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Earning a Master of Public Affairs

No wonder you’re considering the possibility of earning a master’s in public affairs or master of social science online! You may be hoping to pursue an exciting new phase of your education, while exploring potential social sciences or public affairs career paths. Well, setting new career goals or investigating an awesome field may be exhilarating, but there’s also a lot to learn. Below, discover some info about the social sciences (hint: public affairs is just one of many potential disciplines you might pursue!) and check out some possible educational paths that may be perfect for you.

What exactly are the social sciences, anyway?

You probably already have a working definition of the social sciences, if you’re interested in pursuing a master of social science degree. However, even experts may disagree on this vast category of knowledge, which addresses various aspects of human behavior, social practices, and the uniqueness of different cultures. For instance, some scholars trace the social sciences back as far as Plato and the ancient Greeks, while others say people didn’t start to officially study social science until around the 18th century.ii  Similarly, not everybody agrees on what counts as part of the field of a social science. But, to give you an idea, here are a few areas of study that usually make the cut:

  • Social psychology
  • Economics
  • Cultural anthropology
  • Sociology
  • Political science (or public affairs)
  • Social statistics

The social sciences, I thought, needed the same kind of rigor and the same mathematical underpinnings that had made the ‘hard’ sciences so brilliantly successful.”

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~Herbert Simon, social scientist & and Nobel Prize laureate

What might I study in a master of social science online program?

Naturally, that will depend on the discipline you choose! Every school program varies, so be sure to check with any one or ones you may be considering. But to give you some perspective, here are a few potential types of master’s degree programs you may be interested in:

Masters in public affairs online – A masters in public affairs program may cover areas like public service, public policy, leadership, research methodology, and more. Prospective political scientists may opt to earn a master of public affairs.iii  In fact, about 17% of political scientists said they needed to earn their master’s degree for their current roles.iv

Masters in sociology online – This program may offer courses in sociological research, statistics, and other foundational areas, plus courses in specific topics like urban sociology, race, gender, or families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most sociologists earn at least a master’s degree, and some may pursue internships through their programs in order to further explore this diverse field!v

Online master’s degree in political science – Like earning a master of public affairs, earning an online master’s degree in political science could be one possible step to pursuing a political science career.iii This type of program may offer courses in subjects such as political theory, comparative politics, foreign policy, and more. 

Social psychology master’s programs online – Social psychology explores the relationship between human psychology and social order.i So, social psychology master’s programs explore topics in traditional psychology, like group dynamics, and apply them to social problems. You could potentially study social cognition, organizational behavior, community life, and similar subjects.

Online psychology master’s program – According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an online psychology master’s program covers areas like industrial-organizational psychology, statistics, research design, etc.vi  About 47% of industrial-organizational psychologists, who apply psychological principals to businesses and organizations, said they needed a master’s degree for their roles.vii

Did you know? Many important words in the social sciences were first used in the late 18th and early 19th centuries: class, democracy, humanitarian, liberal, conservative, and others! i

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Let’s talk about prerequisites and requirements!

So what might it take to earn a masters in public affairs or master’s of social science online? Again, that entirely depends on the program! However, there may be a few common prerequisites and requirements you might encounter.

Bachelor’s degree – Typically, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree before pursuing your master’s. So does your undergraduate major matter? That depends. For example, most psychology master’s programs do not require you to have been a psychology major as an undergrad.vi

Length of study – Earning a master’s degree may take about one or two years of study, depending on the program.viii  Factors that could impact the length of your program may include the number of credits required to earn the degree, your part-time or full-time status, etc.

Graduation requirements – Some programs may award a master’s degree based on an examination, or a work of original research often known as a thesis.viii Check with programs you’re interested in to learn more about what’s expected.

Extras – Some programs may have additional requirements or opportunities, such as internships. For example, sociology programs may encourage students to pursue professional experience through internships or other opportunities related to applied sociology.v

Is it time to take the next step?

If you’re ready to learn more about whether a master’s in public affairs or social sciences programs may be perfect for you, check out some of the sponsored listings on this page.


[i]britannica.com/topic/social-science [ii]encyclopedia.com/topic/social_science.aspx [iv]bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm#tab-4 [v]bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/sociologists.htm#tab-4 [vi].bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-4 [vii]onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3032.00 [viii]britannica.com/topic/degree-education#ref178086

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