A broad church with creative mix of courses

Career guide: Humanities and Social Science

Archeology students and their teachers at a dig in Glendalough, Co Wicklow

Archeology students and their teachers at a dig in Glendalough, Co Wicklow


Humanities and social science is a very broad church, encompassing a wide range of courses. But is it just for people who don’t yet know what they want to do, or can it be a more solid career choice?

On the one side, traditional humanities include languages, history, English, archaeology and geography. When it comes to social science, the clue is in the name: it’s a scientific approach to human life and culture, with subjects including psychology, politics, sociology and economics. Some students will be surprised to find maths is in the mix too.

While many students do indeed gravitate towards humanities courses because they’re not ready to make a definite career choice, some specifically want to study languages, for example, which offers good employment prospects. Students considering economics and politics may also already have the outline of a career in mind, such as public policy or NGO work. And psychology students generally have a clear idea of where they might want to go.

Where to study arts

Every university in Ireland, and several institutes of technology, offers humanities and social science courses. Arts at UCD is still the most popular college course in Ireland, but its popularity has waned in recent years as students flocked towards science degrees. The two-subject moderatorship at Trinity College requires students to pick their two subjects in advance. NUI Galway has a unique and creative suite of humanities courses, including arts with creative writing, arts with film studies, arts with performing arts studies, and arts with human rights.

Social Science BA degrees at NUI Maynooth, UCD, WIT, and UCC are generally more focused on social issues, with students exploring the world around them through subjects such as social policy, sociology, philosophy, politics, and economics; many graduates from these courses go on to careers in social work.

Humanities-based courses are also available at most of the teacher-training colleges at around the same CAO points, but these are a less attractive option than a university course, which may have better lecturers with better research profiles.

Some smaller colleges may have particular strengths in certain areas, including the BA in psychology at Dublin Business College or the English, media and cultural studies course at Dún Laoghaire IADT.

Career opportunities

They’re still enormous. Employers value the wide education of a humanities graduate, particularly their ability to critically analyse a problem from multiple angles.

Teaching, journalism, and the civil service are dominated by humanities graduates, while social science graduates are often found in social work and the charity sector. Arts graduates with postgraduate business qualifications are also highly valued, particularly in marketing, sales, human resources, banking and finance. Culture and heritage industries also have a high proportion of arts graduates although jobs are not exactly easy to come by.

Large multinationals such as Facebook, eBay and Google are crying out for graduates with language skills, particularly in sales or technical customer-service roles. Arts graduates with digital media skills are in high demand.

Because humanities is generally a broad qualification, career experts tell students in search of good, long-term career prospects that they’ll need to go on to a specialised postgraduate degree.

Salary expectations

Because an arts graduate may be a struggling musician or a top-level CAO, it’s difficult to get a clear idea of precisely how much money they might make. However, the average starting salaries for arts graduates has fallen significantly, down almost 20 per cent from 2007 to just €19,748 in 2012.

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