severe mental health disorders. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists have the authority to prescribe medications to their patients. Their medical training, and knowledge of biochemistry, qualifies them to perform a variety of medical laboratory and psychological tests.

Think of psychiatrists as you would other doctors specializing in a particular field: podiatrists, oncologists, and the like. All require a detailed understanding of how the human body works. Before they can prescribe any medications, psychiatrists must understand how those medications will impact their patients’ biochemistry.

Writing prescriptions isn’t the only thing psychiatrists do. They may use a variety of treatments, depending on their patients’ needs. Psychotherapy is a common practice among psychiatrists, and has been found to help patients effectively manage mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.

Psychiatrist Educational Requirements

Becoming a psychiatrist takes 11 years, requiring a doctor of medicine (MD) degree. Their undergraduate experience doesn’t necessarily have to be pre-med. Candidates could major in psychology, social sciences, or even a liberal studies program with a pre-med concentration. After completing medical school, they must pass their state licensure exams before beginning residency.

The residency is a mixed experience. Most aspiring psychiatrists spend the first year of their residency in a hospital treating a variety of medical illnesses. Then, they spend an additional three to four years as a resident psychiatrist. They learn psychotherapy techniques, how to diagnose and treat mental health disorders, and the appropriate times to prescribe psychiatric medications.

Upon completing their residency, many psychiatrists opt to take a written and oral examination by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. This earns them the title of a “board certified” psychiatrist.

Psychiatrist Salary

Given that they hold medical doctorates, it’s not surprising that psychiatrists make a very good living. Psychiatrists earn an average $217,100 annually. That’s already above the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting threshold of $208,000 per year.

It’s likely the most experienced psychiatrists in the top 10 percent are pushing well past $300,000 annually. That’s not a far-fetched estimate, especially when you look at the average salaries in top-paying states for this occupation:

      1. North Dakota: $288,060 per year.
      2. Kansas: $281,410 per year.
      3. Minnesota: $278,380 per year.
      4. New Mexico: $268,290 per year.
      5. Nebraska: $268,200 per year.

Psychiatric Technicians and Aides

Psychiatric technicians and aides focus on delivering patient care. Whereas psychiatrists have the training required to diagnose and prescribe medications, technicians and aides dispense those medications based on a doctor’s instructions.

Often working in mental health facilities, psychiatric technicians and aids are responsible for:

It’s a fast-growing occupation, as well. The BLS expects jobs for psychiatric technicians and aides will by grow 11 percent from 2020 to 2030 – about 3 percent faster than all other occupations.

Psychiatric Technician and Aides Education Requirements

You don’t need a degree to become a psychiatric technician or aid, although it certainly wouldn’t hurt. Most positions require a postsecondary certificate or associate’s in psychiatric technology. Other than that, a high school diploma is enough to get your foot in the door.

For these reasons, a social science degree will set you apart from other applicants. Hiring managers will see it as the mark of a curious mind; one that wants truly help others. The hands-on, often emotionally taxing work psychiatric technicians do would complement your desire to help the world.

Psychiatric Technician and Aides Salary

Psychiatric technicians and aides make an average $38,080 per year across the U.S. Those who stick with the profession and make it to the top 10 percent earn at least $59,020 per year. Based on average yearly salaries, the top-paying states for this position include:

      1. California: $58,400 per year.
      2. District of Columbia: $53,670 per year.
      3. Connecticut: $52,970 per year.
      4. Massachusetts: $47,860 per year.
      5. Hawaii: $44,520 per year.


Psychologist in session with patientWhile psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors, psychologists focus more on behavioral counseling. They help their clients overcome anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or other mental health issues that may not require medication. Their day-to-day responsibilities include:

Psychology is a diverse field. You could work with adults in a clinical capacity, help businesses improve employee conditions, or guide troubled youth in a school. It can be a rewarding career. Támara Hill, a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Therapist, described the ups and downs of hers in an interview with Psychology Today.

“Although this job can truly affect the psyche and lead to compassion fatigue or burnout, I find that my most fulfilling cases and experiences are those that include trying to reach the most difficult kids. Those kids who have been abused, neglected, or traumatized and who do not feel they can trust anyone. My fulfillment comes when I see that child opening up and reaching back to me.”

Educational Requirements to Become a Psychologist

If you plan on working with patients, you need to obtain a Doctor of Psychology, an endeavor that usually takes five to seven years to complete. There are accelerated programs that allow you to obtain a master’s and PhD in four years.

What about your bachelor’s degree? A liberal studies degree with a concentration in psychology should prepare you for your master’s. Many social science majors offer the same focus as well. These programs cover the fundamentals of the science:

      • An introduction to psychological science.
      • Research methods and techniques.
      • Personality and behavior.
      • Social psychology.

Psychologist Salary

In general, psychologists make a respectable living. On average, they earn $90,710 per year across the nation. The top-paid psychologists reported grossing upwards of $137,590 per year – a nice figure for those who have spent much of their lives helping patients. States offering the highest average annual salaries include:

      1. California: $115,830 per year.
      2. Hawaii: $110,780 per year.
      3. Louisiana: $109,180 per year.
      4. Oregon: $108,000 per year.
      5. Washington D.C.: $106,920 per year.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Group counseling sessionSubstance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors assist those recovering from addictions. Some work through private practices or facilities offering addiction recovery services.

Those specializing in behavioral disorders or general mental health treat individuals suffering from eating disorders, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and other issues.

Counselors concentrating in substance abuse help individuals reestablish professional and personal relationships. Many use 12-step programs and group therapy to advise patients, offering constructive ways to deal with life stresses without turning to substances.

Mental health counselors treat individuals, families, couples, and groups suffering from a variety of conditions. Anyone suffering from depression, low self-esteem, stress, and anxiety typically seek help from these counselors. 

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors Educational Requirements

Most substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor jobs require a bachelor’s degree, at minimum. However, it’s not the be-all, end-all to working in this field. Some candidates have high school diplomas with relevant certifications.

For those who do have bachelor’s degrees, a bachelor’s in social science is very common. Degrees in psychology, public policy, or social services are also prevalent among candidates for these roles.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors Salary

Counselors offering substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and general mental health treatments are in high demand. The BLS predicts job openings for these counselors to grow 23 percent between 2020 and 2030 – 15 percent faster than all other occupations.

In the U.S., substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earn an average $51,550 per year. The top 10 percent of the profession (those with advanced degrees and the most experience) earn over $78,700 annually. The top-paying states for this profession include:

      1. Nevada: $68,560 per year, on average.
      2. Utah: $62,250 per year, on average.
      3. Alaska: $61,980 per year, on average.
      4. New Jersey: $61,310 per year, on average.
      5. Oregon: $59,800 per year, on average.

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Meeting with probation officerProbation officers and correctional treatment specialists help law offenders adjust to life after paying their debt to society. A job that’s expected to grow 4 percent from 2020 to 2030, these specialists focus on:

Parole and probation officers help offenders execute their rehabilitation plans, often documenting the risk of a parolee or probationer committing another crime. Correctional treatment specialists develop rehabilitation plans by conducting psychological tests and collaborating with parole officers. Their goal is to ensure rehabilitation plans endow offenders with the skills needed to keep jobs and refrain from committing crimes.

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialist Education Requirements

Most job candidates need a bachelor’s degree to become a probation officer or correctional treatment specialist. A liberal arts degree with a concentration on criminal justice will help you get there.

After graduation, candidates participate in training programs sponsored by state or federal authorities. These programs prepare students to pass certification or licensing exams needed to enter the field. 

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialist Salary

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists earn an average $61,900 per year. Experienced officers and specialists likely reach the six-figure mark. The top 10 percent of earners in this field bring in a minimum of $98,510 annually.

Based on the average yearly income, the top-paying states for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists include:

      1. California: $95,820 per year, on average.
      2. Massachusetts: $85,400 per year, on average.
      3. New Jersey: $75,960 per year, on average.
      4. New York: $72,110 per year, on average.
      5. Minnesota: $70,070 per year, on average.

Social and Human Service Assistants

An entry-level position for those interested in helping others, social and human service assistants work with social workers, mental health counselors, and others to deliver client treatment plans. Their day-to-day responsibilities include:

Social and Human Service Assistant Education Requirements

A high school diploma is the minimum requirement for becoming a social and human service assistant. However, more hiring managers are looking for candidates with associate or bachelor-level education in the social sciences. Coursework in public and social policy – a key tenant of any liberal arts program – will also help candidates gain an upper hand over other applicants. 

Social and Human Service Assistants Salary

Social and human service assistants make an average $38,230 per year. The most experienced workers earn at least $56,080 annually. A bachelor’s degree may place you somewhere in the middle, if you have no prior experience in the field.

The top-paying states for these professionals include:

      1. District of Columbia: $54,640 per year, on average.
      2. North Dakota: $48,020 per year, on average.
      3. California: $45,130 per year, on average.
      4. Alaska: $43,750 per year, on average.
      5. Connecticut: $43,670 per year, on average.

An Overview of Social Science Jobs in Research and Applied Sociology

Most research-oriented social science jobs require a bachelor’s degree, at minimum. Master’s and PhDs are becoming par for the course as well.

“Research-oriented” could mean a number of things. An academic position that uses grant money to fund research projects. A job in the private sector forecasting market trends. A survey of a culture’s attitudes toward marriage. The topics you study are as diverse as you’d like them to be.  


Sociologist in library, surrounded by booksSociologists are in the business of studying society. They analyze activity across dozens of groups, from socioeconomic classes to political organizations; religious institutions to academic circles. Any group of people is of interest to sociologists.

Most sociologists work in an academic environment, studying how public policy, social trends, and other phenomena impact various groups. Their day-to-day includes:

Many sociologists focus on a specific area of study. While some develop expertise on public health, others examine criminal behavior.

Sociologist Education Requirements

A bachelor’s in social science, sociology, or a related field may get you an entry-level position. During your undergrad, seek electives that teach statistics or research practices applicable to sociology. An internship will look good on your resume as well.

If you’re serious about pursuing a research-oriented career, then getting your master’s degree or PhD is almost mandatory. You also need to think about where you want to work. Does the private sector suit your lifestyle? Or do you favor an academic setting? The answer will determine whether you choose a master’s in:

      • A traditional program focusing on academic research methods and peer review practices.
      • Applied, clinical, or professional programs which instruct you how to apply sociology to empower businesses.

Sociologist Salary

Sociologists are some of the best-paid academics across the country, earning an average $93,420 per year. Those with advanced degrees and plenty of experience break six figures: sociologists in the top 10 percent of their profession reported earning at least $143,020 per year.

Which state offers the highest annual average salary for sociologists? Some may surprise you. North Carolina topped the list at $109,930 per year, followed by California at $106,870 per year.

      1. North Carolina: $109,930 per year.
      2. California: $106,870 per year.
      3. Illinois: $95,860 per year.
      4. Massachusetts: $92,090 per year.
      5. Maryland: $88,290 per year.


College students in deep discussionThe field of anthropology explores what makes us human: our biology, our language, and our culture. Therefore, it’s not surprising that anthropologists lead adventurous lives. For liberal arts students fascinated with exploring the world, pursuing anthropology would be an excellent avenue.

Anthropologists often work in a federal or academic setting, with some working as business consultants. Their day-to-day responsibilities include:

Anthropologist Education Requirements

Both liberal arts and social science majors will develop a sound foundation for careers as anthropologists. Each major encourages students to analyze different facets of humanity: our political structures, religions, social values, and cultural practices. After completing their bachelor’s, students venturing into anthropology should obtain their master’s degrees in the field.

A bachelor’s degree with a concentration in anthropology will get your foot in the door. However, advanced research positions require a master’s. In addition, many foreign governments require many overseas anthropologists to possess PhDs. Depending on your specialty, getting your PhD could take anywhere from six to 10 years.

Anthropologist Salary

Anthropologists earn an average $69,960 per year across the U.S. Those who have been in the field the longest can earn six figures. The top 10 percent in this profession report earning at least $102,770 annually.

Between Columbia University and the expansive State University of New York network, it’s no surprise that anthropologists in New York earn the highest average annual salary: $92,710. Those in Alaska make a comparable wage, an average $88,340 per year.

      1. New York: $92,710 per year.
      2. Alaska: $88,340 per year.
      3. Hawaii: $85,560 per year.
      4. Illinois: $76,960 per year.
      5. Idaho: $76,260 per year.


Historian in library doing researchWant to go deeper than the history textbooks you read in high school? Historians get into the nitty gritty: reading documents from archives to piece together the details of the past. It’s one of the most research-intensive social science jobs there is, and can reveal some important lessons for those living in the present.

Historians are investigators as much as they are researchers. They not only dig into government and university archives, but also newspapers, interviews, personal diaries, and any other material that can help them tell a story.

The Work of Historian and Journalist Anne Applebaum

Barbed wire with birds flying freeWe’re all familiar with the atrocities the Nazis committed in the early 20th century. We mourn the victims of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Dachau. Yet, many Westerners have never heard of Solovetsky, Baikal-Amur, or Kolyma.

Anne Applebaum’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work, Gulag: A History, enlightens readers of the Soviet Union’s vast network of concentration camps. Drawing from Russian archives and interviews with survivors, Applebaum details how the communists systematically alienated, dehumanized, and enslaved millions of people deemed “enemies of the state” for 60 years.

Lauded as one of the most extensive accounts of the Gulag system, Applebaum’s book details every facet of its existence: from its victims to its administration. Most importantly, it illuminates a part of history we shouldn’t ignore.

Historian Educational Requirements

A general liberal arts or social sciences degree will contain history courses as part of its curriculum. If there’s a particular country or time period that interests you, enroll in electives that explore them. Ask your professors about internships with museums, archives, or other institutions with access to historical documents. This will set you up for an entry-level position as a research assistant.

Many practicing historians have their master’s degrees. Research positions with the federal government and universities usually require candidates with PhDs. A PhD in history takes between nine to 11 years, depending on your concentration.

Historian Salary

Historians earn an average $68,400 per year. Remember, this includes everyone from assistants to lead researchers. Those with their PhDs and the most time on the job make a good living – upwards of $116,340 annually.

Which states offer the best pay? Historians in Alaska make the most, earning an average $101,900 per year. Virginia is the runner-up, with historians in this state grossing an average $92,820 annually.

      1. Alaska: $101,900 per year.
      2. Virginia: $92,820 per year.
      3. Hawaii: $87,650 per year.
      4. Colorado: $87,210 per year.
      5. North Carolina: $81,670 per year.

Urban and Regional Planner

Have you ever driven through an unused or abandoned part of your city and wonder how it could be put to better use? Maybe you envision yourself creating more housing options for the working class, or creating jobs.

That’s much of what urban and regional planners do. They work with towns, cities, counties, and other locales to optimize land use. Their chief responsibilities include:

Urban and Regional Planner Education Requirements

A social science degree will endow you with the theories and practices behind public policy. So, it’s relevant to a career in urban planning. However, upon graduation, you should pursue a master’s in urban planning accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board. 

The Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) ensures universities provide students with the skills necessary for urban planning careers. They develop its accreditation standards with the American Planning Association (APA), the APA’s American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning.

Urban and Regional Planner Salary

As of May 2020, urban and regional planners earn an average $79,410 per year. Stick with the career if you pursue it. The most experienced, educated planners in the country earn at least $118,280 annually.

Where in the country do urban and regional planners earn the most? Those working in Washington D.C. earn the highest average annual salary, followed by California and New York.

      1. Washington D.C.: $113,680 per year.
      2. California: $95,840 per year.
      3. New York: $93,330 per year.
      4. Washington: $86,460 per year.
      5. Oregon: $86,380 per year.

Political Scientist

Adult in voting boothPolitical scientists research and analyze different types of government – republics, monarchies, democracies, federations, dictatorships, and others. They examine the effects of public policy, voter behavior, and other factors which affect political systems.  

A political scientist’s work involves conducting research, studying both qualitative and quantitative data. For example, one may peruse survey data to identify a voting population’s opinions about a public policy: Do Millennials favor nuclear power more than Baby Boomers? What percentage of females own firearms?

As you might have guessed, most political scientists work for the federal government – 50 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They may counsel legislators, develop campaigns for incumbents, or consult intelligence services.

Political Scientist Education Requirements

A social science degree with a concentration in political science will get your foot in the door. That “door” could be for an internship. What that internship entails depends on what you want to do. If you want to work for a political think tank, ask if they’re hiring research interns. If you want to get into politics, start volunteering on a candidate’s campaign. Get to know the ins and outs.

Either position will get you an entry-level job, but most political scientists have a master’s or PhD. Those degrees don’t necessarily have to be in political science. Again, it depends on the avenue you want to take. Some obtain their master’s in public policy, international relations, or public administration.

Political Scientist Salary

Overall, political science is a financially rewarding career. Those working in the field make an average $124,100 per year. Think about that: The average salary is six figures. Earning a PhD or repeatedly running successful campaigns pays off as well. The top 10 percent reported grossing upwards of $170,800 annually.

Given its proximity to D.C., it’s not surprising that political scientists in Maryland make more on average than their colleagues working in other states: $151,660 per year, on average. Virginia’s political scientists make a little less – an average $145,780 per year.

      1. Maryland: $151,660 per year.
      2. Virginia: $145,780 per year.
      3. Michigan: $142,750 per year.
      4. Washington D.C.: $126,530 per year.
      5. New York: $123,350 per year.

Social Worker

Social workers assist people suffering from problems in their everyday lives. Jobs in social work are expected to grow faster than all other occupations: 12 percent between 2020 and 2030. Often working with public services, social workers:

Social Worker Educational Requirements

Many social workers hold bachelor’s degrees in the field. However, those with social science, psychology, or public policy degrees can also qualify for jobs. Those who opt for a more general social sciences study would benefit from electives which focus on social work.

What a social worker can and can’t do largely depends on the licenses they hold. For example, clinical social workers are licensed to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. Becoming a clinical social worker requires:

      • A master’s degree in social work.
      • At least two years of post-grade supervised clinical experience.

Once candidates meet these requirements, they may take their state’s licensing exam.

Social Worker Salary

Across the U.S. social workers bring in an average $55,950 per year. The top 10 percent of social workers earn a minimum of $85,820 annually. As you build experience and gain additional certifications, reaching this salary is probable.

Your salary will fluctuate depending on what kind of social worker you decide to pursue:

      • Child, family, and school social workers earn an average $52,370 per year. Experienced social workers in this category make at least $80,290 per year.
      • Healthcare social workers, who help patients adjust to lifestyle changes as a result of a diagnosis, make an average $60,470 annually. The most experienced healthcare social workers make a minimum of $87,150 per year.

The professionals listed above aren’t your only options. The social sciences cast a wide net, and in that net, you’ll catch wind of a career of which you’ve never heard. As Mike Rowe says: follow the opportunity, and bring your passion with you.