What is Sociology?
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What is Sociology?

The American Sociological Association defines Sociology as follows:

“Sociology is the study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior. Sociologists investigate the structure of groups, organizations, and societies, and how people interact within these contexts. Since all human behavior is social, the subject matter of sociology ranges from the intimate family to the hostile mob; from organized crime to religious cults; from the divisions of race, gender and social class to the shared beliefs of a common culture; and from the sociology of work to the sociology of sports. In fact, few fields have such broad scope and relevance for research, theory, and application of knowledge.”

“Sociology provides many distinctive perspectives on the world, generating new ideas and critiquing the old. The field also offers a range of research techniques that can be applied to virtually any aspect of social life: street crime and delinquency, corporate downsizing, how people express emotions, welfare or education reform, how families differ and flourish, or problems of peace and war. Because sociology addresses the most challenging issues of our time, it is a rapidly expanding field whose potential is increasingly tapped by those who craft policies and create programs.”


What can I do with a degree in Sociology?

 Based on national surveys of job placement, recent sociology graduates have received jobs of the following type:

Business: Actuary, administrative assistant, advertising officer, computer analyst, data entry manager, human resource manager, insurance agent, journalist, labor relations officer, market analyst, merchandiser/purchaser, production manager, project manager, public relations officer, publishing officer, quality control manager, real estate agent, sales manager, sales representative

Government: Affirmative action worker, community affairs officer, environmental planner and researcher, foreign affairs service officer, human resource officer, human rights officer, legislative aide, personnel coordinator, planning officer, project manager, public health service worker, researcher, urban/regional planner,

Research: Census officer/analyst, consumer researcher, data analyst, demographer/population analyst, market researcher, social research specialist, survey researcher, systems analyst

Teaching: Academic evaluator, academic administrator, college placement worker, librarian, public health educator, public school teachers, school admissions officer, undergraduate and graduate educator and researcher

Community Affairs: Career counselor, case worker, child development technician, community development officer, community organizer, cultural and environmental resource management officer, forensic analysis specialist, fund raising director, homeless/housing worker, housing coordinator, hospital administrator, legal representative, occupational counselor, public administrator, public health administrator, public health outreach worker, rehabilitation program worker, resident planning aide, rural health outreach worker, social assistance advocate, youth outreach worker

 -Resources on Careers in Sociology from the American Sociological Association


Applying to Graduate School in Sociology?

Some sociology majors decide to go on for graduate studies in sociology. A Ph.D. is generally required for those who would like a career in teaching and research in colleges and universities. A Ph.D. or master’s degree also opens doors for careers in research and policy centers.

Unlike professional training in fields such as law, medicine, social work, and education, most graduate programs for Ph.D. students (and this is true for most fields, not just sociology) cover the cost of tuition and living expenses for many of their students. In exchange, most graduate students work as teaching assistants or research assistants.

The American Sociological Association’s (2006b) Guide to Graduate Departments of Sociology offers information on faculty, financial aide, the size of the program, and other important information. When the time comes, it is well worth the effort to examine at this resource carefully. If attending graduate school is one of your goals, here are some things you can do as you progress through the major.

 *Do well in your courses. Graduate programs want students who demonstrate the ability to perform excellent work in their classes.

*Set yourself apart from your peers by going beyond your classes and becoming an engaged student.  Speak to faculty members in your current department who share your interests. Likely, you will have taken one or more courses from these professors. They will know you personally and should be able not only to direct you to programs that are strong in your particular interests, and also to schools that will provide a good fit for your personal strengths and needs. 

*Note the authors of contemporary sociology books and articles that you find particularly interesting and compelling. Find out where these authors are and, if they are in institutions with graduate programs, investigate those schools. After you have researched their programs and their scholarship, it may be appropriate (and in some circumstances strategic) to contact these individuals. But remember, they will likely have many other pressing obligations, so be direct and present yourself in the best possible light in these encounters. 

 *Pay attention to location. Ph.D. programs can take six years (or more) to complete. It is worth trying to find a place where you would like to live (and a place that is affordable). Also, location can make certain types of research more or less difficult. For example, students who are interested in urban sociology would do well to select a graduate program in an urban setting. 

*Make sure to clarify funding arrangements before you accept an offer of admission to a graduate program.

-American Sociological Association