Best universities for social science degrees 2018

Find the best colleges for social sciences using Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings data

October 4 2017
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Studying social sciences at university includes a range of subjects, from international relations to politics to geography.

Graduates of social science degrees go on to wide range of careers in the public and private sector, including policy, analysis and service jobs.

Times Higher Education has published the 2018 ranking of the 400 best schools for social sciences across the world.

More than a quarter of the list is made up of American universities – 106 institutions in total. European universities take 178 of the remaining spots and Australia, China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan are also represented.

Rankings by subject

Best universities for arts and humanities
Best universities for business and economics
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Best universities for computer science
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Best universities for physical sciences
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Three UK universities are in the top 10 (University of Oxford, University of Cambridge and London School of Economics and Political Science) while the rest of the top 10 is dominated by US universities. 

The social sciences ranking uses the same methodology as the World University Rankings, but with less weight given to citations and more to research and teaching metrics. The full methodology can be found here. 

Scroll down for a full list of degrees covered by the ranking and what you can do with a degree in them. 

Best universities worldwide

Best universities in the world
Best universities in the United States
Best universities in the UK
Best universities in Canada
Best universities in Australia
Best universities in Europe

Top five universities for social sciences

1. University of Oxford

Perhaps the most famous social sciences degree at Oxford is PPE: politics, philosophy and economics.

A number of influential politicians and public figures have graduated from Oxford’s PPE degree, including a significant number of British prime ministers.

The social sciences division also tackles issues such as environmental change, poverty, cybercrime, political turmoil, social inequality and immigration.

Much of the social science research at Oxford is aimed at influencing policy in the UK and around the world.

Particular research strengths include big data, future cities, resource management and global economic performance.

Aside from PPE, undergraduate degrees within the division include geography, archaeology and anthropology, law, human sciences, and other combinations.

=2. Harvard University

Social sciences at Harvard is interdisciplinary.

Fields of study include economics, government, sociology, gender studies and psychology.

For all these subjects, both undergraduates and graduates are expected to conduct empirical research and analyse data. Senior thesis projects can involve qualitative or quantitative research methods, or both.

The Regan Fund at the university is used to invite famous speakers to Harvard to give lectures on economics, government and social problems around the world. These lectures are primarily aimed at undergraduates.

The social sciences division has relationships with a number of museums and research centres, including the Harvard-MIT Data Center and the Institute for Quantitative Social Science.

=2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology covers many different social science subjects including politics and women’s and gender studies. The roots of the school trace back to the university’s founding when courses in psychology and political science were taught. 

The School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences produces a magazine called Said and Done which highlights some of the key developments and pieces of research undertaken within the faculty.

All students at MIT are expected to take classes within the social sciences faculty in order to help them solve “some of the world’s most challenging problems”.

As of 2017, four Nobel laureates, seven MacArthur Fellows and four Pulitzer prizewinners are part of the faculty.

4. Stanford University

At Stanford University, the social sciences department covers anthropology, communication, economics, political science, psychology and sociology.

Many programmes are interdisciplinary, including ethics in society, democracy, development and the rule of law and urban studies.

In political science classes, undergraduates study US politics and international political systems, and relate them to conflict, social activism, ideology and race issues.

The department splits studies into five disciplines: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, political methodology and political theory.

The department of anthropology is known for an innovative approach that insists that anthropology must be studied in relation to contemporary affairs.

Students across the range of subjects are taught research methods and theory to carry them through the course of their choice.

5. Princeton University

Princeton University provides students with courses in history, politics, public policy, sociology and gender and sexuality studies within the social sciences faculty. Humanities courses for undergraduates are typically taught across seminars or lectures held two or three times a week with an additional discussion seminar that is called a precept.

Princeton’s undergraduate programme is highly selective, usually admitting less than 10 per cent of applicants. 

The university hosts two Model United Nations conferences, one for high school students in the autumn and one for college students in the spring. It also hosts a speech and debate tournament towards the end of the year. 

Notable alumni include US presidents James Madison and Woodrow Wilson and former first lady Michelle Obama. 

Student experience of the social sciences

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Best universities for social science degrees 2018

Click each institution to view its World University Ranking 2018 profile

Social Sciences Rank 2018 University Country
1 University of Oxford United Kingdom
=2 Harvard University United States
=2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
4 Stanford University United States
5 Princeton University United States
6 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
7 University of Chicago United States
8 Yale University United States
9 University of Michigan United States
10 London School of Economics and Political Science United Kingdom
11 University of California, Berkeley United States
12 Columbia University United States
13 University of Pennsylvania United States
14 Duke University United States
15 University of California, Los Angeles United States
16 Cornell University United States
17 University College London United Kingdom
18 University of Wisconsin-Madison United States
19 New York University United States
20 University of Amsterdam Netherlands
21 National University of Singapore Singapore
22 Peking University China
=23 Australian National University Australia
=23 ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich Switzerland
25 Northwestern University United States
26 University of Washington United States
27 University of Toronto Canada
28 University of British Columbia Canada
29 King’s College London United Kingdom
30 University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
31 University of Mannheim Germany
=32 University of California, San Diego United States
=32 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States
34 University of Manchester United Kingdom
35 Free University of Berlin Germany
36 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign United States
37 University of Texas at Austin United States
38 Ohio State University United States
39 University of Sussex United Kingdom
40 University of Tokyo Japan
41 Humboldt University of Berlin Germany
42 Utrecht University Netherlands
43 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
=44 McGill University Canada
=44 University of Southern California United States
46 University of Essex United Kingdom
=47 KU Leuven Belgium
=47 Pennsylvania State University United States
49 University of Minnesota United States
50 Sciences Po France
=51 Chinese University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
=51 Durham University United Kingdom
53 Wageningen University & Research Netherlands
=54 Michigan State University United States
=54 Tsinghua University China
56 University of Maryland, College Park United States
57 Indiana University United States
58 University of California, Santa Barbara United States
59 University of California, Irvine United States
60 University of Warwick United Kingdom
61 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong
62 Georgetown University United States
63 University of Sheffield United Kingdom
64 Brown University United States
65 University of Oslo Norway
66 Arizona State University United States
67 Leiden University Netherlands
68 University of Sydney Australia
69 Erasmus University Rotterdam Netherlands
70 LMU Munich Germany
71 Lund University Sweden
72 Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris France
73 Lancaster University United Kingdom
=74 University of Copenhagen Denmark
=74 Uppsala University Sweden
=76 Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey United States
=76 Stockholm University Sweden
78 University of Queensland Australia
79 University of Bristol United Kingdom
80 University of Groningen Netherlands
81 Carnegie Mellon University United States
82 University of York United Kingdom
83 University of Exeter United Kingdom
84 University of Konstanz Germany
85 Georgia Institute of Technology United States
86 University of Twente Netherlands
87 Nanyang Technological University Singapore
=88 Goldsmiths, University of London United Kingdom
=88 University of Leeds United Kingdom
=88 University of Zurich Switzerland
=91 Cardiff University United Kingdom
=91 Washington University in St Louis United States
93 Syracuse University United States
94 Copenhagen Business School Denmark
95 University of New South Wales Australia
96 Seoul National University South Korea
97 University of California, Davis United States
98 Loughborough University United Kingdom
99 Université Catholique de Louvain Belgium
100 University of Surrey United Kingdom

Click here to view all 400 top universities for social science degrees

What can you do with social science degrees? 

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Read more: The most detailed subject guide you will ever see to help you pick your degree 

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