Some people are just curious about the world around them. They want to learn all they can from the scientists who went before them. Then, they want to get out into the big, wide world and find answers of their own. Paleontologists want to know what happened to the dinosaurs. Exobiologists search for life beyond our planet. Climatologists want to know why our world is warming.
Sociologists are curious, too. They’re curious about people. They want to know what makes them tick. They want to know how and why people interact in the ways they do. They want to know what makes a human society run smoothly, and what makes it fall apart.
Does this sound like you? If so, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re interested in the field of sociology, in all its exciting and varied forms, read on and find out what it is, what you can do with a sociology degree, and how that degree will help you find a job that fits your interests, skills and passion.
Just what is the field of sociology, anyway?
Sociology is literally the study of social behavior and societies: how people interact, how they form social groups, how these groups function, who benefits from being a member of a society, and how human societies can be improved. The “societies” being studied can be as small as the audience of a single online forum or as vast as the citizens of an entire nation. They can be as complex as a multi-national business or as simple as a neighborhood coalition.
Sociologist can be found in nearly every field of human endeavor, from criminal justice to urban planning to elder care. Why? Because so many fields involve people and how they interact in, you guessed it, societies. This can include classrooms, universities, workplaces and websites. Understanding how people interact, and how those interactions can lead to more positive outcomes for everyone involved, is often the first step toward solving any number of our world’s problems, from homelessness to traffic flow to marketing.
What can you do with a sociology degree?
Sociology, as you now know, covers a wide range of industries and professions. Sociology majors find interesting and fulfilling work in social services, education, community work, politics and even law enforcement.
Here are some of the specific job titles available to sociology majors. Each title is followed by a brief description of what the work involves and the type of duties that might come with it. Use this information to decide if the field of sociology is a good fit for you.
- Rehabilitation case manager – While they often work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, doctor’s offices and home-health settings, rehabilitation case mangers do not provide direct patient care. Instead, they coordinate the medical care being given to someone recovering from a debilitating health event, such as an accident or injury. This can include evaluating the patient’s needs and reviewing available resources, insuring that the patient gets the quality, cost-effective care that will lead to their recovery and their return to a productive and healthy life.
- Community development manager – As a coordinator, a community development manager works alongside other professionals – such as police officers, social workers, teachers and volunteers – to find solutions to the complex problems many modern communities and neighborhoods are now facing. These can encompass a wide array of problems including social injustice, lack of affordable housing, finding child care, crime and pollution.
- Social worker – Social workers work with vulnerable populations such as the elderly, the poor and the disabled, helping them to find answers for the many problems they face. This can include problems with housing, crime, physical abuse and drug addiction. Clinical social workers, who must earn a Master Degree, can also diagnose and treat behavioral, mental and emotional problems.
- Affordable housing coordinator – An affordable housing coordinator is a case manager who helps low income families and individuals find and maintain appropriate and affordable housing. This can include assessing the needs of the client, helping them with relocation, and maintaining a relationship with local landlords in order to help iron out any problems that arise.
- Family planning counselor – A family planning counselor helps people, usually those who fall into the low income bracket, with every aspect of sexual health. This can include basic anatomy education, pregnancy testing, contraceptive availability and use, pregnancy options and disease prevention.
- Criminal justice advocate – Our court system, in its zeal to find and convict criminals, often overlooks the one person most deeply impacted by the crime in question: the victim. A criminal justice advocate works with crime victims during the lengthy process of investigation, arrest and trial, explaining their rights to them, making sure that their voice is heard and helping them find closure.
- Social media strategist – No company today can thrive without a robust social media presence on the Internet. And, that presence must be highly targeted to the types of customers that the company hopes to serve. A social media strategist conducts research for the company they work for, identifying their market base and designing social media campaigns that target that market.
- Community service officer – An adjunct to the local police department, the community service officer works as a liaison between the police department and the community it serves. Duties can include many of the same jobs that police officers do, but with the guns. These include neighborhood outreach, crowd control, event coordination and crime prevention.
- Marketing analyst – Using surveys and interviews, marketing analysts gather data from consumers, asking them how they make their purchasing choices and what information they use when making those decisions. The compiled data is used by companies that provide consumer products and services – and even things like healthcare! – to determine the needs of their customers and clients. Marketing analysts can use their understanding of society and the forces that influence its members to create the survey materials they will need and to direct the interview process.
- Correctional counselor - A correctional counselor works with people who have already been convicted of a crime, and who may have already served time in prison. The counselor works to connect these people with the proper social services, helping them reestablish their lives in a way that keeps them from reoffending, and allows them to become a contributing member of society, rather than just a sad recidivism statistic.
- Admissions counselor – If you’re reading this, you already know that choosing the right career path isn’t also so easy. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was someone out there who could help you make decisions about your future career, and maybe help with other college-related concerns like housing, scholarships, student loans and filling out the FAFSA? Well, there is just such a person, and you can find them at nearly every college and university: the admissions counselor. Admissions counselors can even find jobs working with kids still in high school. There, they help students well before they’re ready for college by aiding them with class selections, test taking and the college-application process.
- Probation officer – As officers of the court system, probation officers are charged with many different duties. They can be asked to investigate a convicted criminal’s background in anticipation of the sentencing portion of a criminal trial, giving the presiding judge insight that will aid in choosing an appropriate sentence. Probation officers also supervise paroled offenders as they work to integrate themselves back into society after serving time for a crime.
- Marketing communications specialist – Now, more than at any time in history, communications define societies and how they interact. Isolated communities now have access to learning opportunities, healthcare and culture, thanks to the Internet. Across the globe, people now have phone service and online banking choices, even if they live miles from the nearest town. As a marketing communications specialist, you would device ways to reach out to these awakening markets – both in the US and internationally – determining what they need and actively engaging them with the services and products your company has to offer.
- Professional arbitrator – An arbitrator is someone who helps two or more parties settle a dispute. These disputes can involve property rights, insurance claims, even child custody cases. The arbitrator works to find a compromise that is satisfactory to everyone involved. Successful arbitration can resolve a conflict without resorting to lengthy and impersonal court cases, and can leave all the parties involved with a much more positive experience.
Do you have what it takes?
Sometimes a career path just sounds appealing. It sounds like something we want to do, so we just dive in. But, it’s important to consider our innate skills, interests and abilities before making such an important decision about the future.
To help ensure that you don’t end up with “buyer’s remorse” a few days after graduation, here are a few targeted questions that can help you decide if you’re well suited for a career in sociology.
- Are you a “people person”? – Let’s face it, some people are simply more comfortable in a quiet library, while others don’t feel quite at home unless they’re surrounded by voices and noise and lively human interactions. If you’re the latter, you’re on the right track. Nearly every occupation available to those with a sociology degree – with the possible exception of pure empirical research – involves interactions with other people. Human interactions define sociology, after all
- Are you tireless? – Whether you’re setting up a neighborhood watch program as part of your duties as a community service officer, organizing and running an AA meeting, or trying to find just the right apartment for an elderly client who’s living on a fixed income, you will likely be on your feet – or on the phone! – at all hours of the day and night. You will need a body – and mind – that thrives outside the “nine to five” box.
- Are you fair minded? – Nearly every employment opportunity available to someone with a sociology degree – whether it’s with the government, as a volunteer or in the private sector – will require you to work with people of all kinds. You will encounter people of differing ages, beliefs, lifestyles, incomes and religions. No matter what your job title, you will need to treat them all with the respect and concern they deserve. Can you do that? “Yes!” is the right answer here.
- Are you tech savvy? – No job today is without its share of record keeping and data entry. In many sociology-related careers, however, you may face the added burden of setting up a website, monitoring social media, publishing helpful handouts or even crunching the numbers on data you’ve gathered. All of these will require that you have some mean computer skills.
- Are you multi-lingual? – While not a deal-breaker, being bi- or multi-lingual is a real plus in the field of sociology. You will likely be working with people who are under a great deal of stress – facing homelessness or job loss, for example. And, when people are stressed, hearing their options explained and their concerned reiterated in their native tongue can be very reassuring. Some of your clients may not speak your native language at all. Cool thing here is that, if you answered “no” to this question, college courses can correct that. Freshman year, simply sign up for Spanish 101 or American Sign Language and you’re well on your way!
What classes would I have to take to earn my sociology degree?
It’s important to know what kinds of classes you will be taking before you commit to any course of study. Not every class you take will be a fascinating thrill ride, but most of them should pique your interest.
When you read the descriptions below, try to gauge your interest level. If you find yourself saying – right out loud! – “Wow, that is something I’ve always wanted to know,” you’ve probably just put your toe on the right career path. If, on the other hand, you find yourself thinking, “Ho, hum. How could anyone sit through a class like that?” It may be time to reconsider your options.
- Principles of sociology – This course will usually be an overview of the field, covering the development and basic structure of human groups and culture.
- Modern social issues – In this class, you would learn how to analyze the social issues that we see in the news every day, including gender inequality, racial conflicts and issues of class.
- Social data evaluation – We are literally barraged with data of all kinds concerning our society and its values on an hourly basis: facts, opinions, polls, studies, debates. In a data evaluation class, you will learn to look at this data objectively, weighting it by its true value.
- Research design and methods – As a social scientist, you will likely – especially during your college years – do research on the questions that interest you. This kind of course will give you the tools to develop a research question and design a scientifically sound study to answer that question.
- Introduction to social psychology – This course covers how interactions within groups affect the individual and how that, in turn, affects the group as a whole.
- Marriage and the family – As the most basic building block of all other social groups, study of family interactions is vital to understanding the changing face of all other social groups.
But, will I be able to make a living in the field of sociology?
That’s a great question! No matter how altruistic you are or how passionate you feel about your profession, if you can’t earn a living, you can’t help others. Before devoting four years of your life to earning a degree, and perhaps taking out some student loans as well, you need to know what your earning potential will be once that degree is in your hand, and whether or not there will be openings in your chosen field.
So, here are some facts to consider:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – the go-to site for accurate, up-to-date job intel – sociologists as a whole earn about $74,000 a year. The field, however, is not expected to grow much in the coming years. However, looking at individual jobs within the field shows more encouraging results. Social workers, for example, earn on average $46,000 a year and jobs in this field are growing at twelve percent, faster than average. Correctional counselors and probation officers earn, on average, close to $50,000 annually in a field that’s growing at four percent a year. Those in the marketing field can earn as much as $125,000, and will see their job market grow at about nine percent a year.
Statistics are one thing, but what about real-life job opportunities?
If you’re still not convinced that you will have a job waiting for you when you graduate with your sociology degree, then do some real-world research. Go to any of the big, online job-search sites – like Monster, Indeed or CareerBuilder – and type in the term “sociology degree” or any of the job titles discussed earlier in this article.
At the time of this writing, a quick search turned up the following job openings – and literally hundreds more for each search term!
- New Century Hospice, Castle Rock, Colorado – Was in search of a social worker to provide counseling and emotional support to both their patients and their patients’ families.
- Serco, Inc., Fort Carson, Colorado – Wanted to hire a career counselor for their Transition Assistance Program, helping returning veterans start a new life outside of the military.
- Ibotta, Denver, Colorado – Needed a marketing analyst to crunch their customer data and improve their marketing plan.
- Centura Health, Denver, Colorado – Wanted to hire a case manager for their Washington Park location.
- Care Now Urgent Care, Denver, Colorado – Was looking for a marketing coordinator to manage community outreach and marketing initiatives.
- Ariel Clinical Services, Wheat Ridge, Colorado – Needed to find an adult-services employment consultant to assist their clients in finding meaningful employment within the community.
Now you try it. Pick your terms, pick your location, then hit that “enter” key and see what comes up!
Flexibility is a big plus!
If you’re a student just heading off to college for the first time, or one who started school years ago but stopped to begin working or start a family, you may be wondering how you can fit college into your life, already filled with job and family obligations. Taking online classes is one option to consider.
Online coursework allows you to choose when and where you study, giving you – and more importantly, your schedule! – maximum flexibility. You will be able to continue working and caring for your family while earning the sociology degree you’ve always wanted.
Keep in mind that all online degree programs are not created equal. Before committing to one, check to see if you can combine online courses with face-to-face classes. This will give you that flexibility we just mentioned, while allowing you the more immersive experience of traditional course work, as well. Make sure, too, that any program you are considering uses the same highly-qualified staff for both their brick-and-mortar classes and their online course work. This will ensure that you receive the highest quality learning experience.