The field of sociology is devoted to studying the development and structure of human society and social behavior. Sociology students explore patterns of social interaction, the importance of culture, and how society impacts human behavior.
This guide includes information about the projected salary outlook for potential careers in sociology and helpful resources for students and professionals looking to advance in the field.
Why Pursue a Degree in Sociology?
Careers for a sociology major usually attract people interested in how society impacts and changes human behavior. Sociology professionals typically work indoors, conducting research and analyzing data. Some sociologists go out into the field to conduct surveys or interviews to support their research.
Many sociologists use their skills in careers like marketing or politics. Sociology graduates understand human behavior and how people respond to certain messages or policies. Sociology students should enjoy analytical and critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and research projects.
Sociology Career Outlook
The outlook for careers with a sociology degree differs depending on a worker's specific job title and location. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 4% job growth for sociologists between 2019 and 2029.
The BLS also projects 6% job growth for political scientists and 9% job growth for professors during that same time period. Sociology graduates can become HR and PR specialists, political scientists, and professors, although some of these roles may require additional education.
The following table explores the salary outlook for potential sociology careers. These numbers show how a worker's income tends to increase as they gain experience.
|Human Resources Specialist||$44,690||$49,510||$54,460||$57,380|
|Nonprofit Program Coordinator||$39,450||$41,930||$45,950||$47,520|
|Public Relations Specialist||$40,280||$45,830||$58,440||$61,190|
Skills Gained With a Sociology Degree
Sociology programs prepare students to succeed in their future careers. For example, by writing essays, students hone communication, research, and analysis skills. The five skills below represent common competencies developed during sociology programs.
- Critical Thinking
Sociology requires students to use and improve their critical thinking skills. Students practice these skills by participating in class discussions and making arguments when writing research papers and answering test questions.
Sociology courses require students to interpret and analyze information. In class, students evaluate arguments and propose alternatives. Most sociology careers require an analytical mindset for tasks like analyzing a policy proposal or finding a logical flaw in a politician's argument.
Sociology majors hone communication skills through class discussions and internships. These skills prove vital to sociology careers, as nearly all employers seek workers with strong communication skills to complete daily responsibilities.
Sociology students develop research skills by completing research projects and papers. Some programs — especially at the graduate level — offer courses that focus exclusively on teaching students how to become more effective researchers. Professionals use research skills to find solutions and build arguments.
Most employers desire applicants with strong writing skills. Students develop writing skills by completing essays and projects. Employers typically pay close attention to applicants' writing skills when reviewing cover letters and resumes.
Sociology Career Paths
Careers in sociology offer many paths for professionals in industries such as business, education, and health. Graduates with a degree in sociology can pursue careers like market research analyst and mental health counselor. Individuals can also teach high school classes or earn a doctorate to teach college courses.
A few potential careers that graduates can pursue with a sociology degree are listed below.
Sociologists study how humans behave and interact with one another. Many sociologists work indoors, though they may go into the field to conduct research. Sociologists specialize in areas like poverty, education, health, and gender and race issues. Most sociologist positions require at least a master's degree.
- Survey Researcher
Survey researchers work closely with data. They design, implement, and analyze surveys for organizations to better understand people's beliefs and desires. These professionals must understand how to ask questions and how to turn answers into actionable data. Most professionals in this field need a master's degree.
- Postsecondary Teacher
Postsecondary teachers work at colleges and universities. These professionals design curricula, teach classes, and advise students. They also conduct their own research and publish scholarly works on their findings. Professors typically need a doctoral degree.
- Market Research Analyst
Market research analysts try to predict how well a product will sell and who will buy it. This job requires excellent critical and analytical thinking skills. Market research analysts design and implement surveys to understand what products will succeed in the market and distill that information to share with other business professionals.
- Human Resources Specialist
Human resources specialists typically work in an office environment. These professionals uphold company policy and work closely with other employees to help solve personnel problems. Human resources specialists train new employees, deal with compensation or benefits issues, and keep employment records. These specialists need a bachelor's degree.
How to Start Your Career in Sociology
Most careers for a sociology major require a college degree, and students can find employment opportunities at all degree levels. Future sociology professionals can determine what level of education they need for their target job by speaking with a career counselor.
The following sections describe a few potential careers for individuals with various levels of postsecondary education.
Associate Degree in Sociology
Full-time students usually earn an associate degree in about two years. Associate programs provide foundational sociology knowledge through classes like American society and the sociology of survival. Students gain valuable skills related to oral and written communication, research, and multicultural understanding.
This degree prepares students to further their education in sociology by transferring to a bachelor's program. Associate degrees also prepare students for entry-level careers in sociology. Graduates can find careers in industries like marketing and human resources.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Sociology
- Assistant Sales Manager
Assistant sales managers work closely with employees in retail positions. These professionals relay company goals, solve day-to-day issues, and help customers. Assistant sales managers need exceptional organizational and communication skills to manage their employees and provide customer service. These professionals typically report to the sales manager of their store.
- Legal Secretary
Legal secretaries work in law firms and assist with casework. These professionals file materials with the courts and help conduct client interviews. Legal secretaries need an understanding of the U.S. justice system, organizational skills, and a keen eye for detail.
- Administrative Assistant
Administrative assistants work in office settings for large corporations or smaller businesses. These professionals oversee daily affairs in the office. They manage scheduling duties, speak with clients and vendors, and maintain filing systems. Administrative assistants work closely with other employees and need excellent oral and written communication skills.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Bachelor's Degree in Sociology
Earning a bachelor's degree in sociology qualifies graduates for more entry-level careers than an associate degree. Additionally, these careers often provide higher starting salaries and more responsibility.
The table below describes five popular career options for bachelor's degree-holders. To find a school that can prepare you for these careers, research the top sociology programs. Additionally, many of the best programs offer entirely online curricula, providing ample flexibility.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Sociology?
- Human Resources Specialist
Human resources specialists help companies find the best talent. They review resumes, contact references, and interview applicants. These professionals also inform employees about changes in company policies and benefits. Sociology graduates possess the communication, writing, and organizational skills needed to succeed in this position.
- Market Research Analyst
Market research analysts help employers create effective marketing campaigns. They gather and analyze consumer opinions, keep track of sales trends, and give reports to their superiors.
- Public Relations Specialist
When companies want to improve or maintain their image, they turn to public relations specialists. These professionals write press releases, give interviews, and survey the public concerning their employers' products or services.
- High School Teacher
High school teachers instruct students in core academic subjects and electives. Besides teaching several classes each day, high school teachers create curricula, coach teams, and mentor students. A sociology degree and a teaching license qualifies graduates to teach at the high school level in public schools.
- Adult Literacy Teacher
These professionals help adults with literacy challenges improve their reading and writing skills. Sociology programs emphasize the writing and communication skills necessary for these positions.
Master's Degree in Sociology
Master's in sociology programs allow students to specialize in a sociology subfield. Master's students typically conduct original research and write a master's thesis on their specialization.
Many managerial sociology careers require a master's degree in addition to professional experience. These professions offer higher starting salaries than careers open to sociology graduates with associate or bachelor's degrees. To prepare for one of the careers below, research the top online master's in sociology programs.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Sociology?
- Survey Researcher
Companies hire survey researchers to develop surveys that reflect consumer opinions. Before releasing their surveys, survey researchers test them with small groups. These professionals present their findings through charts and graphs. A master's program helps develop the critical thinking and analysis skills that employers desire in survey researchers.
- Instructional Coordinator
Instructional coordinators create and revise curricula for primary and secondary schools. They often visit schools, lead professional development seminars, and mentor teachers one-on-one. School districts typically prefer applicants with teaching experience and an advanced degree.
Anthropologists study human behavior with regard to customs, religion, and other societal values. If they specialize in a foreign culture, anthropologists may travel extensively or live abroad as part of their jobs. Most sociology programs also cover anthropology topics.
- School and Career Counselor
School and career counselors help individuals identify their strengths and weaknesses, explore career paths, and/or rectify social and academic issues. Counselors also collaborate with teachers and administrators to ensure that students receive the support they need inside and outside of the classroom.
Doctoral Degree in Sociology
Doctoral students collaborate with professors on research projects, teach undergraduate courses, and often travel as part of their education. Doctoral programs generally take 4-6 years to complete. Students dedicate much of their time to researching and writing their dissertation. They must present and defend their dissertation in front of a faculty committee.
Earning this terminal degree indicates to prospective employers that you are an expert in the field. A doctorate can qualify you for a role as a tenured professor or postsecondary administrator.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Sociology?
Postsecondary teachers work in community colleges and four-year colleges and universities. They teach courses, hold office hours for students, and publish original research that they may present at conferences. Although some postsecondary teachers only hold a master's degree, only teachers with a doctorate qualify for tenure and department chair positions.
- Postsecondary Education Administrator
Postsecondary education administrators ensure that their schools provide students with an excellent education. They create departmental policy, appoint and promote faculty, and create department budgets. Professionals with a doctorate in sociology can become an academic dean after working as a department chair.
Sociologists work for schools, governments, and research centers. They use their expertise to gauge people's opinions concerning social issues in order to bring about change and create public policy. Doctoral programs emphasize original research, preparing graduates for this fulfilling career path.
How to Advance Your Career in Sociology
Professionals in sociology can advance their careers in many ways, including returning to school, earning licensure or certification, and taking continuing education courses. Each option allows professionals to gain new skills and learn about advances in their fields.
The following sections explore these opportunities in more depth.
Sociology professionals can advance their careers through education in several ways. For example, they can earn another degree, finish a certificate program, or complete online courses. Readers should always research the best advancement method for their particular career before enrolling in any program or course of study.
Some careers for a sociology major require a higher degree level to advance. Sociologists need at least a master's degree for entry-level work. Additionally, to advance their careers, many sociologists earn a doctorate. Although earning a doctorate takes time, graduates are at the top of their field.
Many colleges offer online and in-person certificate programs. Some sociology professionals, like market research analysts, can demonstrate expertise by earning a certificate; this credential helps them stay current on new technologies and practices in the field.
Some professionals choose to learn new skills or knowledge in their field by taking online courses. Many universities offer online courses at little to no cost. Readers can learn more information about free online sociology courses in a later section.
Sociology professionals should look for ways to keep their skills sharp and learn about advancements in their field. In addition to online classes and certificate programs, individuals can join a professional organization to stay abreast of new theories and developments in the field.
For example, sociology professionals and students can join organizations like the American Sociological Association and the International Sociological Association. These organizations often offer professional development opportunities like certifications and online workshops.
Professional organizations also allow members to network with their peers, which can lead to job advancement opportunities and collective problem-solving. Networking at conferences or workshops helps members stay connected to their community.
How to Switch Your Career to Sociology
Professionals in related social science areas, like anthropology, may be able to transition into a career in sociology easily. However, workers in completely unrelated fields may need to earn a degree in sociology to change careers.
Some careers, such as postsecondary educators, almost always require candidates to return to school and earn an advanced degree. All tenured sociology professors need a doctorate in the field; colleges rarely consider professionals who do not meet this requirement.
Career changers should always research specific career requirements and speak to a career counselor to determine their best course of action.
Where Can You Work With A Sociology Degree?
Along with your degree and specialization, the industry you select influences your job title, responsibilities, and salary potential. Common industries for sociology graduates include research, government, academia, family services, and consulting.
The following section covers typical industries and job duties for sociology graduates.
- Scientific Research and Development Services
The scientific research and development services industry creates new technologies and makes scientific discoveries. Sociology professionals in this industry often work as survey researchers.
- State Government
State governments hire sociologists to help form public policy. Sociologists conduct surveys and interviews, present their results to elected officials, and make recommendations.
- Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools
Postsecondary institutions educate students and perform research. At colleges and universities, sociology professors can teach classes, conduct research, and lead departments. These roles typically require a doctoral degree.
- Individual and Family Services
Some sociology graduates pursue careers as counselors or therapists. In these roles, sociologists work with individuals and families to identify problems and propose solutions.
- Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
Companies retain consultants to solve problems and complete specialized projects. A sociology graduate may work as a market research consultant, advising businesses on how to market their products or services.
Interview With a Professional
Laura Varnell has over 20 years of experience in the early childhood education arena and currently serves as a school business consultant for Primrose Schools Franchising Company. Laura is a master-level registered trainer in Texas and teaches an executive director credential course — a class that teaches new directors how to operate early learning programs. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in sociology and a master's degree in adult education and training from the University of North Texas.
- Why did you decide to pursue a degree and career in sociology?
I took a sociology class in high school and absolutely loved it. I was involved in the speech and debate team in high school, so I started college as a communication major. I loved the communication classes, but at the beginning of my junior year I decided to make communication my minor and pursue sociology as my major.
I don't think I realized until I had been in college for a couple of years how much I was using concepts in sociology every day, and I became fascinated by those concepts. Any social issue you can think of falls under the umbrella of sociology.
- What makes a sociology degree unique?
I think because the degree is so broad, it opens up many different opportunities for students pursuing it. Students have the opportunity to dive into multiple topics, like race, culture, religion, poverty, health, and stratification, and can then pinpoint what interests them the most and really focus on that.
I was able to take so many interesting classes, and I still use information that I learned from them in my life every day.
One of my favorite classes was sociology of disasters. I took that class years ago, but all of the principles have stayed the same. Students that enjoy classes like that could continue focusing on disasters and work for FEMA or the Red Cross.
I was able to take courses like sociology of religion, health, aging, and statistics. I still remember key concepts from those classes that I use every day.
I feel like sociology has given me a special lens that not everyone has. It helps me to see how certain systems are set up, and those systems have a huge impact on our behavior and how we work together in society.
The one class that has stuck with me the most was the sociology of family. Since I have worked in the early childhood and education industry for over 20 years, that class has helped me on a daily basis. By understanding different family types, dynamics, and trauma, I'm a better leader and more open to diversity in the families that we serve.
- What was the job search like after completing your degree?
I was already working in the childcare industry, and once I completed my degree I became the executive director for the program that I managed. We provided care for over 150 families. I later went on to become a regional manager, overseeing 19 schools in five states, and was then promoted to VP of strategy and development.
I'm currently a consultant for a premier early learning franchise company. I teach classes in Texas for those interested in entering the field of early education.
- Why did you decide to move into teaching? Is this a common career path for sociology graduates?
A couple of years after I completed my sociology degree, I decided to pursue a master's degree in adult education and training. I was able to combine my passion for sociology, teaching, and training into one purpose.
For the last 12 years I have been a trainer and consultant for early childhood educators. One of the most popular classes I teach is parent communication, where we look at how we can effectively communicate with parents from different backgrounds and experiences.
- What advice would you give to students considering a degree and career in sociology?
Go for it! I can't think of a more relevant major than sociology.
If you're interested in reforming the justice system, sociology is your major. If you are passionate about climate change, sociology is your major. If you want to open a nonprofit that helps women business owners start new businesses, sociology is your major. If you're interested in researching how the mental health crisis is impacting youth, sociology is your major.
- Any final thoughts for us?
I encourage anyone thinking of majoring in sociology to talk to current or former sociology students, audit a class, read a sociology book, or listen to a sociology podcast.
Resources for Sociology Majors
Sociology students and professionals can make use of various resources to advance their understanding and knowledge of sociology. Below, readers can find links to sociology-related professional organizations, open courseware, and publications.
These resources help students prepare for work after graduation. Sociology professionals can also take advantage of these resources to stay current with sociology trends.
- Professional Organizations
American Sociological Association: The top professional organization for U.S. sociologists, ASA serves students, teachers, researchers, and practitioners. Members can attend an annual national conference, serve on award selection and public policy committees, and peruse the latest research in the field.
International Sociological Association: This international organization provides networking opportunities, continuing education options, and research findings. Members can also access a job board and publications.
Society for the Study of Social Problems: SSSP supports original research in the field. Members can network at an annual meeting and receive awards and scholarships.
International Visual Sociology Association: IVSA's members are sociologists and practitioners in visual arts. Bringing these groups together can lead to important documentary research, new interpretations of data, and a greater understanding of the social impact of visual media.
- Open Courseware
Foundations of Modern Social Theory - Yale University: This course familiarizes students with the major schools of thinking in sociology. Lecture topics include Marx's theory of class and exploitation, Freud on sexuality and civilization, and Montesquieu on division of power.
Urban Sociology in Theory and Practice - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: This course reviews published research on urban sociology. Lectures cover urban ethnography, globalization, social networks, new technology, and political economy.
The Uses of Social Science - The Open University: This course examines the practical applications of social science. Covered topics include earning a living, acquiring and keeping employment, finding one's home within a community (both figuratively and literally), and advocating for change. Students learn to apply sociological theory to each topic.
International Sociology - University of California, Irvine: This course weighs the impact of globalization on individual societies. Lectures cover global trade and the economy, the influence of ethnicity, and global human rights.
Journal of Social Work Education: This peer-reviewed journal is published four times per year. Recent articles have explored education in social work, distance learning, and the need for more widespread trauma training.
Sociopedia.isa: Sociopedia is published by the International Sociological Association. This peer-reviewed journal provides readers with up-to-date literature reviews in the field. Past articles have covered topics like agrarian reform, cultural globalization, alternative food networks, and political sociology.
Critical Sociology: This open-access journal explores the radical edges of social science. Recent articles have discussed methodologies to determine racism, the migrant rights movement, and the role of women in current-day China.
Social Problems: This publication highlights new research in sociology. Recent submissions include discussions of financial need during a recession, the growing atheist movement in the U.S., urban violence, and the role of gangs in Hispanic culture.
SocJourn: A New Media Journal of Sociology and Society: In this journal, regular columns, blogs, reports, and reviews provide coverage of current news in sociology. Recent articles have covered Stephen Hawking's thoughts on God, Darwin and the aesthetics of survival, and the NRA's position in gun debates.
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything: Authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner penned this unconventional, extremely popular book. This book ties economics together with the sociological underpinnings that make human beings tick.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Author Jared Diamond explores historical collapses of societies, weaving unnerving parallels to patterns prevalent in society today.
The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women: Feminist author Naomi Wolf wrote this award-winning book about societal limitations that are placed upon women. Claiming that our culture is overly fixated on physical beauty, Wolf writes of her own struggle to meet these unrealistic ideals while attempting to be taken seriously by colleagues.
Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason: French philosopher Michel Foucault explores a fundamental sociological question: What does it mean to be insane? This book examines changing definitions over time, as well as how different societies ostracized those deemed to be crazy.
When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs: This book breaks down the vulnerable areas of any established religion. While corruption is always a danger in organized faiths, some characteristics in particular may point to evil deeds.
The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge: Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann penned this classic sociology text in 1966, writing about knowledge in the forms of ideology, art, science, propaganda, and false consciousness.
A People's History of the United States: Approaching our nation's history with a sociological bent, author Howard Zinn tells stories of immigrants, the working poor, Native Americans, Black citizens, factory workers, and women.
Online Industry Magazines
Contexts: Published four times per year by the American Sociological Association, this magazine contains articles, podcasts, and literature reviews.
Ideas and Discoveries: While this magazine covers new developments in all of the sciences, it leans heavily on social science. Each issue includes feature articles, quizzes, polls, and space for readers to engage. Recent articles have covered topics like the energy required to hatch from an egg, weird animals, the Freemasons organization, and wild boars.
Cybersociology: This magazine ran from 1997-1999. Articles covered progressive topics like cybersex, virtual communities, and grassroots political activism.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is sociology a good degree?
Earning a sociology degree can lead to many different careers. These programs teach skills like critical and analytical thinking and oral and written communication. Graduates can find jobs as sociologists and teachers. They can also pursue work in marketing or other business fields.
- What does a sociologist do?
Sociologists study the social behavior of individuals, groups, and communities through research and observation. These professionals may conduct surveys and interviews to better understand how people respond to societal pressures. Sociologists analyze the data they collect and produce reports and articles about their findings.
- What are the fields in sociology?
Sociology majors may be able to choose from several different concentrations while earning their degree, including aging and the lifecycle; race studies; health, education, and welfare; and children, youth, and families. These concentrations allow students to focus their studies on topics of interest and prepare for their future careers.
- What is the highest-paying job with a sociology degree?
According to the BLS, political scientist is one of the highest-paying positions that graduates can pursue with a sociology degree; these workers earn a median annual salary of $122,220. Additionally, economists and sociologists earn median annual salaries of $105,020 and $83,420, respectively.
Readers should note that all three of these careers require at least a master's degree.