Sociology Careers

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How Can Sociology Help me in my Career

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

CareerDegree LevelMedian Annual Salary
1. Community Health WorkerBachelor’s$38,370
2. Social Science Research AssistantBachelor’s$46,000
3. School CounselorBachelor’s$55,410
4. TeacherBachelor’s$59,170
5. Human Resources SpecialistBachelor’s$60,350
6. Social WorkerBachelor’s$61,980
7. SociologistDoctoral$79,650
8. Student Affairs/Higher Education AdministratorBachelor’s$92,360
8 Traditional Careers

9 Non-Traditional Careers

CareerDegree LevelMedian Annual Salary
1. Travel GuideHigh School$41,500
2. Fundraiser/Development ProfessionalBachelor’s$55,640
3. Public Relations SpecialistBachelor’s$59,300
4. Law Enforcement WorkerHigh School$59,790
5. Writer/JournalistBachelor’s$61,820
6. Market Research AnalystBachelor’s$63,230
7. International Aid and Development WorkerBachelor’s$64,100
8. Urban and Regional PlannerMaster’s$71,490
9. LawyerDoctoral $119,250
9 Non-Traditional Careers

10 Ways to Prepare for Your Career

  • 1. 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.

  • 2. 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.

  • 3. 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.

  • 4. 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.

  • 5. 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.

  • 6. 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.

  • 7. 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.

  • 8. 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.

  • 9. 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.”

  • 10. 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

  • Michelle Obama 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

    UCLA 2000

  • Martin Luther King Jr. 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

  • E.J. Dionne 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.

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