What Does it Mean to Study Sociology?
The study of sociology is, in essence, the study of human behavior in a society. As many of us are intimately aware, the interactions between humans can be complex, since human behavior is largely governed by social, religious and legal guidelines. A sociologist studies these guidelines to learn how and why certain behaviors are preserved and others are challenged.
Sociology is a broad science, covering many different disciplines in the social sciences. For that reason, studying sociology requires study of a wide range of academics, such as anthropology, archaeology and linguistics. Through these and other subjects, sociology majors strive to understand long-established measures of human behavior such as class or social status, social movements and even criminal deviance.
Types of Sociology Degrees
Because sociology is so diverse as a field, educational requirements for different sociology-related careers can vary wildly. Some positions may become available with as little as a certificate, while others may require the time and energy investment of a master’s degree. Fortunately, many colleges and universities have begun offering sociology degree programs online as well as on campus. This has not only made higher education more attainable for a wider variety of students, but has made it easier for working professionals to put the months (or years) required into a sociology degree without abandoning their existing careers.
Depending on your ultimate career goals, the level of sociology degree you might be interested in earning is likely to change. With so many different sociology programs out there, it’s important to understand the differences between these degree levels before enrolling. Let’s look at some of these differences here.
Certificate Programs in Sociology
Certificate programs in sociology usually serve one of two main purposes. They can provide an introduction to the subject for students interested in the field, but they can also help already-established professionals increase their knowledge of the subject, which can be helpful in the workplace. Either way, these programs typically take a year at most to complete, which means they can help students to reach their goals quickly. They are not suitable for everybody, but if your situation calls for one, they can be both flexible and informative.
Here are some examples of courses you might see during a sociology certificate program:
- Diversity and inequality
- Social problems
- Public policy
- Introduction to sociology
- International sociology
Associate Degrees in Sociology
Earning a sociology degree at the associate level can help students to learn the basics of the field, while also bulking out their coverage of core educational requirements such as English and math. Students who undertake this degree program typically take two years to complete their program, and afterwards they may be able to transfer their credits to a four-year school in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. In many cases, students can finish their associate program and then take a break from school — perhaps to cultivate their career, or to handle a major life change — and still transfer at least some of their credits into a bachelor’s program years later, when it has become more convenient or necessary for the student in question.
In addition to core courses required by your school, associate degree students should expect to take some of the following courses:
- Music history
- Art history
- World literature
- World religions
Bachelor’s Degrees in Sociology
A bachelor’s degree program is essentially the middle ground between an associate program and a master’s program. It covers general education requirements and subject basics as an associate program does, but it also begins to tap into deeper theories and concepts in the manner of a master’s program. This is the case for sociology degree programs as it is for many other subjects.
Many full-time students can complete a bachelor’s in sociology degree program in about four years. Part-time students often need four to seven years, depending on their own learning pace and their outside commitments. Courses you might take during your program include:
- World geography
- Sociology of the family
- Sociology of gender
- World religions
- Sociology of social problems
Master’s Degrees in Sociology
Those with especially grand ambitions in the field of sociology may want to pursue a sociology degree at the master’s level. These programs present students with upper-division courses that are meant to provide an in-depth look at the social issues and problems that plague our society. Students are typically encouraged to do more research at this level, and to think critically about theories and concepts in order to draw their own conclusions. At this upper-division level in the field, world history is often a crucial source of examples that can help students to understand how past human milestones and social constructs affect the way we live today.
Some of the courses that might be available at the master’s level for sociology include:
- Sociological theory
- Theory of diversity
- Research methods
- Social statistics
- Marriage and family relationships
What Can You Do With a College Major in Sociology?
Because the sociology major covers a wide range of topics within the humanities, earning a degree in the subject can be an advantage in numerous industries. Interacting with other people is an important part of many careers, and sociology can offer many insights into such interactions, be they with customers, clients, coworkers, children or any other group you can think of. Depending on what level of degree a student earns and what aspect(s) of sociology they choose as a specialization, they may find their job prospects upon graduation are rather broader than they were expecting.
If you are interested in sociology, keep these potential careers in mind as you approach your studies.
Sociologists use their understanding of human relationships to suggest ways to improve the human condition. They conduct research and social experiments that can help them better understand the problems that various communities may be facing. Once they have identified the problems to combat, they study theories and pick apart their data in search of trends that might help them devise a solution to the problem. With a solution in hand, sociologists share their findings with communities and policymakers in order to help them create programs that can enact social change.
- Most sociologists earn a master’s degree or Ph.D., although some start with a bachelor’s degree.
- Certification isn’t a typical requirement in this field.
A professional who has earned a sociology degree is often well positioned to pursue administrative careers, particularly in public or government service agencies. Graduates who have earned at least a bachelor’s in sociology could also consider a career as an administrative services manager. Sociologists in leadership roles use their knowledge and expertise to define policies toward groups of people; administrative services managers apply that same skillset to the organization they work for instead. These professionals may also supervise clerical and administrative personnel, set goals and create deadlines for their department, and manage their facility and all its contents.
- Administrative services managers usually have a bachelor’s degree and some on-the-job experience.
- Many administrative services managers pursue a Facilities Management Professional (FMP) certification or Certified Facility Manager (CFM) certification from the International Facility Management Association.
Some counselors and therapists study sociology in order to better understand some of the larger trends they see among patients. By using the pattern analysis techniques that sociologists are known for, counselors can focus their practices on critical needs in their communities. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in particular use their understanding of the human brain and behavior to help people who struggle from addiction or mental health issues. They can recommend treatments and/or teach people how to modify their behavior in order to improve their health.
- Some types of counselors only need a bachelor’s degree, although others may need a master’s degree or a Ph.D.
- Most counselors in private practice need to be licensed to practice in their state.
Sociology professionals can play a prominent role at major investigative bureaus. Working alongside detectives and profilers, sociologists can help law enforcement officials anticipate crime by identifying obscure patterns in criminal activities. Targeting areas that are likely to be the focus of criminals helps officials to deploy their limited resources more effectively. This can help investigators to close cases more quickly, improving the quality of life in previously dangerous areas.
- While investigators that work for law enforcement may only need on-the-job training and a high school diploma, working alongside government law enforcement may require a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree.
- Most investigators don’t need to become certified.
Sociology degree earners who find positions in political science can play numerous roles in the political community. Political scientists analyze patterns that can affect the political and economic balance of the county. For example, campaign managers may hire political scientists to identify critical neighborhoods that can make or break an election. By understanding the traditional voting patterns of key districts and the issues that concern those districts, political scientists can craft strategies to win over voters. These professionals can also help lawmakers predict the success or failure of proposed legislation based on voting patterns and current research findings.
- Political scientists typically earn a master’s degree at minimum before pursuing this career.
- Certification isn’t common for these professionals.
Associations and Organizations
If you aspire to become a sociology professional, you would be wise to pay attention to news and changes within the field. Here are some important sociology organizations that may be able to help you do just that.
- American Sociological Association — The ASA offers valuable resources to assist those who teach within the sociology field. They also offer information on news and current events, along with a job board.
- International Sociological Association — The ISA focuses on furthering the field of sociology on the international stage. They offer membership and research initiatives, along with publications, conferences and career opportunities.
- Association for Humanist Psychology — This group of sociologists, educators and scholars work together to use sociology to promote peace and prosperity. Become a member to gain access to information about advocacy, meetings and current events within the field.
- Council on Social Work Education — This council offers support and networking for professionals in the social work education space. Membership is available, as well as research papers and news.
- International Association of Applied Psychology — The IAAP works on an international level to promote peace and better communication around the world. Membership opportunities are available, as are international meetings to discuss news and trends within applied psychology around the world.
- Administrative Services Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/administrative-services-managers
- Associate of Arts Degree in Sociology, Community College of Aurora, https://www.ccaurora.edu/catalog/associate-of-arts-degree-in-sociology
- Online Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, Southern New Hampshire University, https://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/ba-in-sociology
- Online Master of Art in Sociology, Arizona State University, https://asuonline.asu.edu/online-degree-programs/graduate/master-arts-sociology
- Political Scientists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists
- Private Detectives and Investigators, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators
- Sociologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/sociologists
- Sociology Department Certificate Program, UCI School of Social Sciences, https://www.sociology.uci.edu/undergrad/certificate/index.php
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors