Social sciences as university majors often fly under the radar for students. It is safe to say that students, in one way or another, have come across some forms of social sciences in their high school education, with Economics, History, and Geography being popular. But when it comes to picking the social sciences as a potential major at university, a common problem we see students facing is not knowing where to start. A high school social science curriculum tends to aim to put them into neat categories, where Economics is just Economics and History is just History. But in reality, genuine social issues are very rarely clear cut. Recent social issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement or healthcare reform are not purely politics or history – it is a mixture of many different facets of society in both the past and the present. As the social sciences are incredibly interconnected, students may find it difficult to fit their interests into the box called a “major”.
Social sciences are the overarching study of societies and the peoples within those societies. While social issues are indeed a big part of the social sciences, that is not all there is to it – the social sciences cover all aspects of social life. As an example, Linguistics has become a more popular major in recent years. Linguistics is the study of everything to do with language, from how we produce sounds, to the meanings of those sounds. It is the study of how we interact with each other. However, language is also very culturally dependent – there is a saying that anyone who studies linguistics is also studying anthropology, the study of humanity, of cultures, and the people within them. Under this umbrella of Anthropology lies all the social structures that make up a society, including History, Geography, Economics, Politics, and so on. From just this example of Linguistics, you can probably tell that the social sciences have considerable overlap with one another. So what does it actually mean to study the social sciences at university?
Taking the Black Lives Matter movement as an example, if we were to examine the same social issue through different kinds of lenses, the result would differ drastically. A History major could focus more on the historical systemic and systematic racism that has occurred in the US in the past and how it is affecting the present. A Politics student might want to look at how politics have perpetuated that very same racism throughout time. And an Economics student could take another approach and look at how the structures within the US economy does or does not support the BLM movement. An Anthropology major, on the other hand, would probably look at all of these things, but perhaps not to the same level of depth!
With just one example of how different social sciences approach the same social issue, it is obvious that the social sciences are linked together in many ways. The question that remains is now… Which social science major should I pick? Frankly speaking, the path to the “right” social science is a very personal one. A student would need ample exposure outside of a high school curriculum. That means lots of reading and talking to people who are knowledgeable in the field.
I had originally intended to major in English with a concentration in Film during my time in college. I ended up majoring in Anthropology with a specialization in Archaeology (the study of human activity through material remains). How this change happened was actually taking film classes and realizing that I spent my time taking apart the language used in the script and how that changed the character construction. I then turned my attention to Linguistics, and then eventually expanding that interest into Anthropology, the study of humanity, from evolution to cultural practices. My final senior thesis, which was just over 100 pages long, involved explorations into economics, art history, anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, politics, and psychology.
All in all, the good thing about picking a social science as a major is that when you pick one, you pick all of them. The specific choice of your major is only a matter of what focus you want to take. For myself, choosing Anthropology meant that I focused on the societies and cultures and the peoples within. For an Economics student, they would focus more on how markets function within society rather than the society itself. But rest assured! While you will probably touch upon different kinds of theory across the disciplines, you will not need to study all of it – the direction and how in-depth you want to go is entirely up to you.
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By Sabrina Ma, Admissions Consultant