At its core, sociology is the study of human social relationships and institutions. Sociologists student society and social behavior, looking at groups, cultures, social institutions and structures, interactions, and processes people develop and execute.
In practice, however, that seemingly simple definition expands to include a wide variety of subjects, like: crime; culture; religion; sexuality; social inequality; gender roles and inequality; socioeconomic class; family life; work culture; and both social stability and movements that push for social change. As you can imagine, that diverse range of topics translates to an equally varied set of career paths for sociologists. Among all of the options, which career concentrations tend to be the best for sociology majors, though? In other words, what can you do with a sociology degree?
There are many direct paths for graduates with sociology degrees. Let’s take a look at a few common routes below:
1. Social Workers
This is perhaps the profession that most people assume students in a sociology program are gunning for. As a social worker, you’ll assess clients’ needs through a problem-solving lens using the information you learned in school on social dynamics, institutions, and (sadly, pretty often) the impact and forms of inequality. Being a social worker requires a vast amount of empathy; it’s this form of emotional intelligence that enables social workers to truly see things from their clients’ perspectives (not just through the lens of judgement that society often teaches us). As rewarding of a field as social work can be, it can also be an incredibly emotionally draining one. Thus, it’s important that social workers know how to set and keep boundaries between themselves and their clients; maintaining work-life balance is truly essential in this profession. There are also several specialization categories within social work one can choose from, like public health, substance abuse, and child & family.
Average salary of a social worker in the U.S.: $47,000
2. Criminal Justice
Those with a sociology education who find themselves interested in criminal justice will likely enter the field of criminology, a branch of social science that applies to the study of crime, criminal behavior, and punishment. It’s far more theory-based than criminal justice, as the goal in criminology is to glean answers to questions like: what drives people to commit crimes; what public policies and social programs can help reduce crime; and what types of punishment are most appropriate and effective in deterring further crime? As a professional criminologist, you may find yourself employed anywhere from law enforcement to a non-profit organization to the FBI.
Average salary of a criminologist in the U.S.: $69,000
Getting a job as a lawyer has perhaps never been so competitive as it is in today’s legal market. That said, for any sociology majors with a keen interest in using their analytical skills in a way that has an especially measurable (and lucrative) impact, this may be the field for you. Your innate understanding of the workings of human nature and behavior makes you an asset in this field, and as a lawyer, a background in sociology will equip you to best relate to a wide variety of clients. For these reasons, many people choose to get a bachelor degree in sociology as a precursor to law school.
Average salary of a lawyer in the U.S.: $81,000
4. Policy analysts
As a policy analyst, you’ll research issues affecting the public — something that, as a sociology graduate, you’ll be especially well-equipped to do! — and recommend ways the government can address and solve them. Using the foundational knowledge you acquired in school on topics like racial, gender, and income inequality, coupled with strong writing skills and persuasiveness, you’ll help craft and evaluate public policies that do the most good for the most people. For policy analysis to be effective, it must be clear and timely, and your work flow will be heavily dependent on current issues as they arise in real-time. As in law, analytical and critical thinking skills in this line of work are a must, as is a forward-thinking mindset — you’ll be expected to not only research past political, economic, and social trends, but forecast future ones, too. Many in this profession work directly for governmental organizations, but you’ll find plenty of policy analysts in both for-profit and non-profit organizations, too.
Average salary of a policy analyst in the U.S.: $60,000
Anyone considering a career in public relations can benefit from the strong understanding of human behavior and influences that those with an education in sociology possess. This is an industry that’s obsessed with learning what motivates consumers and how their loyalties to brands works, and there are no shortage of companies out there who demand (and are willing to shell out good money for) this information. Truly, these two fields go hand in hand — the goal of any good PR professional, after all, is to persuade the public of something. And with a background in sociology, you’ll know the driving forces of said public better than most.
Average salary of a Public Relations professional in the U.S.: $44,000
Be it in government service, the non-profit sector, or public administration, an undergraduate degree or master degree in sociology can take you in a variety of exciting directions, and you have the potential to earn a relatively high income the farther you advance in your career. You have many paths available to you, including positions like advice worker, family support worker, and social researcher. Which will you choose?
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