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Study humanities and social sciences courses in Australia

Field of Study: Humanities and Social Sciences Course Information

If you are interested in pondering over the timeless life questions and really getting your head buzzing, then it’s hard to go past the humanities and social sciences. This is the second largest of our fields of study (after business and management) and it's also one of the most complicated, with many courses and specialisations within courses, as well as different kinds of careers and further study options.

For more information about careers and education in this field, visit the Australian Academy of the Humanities website.

Other related fields that may be of interest include business and management, communications, education and training, languages, law, psychology and social work.

Browse humanities and social sciences courses by state

VET study in humanities and social sciences

Courses, majors and specialisations in Humanities and Social Sciences

This is a field with a great many different course options. Courses are available in areas ranging from government services, non-clinical mental health work and museum studies to ministry and theology, creative writing and editing, and library and information services. They are available at all qualification levels, from certificate I through to advanced diploma.

Where to study Humanities and Social Sciences courses

These courses are widely available at TAFE institutes and private VET providers around the country. Some may also be available through universities.

Many courses in this field will have virtually no entry requirements. However, others, particularly the diploma and advanced diploma programs may require Year 12 completion.

Career opportunities in Humanities and Social Sciences field

VET graduates in this field have many career opportunities in a range of occupational areas such as library information, publishing, human services, counselling, aged care work, children’s services and disability work.

Courses at diploma and advanced diploma level will equip graduates to qualify in these various occupations, and to work in relevant community and educational organisations.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

Undergraduate study in humanities and social sciences

Courses, majors and specialisations in Humanities and Social Sciences

The following are just some of the majors you can study in this field:

  • Ancient history

  • Anthropology

  • Counselling

  • Information management

  • International studies

  • Museum studies

  • Philosophy

  • Political science

  • Sociology

  • Youth work

This is a huge field as far as courses and specialisations go. The Bachelor of Arts is the flagship qualification in this field. The beauty of a general course like the ‘BA’, as it is called, is the freedom it gives you. You can choose to explore whatever fascinates you — Egyptian artefacts, Middle Eastern studies, art history, English poetry, linguistic structures or theories about culture and aesthetics.

Disciplines like philosophy are as old as the university institution itself but you may also find yourself studying social science disciplines such as politics and sociology. These cover plenty of theory but also critically analyse practical ‘real world’ problems.

If you want to combine your passion for the humanities and social sciences with something more applied, there are many double degrees available — you can add law, education, engineering or business, just to name a few. Many humanities graduates complete a postgraduate qualification to get that vocational edge.

Aside from the sometimes negative employment outcomes, courses in this field are among the most appreciated and best-taught courses in universities. They offer a thoroughly pleasant way of studying, with usually only 12 or so ‘contact’ hours a week, some of them non-compulsory. As you would expect, the courses vary greatly in their ideologies and teaching approaches. Disciplines like politics and philosophy are among the oldest of all Western forms of learning, and with long histories come an equally long list of schools of thought.

If you’re thinking about choosing a course in this field, you need to consider the following:

  • Courses are available at just about every campus in the country, but even courses with the same name differ a great deal from one campus to another in terms of their focus and the specialisations offered. This can even be the case within the same institution, so browse carefully.

  • There is much choice within as well as between courses, so you don’t stop making decisions on enrolment day.

  • Once enrolled, you will probably have a lot of spare time. It can be easy to forget why you’re there.

  • The loss of contact with practical learning and responsibility doesn’t work for some students.

  • If you think you might do postgraduate research, universities with established research track records are usually the best.

The introduction of the Australian Curriculum has seen history being taught as a stand-alone subject up to Year 10 in every school across the country, while the second phase follows on with an emphasis on geography and the arts. It is hoped that this will have a flow-on effect, with more students continuing the study of the humanities into university.

The Australian Government has introduced a number of initiatives in recent years to encourage Australians to embrace their ties within the Asia-Pacific region, with calls for universities to increase courses in areas such as Asian cultural studies and provide greater opportunities for student exchange across the region.

Amid some educators’ concerns that the more vocational ‘creative industries’ will impact on enrolment and course numbers in the humanities and social sciences, measures are being taken to emphasise the value of the generalist humanities degrees. This has seen universities introduce internship components, final-year capstone subjects to reinforce the knowledge learned over the course of the degree, concurrent language diplomas and breadth subjects.

A university model similar to some overseas systems has the potential to become more common in the field. It involves completing a generalist undergraduate degree (such as arts), followed by a more specific professional graduate program to qualify for a specific career.

Where to study Humanities and Social Sciences courses

The great thing about the humanities and social sciences field is that courses are offered just about everywhere — at all universities and at a large number of private providers.

Many courses offer part-time options, and quite a few will accommodate distance education students. Most have modest cut-offs and plenty of room for mature age and other special entrants.

See Degree costs and loans for more information about paying for your degree.

To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.

Career opportunities in Humanities and Social Sciences field

There are some specialisations in this field that offer clear career paths (for example, counselling and library studies), but for graduates of others it can take a while for their skills and knowledge to reap rewards. That said, this is only the scene immediately after graduation. Ten years down the track, some graduates are finding their way to positions where communication, critical thinking, research and problem-solving skills are highly prized. You may want to consider completing an internship or international exchange to broaden and apply your skills, which may assist when it comes time to look for a job.

These courses always score quite well in the national Course Experience Questionnaire survey. Graduates are, on average, very satisfied with the teaching, the skills they gained and their overall course experience. In 2014, there was a 45 per cent graduate unemployment rate. For those who did enter the labour market, the average starting salary of $51,585 was average compared to other fields of study. Postgraduate study is a popular career pathway, with 38 per cent of graduates going onto further study. Many government departments and major corporations offer programs for graduates of humanities and social sciences.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

Postgraduate study in humanities and social sciences

Courses, majors and specialisations in Humanities and Social Sciences

A high proportion of postgraduate students are bachelor degree graduates of the field who go on directly to further study, some to specialise in an area of interest and others, no doubt, because they difficulty finding a full-time job. Others come from just about any academic and professional area, thanks to the diversity of the field and the lack of prerequisites.

There is a long tradition of research in the humanities and social sciences, and research students make up a significant proportion of all enrolled. That said, coursework programs are claiming an increasing share of the market. Many coursework programs are based on traditional disciplines such as philosophy, history and archaeology. Others are interdisciplinary (population studies and strategic affairs) or relevant to a particular area of work, such as library studies or counselling.

If you are contemplating a research degree, note that you can do a substantial amount of research in some coursework programs; this option might suit you better if you’re not sure whether you want to dedicate yourself to one area.

Whether you are keen to gain another qualification to help you in your career or just want to explore an interest, you will find plenty of programs to engage your imagination and intellect in this broad and exciting field.

Where to study Humanities and Social Sciences courses

Courses in humanities and social sciences are some of the most widely available of all fields, on offer at both universities and private higher education providers alike. Most courses offer part-time options and many will accommodate distance education students.

For those considering research, the choice between institutions usually comes down to what you can find out about each department’s research program and the academics who support it. It’s a good sign if there is some strong work in your field of interest, but, as always, the best way to find out more is to talk to those in the know — usually the postgraduate or research coordinators.

To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.

Career opportunities in Humanities and Social Sciences field

The national Course Experience Questionnaire survey suggests that postgraduates in this field are very pleased with their experience, giving teaching quality and overall satisfaction five stars. While job prospects and starting salaries are generally poor for humanities and social science undergraduates, prospects for postgraduates are about average, with 80 per cent of graduates gaining work within four months of course completion and the average salary sitting at $77,202.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

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