How to Use Your Degree in a Range of Job Industries
When students tell their parents they’re majoring in sociology, many people’s first thought is, “what are you going to do with that?” On the surface, sociology may not seem practical but with proper planning and execution, the degree can be used in all kinds of industries. It can also serve as a strong foundation for graduate studies. If you’re interested in the field, read on to learn more about the valuable skills a bachelor’s degree can provide and the types of career paths you could pursue after graduation.
How Sociology Prepares You for Today’s Global Job Market
Sociology is the study of people and society and how they interact with one another. The discipline has a strong focus on finding solutions to complex questions through research, data analysis and high-level critical thinking. This means sociology graduates enter the job market with a considerable advantage because the degree hones an array of practical skills that are valuable to many industries and careers. Here are some of the top learning outcomes that help prepare sociology graduates for the increasingly global job market:
Critical thinking and problem solving: Whether observing groups in everyday life or conducting large-scale surveys, sociology students learn how to research and collect data as well as how to analyze that information to come up with valuable insights. They’re able to think critically and ask important questions to find solutions and, in the process, a better understanding of the way someone or something functions. “In sociology, you learn to ask different questions,” explains human resources expert and sociology graduate, Katharine Grubb. “You question ‘what does it mean? Is it significant? What does it mean if the data isn’t what we hoped for?’” Critical thinking and problem solving are top skills all employers look for in potential hires, from small non-profits to big-name corporations.
Data collection and analysis: Most sociological theories are rooted in social science research, and because of that, sociology students are exposed to research methods to a greater degree than most liberal arts students. “You have to have your data and numbers to back up a claim or statement,” says Grubb. “You can’t just generalize without data. This is really useful in everyday life. Especially these days – we hear a lot in the workplace about data and metrics and how to increase sales, how to increase output, website visits, etc.” By learning how to effectively and ethically collect and analyze data, sociology students develop important skills in managing and understanding large quantities of information and have the aptitude to distill those data into a comprehensible form. These skills can be translated to any kind of data – be it tracking website usage or budget projects – in many different industries. “Telling somebody what the data means is really powerful,” says Grubb.
Interpersonal and cross-cultural skills: Understanding how to interact effectively with other people, no matter their background, is a skill that can be taken for granted, but sociology majors learn why it’s important to understand context and adapt messages when working in diverse fields. By studying people and cultures, sociology students learn interactions must and should be adapted in order to relate to others. Because most industries don’t exist in a vacuum, the skill of relating to people from a different background from oneself is exceptionally important in today’s professional landscape.
Communication skills: Learning how to communicate data and complex theories clearly and concisely is an important skill that sociology students learn through their coursework. Because students study society and people, they have a greater understanding of the circumstances in which people live and what’s important to them. This allows them to adapt their communication to a variety of audiences. Strong written and oral communication skills are essential in almost all careers, whether working with the public or just interacting with fellow colleagues.
Leadership: Studying people and society teaches students that leadership doesn’t come in just one form. A leader can be quiet and behind-the-scenes, they can lead by example or they can take the lead and guide others on a project. Sociology graduates gain valuable insights on what makes an effective leader and gain practical experience in leadership through active engagement with their peers.
Computer literacy: Because sociology is so data- and research-driven, students have the opportunity to gain higher-level computer skills. This can happen through data analysis in required courses, but it can also be developed when conducting independent research. These skills can be incredibly valuable for almost all industries and can open doors to specialized occupations such as urban planning or environmental management.
Research skills: When developing an argument, sociology students quickly learn it’s important to seek out the correct information from reputable sources to support a claim. This skill is especially essential today, when everyone is bombarded with information; some of which is not rooted in fact. These research skills go hand-in-hand with critical thinking and data analysis skills. The combination gives sociology graduates an edge for many jobs that entail any type of research and communication.
Potential Career Paths
Sociology provides a solid foundation in both understanding people and systems so the skills students develop can be used in a wide variety of careers and industries. You could pursue a career in social work but also a career in public relations or marketing. Some jobs require a master’s degree, but in some cases, someone with an undergraduate sociology degree can begin in an entry-level position and work their way up. Here are a few examples of traditional and non-traditional career paths for graduates with at least a bachelor’s.
8 Traditional Careers for Sociology Grads
Community Health Worker
Community health workers help people and communities access their healthcare resources by educating others on important health issues, typically in lower-income communities and with vulnerable populations. A sociology degree provides a higher level of understanding about diverse populations and how systems in society function, fairly or unfairly. This is an excellent first step for someone who is interested in either social work or public health.
Social Science Research Assistant
Research assistants typically work in labs and with researchers to gather, analyze and present data on a variety of topics or issues. For someone interested in academia or policy, this is a great stepping-stone position as they can often be temporary (e.g. just the length of a project) so students can learn more about the field and then decide on next steps.
School counselors mostly work with secondary and elementary school students. They typically provide advice and guidance to help students with educational and/or career planning but also provide support when other types of issues or concerns arise. Because of a sociology major’s keen understanding of human interactions, this would be an excellent fit for those interested in education or working with children. Additional licensure is required to become a school counselor and education requirements depend on the state – resources for requirements can be found on the American School Counselor Association website.
Sociology majors are well equipped to teach subjects like social studies or humanities. The communication, interpersonal and cross-cultural skills gained through a sociology degree also help graduates engage effectively with students, parents, other faculty and administrators. Additional certification and licensure is required, and specific requirements depend on the state.
Human Resources Specialist
Human resources specialists recruit, interview and hire applicants in almost every industry. This is an excellent career for a people-person. Grubb says sociology and human resources go hand-in-hand. “As HR professionals, we have to be more empathetic to people’s needs, and everyone is different.” She says sociology has helped her better understand the needs of everyone she works with, which is valuable because solutions aren’t always one-size-fits-all.
Sociology graduates who pursue this career work with a diverse range of people and communities to help them through everyday problems. They ensure individuals and families who are vulnerable are safeguarded and receive the support and resources they need to improve their livelihood. Social work environments range from human services organizations and healthcare facilities to government offices. Sociology graduates will use their interpersonal and cross-cultural skills to connect with a diverse client base as well as their knowledge of societal systems and structures to understand the root causes of the challenges their clients face. Additional licensure is often required.
Sociologists study people and society in a variety of contexts, which could include social institutions, businesses or religious communities. Typically, sociologists work as researchers or faculty members at academic institutions after earning a doctorate degree, but there are a variety of other environments in which sociologists conduct their work, including public policy think tanks and government institutions.
Student Affairs Administrator/Higher Education Administrator
Student affairs professionals work with students in all areas of college life that don’t directly involve academics. Examples of career titles include academic advisor, residence life coordinator, community engagement coordinator and leadership advisor. Many of these positions could lead to other higher-level roles in higher education, including college administration. Salaries vary widely in these careers, but typically increase as you move up the ladder and gain more experience.
A travel guide plans and hosts long-distance travel for individuals and groups. Guides can work in more traditional travel settings such as hotels and tour companies around a city, or they could lead adventure trips and excursions such as biking, backpacking or boating. Sociology majors are well equipped to work with the public and customers because of the interpersonal skills gained through their degree.
Fundraisers serve as advocates for their organizations and wear many hats, as their job isn’t just about asking for funding. They can be event planners, strategic planners or a philanthropic counselor for their donors. Skills such as relationship-building, an understanding of human dynamics and data management make sociology graduates exceptional candidates for this type of career.
Public Relations Specialist
These communication specialists work on behalf of an individual, organization or company to ensure a high quality public image while also promoting their brand. They’re typically responsible for crafting press releases and other media information, managing social media platforms and advertising promotional events – anything that helps shape and maintain their client’s public image.
Law Enforcement Worker
Anyone working in law enforcement – local, regional or federal – must work well with communities and people from a variety of backgrounds. Sociology majors gain valuable skills in navigating those dynamics and also learn to understand the societal structures that may make communities more prone to crime which is important when working to effectively serve and protect individuals and communities.
Writers can pursue a few different career paths such as journalism, copy writing or book authoring. Sociology majors are particularly prepared for a career in writing because of the analytical and communication skills gained through the degree. Writers must be able to jump into a subject matter – oftentimes something unfamiliar to them – and create a piece of writing that keeps readers engaged from start to finish.
Market Research Analyst
Market research analyst positions can be found in a variety of industries such as finance, real estate, marketing and retail. Sociology students who excel in data analysis would be an excellent fit for these positions, which looks at both qualitative and quantitative data to understand consumer behavior and demands as well as market trends to help companies or clients sell a product or service.
International Aid and Development Worker
This is a broad field that encompasses a variety of different positions under one umbrella. Some examples include emergency relief and management, general community development and disaster management. No matter the position, sociology graduates are prepared to excel in international work. To get a foot in the door and gain some additional international experience, students should consider studying abroad, joining Peace Corps or participating in a Fulbright program.
Urban and Regional Planner
Urban and regional planners develop plans, programs and policies for a city or larger region. Oftentimes, their goals are to create or revitalize a particular area, accommodate population growth or help develop and implement infrastructure to make a city more efficient. Community and societal dynamics are essential to the role of an urban or regional planner and a sociology student’s entire focus of study is on those dynamics.
Lawyers provide legal advice to individuals and clients, and represent people, businesses or organizations during disputes. These professionals must understand people and systems incredibly well to advocate on behalf of their clients, which makes a sociology degree a strong foundation for this career. Many, if not all, of the skills discussed in the previous section can help lawyers succeed.
10 Ways to Prepare for Your Career
Because the sociology field is so broad, it’s important for students to think strategically about how to prepare for the job market, and to do so as early as possible. In some cases, it may be necessary to gain additional skills or seek out experiences that can help you narrow your focus. Here are some tips to help you prepare for a career after graduation:
- Do a summer internship: The best way to know what an industry is like is to work in it. An internship can go directly onto your resume, but it may also lead to a job within the organization where you intern. The most important tip, though, is to take complete advantage of the opportunity – develop connections with the people you work with, find a mentor, take advantage of courses or training and ask to work on projects that help you identify your interests and grow professionally.
- Study abroad: You can learn about people and different cultures in the classroom, but the only way to truly develop empathy is by immersing yourself. Many colleges have study abroad programs and staff who can work with students to find experiences that work with their budget and interests. If a semester abroad isn’t possible, then look at short-term immersion experiences. Studying abroad can be a life-changing experience in itself, but it also shows potential employers you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone and are able to engage with people who have different beliefs, backgrounds and experiences from yourself.
- Learn a new language: In today’s international workforce, aptitude in another language is an incredibly marketable skill. “I often look for recent college grads who are bilingual – you have a leg up if you speak Spanish,” says Grubb. Take advantage of your school’s language programs and study abroad if possible.
- Participate in service-learning: The goal of service-learning is to address a social issue through volunteerism while also participating in educational discussions about the underlying root causes of that social issue. Service-learning can be ongoing volunteer programs in your community, short-term immersions domestically and abroad, and one-time volunteer activities. Not only is this a resume-booster, it’s also a great way to learn about today’s most pressing social issues first-hand. It’s also an excellent way to learn about community engagement, develop cross-cultural skills and gain a deeper understanding of social challenges.
- Take classes that are relevant to your career or industry of interest: While a broad education has its benefits, employers often want hires with a little more focus. “I definitely would’ve taken a business class because I have no background in business and I think it would’ve been very helpful,” reflects Grubb. She recommends that sociology students look beyond the major and take electives or courses that complement a sociology education and help you apply your broad knowledge in a more focused and practical way.
- Utilize your college’s resources: This is Grubb’s biggest recommendation. Most colleges and universities have career centers with a whole host of resources like resume writing workshops, interview preparation tools and job search assistance. Even if you don’t know what type of career you want to pursue, your career center can help you explore different options and point you in a direction.
- Find a mentor: Grubb designed her own self-study course in college, but her one biggest regret is that she didn’t build that relationship with her advisor. “I didn’t know what to ask,” she said. “I think part of massaging that relationship with your advisor is telling them ‘I don’t know what to ask.’ It’s OK to admit what you don’t know and seek guidance.” This mentor relationship can be developed in different ways – you could seek advice from your academic advisor or you could also find mentors in various student affairs office, such as the leadership and service-learning units.
- Learn about and participate in your industry of interest: When Grubb used to hire and train employees right out of college, she suggested they take advantage of training opportunities, join an association and subscribe to an industry magazine or journal. By joining an association and attending events, you learn more about the field and you begin networking. By subscribing to an industry-focused magazine or journal – or any newspaper or magazine that includes industry-relevant stories – you learn more about what goes on in the industry itself and may start to see where and how you could fit in after earning your degree.
- Use your social media connections: Networking is key for any career and industry, especially when it comes to job hunting. Make sure to utilize your connections, both in-person and online. This is something Grubb wishes she had done more of as a student. But she points out there are still great networking opportunities after graduation. “From the HR perspective, using LinkedIn is really important,” says Grubb. “I believe it’s a powerful way to make connections and allows you to start tapping into that grown-up social network.”
- Think big picture: Degrees like accounting, nursing and law all have a clear connection to a career path. With sociology, you’ll have to think more “big picture.” Talk to advisors, professors, career counselors and even your peers to figure out how your broad set of skills can translate to more specific jobs or responsibilities. For example, you might have done a research project on how the portrayal of race and gender in TV and movies affects women of color. The exact topic may not be relevant to a job you want to apply to but the ability to effectively collect and analyze data to formulate a conclusion or recommendation is a skill many employers value. Once you’ve earned your sociology degree, it’ll be up to you to market yourself and your skills.
Q&A with a Sociology Graduate
Why did you pursue a sociology degree?
I just really enjoyed being able to take those classes and was able to relate to the information in a practical way. The study of people and society and how society shapes what people do was super interesting to me.
What did you most like about your degree when you were in college?
I grew up in Spokane, Washington where it’s not very diverse. Everybody at my high school that I knew seemed to come from – more or less – the same socioeconomic background. I didn’t know or have experience with or understanding of what other people were going through from other backgrounds. I had the capacity to be empathetic, though. Sociology just opened my eyes to the idea that I grew up in a bubble.
What’s your current job title and how does your sociology degree help you do your job?
I’m Customer Success Manager, which doesn’t exactly explain what I do. I’m a SHRM-CP, or a Society of Human Resource Management, Certified Professional. My company sells human resources solutions. We help our clients think about HR.
I think sociology and human resources go hand-in-hand. I’ve worked for a few different organizations that hire people of low socio-economic status – a lot of immigrants, a lot of refugees. My education background and experience with those companies helps me better support clients and applicants. I can help applicants understand what they need to do to get hired and why. My job is all about being empathetic to people’s needs. It’s all about using my knowledge of different people and their needs to find them the right technology solutions.
What other positions did you have after college that were relevant to your sociology degree?
After college I went into AmeriCorps in Seattle. That’s really where I had my first experience working with immigrants and adult learners who were trying to get their GEDs. I really, really enjoyed the experience and it opened my eyes. While I was in AmeriCorps, I got this job at a tour boat company. I was working with the public, so I was a tour guide and a bartender. The tour guide piece, it fits really well with sociology. You’re trusted to give information about the city, you’ve got people from all over the world and you have to talk with them and be outgoing and open.
What sociology skills did you emphasize on your resume and/or when interviewing to demonstrate your qualifications?
I’m not sure I emphasized as much as I could’ve. In hindsight, I think I knew a little more about technology than I gave myself credit for, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was also good at data analysis, testing user scenarios and critical thinking. I could also look at things with a big picture perspective.
Famous People Who Studied Sociology
First Lady of the United States, 2009-2016 Vice president for community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center
Princeton University 1985 (cum laude)
President Ronald Reagan
United States President
Eureka College, Illinois, 1932
Kal Penn (born Kalpen Suresh Modi)
Actor, White House Liaison for Arts and Humanities, 2009-2010
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Civil Rights Activist
Morehouse College, Atlanta, 1948
- Maxine Waters
United States Congresswoman serving California’s 43rd District (Los Angeles)
University of California Los Angeles
Washington Post Columnist and Author
PhD in Sociology from Oxford University
Sources: The Washington Post, Brookings, Harvard University
Job Hunting Resources
The following resources can help sociology students and graduates with the job hunt. Connect with associations and organizations, get access to support and learn how to market the valuable skills you’ve earned from your sociology degree.
AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps is the United States national service organization providing domestic volunteer placements all around the country in an array of positions. AmeriCorps volunteers commit to at least one year of service receiving a modest living stipend. This is an excellent way for a sociology grad to gain strong professional experience while working with a diverse set of people and develop experiences working with pressing domestic social issues.
- American Sociological Association: The American Sociological Association supports over 13,000 members in various fields of sociology—including teachers, non-profit leaders, business leaders, and more. The association provides networking and resources to advance the profession and has an excellent online career center and annual employment fair.
The Fulbright Program: The Fulbright Program is a highly regarded international education exchange program through the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs designed “to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries” as described on their website. Underneath the Fulbright umbrella are a number of educational exchange programs, many of which require some focus of research. Future grads should contact scholarship and fellowship advisors on campus for guidance on applying.
- Go Government: Go Government describes itself as “your one-stop shop for how to find and apply for federal government jobs.” There are jobs for people with any skill or education level in the federal government and this site can help sociology graduates find the perfect job for them. They provide resources to find the best fit so a job seeker can hone their search and tips on how to apply for certain positions.
- International Sociological Association: The International Sociological Association is dedicated to the advancement of research and social scientific thought, in contrast to the more practice-based American Sociological Association. The association is a great resource to advance your knowledge of themes, issues, and research in sociology that can be applied to all fields.
National Association of Social Workers: With over 120,000 members, the National Association of Social Workers is the largest organization supporting social workers in the world. The website itself provides a lot of great insight into the type of social work positions including resources and documents helping to advance each practice and for job hunting.
- Peace Corps: Peace Corps is the international volunteer service agency of the United States that has postings in 60 countries across the world. Peace Corps Volunteers gain valuable professional experience, learn about and experience a different culture first-hand, learn a new language, and build resiliency and the ability to work in any environment. Peace Corps touts the experience as “the hardest job you’ll ever love.” For those considering entering into international development, this is an excellent first step.
- Society for Human Resource Management: The Society for Human Resource Management provides resources, certifications and continuing education for human resources professionals. Beyond their incredibly comprehensive website of resources, they hold a number of events—including conferences, forums, webcasts, and virtual events—in which anyone pursuing a career in human resources can participate.
- Social Science Research Council: The Social Science Research Council serves members who work in various social science fields, but particularly research, policy, and international development among other focuses. The council is a great resource for anyone interested in pursuing academia or who wants to receive additional education and training through their fellowships, some of which provide a stipend for international research or practice.