- "Sociologists," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/sociologists.htm#tab-6
What Does it Mean to Study Sociology?
Sociologists study human behavior as it pertains to human interaction within the guidelines of an organizational structure. The interaction between humans is more complex than the interactions between other animal species. Human behavior is greatly influenced and governed by social, religious, and legal guidelines. A sociologist studies these behaviors and the influences that preserve certain behaviors and change others.
Sociology is a broad science, covering many different disciplines the social sciences. Anthropology, archeology, and linguistics are the few disciplines that surpass what sociology readily encompasses. Sociology also studies more tangible measures of human behavior such as class or social status, social movements, criminal deviance, and even revolution.
Types of Sociology Degrees
Because sociology-related careers are so diverse, one's education requirements vary from one position to the next. To ensure the proper degree or courses are available, future sociology majors should consider their ultimate career goals before enrolling in a degree program. Consider the following degree types:
Diplomas, Certificates, and Associate Degrees
Certificate programs in sociology give students a solid foundation in the field. Course time is typically equivalent of two full time semesters of work. The actual time required to obtain an online certificate in sociology varies depending on the educational institution and the individual student's learning pace.
A bachelor's degree in sociology requires degree specific classes such as principles of sociology, social problems, statistical analysis, race and ethnicity, social deviance, social theory, sociology of business, sociology of politics, sociology of education, urban sociology, and social psychology. Many colleges and universities also expose sociology majors to key arts and science courses, including: composition, humanities, mathematics, general science, fine arts, history and a variety of electives.
Many full-time students can complete their bachelor's degree in sociology in about four years. Part-time students can complete their course work in four to seven years, depending on their own learning pace and their outside commitments.
Preparing for a Sociology Degree
Because a sociology degree demands that students devote a significant amount of time to research and writing, high school students can relieve some of their time burdens by enrolling in advanced placement courses. These high school courses allow students to earn college credit for key subjects such as history, literature, and mathematics.
By reducing their course load, students can graduate early and join the work force sooner. More often, students choose to use their extra credits to give themselves lighter schedules that allow them to spend more time on research. Students who hold a part-time job during their undergraduate degree programs particularly benefit from advanced placement courses.
Working professionals can sometimes earn college credit in the form of an independent study evaluation of their life or work experience. Sociology majors who already work in government agencies or private businesses can build a research project or a series of reports based on work they performed for their employer. The student's company gains the benefit of extra insight into their stakeholders, while students earn valuable course credit that reduces the time remaining until graduation.
Finding the Right Sociology Program
Online and distance learning programs at established colleges and universities offer busy parents and working professionals unprecedented access to degrees in sociology. When selecting a degree program, get clear about the amount of time per week you can set aside to work on your studies. Because some programs require minimum course loads per semester, you should make sure you enroll in a program that will fit in with your work and family commitments.
Students can participate in live lectures distributed via streaming audio and video. Check that your computer and Internet connection meets the requirements to participate in lectures and online chat discussions. You may need to budget for an upgraded system, although most online degree programs will work fine with basic home systems and broadband Internet access.
What Can You Do With a College Major in Sociology?
It is common for those with sociology degrees to seek employment in one of the following industries or positions.
A professional with a degree in sociology is well prepared for administrative positions, particularly in government and public agencies that administer human services. Sociologists in leadership roles help define policies toward groups of people in need of public assistance. By leading teams of researchers and social work professionals, sociologists can reshape their communities.
As the prison population in our country continues to expand, many local governments hire sociologists to understand the impact of tougher laws on neighborhoods. Sociologists also help corrections officials determine the effects of new programs and regulations on the prison population.
Some counselors and therapists study sociology in order to better understand some of the larger trends they see among patients. By using the kinds of pattern analysis techniques that sociologists are known for, counselors can focus their practices on critical needs in their communities.
A person with a sociology degree may choose to pursue a career in education. A bachelor's degree and teaching certificate are adequate for teaching classes such as political science, history, and social science at the high school level. PhD level graduates may pursue careers at the college and university level.
Sociology professionals play larger roles at major investigative bureaus, especially the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Working with detectives and profilers, sociologists help law enforcement officials anticipate crime by identifying obscure patterns. Targeting areas that are likely to be the focus of criminals allows officials to deploy scarce resources more effectively. Therefore, investigators can close cases more quickly while improving the quality of life in previously dangerous areas.
Sociology majors with a proven ability to communicate well may find a home for their talents in a variety of news gathering organizations. Newspapers and local broadcast news outlets employ sociologists to help understand the kinds of stories that engage readers, viewers, and listeners in a particular region. Sociologists work with editors and market researchers to identify the right balance of news that audience members expect with the stories that need to be reported to uphold civic responsibilities.
Sociology degree holders can play numerous roles in the political community. Campaign managers hire sociology professionals who can identify critical neighborhoods that can make or break an election. By understanding the traditional voting patterns of key districts along with the crucial issues that concern voters, campaigners can deploy volunteers and activists to win over voters.
At numerous government organizations, sociologists analyze patterns that can affect the political and economic balance of the county. Examining the trends in housing construction and measuring the number of citizens who move to new cities can provide lawmakers with a clear picture of the challenges facing Americans today. Sociologists can also help lawmakers predict the success or failure of proposed legislation based on voting patterns and current research findings.
Most importantly, sociologists manage the process of counting citizens in our census program every ten years. Instead of merely counting individuals in the country, as mandated by law, sociologists use the opportunity to conduct deeper interviews that reveal larger trends when compared to past results.
Some sociology majors with an interest in journalism find jobs as public relations officers for major corporations. By reviewing market research data and understanding historic trends, sociologists can anticipate challenges when rolling out new products or building infrastructure. Sociologists who truly understand the motivations of customers, community activists, and journalists can effectively defuse problems in the media by responding to the public's concerns with carefully composed solutions.
Some sociology professionals can carve out careers as independent research consultants who examine trends in human behavior for a variety of clients. By carving out a solid reputation for reliable work, these specialists attract interesting problems without having to pursue grants like their colleagues in the academic sector.
Over the next few decades, the United States will experience an unprecedented explosion in the number of Americans over the age of sixty-five. Numerous outreach organizations and government agencies are hiring sociologists to study the effects of an again population on our culture. In addition, many researchers hope to anticipate the results of the coming contraction of population as baby boomers die off. Sociologists use scenario planning exercises along with a variety of resources to predict the opportunities for future generations to thrive in a country with far fewer residents.
Our society places more value on the lives of children than at any point in our nation's history. A variety of government agencies and nonprofit institutions monitor the impact of policies and parental habits on today's young people. Sociologists examine the challenges that young people face when interacting with people of other generations. They also examine the significant cultural shifts driven by young people's tastes in popular culture.
Preparing for Sociology Career Opportunities
Because of the breadth of study involved in obtaining a sociology degree, career choices are diverse. Graduates holding a degree in sociology often find employment as researchers, consultants, or administrators for federal, state and local governments. A sociologist may also find employment in the private sector with educational institutions and businesses.
Although competition for academic jobs remains fierce, many businesses and government agencies have expanded the roles that sociology professionals play in their organizations. Businesses invest more heavily than ever before in understanding their customers' wants and needs. Government departments and political campaigns also want to know everything they can about their constituents. Therefore, experts at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the job demand for sociologists to grow by 15 percent between 2012 and 2022.
Most careers in sociology require standard business working hours. Sociologists generally spend most of their time behind a desk, collecting and evaluating data to be used in preparation of written reports. Sociologists are usually called upon to attend meetings and give oral presentations as well. Depending on their specialty, a sociologist may be asked to travel as part of their research or to collaborate with other social scientist.
Skills of Successful Sociologists
Students and professionals who excel in the field of sociology typically display a number of the following skills and characteristics:
- Ability to recognize trends and patterns. Sociologists must develop a keen eye for detail and a gift for spotting relationships between pieces of information. By cultivating patterns from otherwise abstract data, sociologists can break through puzzling roadblocks during research assignments.
Following these trails can lead to important discoveries and understandings for sociologists throughout their careers. To grow their talent for uncovering these relationships, many sociology programs expose students to new courses in game theory and traditional classes in art. Viewing data from unusual points of view not only breaks up the monotony of data analysis, but it usually results in the recognition of important patterns.
- Ability to create concise reports and essays. Whether reporting to superiors on the results of research or developing new funding proposals, sociologists rely frequently on their ability to write effective reports. Sociology students learn how to modulate their writing for different audiences. When preparing reports for peers and colleagues, they can use industry shorthand and insider terminology to keep memos and files brief. When writing external reports for funding agencies, or politicians, or the media, they translate that jargon into easily digestible nuggets of information.
- Strong critical thinking skills. Sociology degree programs challenge students to build their analytical skills through a series of increasingly challenging assignments over the course of their studies. Sociology majors spend time in introductory courses examining the techniques that professionals use to investigate theories. As they move through intermediate and advanced courses, they start to use those techniques on their own research projects. By the time they near graduation, sociology majors use their keen critical thinking skills to solve problems and identify opportunities in their own research.
- Oral presentation skills. In addition to powerful writing skills, sociology majors must develop the ability to speak comfortably and clearly in front of crowds. This skill particularly benefits students who intend to pursue careers in academia. Meanwhile, sociology professionals who work in the private sector also utilize this skill when presenting information to government agencies, funding panels, or audiences at professional conferences.
- Interpersonal communications skills. Regardless of their career paths, sociology majors will rely on strong person-to-person communications skills throughout their working lives. Students learn early in their degree programs to conduct effective interviews with key subjects. In addition, sociologists often work on teams where long hours and tight deadlines can lead to friction between colleagues. Quality sociology degree programs prepare students for future challenges by creating realistic scenarios in which students can improve their interpersonal communications.
- Develop skills in modern data and analysis technology. As with many other careers, modern technology and computers have revolutionized sociology. During the course of their degree programs, students learn to manipulate data using complex pieces of software and hardware. By running research data through sophisticated tools, sociology professionals can spot trends sooner and generate results faster.
- Grant writing skills. Many sociologists must compete for funding from government agencies, from private funders, and from academic boards. Skilled professionals learn to apply their strong writing skills to create attractive grant applications. By stating clear goals and framing up outcomes that advance the agendas or the missions of funding bodies, sociologists can collect vital funds that allow them to continue making breakthroughs in research and understanding of human interaction.
- Research skills. Sociology majors learn to use all of the resources at their disposal to chase down leads and build sets of information for analysis. Many sociology degree programs introduce students to the tricks of efficient library research early in their academic careers. Bolstered by fast searches on the Internet, sociology majors learn to digest cataloged findings for use in their original research projects. By the time they graduate, students learn to conduct personal interviews and mass surveys in order to generate their own sets of raw data for analysis.
- Management skills. Many professional sociologists rely on the help of support personnel and other team members to conduct research and to move projects forward. During their degree programs, students learn to blend the best practices from the business world with the traditions of research professionals. By the time students earn their sociology degrees, they gain the talent to motivate the different kinds of specialists that will help them accomplish major breakthroughs during their careers.
- Planning and organizational skills. Because most sociologists work on time-sensitive projects, students learn how to plan and arrange their tasks to save time and to work as efficiently as possible. Many colleges and universities provide introductory courses in time management and task coordination as part of their core programs. These skills reap huge rewards later in a student's career, when they must marshal scarce resources under tight deadlines.
Sociology Certification and Licensure
Sociology degree holders seeking careers as high school teachers must meet local and state requirement for certification. Many municipalities require teachers to pursue additional or continuous education to maintain their eligibility.
Professionals seeking careers in social agencies are usually subjected to various background checks and licensure depending on the regulations in their home states.