People are faced with an ever-transient, complex, and rapidly changing social environment, especially in today’s industrial-bureaucratic societies. Amidst all societal changes, the world needs people with conceptual skills, knowledge, and understanding to decipher the dynamism of the social scene, human action, and social causes. This is where the study of sociology and sociologists come into play.
Sociology is the study of human social behavior within families, institutions, and organizations. Put simply, sociology examines an individual in relation to society as a whole (Seaward, 2019). It helps to analyze and explain the external forces that distinctively impact societal values, attitudes, and behaviors to understand ourselves and the motivations of others around us.
People who want to work as sociologists must embark on an academic journey in preparation for rewarding personal and professional lives in a complex society. To make this journey highly valuable, this article seeks to shed more light on sociology as a field of study. It discusses the requirements to study sociology, the cost of pursuing it, the possible career opportunities for sociology majors, and more. The goal is to help you make an astute academic and career decision early on.
Sociology is a social science that entails the study of human societies, their interactions (at a personal, social, global levels), and the processes that change or preserve them. It does this by combining humanistic and scientific perspectives with expository analysis and empirical investigation to pinpoint, understand, explain, and describe the dynamics of the constituent parts of a social landscape, such as:
Gender, racial, or age groups
As the renowned German sociologist Max Weber famously put it, sociology is a science that attempts the interpretive understanding of social action with the goal thereby to fathom the causal explanation of its causes and effects (Heydebrand, 1994). And, of all the social sciences, sociology can plausibly be viewed as the one that harbors the strongest tendencies towards ongoing “introspective attention [as] to its [perceived] deficiencies” (Inglis, 2014).
Sociology at Different Levels
As aforementioned, sociology is a broad field that seeks to unravel the important matters in our personal lives, communities, and the world. As such, sociology can be viewed at three different levels. First, at a personal level, sociology analyzes and explains the social causes and consequences of racial and gender identity, family conflict, romantic love, religious faith, aging, and deviant behavior.
Second, at a societal level, sociology investigates matters relating to poverty and wealth, crime and law, urban community, business firms, schools and education, prejudice and discrimination, and social movement. Lastly, at a global level, it examines things such as war and peace, population growth, and migration, in addition to economic development.
What is a Sociology Degree?
In plain language, a sociology degree entails the study of the different parts of the social space described above and the exploration of human behavior from a global perspective. Generally, sociology majors study the structures and systems that govern the way people interact with society, with one another, and within communities. The program is designed to impart valuable knowledge and skills to help people understand (and interpret to others) the complexities of the changing social world.
Key Sociology Statistics
If you want to make an informed career decision, you should have all the information about this field at your fingertips. To open your eyes to the world of sociology, this section culls key statistics pertaining to graduate enrollment, degree awarded, cost of education, and annual salary of sociologists.
In 2017, a total of 27,989 bachelor’s, 1,451 master’s, and 683 doctoral degrees in sociology were awarded in the U.S.
Besides, in 2017, the total graduate enrollment in sociology in the U.S. was 7,696.
According to Payscale, 20% of sociologists in the U.S. are entry-level employees. In addition, 41.8% are in early career, 18.2% in mid-career, 16.4% in experienced, and 3.6% in late-career levels.
By 2017, there were 3.83 million sociologists in the U.S., representing 3.81% of the workforce.
The average age of sociologists in the U.S. is 43.1 years.
The median annual sociologists’ salary in the U.S. is $83,420.
The average annual median in-state public tuition for the sociology program is $6,670. On the other hand, the annual median out-of-state private tuition is $33,376.
What are the Requirements to Study Sociology?
If you are fascinated by the intricate forces that keep civilizations balanced and the multiple political, cultural, religious, and ecological factors that can affect this balance, you should consider studying sociology. Beyond passion, however, prospective students should also meet a set of admission requirements.
As with other programs, the requirements for sociology studies vary between schools. Besides, the requirements may differ based on the student’s status, that is, whether the student is a working professional or he/she comes straight from high school, and the degree level.
Bachelor’s Degree Requirements
Unlike disciplines such as engineering, in sociology, students are not required to study specific subjects as entry requirements to earn a place in a sociology class. Instead, students from different academic backgrounds can be accepted into this program. To be on the safe side, however, students should demonstrate exceptional performance in the humanities and social sciences in high school.
Here are some of the prerequisites for a bachelor’s degree admission:
A minimum cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) of 2.0 to 3.0. It should be noted that a declining GPA from 9th grade will affect a student’s chances for selection, whereas an improving GPA will boost the chances for admission.
Pass SAT and ACT tests. The passing mark will vary between institutions and it is always wise to check the stipulated standardized test score for the respective school.
Note: Students enrolling for online programs may not be required to take standardized tests. In addition, because they are deemed to be working professionals or to have been out of school for a while, their admission may not require a minimum GPA.
Master’s Degree Requirements
The precise requirements for admission in a master’s class will vary between institutions. But, most schools require the following:
A bachelor’s degree in sociology or one of the social sciences. Some institutions also consider candidates with a general liberal arts background.
A minimum GPA of 3.0. Students with lower GPAs, but possess valuable experience and have incredible test scores may be considered for admission in some schools.
Pass Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) tests. Some institutions do not consider the GRE test as a prerequisite. Instead, these schools give more weight to the overall academic performance, experience, and recommendations.
Note: Prospective students may transition to the master’s in sociology program following a degree in an unrelated field. These students, however, will need to demonstrate aptitude in the research and analytical methods required by the program.
Doctoral Degree Requirements
Most institutions require students who want to be considered for a doctoral degree in sociology to meet all departmental and graduate school requirements. The prerequisites for a doctoral degree usually include:
Exemplary performance at the master’s level.
Students should have good GRE test scores. Generally, the minimum GRE score is set by institutions, and for this reason, the passing mark may vary between schools.
Previous coursework in sociology or its equivalent.
Note: Students who enroll in the program with a master’s degree in sociology from another program will most likely earn admittance to the Ph.D. level. Moreover, doctoral students must successfully defend their dissertations to graduate.
How Much Does it Cost to Study Sociology?
Meeting all the requirements for a degree in sociology is only one item on the list of things you need to scrutinize before finally tendering your college application. Next up, you should consider the total cost for a degree in sociology.
The overall cost of higher education—tuition, transport, accommodation, and other additional costs—can be inhibitive. For this reason, before you enroll for sociology programs, you must first compute the total amount needed to see you through your studies.
To help you get an estimate of the total charges, the sections below reveal the annual published cost of higher education in the U.S. The prices highlighted below sit right in the middle of the pricing spectrum. Interestingly though, sociology is not one of the most expensive degrees, and its charges might be on the lower end.
Even though tuition fee is standardized, it varies based on the type of institutions; private or public, the course of study, and the degree level. The average annual tuition charges in the academic year 2019-2020 in the U.S. were as follows (College Board, 2019):
Source: College Board
As College Board intimated, the tuition charges represent 39% of the overall student’s budget for in-state students living on-campus at a public university. On the other hand, tuition constitutes 20% of the total budget for public two-year college students living in off-campus housing (College Board, 2019).
Meanwhile, the cost of accommodation can differ based on various factors such as type (on-campus or off-campus) and geographic location. The table below provides accommodation rates in major students cities in the U.S. (Student Portal, 2018):
Cost of Accommodation for Students in the US, Per City
Boston and Miami
$1,500 – $3,000 per month
$1,500 – $2,500 per month
$2,200 – $4,000 per month
$1,100 – $2,000 per month
$1,500 – $2,500 per month
$1,300 – $2,500 per month
Moreover, the transport fee will vary, depending on the distance commuted (from the accommodation facility to the institution). The average annual transportation cost for in-state and out-of-state, on-campus students in a public four-year institution is $1,230. On the other hand, on-campus students in a private four-year institution have to fork out $1,060 annually to cater to transportation (College Board, 2019).
How Long Does it Take to Complete a Sociology Course?
A sociology program’s length will differ depending on a number of factors, including the type of degree and the mode of study. There are four different sociology degree levels that you can choose from, depending on your ultimate career goal. It is important to understand the differences between the degree levels to make an informed decision.
The sections below provide crucial details about the coursework and the length associated with each sociology degree level.
Certificate Programs in Sociology
Average program length: One year
Basically, certificate programs in sociology are designed to serve two main purposes. One, they provide an introduction to sociology for students who want to pursue a career in the field. Second, the programs can help professionals expand their knowledge of a specific subject in sociology. Typical coursework in the certificate in sociology include:
Introduction to sociology
Diversity and inequality
Associate Degree in Sociology
Average program length: Two years
An associate degree in sociology expounds foundation concepts such as globalization, culture, social stratification, and inequality. It helps students learn the basics, while also bulking out their understanding of the key educational requirements such as mathematics and English.
The program comprises 60 credits and may cover topics such as:
Race and ethnic relations
Law and society
World religion and literature
Art and music history
Students who undertake an associate degree can transfer their credits to a four-year institution in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. Generally, students finish their associate degree programs and take a break from education to build their careers. But even in this case, they are allowed to transfer some credits to a bachelor’s degree when they decide to continue with their education.
Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology
Average program length: Four years
The bachelor’s degree is essentially the central point of the sociology academic spectrum. At this level, students cover general education, subject basics, elective courses, and major requirements. However, unlike an associate degree, the bachelor’s degree begins to explore deeper the core theories and concepts of sociology.
Typically, the degree comprises 120 credits, and it includes topics such as:
Individual investigation in sociology
Interpersonal relationships and families
Sociology of gender
Full-time students can complete a bachelor’s degree in sociology in four years. This, however, is not the case for part-time students who often need four to seven years to finish the degree, depending on their “other” commitments. Moreover, some bachelor’s degree programs, such as those offered online, may provide accelerated timelines.
Master’s Degree in Sociology
Average program length: Two years
The master’s degree is meant for students or professionals with grand ambitions in sociology. At this level, students are taken through upper-division courses that impart advanced knowledge and skills. The courses take an in-depth look into social issues and problems that bedevil society while emphasizing ethnographic studies, quantitative approaches, and international research.
The program comprises 60 credits and includes courses such as:
Understanding race and ethnicity
The politics of algorithms
Theory of diversity
Marriage and family relationships
Interestingly, a master’s degree in sociology seeks to narrow the scope. As such, students are allowed to customize their degrees and specialize in their area(s) of interest. Possible areas of specialization include class and stratifications, gender and sexuality, social change, or social movement. Also, in addition to the coursework, students must complete a thesis and earn field experience to graduate.
Doctoral Degree in Sociology
Average program length: Three to five years
Earning a doctorate in sociology is the pinnacle of a student’s academic journey. At this level, students focus on a specific niche area such as:
Inequality (in race, race, and ethnicity)
The essence of a doctoral degree is to prepare learners for leadership, teaching, or research positions. To graduate, students must successfully complete the coursework and research, write, and defend their dissertation.
The Best Universities to Study Sociology
Students join college in the hope of making it through successfully and find a job once they graduate. The sociology program and school you choose impact how this dream pans out. To improve your employability and chances to get above-average earnings after graduation, you should endeavor to study in a great overall school.
The list below comprises the top five institutions in the world for studying sociology, according to the QS World University Rankings for the Sociology 2020 report (Top Universities, 2020). These universities have made it to the top of the list by merit because they ensure a good education in sociology.
Being the oldest institution of higher education in the U.S., Harvard University is highly regarded in terms of academic pedigree, reputation, and influence not just in the U.S. but also across the globe. The institution is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is home to more than 21,000 students. The main campus houses 10 degree-granting schools, one of which—School of Arts and Sciences—is renowned for its sociology program.
Sociology degree levels offered at Harvard University include:
Bachelor’s degree in Sociology
Ph.D. in Sociology, Ph.D. in sociology and social policy, and Ph.D. in organizational behavior
University of Oxford
It seems sociology is a niche where the oldest institutions shine because second on our list is the University of Oxford. This is the oldest institution of higher learning in the English-speaking world. Actually, so ancient is the University of Oxford that its founding date is not documented anywhere. Located in the medieval city of Oxford, UK, the university has more than 22,000 students.
The degree programs offered at the University of Oxford include:
Bachelor’s degree in Sociology
Master of Science degree in Sociology and Master of Philosophy in Sociology and Demography
Ph.D. in Sociology
University of California – Berkeley (UCB)
The University of California, Berkeley (UCB) is a reputable public research institution established in 1868. Located in Berkeley, California, USA, the university is home to more than 40,000 students, three-quarters of which are undergraduates. This gives the institution a youthful feel, which rhymes perfectly with the vibrant, urban surrounding.
UCB’s sociology department is renowned across the globe for its excellent teaching and research. The sociology degree programs offered at the University of California, Berkeley include:
Bachelor of Arts in Sociology
Master of Arts in Sociology
Ph.D. in sociology
The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
The London School of Economics and Political Science is an institution with a worldwide academic reputation. Located in central London, U.K., the school offers students a rare opportunity to study sociology in a place of cutting-edge research and genuine intellectual excitement. Its sociology degree programs include:
Bachelor of Science Sociology
Master of Science Sociology
Ph.D. in Sociology
Stanford University is in the heart of Northern California’s Silicon Valley—home to renowned global tech companies. While it is best known for producing graduates who contribute immensely to the tech sector, it also has a rich tradition of fostering the arts. It is therefore not surprising that this institution claims a spot in the leading university for sociology. Some of the sociology degrees offered at Stanford University include:
Bachelor of Arts in Sociology
Master of Arts in Sociology
Ph.D. in Sociology
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Top Universities in the World for Sociology, by Overall QS Score (2020)
Top Universities in the World for Sociology, by Overall QS Score (2020) Harvard University: 99.8
Top Universities in the World for Sociology, by Overall QS Score (2020) University of Oxford: 96.7
University of Oxford
Top Universities in the World for Sociology, by Overall QS Score (2020) University of California, Berkeley (UCB): 96.3
University of California, Berkeley (UCB)
Top Universities in the World for Sociology, by Overall QS Score (2020) The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE): 95.9
The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Top Universities in the World for Sociology, by Overall QS Score (2020) Stanford University: 94.7
Source: Top Universities
Possible Careers for Sociology Majors
Like most social science courses, a sociology major does not equip students with the skills and knowledge for a clearly defined specialty. So, is sociology a good degree? Yes, it is. The degree is a springboard for many careers in the world of business, marketing, social and community service, the justice system, research, and education.
According to the Bachelor’s and Beyond project, 20% of sociology graduates were employed in the social sciences or as counselors, 16.7% worked as administrative assistants, 12.6% in numerous sales and marketing positions, and a similar percentage were teachers (Senter, Spalter-Roth, & Vooren, 2012).
These numbers underscore the versatility of this program and show some of the diverse sociology jobs. Other potential careers for students completing a degree in sociology include:
Median annual pay: $83,420
Sociologists design and implement research projects to test theories about social, group, institutions, cultures, and organizations. They collect data through interviews and observations and analyze it using quantitative and qualitative methods to draw conclusions. Lastly, they prepare reports and presentations, detailing their findings to policymakers and other stakeholders.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, sociology is a career on the rise. The specialty is projected to grow by 9% from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average of other occupations in the U.S. The same institution states that the typical entry-level education for sociologists is a master’s degree (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020).
Median annual pay: $59,170
Survey researchers design, plan, and conduct surveys and apply statistical methods to evaluate findings. They help nonprofits, polling organizations, research firms, corporations, governments, and industries to extract meaning from data gathered through research. Many survey research roles require a master’s degree, but a bachelor’s degree may be enough to secure an entry-level job.
The outlook for survey research careers is not promising since little or no change in terms of new opportunities is expected from 2018 to 2028 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). While the overall prospect for survey researchers looks bleak, people with advanced degrees will have plenty of opportunities in this field.
Market Research Analysts
Median annual pay: $63,790
Sociology majors can also make good market research analysts. Generally, market research analysts help organizations and companies to understand what products or services people want, and at what price. They examine market conditions, forecast and monitor sales, and marketing trends, and gather helpful data on consumers and competitors.
The employment outlook of market research analysts is incredibly bright. Actually, it is projected that the specialty will grow by 20% between 2018 and 2028, making it one of the most exciting careers in the U.S. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). The unprecedented demand for market research analysts is attributed to the explosion of big data and the need to make data-driven decisions.
Median annual pay: $50,470
Another exciting career for a sociology major is social work. Social workers are common and incredibly important people in society. They help individuals and communities in handling a variety of social issues and problems. For example, they play a hugely significant role in healthcare clinics, schools, and mental health facilities, responding to crises, such as mental health and child abuse emergencies.
The employment outlook of social workers in the U.S. is growing much faster than the average of other occupations. It is projected that careers in social work will increase by 11% from 2018 to 2028 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). Interestingly, most organizations do not require employees to demonstrate any work experience in a related field. Moreover, with a bachelor’s degree in social work or sociology, it is easy to land an entry-level administrative job.
Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Other Potential Careers
In addition to the aforementioned careers, people who study sociology can apply for other jobs such as:
Human resource representatives
Public relations specialists
Note: All pay and employment outlook statistics are culled from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational outlook handbook as of May 2019 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020).
How Much Do Sociologists Earn?
As you already know, sociologists earn a median annual wage of $83,420 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). This means, half the workers in this field earned less than this amount and half earned more. Exploring the pay further, it is documented that by May 2019, the lowest 10% of sociologists earned less than $46,920, whereas the highest 10% earned more than $141,770.
In addition, the median pay varies widely by industry. For example, sociologists working in state government (excluding hospitals and education) earned $92,460 annually. On the other hand, those working in research and development take home a cool $91,840. Sociologists discharging duties in the educational service earn a median annual wage of $63,310 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020).
The pay for sociologists in the U.S. can also vary, depending on the level of experience. For example, an entry-level sociologist (less than one year of experience) earns an annual average total compensation of $40,695. Early career sociologists (1-4 years of experience) take home an average annual compensation of $54,000, whereas mid-career sociologists (5-9 years of experience) earn $51,923. Besides, an experienced sociologist (10-19 years of experience) takes home $73,000. Lastly, late-career sociologists (20 years and higher) earn an average annual compensation of $120,000 (PayScale, 2020).
Famous People Who Studied Sociology
Believe it or not, there are thousands of distinguished individuals with BA, MA, and Ph.D. degrees in sociology. Understanding what these famous people did (or are doing) with their degree in sociology can be an eye-opener and a potential turning point in your career.
If you are at a crossroads with your career and do not know the steps to take after graduation, relax. The list below includes three accomplished people who studied sociology in college and took different paths to success. You can borrow a leaf from their incredible journey and get inspired by their stories to trailblaze your own path to glory.
Ronald Reagan, Former President of the United States
Ronald Wilson Reagan, born in 1911 in Illinois, United States, was an American politician who honorably served as the 40th president from 1981 to 1989. He graduated with a double economics and sociology major from Eureka College, a disciples-oriented liberal arts school, 1932.
Prior to his presidency, Reagan had developed a reputation as a “jack of all trades.” He excelled as a sports commentator, Hollywood actor, FBI informant, Reserve Corps lieutenant, and the president of the Screen Actors Guild. Moreover, he also served as the governor of California in 1967, a leadership position he held for eight years.
Clearly, Reagan’s abilities and level of service were not confined to the boundaries of his sociology degree. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves with every opportunity that came his way and went all out to achieve success.
Michelle Obama, Former First Lady of The United States
Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is an American author and lawyer who was the first lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Born in 1964 in Chicago, Illinois, Mrs. Obama graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Princeton University in 1985.
Before she became the first lady, Michelle Obama worked as an attorney in Chicago, and later as an assistant commissioner of planning and development in Chicago’s City Hall. In addition, she held different positions at the University of Chicago, including associate dean of students and vice president of community and external affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center.
The rise from a straight-A student to a corporate lawyer to one of the most influential women in America’s history was not an easy one. But, despite all the hurdles, Michelle Obama made it to the top. She is, for this reason, an inspiration to students, and real proof that success is not all about the degree background you are coming from. Whether it is sociology or engineering, with hard work, zeal, and will, you can still make it to the crest.
James Blunt, Musician
Music is a career that never crosses the mind of many sociology majors. All people think about when they graduate with degrees in sociology are office-based or community service jobs. For James Blunt, however, his view on this matter is totally different.
Born in 1974 in Tidworth, England, James Hillier Blunt has built a name for himself in the music industry. Interestingly, and his talent aside, James Blunt (as he is popularly known) attributes his success in music to his sociology major. As he puts it “there are various aspects that matter to the songs I write—about the way people interact, the way we are as social beings—these topics are kind of relevant.”
Pursue Your Degree in Sociology With Confidence
Sociology is not one of the most popular majors around, but taking all factors into account, it is a good course to pursue. As mentioned earlier, a degree in sociology does not prepare you for a specific specialty, rather it opens the door to a catalog of exciting employment opportunities. Besides, statistics have shown that the employment outlook of sociologists is super bright and opportunities will definitely increase in the future.
If you are interested in studying sociology, the time to do it is now. Hopefully, the information disclosed in this post will help you make an informed decision regarding the program, the preferred institutions, and your career. Regardless of the program you choose, there are numerous options to complete your degree, namely full-time, part-time, and online studies.
If you are a working professional, an online or part-time program will give you the flexibility you need to customize your studies to suit your schedule. This way, you will be in a position to continue to work full-time, while keeping your degree on track. On the other hand, if you have no other commitments, a full-time program will help you speed up the degree timelines.
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