Social Policy

Social policy is a multidisciplinary subject that focuses on key social issues, such as inequality, risk and need, and the ways in which societies respond to these. At its heart is an interest in the social processes and institutions that promote wellbeing. As an academic discipline it draws on social, political and economic theory to analyse and explore these in a global context.

We offer a highly regarded Single Honours course in social policy, one of the oldest social policy degrees in the UK. We also offer two Joint Honours courses, with sociology and with politics, and three degree pathways: Social Policy with Quantitative Research Methods, Social Policy with Management and Social Policy with Criminology.

Students following the Single Honours in social policy can also take the study abroad option, a four-year degree that gives you the opportunity to study at one of our partner institutions during your third year.

The BSc Social Policy has again been declared the best in the UK in The Guardian's 2018 university league table.

Why study Social Policy at Bristol?

You will be taught by academics who are leaders in their fields. Their research informs their teaching, ensuring that you acquire relevant and up-to-date knowledge.

We take a global and comparative perspective in many of our units to ensure you receive a broad appreciation of the international dimensions to social policy. We offer opportunities to spend time in your second year abroad, in Hong Kong or Sweden, on exchange schemes.

Our four pathways offer the opportunity to combine social policy with the development of knowledge and skills in four related areas. Social Policy with Management has been launched to prepare our many graduates who go into leadership and management roles.

Social Policy with Quantitative Research Methods is part of a national initiative to enhance the quantitative skills of social science graduates and can be taken as a three-year BSc, or as a four-year integrated Master's.

Social Policy with Criminology provides a unique opportunity to examine the nature, extent and causes of crime, social harm and deviance in national and international contexts, as well as to understand policy responses to them.

Social Policy with Study Abroad is a four-year programme that offers students the opportunity to study in their third year at one of our partner institutions. The programme already has exchanges with City University Hong Kong and Linkoping University in Sweden.

What kind of student would this course suit?

Social policy suits those who want to explore and develop frameworks for understanding the forces that shape contemporary societies and the institutions within them.

Social policy involves everything from considering evidence and showing whether a government scheme has worked or not, to examining high-level theories and how they apply to wellbeing. If you are interested in the social sciences, using evidence and logic, applying creativity in problem solving and, above all, making a difference then social policy could be for you.

Every day my inbox is flooded with opportunities – internships, research projects, extra-curricular activities – all of which are the University getting students involved. The University is constantly updating its facilities, which reinforces its friendly and inclusive environment.

Alexandra, Second year, LLB Law

How is this course taught and assessed?

Most units are taught through lectures and seminars, working in small groups to discuss and explore material and producing presentations.

You will be expected to read widely, for example academic texts, government publications and reports from think tanks to gain a full understanding of the links between theory and practice.

Assessment is primarily by examinations and extended essays. Final-year Single Honours students and those studying Social Policy with Management, with Quantitative Methods or with Criminology, write a research-based dissertation, while those on a Joint Honours course may choose a dissertation as an optional unit.

What are my career prospects?

When it comes to choosing a career, social policy graduates often have the best of both worlds. The degree can be vocational, leading to careers in a range of public, private and voluntary sector services, and many enter the national management training schemes for the NHS, local government and the civil service.

About a third of our graduates enter the public sector. However, it is also a non-vocational degree and our graduates compete successfully for graduate opportunities that do not require specific knowledge but rather a set of skills, such as communication, teamwork and problem solving, in careers such as journalism, development, advertising, finance and public relations. Social policy also unlocks many opportunities for further study and increasing numbers are looking to pursue professional vocations, such as law, teaching and social work.

Read more about what students from social policy go on to do after graduation.

Did you know?

  • Students from more than 180 countries study with us, and we share more than 150 exchange links with institutions worldwide.
  • Our Students' Union has over 200 student-run societies, and the Richmond Building, home to the Students' Union, is undergoing a £30-million renovation.
  • 11 Bristol graduates and members of staff have been awarded Nobel prizes.

Subject leaflet

Download the Social Policy leaflet 2017 (PDF, 364kB)

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Important disclaimer information about our courses.

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