The International Guide to Studying Humanities & Social Sciences

Studying humanities and social sciences qualifications can equip students with transferable skills that prepare them for the world of work. Here’s our international guide to these subjects.

The umbrella of humanities and social sciences encompasses a wide range of subjects, all with the same focus: human life, society and civilisation.

It’s hard to think of a broader subject, but that’s the beauty of it!

If you have students who have chosen to embark on a humanities or social sciences degree, they have a wide array of options they can choose from when it comes to applying for a university course. These include:

  • English Literature
  • History
  • Geography
  • Philosophy
  • Politics
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

And with this range of options comes a range of career pathways. All of the subjects listed above are designed to equip students with transferable skills to help them succeed in the world of work, and can consequently open up a number of job opportunities.

In this new instalment of our international careers blog series, we’ll take a closer look at studying humanities and social sciences subjects - what they are, the careers pathways they can lead to, and how students can make their applications stand out.

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Studying humanities and social sciences: busting the myths

As with creative/arts based degrees, humanities and social sciences subjects often fall victim to some unhelpful myths and misconceptions.

Many students (and their parents!) may think that these degrees are less challenging than maths/scientific disciplines, and therefore less likely to lead to a lucrative career.

However, humanities and social sciences qualifications can equip students with a lot of really useful and transferable skills for the workplace - including communication, analytical, research, and presentation skills.

What’s more, demand is growing for these creative and intrapersonal skills, and with a little bit of planning and forethought, students can embark on a wide range of interesting and fulfilling career pathways.

Let's dive a little deeper into these…

What can students do with a humanities/social sciences qualification?

On the whole humanities and social sciences subjects are not designed to lead to one particular career or discipline. As we mentioned above, they help students develop a broad range of transferable skills that can make them a great candidate for a number of jobs.

Here are just a few examples of the sectors that welcome humanities and social sciences graduates:

  • Marketing, PR and Journalism
  • Charity and public sector
  • Education and teaching
  • Recruitment and Human Resources

What does studying humanities and social sciences look like?

Content

Taking on a humanities or social sciences degree will teach your students a wide variety of skills, including those we mentioned in the previous section. This means that the courses are often very flexible, with students being able to choose their own modules and specialisms.

Many universities will also offer joint honours degrees, with students able to study two subjects alongside each other - for example, English and History or Politics, Philosophy and Economics. 

Teaching will differ between courses and countries, but usually consist of lectures, as well as seminars and tutorials in smaller groups where students will be actively encouraged to contribute ideas. Unlike some other subjects, independent learning is key. In many countries humanities and social sciences subjects have fewer face-to-face contact hours, with students required to take on their own research and writing projects.

Length

An undergraduate degree is usually the standard length of 3-4 years, but this may take longer if a student opts for a postgraduate qualification (more information below).

Assessment

A humanities or social sciences degree is usually assessed by a mixture of exams and essay-based coursework, though universities in some countries may offer the option to skip the exams entirely.

Many courses also require students to write a dissertation (sometimes referred to as a thesis) in their final year. This is an independent research project, where students write a long-form essay on a topic of their choice. Though they will have some help from their tutors, this is a time-consuming process which requires a lot of hard work and discipline!

Studying Humanities & Social Sciences: Hear from University of Guelph & University of Birmingham

Postgraduate options

Though a postgraduate qualification isn’t essential to get a job, there are many options. Many of these Some students may choose to take a Master’s programme after their undergraduate degree. For most business areas, this is not required, but may help students stand out when it comes to job applications. Some professions that may require a postgraduate qualification are:

Law

Humanities and social sciences are a good route into law. In many countries, students can take a postgraduate law degree or conversion course without having an undergraduate law degree. If your students are interested in law as a career pathway, we recommend you read this post.

Teaching

A teaching programme consists of a mixture of classroom learning and practical training within a school.

To take a teaching course or qualification, many universities require students to have a bachelor’s degree. For primary teaching, a degree in any subject is acceptable, but for secondary the subject a student took at bachelor’s level may influence the subjects they can teach.

Where should students apply to study humanities and social sciences?

As with many of the other subjects in this guide, there are great options all over the world for students who want to study humanities or social sciences.

Some countries - such as the US, Canada and the Netherlands, are home to specialist liberal arts colleges, where students can take a wide range of humanities and social sciences courses, and may be able to explore other areas alongside their chosen course/major.

Another thing to be aware of with this set of subjects is that your students will be expected to deliver persuasive and nuanced arguments in their essays and presentations. So, if your students are studying in a second language, they should think about whether they are confident speakers/writers, or whether they need to do some further language study beforehand (though it is worth stressing that university tutors definitely won’t discriminate against non-fluent speakers!).

How can students make their applications stand out?

When applying for a humanities or social sciences degree, students should demonstrate that they have already started developing the skills they will be learning in their degree course. These can include:

  • Communication: Have your students done anything that helped them develop this skill - e.g. joined a debating team, tutored younger students.
  • Writing and research: Have they done any writing outside of their schoolwork, like writing for a school newspaper, or publishing short stories or poems?
  • A passion for their subject: Have they done anything related to their chosen subject? E.g. visiting museums and historical sites; reading literature that was not assigned at school; attending lectures or events. Students should be able to really demonstrate why their course matters to them.

We hope that this guide will help you advise your students who are interested in humanities and social sciences. If you'd like to brush up your knowledge of 5 more popular subject pathways, download your free International Careers Handbook.

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