If you are interested in how social behavior, culture, and power intersect to influence society, then a degree in sociology may be of interest to you. Sociology examines the structure and function of society and social problems. It's a broadly applicable field, and the skills you learn in a sociology program may serve your personal and professional goals well into the future. Graduates find employment in many different industries.
As a student, it is important to begin planning your career path early. Start your job search while still completing your degree. If you are already employed, a sociology degree may help advance your career and open up additional job options. This guide provides information on obtaining a sociology degree, planning your educational path, and pursuing a long-term career.
Skills Gained in a Sociology Program
Sociology students learn skills that benefit their personal and professional lives, and that may apply to a variety of careers. These skills become refined through professional experience and training, and certification programs provide additional opportunities for skill development. Your educational and training experiences may help you develop important analytical, critical thinking, and communication skills, which are necessary for success in the sociology field.
- Analytical Skills
Analytical skills help you examine a problem from many angles, collect and analyze data, and look for missing information. These skills contribute to solving the complex problems that sociologists examine. Sociologists use statistical methods and data analysis to test social theories.
- Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking is the process of evaluating information and arguments for inconsistencies and consequences. It requires independent thinking and and self-reflection. Critical thinkers are able to examine the connections between thoughts, actions, and results. They determine the relevance of information, and solve problems systematically. Sociologists use these skills in research to draw conclusions about society.
- Speaking Skills
Learn how to speak effectively with individuals and in group settings, including public speaking and interview skills. Students learn how to effectively communicate with others, depending on the situation and setting. Professionals must be able to present their ideas in a clear, accessible manner. Careful communication with clients and colleagues is essential to success as a sociologist.
- Writing Skills
Writing clearly, effectively, and without grammatical errors is necessary for reports and research papers, and skilled writers are much more successful in earning research and project proposals. Sociologists use writing skills to collaborate with peers, work with clients, and write research results. Sociology students gain writing skills through writing seminar requirements and research projects.
Why Pursue a Career in Sociology?
If you aspire to address the critical issues of society, then a career in sociology may be right for you. Sociologists look at the big picture of society and social behavior, and how the world is influenced by culture, groups, social institutions, and interpersonal dynamics. Sociologists examine the many factors influencing society, and determine those factors' collective impact. They examine the social influences on human behavior and organizational behavior. A career in sociology gives you the opportunity to understand the relationship between society and individuals, and explore how that relationship could improve.
Earning a degree in sociology opens up opportunities in a variety of jobs and industries. Graduates who want to work in direct client service can find exciting career opportunities in the growing fields of social work and nonprofit management, both of which are projected to experience above-average growth. If you are interested in working in research or consulting, you will find high-paying opportunities in these fields. Organizations are working harder to understand and address social behavior, and they need sociologists' expertise. Career opportunities for sociology graduates are sure to remain exciting, making a degree in sociology a rewarding investment.
How Much Do Sociology Majors Make?
The median salary for a sociologist was $79,650 in 2017. The potential earnings of a sociology graduate vary based on a number of factors. Your industry and job title can have a major impact on your salary. For example, sociologists working in research and development earned median wages of $93,960, while those working in educational services earned $60,070. Salaries vary by location, and should be considered relative to your local cost of living. Earning a graduate degree increases your earning potential by 27%. Becoming certified in a specialty can also lead to great demand for your skills.
Graduate Degree Wage Premium$14,000 (27%)
Meet a Sociology Major
Katie Huey Director of Operations — Trebuchet Group
Katie Huey is Trebuchet Group's director of operations. After years working in nonprofit fundraising and administration, she is now part of a consulting team that helps companies impact the world for good. Huey believes in the power of story and the beauty found in sharing personal experience, and writes regularly on her blog, "52 Beautiful Things." Her freelance writing has appeared in Conscious Company Magazine, Invoke Magazine, and Hello Humans. She holds a bachelor of arts in sociology from the University of Colorado.
What are some of the most essential skills you gained in your sociology program?
My sociology degree gave me a lens to see the world that many people don't have. I was taught to look at the way systems impact our social structure, and how learned behaviors influence everything we do. If we haven't learned the same ways to operate in the world, it's really hard to hold everyone to the same standards. I also learned statistics on the pages of our textbooks are related to actual human lives. I've been fascinated by how our society shapes our stories and, I look for the intersections of our identities in all of my roles and the many hats I wear at my jobs.
What was the job search like after you earned your degree? How did you end up in your current position?
I graduated right in the middle of the recession, which made it hard to find entry-level work. I ended up serving a year-long AmeriCorps term of service, working at a local nonprofit serving youth aging out of the foster care system. I quickly found my empathetic heart wasn't cut out for case management, and instead shifted to fundraising and development. When my AmeriCorps term ended, I was offered a full-time job. For five years, I worked for several nonprofits doing fundraising and marketing. After some unexpected personal challenges and a small bout of compassion fatigue, I knew it was time to take a step away from direct service. I now work at a business improvement firm as director of operations. We help leaders gain clarity and confidence for their teams. I love working for a company that believes the world can be a better place and that people deserve to enjoy their work.
What can sociology majors do to prepare for entering the workforce?
Talk to people in fields you are interested — most people are willing to share 30 minutes of time to talk about their experience over coffee. Start volunteering for causes you care about. Sociology gives you a broad worldview — sharing that you now understand how social factors influence individual behaviors can be such an asset to many companies!
What advice would you give sociology undergrads considering an advanced degree in this field? Is it worth it?
I haven't yet gone that route. I chose to gain work experience while figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. If you think it could be beneficial, talk to your advisers and family and friends.
What does continuing education look like to you?
I've always chosen to work for organizations that are willing to invest in my continuing education. Most of this has taken place outside of a formal classroom. I participated in a year-long nonprofit fellows program in Denver. My current employer pays for me to go to networking lunch-and-learn events, and I've signed up for writing classes that help the marketing aspect of my job. Knowledge is readily available and there are so many ways you can continue to learn. Pick two or three areas you want to focus on and ask for help. For me, this year, my goals were to publish a piece in a magazine and get better at facilitation — both of which my bosses support. The fun thing about being out of school? You get to choose what you want to learn next.
The Educational Path to a Career in Sociology
Minimum Degree Requirements
Career opportunities for sociology majors are diverse, so there are many entry points to the sociology profession. A college degree is typically the minimum requirement to enter the field. Graduates with an associate degree may find entry-level technical opportunities that serve as valuable work experience. A bachelor's degree is the best step on the path to becoming a sociology professional. Earning a bachelor's degree prepares students for a variety of career options by providing them with the necessary skills and experience.
A bachelor's degree also demonstrates your commitment to education in the field. With a bachelor's degree, graduates can begin working in the field and may find positions in social services, or private consulting agencies. If your ultimate goal is to achieve a leadership role or executive position, earning a master's degree is a good choice. Master's in sociology graduates can enter some of the most exciting opportunities in the field as researchers, policy developers, and analysts. A doctorate best serves sociology graduates who are interested in teaching at a university or conducting their own research. Earning a graduate degree increases your potential salary and diversifies your career options.
How Long Does It Take to Earn a Sociology Degree?
Earning a degree requires a significant time investment, but it pays off in opportunities during school and following graduation. On average, bachelor's degrees require 120 credits, and take four years to complete. Master's degrees require an additional 60 credits and can be completed in two to three years. Earning a doctoral degree requires considerably more time; the average Ph.D. program takes five to eight years to complete, because it requires extensive research and study.
Online programs offer greater flexibility than on-campus programs. A number of factors can affect the length of an online degree, including whether programs are part time or full time, and synchronous or asynchronous. In synchronous courses, students must attend lectures at a set date and time, while students can complete asynchronous coursework at their own pace, as long as it meets a certain deadline. Another important consideration is whether the program offers cohort learning or individual pacing. Cohort programs are structured on a set schedule; the course sequence is defined and students are generally unable to adjust their course loads. Individual pacing offers more flexibility. Students generally set their own course schedules and number of credits per semester.
Concentrations Available for Sociology Majors
- International Studies
Earning a concentration in international studies prepares students for jobs in foreign service, relief efforts, and international policy. Where other concentrations focus on social dimensions in the United States, this concentration explores comparative race, religion, and culture. Students also explore social movements and the impact of war and violence in foreign countries.
- Law and Society
This concentration is well suited for students who want to pursue careers in criminal justice or law. Topics include the history of the legal system, and cultural factors that influence creation of law. Students develop an understanding of the social impacts of politics and law and how they influence social change.
- Urban Sociology
Urban sociology is an excellent choice for careers in public administration, urban planning, and community-based nonprofits. This concentration explores how to develop healthy, sustainable urban communities. Topics include poverty, gentrification, redlining and racism, and the history of urban development. Students examine the cross-cultural subjects that impact urban neighborhoods.
- Sociology of Health and Medicine
Sociology of health is concerned with how social factors influence access to healthcare. Courses in this concentration look at neighborhood demographics, socioeconomic positions, cultural norms, and social stratification. Medical sociology prepares graduates for jobs in public health and policy. This concentration may also be part of a premedical program.
- Culture and Media
This concentration explores how media and culture influence each other interchangeably. Coursework examines the sociological elements of popular culture through media, technology, and the arts in a post-industrial society. Students look at cultural diversity and representation in the media. Students learn skills for careers in communication, journalism, and cultural criticism.
Gerontology focuses on how society cares for the health needs of an aging population, and the factors that influence quality of life for the elderly. It examines how various social factors affect society's relationship with aging. It can lead to careers in care facilities, health research, and community organizations.
Criminologists work specifically with the causes and effects of crime. They analyze the efficacy of the legal system and the social factors that influence how the law is applied. A concentration in criminology prepares students for careers in research, legal advocacy, and court testimony. It may also meet requirements for pre-law studies.
What Can You Do With a Sociology Degree?
The education you receive in a sociology program can apply to careers across a range of industries. The careers available to sociology majors depend on the type of degree you hold and your specialization. Sociology is a highly skilled field, so the further you go in your education, the more opportunities you will have in your career. The sociology field is also competitive, so earning a specialization and relevant experience helps set you apart. The most lucrative careers in sociology require at least a master's degree. Typical career paths include management positions with government agencies and client services positions with nonprofits.
Associate Degree in Sociology
An associate degree is not ideal for a sociology graduate, but it can work as an entry point to the field. Earning an associate degree can help you find an entry-level position to gain work experience before obtaining a bachelor's degree. Sociology associate programs are also a relatively inexpensive way to earn general education credits while exploring whether sociology is the right field for you. The table below lists a few job opportunities that are available with an associate degree in sociology.
- Social or Human Service Assistant
This job works directly with clients to help them achieve personal goals. Social service assistants screen clients for services and evaluate their needs. A sociology degree helps assistants understand the structural issues that influence individual behaviors and barriers to care. Critical thinking and problem solving skills are essential to the job.
- Case Manager
Case managers help clients set goals and recovery plans. They assist clients in receiving care and frequently advocate on behalf of their clients, interfacing with physicians, psychologists, and other providers. Case managers need an understanding of how social and structural issues affect their clients. Skills in communication and critical thinking transfer to this job.
- Correctional Officer
Correctional officers work in jails and prisons to enforce policies and procedures. They protect incarcerated people, conduct regular inspections, and assist in emergencies. Correctional officers have heavy reporting requirements; skills in writing and keeping logs are beneficial. A sociology degree introduces you to concepts of law and criminology.
- Administrative Assistant
Administrative assistants provide secretarial services and assist with tasks. Some administrative assistants work directly with a single executive, while others assist an entire department. Working as an assistant in a social agency introduces you to the daily activities of the field. Clear communication and writing skills are necessary.
Bachelor's Degree in Sociology
Earning a bachelor's in sociology opens pathways to a range of social science careers. Bachelor's students gain skills in research, public speaking, and analysis through major coursework focused on sociology. Many bachelor's in sociology programs offer concentrations, which can further enhance career opportunities by allowing students to pursue specializations prior to graduation. Careers available to bachelor's graduates typically fall into two categories: non-clinical direct service, and business-related fields such as marketing or public relations. Take a look at the table below for a sample of the careers available to graduates with a bachelor's in sociology.
- Probation Officer
Probation officers or correctional treatment specialists work with offenders following their release from prison. They help prior offenders meet the goals of their probation without violating the conditions of their release. They frequently monitor social behavior and make referrals to social service agencies. Skills in understanding social interaction and completing reports are beneficial for this career.
- Parole Officer
Parole officers work with people who have been released from prison early, usually for good behavior. They help secure housing and job rehabilitation for the parolee. Officers conduct investigations and make recommendations for treatment plans and the need for incarceration. Skills in counseling, critical thinking, and analysis are necessary to give effective testimony.
- High School Teacher
In addition to providing instruction, teachers work with school administrators and policymakers to ensure the needs of students are being met. Teachers benefit from an understanding of social factors in the community and must have cultural awareness. Social behavior analysis skills are helpful in managing a classroom and working with families.
- Survey Researcher
Survey researchers develop and conduct research surveys. Topics vary depending on the field they are researching, and may include politics, health, or marketing. They may work with organizations or private firms. Education in sociology helps researchers develop effective surveys, and data analysis skills are necessary to interpret the results.
- Community Outreach Coordinator
Community outreach coordinators work in private companies and nonprofits to evaluate community needs and develop outreach programs to benefit the public and the organization. Coordinators are skilled in social interaction and bridging social hierarchies. Skills in communication and an understanding of social behavior and the complex relationships between culture and organizations are helpful.
- Housing Manager
Housing managers work with organizations to help people find housing. They may work with emergency and subsidized housing needs, or in market rate rental agencies. Managers interview prospective tenants, evaluate needs, and process applications. They may administer grant programs and regulations. Problem solving and interview skills are helpful for this position.
- Alcohol and Drug Addiction Counselor
Addiction counselors manage cases and make recommendations for people in recovery. They perform evaluations, develop treatment plans, and complete documentation. Certified counselors offer individual and group counseling. They also communicate with other treatment professionals. The skills you gain in sociology help you navigate treatment systems and make effective recommendations.
Master's Degree in Sociology
If you want to pursue a clinical career or leadership role, a master's degree is the minimum requirement. Earning a master's degree in sociology is a great option for anyone who wants to help create societal change. Master's programs provide opportunities to develop the clinical skills necessary to work with clients. If you are interested in more analytical roles, earning a master's degree gives you skills in research, statistics, and data analysis. Sociology graduates have rewarding careers in a number of fields that benefit their communities.
- Social Worker
Social workers work with individuals and families to assess their needs and social barriers, and help them access programs for their success. They provide supportive guidance and advocate for their clients within social systems. Social workers must be compassionate communicators, with critical thinking skills and an ability to research and document findings.
Sociologists are typically research-focused. They study human behavior and culture, and how social roles interact with society. They examine the root causes of behavior and social inequality. Research is conducted on a range of subjects, so you will benefit from the breadth of topics covered in a sociology program.
Statisticians analyze data and develop reports of their findings. They use surveys and other appropriate methods to collect data, or they review data from other sources. They then make recommendations to social or government agencies. The job duties are mathematical and require attention to detail and critical thinking skills.
- Director, Housing and Community Development
Directors oversee all aspects of housing communities. They develop programs and objectives and analyze their effectiveness. They also work with the community and other organizations to assess housing needs and find solutions. They may advocate for legislative changes. Directors must be able to balance their workload, and be skilled communicators.
Doctoral Degree in Sociology
Earning a doctoral degree gives you the opportunity to explore topics in sociology through extensive research and study. The experience you earn through a doctoral program makes you a specialist in the field. This specialization leads to opportunities that are not available with other degrees. If you have dreams of shaping the future of the field of sociology, a doctoral degree can help you achieve your goals. It is the required degree for teaching positions in higher education, and can qualify you for leadership roles at highly regarded universities. It is a major commitment of time, but the skills you gain enrich your life.
- Professor, Postsecondary
Professors plan lessons and conduct classes, and also work with students to develop research and theses, thus contributing to the future of the field. They must be skilled researchers who are familiar with source materials, and be able to conduct analysis. The experience you gain in a doctoral program applies directly to a professor position.
- Department Chair (College/University)
Department chairs hold leadership roles at universities. They provide department oversight, develop curriculum, and supervise instructors. They also teach and conduct research. Department chairs must be experienced administrators with excellent communication skills. The collaborative experiences in a doctoral program build skills in working with other administrators.
Provosts are senior academic administrators. They uphold academic integrity and provide oversight in the planning and development of educational programs. They manage and allocate funds and complete strategic plans. Provosts must be skilled problem solvers who are familiar with all academic aspects of their university, and be able to communicate across departments.
Other Career Paths for Sociology Majors
A sociology degree is a great option for those interested in careers in human services, academia, or public policy, but those aren't the only career paths available. The breadth of education you gain in a sociology program can apply to many fields. For example, understanding how media influences social behavior can apply to a career in marketing. Exposure to sociological concepts, and how structural and social systems affect communities, can lead to a successful career as a journalist. Sociology programs develop your critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, giving you a strong foundation in research and helping you develop collaborative approaches.
Advertising and Marketing
Advertising and marketing positions focus on creating effective messaging and promotional materials to encourage consumers to purchase goods or participate in services. Marketing identifies the people who are most interested in a product or service and the demand they have for it. They also identify and analyze cultural trends. Advertising then develops effective campaigns and programs to promote the goods and services.
Sociology provides a thorough understanding of social behavior and culture, which helps agents understand trends and effective advertising methods. People who work in advertising and marketing also conduct research surveys and focus groups; sociological research and interview skills are highly transferable. Sociology majors work as advertising agents, marketing managers, and communication directors. Each of these careers requires creative thinking and an ability to collaborate.
Public relations representatives work to maintain the positive image of a company or organization in the public eye. People who work in public relations manage the spread of information and work to paint a positive picture of an organization or person. Public relations specialists help their clients communicate with the public. They field media requests and often serve as the public face of a company. They may work closely with advertising agents to evaluate promotional materials.
Keeping tabs on public perception is an important aspect of public relations. To accomplish this, specialists evaluate public opinion through surveys and social media. Corporate events and public programs serve to keep the organization in the community's eye and boost morale. Sociology majors are a strong fit for careers in public relations because of their skills in analyzing data and their understanding of social behavior. Graduates can apply their skills to evaluating trends and identifying the factors that influence public perception.
Journalism is the profession of collecting facts about events, investigating news, and reporting or writing about it. Journalists are deeply connected to their communities, and often specialize in a particular area of news, such as international policy or local crime. Journalists spend a lot of time conducting research and interviews. The field of journalism has shifted in recent years but exciting opportunities are still out there.
Sociology graduates may work as news commentators, who analyze and interpret the news and present their opinions. News commentators are typically specialists in the topic that they are commenting on. Sociology majors might also consider a career in reporting. Reporters generally work for a single news outlet where they research and pitch socially relevant story ideas.
Nonprofits operate solely for charitable causes. Broadly defined, all nonprofits are concerned with social structure and improving social conditions. Nonprofits work closely with their communities, and make use of many of the same tools that for-profit businesses use. If you are not inclined toward providing direct services, there are many opportunities in nonprofit administration and management. For example, nonprofits still engage in public relations, marketing, and human resources.
Fundraising managers develop goals to help their organizations meet community needs. They organize campaigns and engage in public relations to increase stakeholder interest. Executive directors serve as the primary administrator and are often the face of the organization. The network in the community, and develop programs to fulfill the organization's mission.
Human resource managers focus on their company's employee resources. The human resource department serves as a connection between executives and employees, and often collaborate with executives in strategic planning and determining staffing needs. They make sure their companies are using employees' skills and talents as effectively as possible. Human resource managers create job descriptions, and are responsible for interviewing, hiring, and retaining staff. They must be aware of state and federal hiring regulations. Human resource managers may also mediate staff conflicts.
Employee diversity efforts often fall under human resource development plans. In unionized industries, labor relation directors work with the union to develop contracts. Recruiting managers are responsible for developing a recruiting strategy that attracts top talent and meets staffing goals. Training managers help retain and promote staff by offering professional development opportunities. Sociology majors' understanding of social behavior and organizational culture is directly transferable to human resources roles.
Where Can I Work With a Sociology Degree?
While there are many pathways for sociology graduates to find work, employment opportunities can be affected by other factors. For example, the location where you are searching for work affects the job requirements. Jobs in populated urban areas often pay higher salaries, but the cost of living is usually high, as well. Some industries offer more advancement opportunities and better wages, but may have an undesirable workplace culture. Read on to learn how location and industry can affect your career.
Consider your home state when planning out your career goals, as location can have a big impact on your career. States determine their own licensing requirements, so be aware of your state's requirements before completing your degree, especially if you want to work with at-risk populations. These populations vary by location, so find out if the populations you want to work with are present in your area. Earning potential is influenced by the cost of living. Where you live also contributes to quality of life; living in a place that you enjoy is important to your overall success.
Industries represent different areas of employment, and different types of work. Some industries pay higher average salaries, but generally speaking, the work you do and the opportunities available affect how much you earn.
|Scientific Research and Development Services||$102,320|
|Local Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals||$88,890|
|State Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals||$83,790|
|Social Advocacy Organizations||$68,920|
|Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Firms||$66,150|
How Do You Find a Job as a Sociology Major?
Finding a job as a sociology major can seem like a daunting process, but there are plenty of resources available to help you launch your career. Consider earning a specialization through your college program, to help set you apart from other graduates, and give you additional skills and education to get your foot in the door. Specializations are particularly helpful if you already know the area of focus you want to work in.
Professional sociology organizations offer certification and networking opportunities. For example, American Sociological Association, Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology, and Association for Humanist Sociology offer annual conferences, publications, and educational opportunities. You may want to begin your career search in the industries with the highest employment for sociologists.
Scientific research and development services employ the most sociologists, and offer the highest average salaries. State governments also employ a high concentration of sociologists, and pay the second highest average salaries. Many sociologists work in colleges and universities, as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects little job growth for sociologists, but related fields such as teaching and statistics are projected to experience high growth.
Professional Resources for Sociology Majors
- LinkedIn: Sometimes referred to as the "Facebook of the professional world," LinkedIn is a professional networking service. Members create a profile that includes a resume or CV, and network and market themselves through posts and articles. The site hosts job listings, as well, and provides a learning platform for business courses.
- CareerBuilder: CareerBuilder has been providing job search tools and resources since 1995. The website hosts an active job board, and lets job searchers create a resume online. They also offer a resource center with articles organized depending on the stage of your career development. The career exploration center includes salaries, locations, and job duties for various careers.
- Idealist: Idealist is a job board that focuses on nonprofits, community organizations, and other agencies working for social change. The website includes a blog featuring articles on searching for a job, career planning, and success stories. Idealist also offers a graduate student resource center.
- Indeed: Indeed is a popular job board that allows job seekers to research potential employers and salary information. The company reviews section provides information on companies' leadership qualities, work/life balance, and culture. Current and previous employees post ratings and reviews. You can also search salaries by job title and by company.
- National Association of Social Workers: NASW is an active membership organization with chapters across the United States. Membership includes access to continuing education, private practice resources (such as liability insurance), and chapter membership. NASW offers certifications and credentials for social workers and case managers. Their advocacy alerts are also of interest to sociologists.
- Rural Sociological Society: RSS seeks to improve the quality of life for rural communities and environments. They publish a peer-reviewed journal and host an annual conference. RSS also provides support for scholars researching rural topics. Membership includes access to interest groups, professional opportunities, and opportunities to submit papers and panels to the conference.
- International Sociological Association: ISA is an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) recognized by UNESCO. They offer individual and collective memberships to professionals engaged in teaching, research, or practice. Membership includes research opportunities, competitions, and annual conferences. ISA also offers a network for junior sociologists in Ph.D. programs, including a list of job opportunities and funding sources.
- American Sociological Association: ASA is a national association of sociologists. They focus on increasing the visibility of the profession and developing policies and programs that impact sociology. ASA offers well developed resources, including a career center with a job bank. The website includes links to research publications and student and teacher resources.
- Association for Humanist Sociology: AHS is an organization concerned with peace, equality, and social justice. It strives to make sociology more relevant to people's lives, and provides a support network for sociologists. The organization distributes several awards each year for books, papers, and distinguished service. It also publishes a journal and newsletter, and hosts an annual conference.
- Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology: AACS is a membership organization of applied, clinical, and practicing sociologists, whose mission is to apply sociological principles to social change. AACS certifies clinical sociologists or sociological practitioners. The association offers an annual conference, and members may submit papers to the journal. Its website includes job search resources and a student paper competition.