What You Will Learn
These concentrations consider big questions about peoples and societies past and present, and investigate phenomena large and small – the minds and brains of socially situated people; groups like families, communities, organizations, and governments; and large-scale patterns of international trade, alliance, and conflict. Several social science concentrations engage vital normative questions about timeless issues – such as the relationship between freedom and morality, or the responsibilities of citizens in a democratic polity – by examining and debating classical and contemporary ideas in social thought and political philosophy.
Social scientists study their subjects systematically by conducting a wide variety of empirical re- search. They acquire data using ingenious methods, including laboratory experiments, field experiments that intervene in real-life settings, sample surveys, documentary evidence, and administrative data from record-keeping systems for tracking taxation, health care utilization, social media usage, and other transactions. They employ more qualitative methods like participant observation, in-depth interviewing, and ethnography to elicit an interpretative understanding of what social events and phenomena mean from the standpoint of research subjects.
By learning the research methods used in their fields, social science concentrators prepare themselves for a variety of post-College futures. Most professional education requires the ability to distill conclusions from complex bodies of information; many rewarding careers have similar requisites. Concentrating in a social science field helps students to gain such skills, along with critical reading, clear expository writing, speaking articulately, and learning to synthesize diverse perspectives and ideas. A senior thesis research project – an option in all social science concentrations, and a requirement in Social Studies – is a rewarding experience by itself, and an excellent way to combine and enhance these skills. Participating in a laboratory group or serving as an assistant to a faculty project can also help to develop them.
What Graduates Do
While no social science concentration offers pre-professional training, all offer an excellent liberal arts foundation for post-graduate study in education, law, management, medicine, and other professions. Social science concentrators also enter careers in business, journalism, and public service, and a few opt for research careers in university or non-academic settings.
Where to Begin
Students should look carefully at the introductory courses in each of the Social Science concentrations which offer different approaches to the study of social science topics.
Visit the Division of Social Science website to learn more about the social sciences at Harvard.