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Social sciences and humanities

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Why study social sciences and humanities in the UK?
Courses and qualifications

Entry requirements
Student experiences

Why study social sciences and humanities in the UK?

The UK has a strong heritage in the social sciences and humanities – both in education and research – with some of the oldest universities in the world and a huge amount of public funding.

Did you know…

  • UK universities top global rankings in the arts and humanities (QS World University Rankings), and four UK universities are in the top six overall.

  • The UK government supports the arts and humanities through the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which each year offers about 700 new research awards and 1,500 postgraduate awards worth more than £60 million, in subjects including literature, languages, archaeology and philosophy.

  • The Economic & Social Research Council, meanwhile, has an annual budget of around £203 million and supports more than 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students every year.

  • For communications and media students, the UK has ‘the largest creative sector in Europe… and one of its most advanced digital TV and radio markets’ (CBI). Broadcasters such as the BBC and the UK’s newspaper, magazine and book publishers are globally renowned.

  • The UK is a world leader in digital research collections and archives, and students can access these huge online archives for free. Over 100 collections cover centuries of social development. Find out more here.

  • Students in the UK have access to diverse art galleries, libraries, museums and cultural institutions – whether you’re in a small town or a big city. Most colleges and universities have world-class libraries on campus.

  • History and archaeology students also benefit from the UK’s rich history and unique sites such as Hadrian’s Wall in Cumbria and the Roman amphitheatre in Chester. Despite its small size, the UK has 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

  • Organisations such as the British Library, the British Academy, the British Museum and the Museum of London (which houses the largest archaeological archive in the world) are dedicated to the study and preservation of art, society and culture, and offer extensive resources for students.


John Rylands Library at Manchester University ©James Glossop

Courses and qualifications

Social sciences and humanities are very broad – within these disciplines, you can study many different subjects from school to university in the UK, and you will find many degree programmes that combine two or more subjects.

In this film, student Shehrazade, from Pakistan, explains how her MA in Shakespeare studies enables her to specialise in a subject she loves.

It’s important to note that academic departments can vary between institutions – you might find that subjects such as history and anthropology are part of the social sciences department at some universities, and the humanities department at others.

Social studies
Social studies focus on human society and social relationships. Subjects include politics, anthropology, economics, international relations, sociology, social work and human geography.

At school and further education level, GCSEs, International Baccalaureate, A-levels and Scottish Highers are available in subjects such as Social Science, Health and Social Care, Citizenship, Philosophy, Politics and Psychology. There are also more vocational (career-based) courses in further education – for example, BTEC First Diplomas, HNDs or Foundation Degrees in Social Care or Public Service.

At higher education level, there are many courses at undergraduate level (most lead to a BA qualification) and postgraduate level (most lead to an MA or PhD qualification). Most include lectures, practical exercises, seminars and tutorials. Master’s courses usually require you to complete a dissertation, and at PhD level, you will be required to undertake original research, data collection and analysis in a specialist area.

The humanities include a broad range of subjects to do with the study of human culture – for example, archaeology, religious studies (theology), history, philosophy, literature and languages.

If you’re studying for GCSE, International Baccalaureate, A-level or Scottish Higher qualifications, many humanities will be core parts of your course – for example, English language and literature, history and modern languages. You can also study subjects such as archaeology, classical civilisation, government and politics at UK schools and further education colleges. Most are academic courses, meaning they focus on theory and research.

All of these subjects can also be studied at higher education level, both undergraduate and postgraduate. If you don't have the required qualifications to join an undergraduate degree course, you could take a one-year Access course. Some universities and colleges offer an optional Foundation Year, allowing students to try humanities at university level before applying to a full degree course.

At postgraduate level, most courses lead to an MA (Master of Arts), MLitt (Master of Letters) or a PhD qualification.

Communications and media
Many students choose to study communications or media alongside social studies. Subjects can include media, marketing, advertising, PR (public relations), publicity, publishing and journalism – which can focus on broadcast, radio, newspaper or magazine (or ‘periodical’) journalism.

You can take Media Studies at GCSE level, or in further education you can study for AS, A-Levels, International Baccalaureate or Scottish Highers in Communications, Film and Media Studies. If you are interested in advertising or journalism, you might take a career-based qualification in Communications or Media. Many students begin with a BTEC First Diploma in Media and progress to a National Diploma and Higher National Award. Some students then go on to the second year of a related undergraduate course.

In higher education, media degrees are very popular. Perhaps you want to specialise in PR, Broadcast Journalism or Media Production, or keep your options open with a broader Media Studies degree? Many of these courses include practical work, such as creating your own film in the final year, or a period of work experience in a professional environment. Others combine media with subjects such as theatre or business.

Interested in journalism? Professor Kurt Barling, a lecturer at Middlesex University in London, talks about his experiences and why he decided to pursue a career in broadcast (TV and radio) journalism:

Education and teaching
If you plan to work as a teacher in another country, you should find out what the accepted qualifications are before choosing your UK course.

Many colleges offer CACHE (Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education) Certificates and Diplomas in Childcare and Education. These are available at two levels, equivalent to GCSEs and A-levels, and recognised as acceptable entry qualifications to higher education. Alternatively, you can study for a Foundation Degree or BTEC HND in subjects including Education Studies, Educational Practice, Early Years and Education Studies for Teaching Assistants.

UK universities and colleges provide high-quality teacher training at undergraduate level, with the award of a BEd (Bachelor of Education), leading to QTS (Qualified Teacher Status – in England and Wales). In Scotland, an Initial Teacher Education (ITE) course gives you the Teaching Qualification (TQ). Find out more about teacher training on the Department for Education website.

At postgraduate level, you can apply through UCAS Teacher Training for Professional Graduate or Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) courses in England and Wales. The alternative in Scotland is a Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE).

History and classics
Whether you’re interested in ancient or modern history, you'll find the right course in the UK. You can study history at school, college or university. At further and higher education level, you can choose from subjects such as Political or Social History, 20th-century European,  American, East Mediterranean, Irish, Jewish or Medieval History, and more.

You can choose to study history alongside subjects such as archaeology, theology or languages – or even museum and gallery management, historic building conservation or tourism. ‘Classics’ is the study of classical civilisations – the history and culture of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, including the languages of Greek and Latin.

Literature, philosophy and religion
Other popular subjects are philosophy, religious studies or theology, and literature – you might choose English literature or any area of world literature, as well as comparative literature. These courses often focus on academic theory, analysis and criticism.

If you want a more practical course, however, creative writing programmes are designed to improve your own skills as a writer. We spoke to Helen Limon from Newcastle University to find out more:

Cultural studies and languages
You can study almost any combination of modern languages and cultures in the UK. There are interdisciplinary courses that focus on particular geographic regions, such as British Studies, European Studies, African Studies, East Asian Studies and Latin American Studies. These are often combined with languages, as well as subjects such as business, history, social studies and communications.

Combined degrees
In higher education, there are many courses that combine different social studies or humanities subjects – or combine them with subjects in another department, such as media with business, or economics with mathematics. A popular combined course is philosophy, politics and economics, known as ‘PPE’.

Click here to read more about qualifications for students aged 16 and under
Click here to read more about further education qualifications
Click here to read more about higher education qualifications

Entry requirements

Many courses look for a good academic record with some social sciences or humanities experience, rather than a specific qualification in your chosen subject. There are exceptions, however – courses with a language element might require a qualification in that language, and a good level of mathematics is often required to study economics.

If English isn’t your first language, most courses will also ask for evidence of your English language skills, such as an IELTS or equivalent qualification.

All schools, colleges and universities have different entry requirements, so make sure you read the course details thoroughly and ask your chosen institution directly if you have any questions.


Studying a social science or humanities subject in the UK prepares you for a wide range of possible careers, such as in the arts, media, marketing, public administration, education or politics.

There are many sectors where an understanding of different cultures is important, such as travel and tourism, the arts and social policy, and academic research. A second or third language would prepare you to translate, interpret or work in any international company. There are also many career-focused courses that give you the skills to become a social worker, journalist or teacher.

Many undergraduate courses in the UK give you the opportunity to do a work placement, where you spend time in a professional environment as part of your course. Check your visa status allows this.

If you dream of working in academic research, see Discover, create, innovate for inspiration and information about how to find research opportunities in the UK.

Whatever your subject, with a UK qualification you can show that you have skills in reasoning, creativity, communication and independent thinking – qualities that are valued by employers in many different industries.

Go to Entering a career for more advice about choosing and applying for jobs.

Student experiences

  Daizi from China, MA in Journalism from London
  South Bank University

  'Lots of Chinese students come to the UK to do
  business or management – so I was a bit

  Read Daizi's story


  Luke from the USA, BA in Theology at the University
  of Manchester

  ‘I chose to study in the UK because I adore the
  cultural and historical significance it has, but
  also for the privilege of being in the atmosphere
  of so many outstanding academics.’

  Read Luke's story


  Katerina from Greece, DPhil in Archaeological
  Science at the University of Oxford

  ‘The UK is the best place I could ever have come
  to study archaeology!’

  Read Katerina's story



In this short film, Briana from Washington DC, USA, explains why she decided to study for an MA in Sustainable Development at the University of Edinburgh...