What Does a Career in Sociology Entail?
Sociology is the study of human behavior and how human beings act and interact on a grand scale. Whereas psychology looks at how an individual interacts with a group, the field of sociology looks at group behavior and can overlap other social science fields, such as history, economics, human resources, social services, public relations, mental health or substance abuse counseling, and even environmental science. A sociology degree can act as a springboard for a wide range of employment opportunities including business administration, marketing, economics, law, public policy, public relations, or you might even work as a market research analyst.
A career in sociology often entails a life in academia, but there are options. If you choose to pursue academia, you will need a Ph.D. from a sociology program, lots of publication credits, and a track record of excellent research. Academic sociologists spend a lot of time delivering lectures and teaching classes on social issues and human behavior to sociology students, grading papers, and attending faculty meetings if you're in a leadership position.Read More
You may need to attain a grant to pursue research projects, though your university might be able to fund your work. Keep in mind that, to lead a research project, you must have paid your dues in the field by working as an adjunct professor, associate, etc. before landing a full-time tenure-track position.
However, you might also find employment opportunities in fields like public policy. You could work for a city, state, or federal government and provide research and insight that can guide society. So-called think tanks might also be interested in your approach to research or find interest in your particular analysis of social, economic, or political trends.
Components of A Successful Career in Sociology
A successful career in sociology is first based on education. You will want a minimum of an undergraduate degree to start. During your coursework, try to take courses that are as challenging as possible and which solidify the skills you will need for the rest of your career. In particular, try to focus on doing original research as much as you can. If you can work as a research assistant for a notable professor, you should certainly strive to do so.
Once you have a bachelor's in sociology degree, your focus should turn to a graduate school sociology program and your research into social issues, human behavior, or social services. Try to work with the sociologists that most intrigue you and whom you'd like to have as mentors in your specialty area. If possible, strive to have your name on published research papers.
You will likely move on to achieve a Ph.D., but that can wait if you wish to work outside of academia. However, if academia is the path for you, there is no need to wait. Work hard and achieve your Ph.D. as soon as possible.
Ultimately, your career will be comprised of lots of reading, writing, and research. That research might be scholarly, library-type research or fieldwork where you employ a range of methods to aggregate enough data to fully understand some social phenomenon or human behavior.
How to Earn a Degree in Sociology
Typical Sociology Degree Requirements
To complete a bachelor's in sociology degree, you will need to complete your school's core curriculum. That will include courses such as Composition/Rhetoric, Experimental Science, Social Science, and Math. When it comes time to focus on your major, the sociology department will have its own set of required courses for sociology majors, which you will take in addition to any other courses that satisfy your curiosity. Required courses can include, but are not limited to:
- Introduction to Sociology
- Social Problems
- Social Psychology
- Research methods
- Statistics and Sociological Research
Your individual program will have a unique set of courses, and course names, so keep that in mind, but Sociology courses can cover topics such as:
- Race, Class, and Gender
- Industrial Psychology
- Workplace Sociology
- Cultural Diversity
- Personnel Management
- Social Problems
- Social Psychology
- Sociology of Money
- Families in Society
- Sociology of War and Terror
Typical Sociology Certifications Needed
There are no specific Sociology licenses that you'll need to work as a Sociologist. However, you can work to become a Certified Clinical Sociologist. This credential, offered by the Association for Applied & Clinical Sociology, will help you work in situations where services such as life coaching or social work are called for.
Alternately, you could choose to take additional courses at the graduate or undergraduate level. For instance, if you need to focus your background for a particular job description, you might take courses that focus on relevant topics such as healthcare systems, urban planning, or organizational psychology.
Academic Standards for Sociology Degrees
No matter what your long-term goals are for your bachelor's in sociology degree, you should strive for the highest grades possible. If you go directly into the private sector after graduation, your employers might be curious to know your GPA or class rank, and graduate schools certainly will want to see your official transcripts. As a general rule of thumb, consider that most graduate schools will want to see a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5, but you should strive to attain a GPA closer to 3.5 or above. The higher your GPA, the more opportunities you'll find.
Exam/Experience Needed for Sociology Degrees
To complete your Sociology degree, you will only need to complete the courses required by your program. Most programs should require a Research Methods course in which you will be asked to study some sociological phenomenon. Thus, the only examination requirements are those that you'll find at the end of each term.
However, if you wish to bring your studies to the next level, you could seek out work as a research assistant over summer break, or even similar positions that you could take on as an independent study. You may have to wait until your last three semesters or so to qualify for these, but that will be a great addition to your transcript, and your resume, too.
Sociology offers four degree options: Associates, Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral (PhD.) As you rise in the degree level, you will find that your career options expand accordingly. That is an associate degree in Sociology may open doors to certain jobs, but those positions are less likely to employ actual Sociological analysis or understanding.
When you move on to the Bachelors and Master’s degree level, you'll find that your post-graduation career opportunities increase, and that your long-term potential expands as well. Further, once you achieve this level of academic achievement, your day-to-day work is more likely to reflect your academic work.
Ideally, you will be able to achieve a Master's degree in Sociology. With this degree you can choose to work as an instructor at the college level, or you might find work on a research project. Those with graduate degrees are more likely to find work with public policy research and analysis firms. You could even work for political lobby groups. Another related option is to move from a bachelor's sociology degree to a Master of Social Work (MSW) where you can put your sociological studies to a practical application on a daily basis.
A two-year degree in Sociology is a great place to kick off your career. Your earnings potential will be a bit limited, relative to your peers with four-year and graduate degrees, but you can always return for more education.
- Introduction to Sociology
- Social Problems
- Social Statistics
- Social Psychology
A four-year degree in Sociology will make all the difference when you seek long-term opportunities. Corporations will take a look at you for their marketing or management departments, and you will qualify for a range of graduate degree programs, as well. During the course of your academic career, you are likely to find more opportunities to focus your work, as well.
- Race, Class, and Gender
- Research Methods
- Introduction to Social Psychology
- Cultural Sociology
With a Master's degree in Sociology, your career options will expand greatly. Not only will you be able to teach at the college level, but you can work in a wider range of business or other environments. For instance, you might work for an economic or public policy think tank, a political action committee, or in social work. If you enter the business world, you might work with large corporations to help them develop internal policies related to Human Resources. You might even help companies understand how to introduce new, groundbreaking technologies into the wider population.
- Sociological Theory
- Research Methods
- Social Justice Seminar
- Social Change
- Capstone Course
- Master's Thesis
If you wish to take your Sociology studies to the height of academia, you should complete a PhD program. Most PhD candidates are working towards publishing their dissertations and then finding a tenure-track job with a college or university. Other PhD holders have specialized in areas such as Organizational Psychology and find work as consultants or executives.
Earning Potential for Sociology Degree Occupations
As your degree level rises, so does your earning potential. An associate degree can be a great way to launch a career and garner experience. However, once your salary caps, you will likely wish to return for a bachelor's sociology degree, or beyond. Essentially, your best option is to achieve a four-year, undergraduate degree and explore your options.
Sociology Salaries by Occupation
Your salary is always dependent on the sort of job you do, your educational level, and the type of employer you work for. The more technical and demanding jobs tend to pay more, but even those pay rates might vary. If you work for a Fortune 500 company, you are likely to be paid more than if you work for a small non-profit. Further, you will receive higher pay with an advanced degree, especially if it is from a nationally accredited program.
In this field, you will study and report on various groups, cultures, and organizations. You might work to assess how certain developments impact whole societies or certain demographics.
This social science looks at human groups with relation to how they utilize resources. You'll study, analyze, and report on industries, currencies, and the financial impact of certain events and policies, such as taxation. Economists frequently work with large banks, but also for governmental agencies and private foundations as well.
This field is much like Sociology and often the two departments overlap on college campuses. As an anthropologist, you might study indigenous people or archaeological remains with the goal of understanding the fundamental motivations and desires of human beings. For instance, you might study the historical record of how humans have formed marital and familial relations as a means toward understanding current trends.
- Mathematician / Statistician:
Statistics is the root of the social sciences and every Sociologist, Psychologist, Anthropologist, and Economist must have some fundamental understanding of this subject. However, if you make mathematics and statistics your focus you could apply your expertise to bringing greater understanding to the social sciences.
- Survey Researcher:
To create understanding of human endeavors we must have data. To gather data, we need survey researchers. Your bachelor's with a sociology major may include courses where you are encouraged to design surveys for the purposes of understanding certain social phenomenon. Sociological studies might seek to understand workplace phenomenon. Alternately, you could work as a market researcher and seek to understand and predict consumer demands.
- Social Worker:
While Sociologists seek to study and understand, Social Workers are in the field, applying theories and perhaps adapting them for new circumstances. Sociology is a great background for this field, even if you decide to work as a Clinical Social Worker who practices psychotherapy.
- Urban Planner:
If you have a broad understanding of how large groups operate, what they desire, and what makes a happier populace, you can put that into action as an urban planner. This occupation will find you seeking to mold streets, neighborhoods, and even whole metro regions to suit certain groups.
- Public Policy Analyst:
To create public policy, you need the skills and insights afforded by a degree in sociology including problem solving, critical thinking, and understanding public realtions. Policy analysts work for government agencies, private consultation groups, and even independent organization such as healthcare systems.
Annual Salary by Occupation (Range)
|Occupation||Entry-Level Salary Range||Mid-Career Salary Range||Late-Career Salary Range|
|Mathematicians / Statisticians||$52,300||$96,400||$99,200|
|Public Policy Analysts||$49,200||$77,300||$82,400|
Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)
How long does it take to earn a Sociology bachelor's degree online?
You can earn a Sociology degree online in as little as four years. In fact, some students forgo any vacation time, take extra courses, and are able to graduate in as few as three years.
The reality is that most students take up to six years to graduate. The time it takes to graduate is ultimately up to you and your ability to take the necessary time for a full load of courses. You can do it, however. You can graduate with an online bachelor's degree focused on a sociology major within four years.
How much does a Sociology bachelor’s degree cost?
Your bachelor's degree with a sociology major can cost as little as $30,000 or as much as $300,000, depending on the school you choose. That is, you can save a lot of money by attending your first two years in a community college and then finishing up in an in-state public college or university. On the other hand, some students opt for highly competitive, and expensive, private institutions in likewise expensive cities.
College is going to cost a lot of money, that is a foregone conclusion. However, if you are strategic, and do your due diligence, you can offset a lot of expenses with low-cost courses as well as scholarships and grants.
Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?
This is a large consideration. If you have a passion for understanding how and why human societies operate how they do, Sociology should be your degree of choice. Therefore, you should research colleges and find the ones that offer a major in your field.
Once you find a set of appealing colleges and universities that offer Sociology, take a closer look. Compare and contrast each school's course offerings to see how they match up. You are likely to find that different departments focus on particular areas of the field. You might also investigate the faculty to discover their specialty areas.
Though some would say that an undergraduate student needn't be as concerned with these specifics, it's never too early to seek a focus for your life's work. For instance, if your long-term goals include working in the business world, you could seek programs with courses related to organizations and workplace sociology. As another example, your goal might be to attain a Master of Social Work, so you should look for Sociology programs whose curriculum include courses on social problems, diversity, and family issues.
How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?
For years, it was assumed that a four-year degree was to be completed within four years. However, that has changed over time. These days, government studies assume that most student will take up to six years to graduate.
These studies have shown that you are most likely to graduate in six years or less if you attend a highly-competitive college or university. Further, it's been shown that women tend to meet the on-time mark more often than male students.
What kind of accreditation does the program hold? How is it regarded in the field?
Accreditation is a huge consideration that should not be taken for granted. Make sure that your program is fully accredited and well-respected in the larger academic and Sociology communities. While your education is surely in good standing if it has received a regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, or one of its affiliated bodies, national accreditation from the Commission on the Accreditation of Programs in Applied and Clinical Sociology (CAPACS) will take your degree to the next level.
Sociology is not a particularly technological field, but in these days of big data, you will be well served to acquaint yourself with as many high-tech tools as possible. For example, you might wish to take extra courses on statistics and computer science.
Your computer science courses can involve topics such as database administration and management. You might also want to study R programming, which is known for its usefulness when parsing large volumes of quantitative data and statistical analysis.
Dr Robert Schmidt Endowed Scholarship in Sociology – University of Akron
Deadline: Completed by University
This scholarship is available for students of the University of Akron. All students who are past their first year and who are majoring in Sociology are welcome to apply. The application further stipulates that you must have a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA and be a student in otherwise good standing. The application is handled by the university, so discuss your eligibility with your adviser. If you win the scholarship it is renewable, provided that you maintain the eligibility criteria.
Dr. Martin Scheffer Sociology Award – Boise State University
Deadline: March 15
This scholarship was created to award students who have shown outstanding academic achievement. To apply, you must have achieved a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA, be a full-time student, be in your third or fourth year, submit a two-page letter to the Sociology Department Scholarship Committee, and otherwise be a student in good standing at Boise State University.
Iowa State University Department of Sociology
Deadline: Varies (Previously Dec. 1)
Iowa State University's Department of Sociology oversees multiple scholarships to help its students pay for their education. You can apply for all of the scholarships with a single document through the financial aid office. Established students must complete the application plus a few additional questions that are not required of incoming first year students. You must also have arranged to have two faculty members provide references and their contact information should be provided on the application. Note that many of the scholarships require a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, though at least one allows a 2.0 GPA.
Beth B. Hess Memorial Scholarship
Deadline: April 1
This award is given specifically to PhD candidates (ABD) in Sociology who started their post-secondary academic careers at community colleges or technical schools. You must have studied in one of these institutions for a total of one academic year. The award is an $18,000 stipend that is paid in two equal installments. Further, you must show a dedication to teaching at the community college level or any institution that caters to less-privileged students. Top notch research and writing must also be in evidence on your application.
Professional Sociology Organizations
The Association for Applied & Clinical Sociology
This organization offers a unique certification for members. The field of Applied or Clinical Sociology is not one that is often found in job descriptions. However, if you have a master's degree you can attain the certification and apply to positions that might otherwise attract Public Health, Social Work, or Health Coaching professionals. This is a burgeoning field that is backed by the long tradition of Sociological studies and practices.
The American Sociological Association
The ASA caters to a wide swath of the Sociological community that includes high school teachers, post-secondary students, university faculty, community college instructors, and non-pedagogical professions. As a member, you will be in the company of over 20,000 members who are active in 52 special interest sections. They publish ten professional journals and magazines and four section journals.
International Sociological Association
When you become a member of the ISA, you will have access to colleagues worldwide who share your research interests. You'll have access to online and print journals, book discounts, online research databases, as well as digital newsletters. You will also have the opportunity to meet your international colleagues at conferences held in cities throughout the world.
Choosing an Accredited College
It's vital to start your education at a regionally or nationally accredited college. That is because you need to have an education that employers and other academic institutions will recognize. Otherwise, you might find that you have trouble with employment or that you cannot receive admission to a graduate program. Always check to ensure that your program has verifiable credentials.
Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid
You can now choose between these three options when pursuing a degree. If you choose a non-traditional online or hybrid program, consider how this choice will impact your long-term goals. That is, if you are seeking to become a researcher, will you still be able to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills as an on-campus student who might be able to conduct supervised research.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
No matter whether you are aiming towards a career in academia or otherwise, discuss how the college supports its graduates. This might be especially important when attending an online institution that may not have contacts in your local area. An online college can still offer resume assistance or help finding work with government agencies. Discuss your career plans with an adviser.
Why You Need to Consider the Rating/Accreditation Can Affect Your Salary
Don't discount the rating or accreditation of your college, because your future employers won’t. Employers like to hire students from highly rated and accredited colleges or universities. You can complete a perfectly good degree that's accredited by a regional accrediting body, it's even better to find a department or degree that is accredited by a national accrediting body such as the Commission on the Accreditation of Programs in Applied and Clinical Sociology.
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