What is a Sociology Degree?

In short, degree programs in sociology are focused on studying groups, from two people and beyond. Sociology students examine human behavior patterns and relationships at both the micro-level and the macro-level. They study interactions between individuals as well as in families, peer groups, cultural groups, gender groups, racial groups, religious groups, and social classes.

Students learn the various methods of sociological investigation: interpreting historical documents; observing and listening to recorded interactions; interviewing subjects; conducting surveys; analyzing census data; and immersing themselves in the daily life of groups. They learn how to use the information they gather to identify how social processes shape human lives and impact privilege and social relations. And they come to understand how this data can influence social policy, programs, and laws.

The typical sociology curriculum includes courses in:

  • Sociological Theory
  • Social Problems
  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology of the Family
  • Sociology of Organizations
  • Sociological Research Methods
  • Gender Roles
  • Minority Groups
  • Juvenile Delinquency
  • Criminology
  • Mass Media

Program Options

Associate Degree in Sociology - Two Year Duration
An Associate Degree in Sociology lays the foundation for further studies at the bachelor’s level and prepares students for some entry-level positions in the field, such as assistant case worker and youth services advocate.

Common courses include the following:

  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Statistics – the basics of how to gather, summarize, analyze, and compare data
  • Family Dynamics – normal and abnormal family structures; marital roles and breakups
  • Deviant Behavior – examination of antisocial behaviors; criminal behavior; alcohol and drug abuse; responses to deviant behavior

Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology - Four Year Duration
With a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, graduates generally qualify for jobs as sociologists, conducting research projects on groups, cultures, and organizations; as market research analysts; as survey researchers; and for some roles in social work. Concentration options at this level may include social inequalities and social identities; globalization and social change; crime, deviance, and social control; health and social welfare; and mass media and pop culture.

Here are some examples of coursework in a bachelor’s program in sociology:

  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Ethnicity, Race, and Race Relations – the experience of racial and ethnic groups; social perceptions of ethnicity and race
  • Gender and Violence – examination of gender-based violence: domestic abuse, sexual assault, harassment, hate crimes
  • Gerontology – the study of aging and the aged; trends, retirement, healthcare
  • Social Inequality – examination of social inequality; analysis of wealth, income, poverty, age, race, class, and social mobility
  • Statistical Techniques in Sociology – methodologies for gathering, summarizing, analyzing, and comparing data

Master’s Degree in Sociology - Two Year Duration
This graduate level degree prepares students to assume more senior roles in the field, such as designing research projects and analyzing policy for companies and government agencies.

These are some common courses offered in sociology master’s programs:

  • Research Methodology – analysis of sociological research and how to apply it to policy research
  • Classical Sociological Theory – the origins of social theory from its philosophical roots to the early 20 century
  • Contemporary Sociological Theory – an exploration of theories developed from the early 20 century to the present, such as the work feminists and globalization theorists
  • Health and Society – the sociology of health and healthcare; health inequalities; patient outcomes
  • Rational Choice Theory – examination of the theory that states that individuals rely on rational calculations to attain outcomes that are in line with their goals
  • Social Exchange Theory – examination of the concept that a relationship between two individuals is created through a process of cost-benefit analysis
  • Ethnomethodology – the study of the sociological perspective which focuses on how people make sense of their everyday life

Doctoral Degree in Sociology - Four to Seven Year Duration
Doctoral degree programs in sociology are designed for students who wish to teach sociology at the university level or to conduct advanced research in the field. Students at this level often focus on a specialty area, such as gender studies, immigration, sociology of the family, or sociology of race and ethnic relations.

These programs involve advanced coursework in sociological theory and specialized study in the student’s chosen concentration. For example, the following class is often part of the doctoral curriculum:

  • Comparative Theories in Sociology – examination of social structures and processes across nations or regions to identify patterns

Degrees Similar to Sociology

Students of anthropology study the evolutionary history of people, how they interact, how they adapt to various environments, how they communicate and socialize with one another, and how their bodies and cultures have changed over time. The field attempts to answer big questions on many of the fundamentals of human culture, from gender to political systems to violence, religion, race, and economics.

Criminology is a subfield of sociology. It is the study of crime, the human factors and behaviors that make it happen, and its impact on society. Degree programs in the discipline include coursework in criminal law, psychology of crime, statistical and computer applications in criminal justice, and research methods in criminal justice.

Philosophy encourages the asking of big questions and the formulation of arguments to attempt to answer them. Who are we? Why are we here? What do we believe? Why do we believe it? What is right and wrong in life? What is true and false? What is real and unreal? Philosophy is concerned with the nature of existence and knowledge.

Political Science
In short, political science degree programs focus on the theory and practice of government and politics. ‘Poli sci’ students learn about the structures of politics and government and issues like the nature of political power, the causes of conflict, and globalization.

The scientific study of the mind and behavior is the focus of psychology degree programs. In simple terms, psychology students study the way that humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn.

Public Administration
Public administration is the implementation of policy at various levels of government to support areas like economic growth, social and community development, environmental protection, and the building of public infrastructure.

Social Work
Social work is about helping people solve and cope with problems and challenges in their everyday lives. Social workers diagnose and treat the mental, emotional, and behavioral issues of individuals from every walk of life.

Skills You’ll Learn

While learning about human society, sociology students gain several practical skills that are useful in any career:

Communication and Interpersonal Skills
The process of attaining a degree in any discipline obviously leads to a certain level of skill in communicating and interacting with others. Sociology, by its nature though, demands a particular capacity to understand and sometimes participate in unfamiliar cultural or social processes.

Cultural Competencies
A significant part of any sociology curriculum involves examining and discussing racial, ethnic, and gender differences in values and perceptions. An appreciation for these differences can prove extremely valuable in diverse workplaces in any field.

Research and Research Design Skills
Defining issues and designing research questions and surveys are fundamental processes of sociological study. These skills are also valued by companies and organizations that need studies designed to find answers to the challenges they face.

Abilities to Analyze and Synthesize Complex Information
These abilities are valuable in virtually any kind of work.

What Can You Do with a Sociology Degree?

Sociology intersects with a wide variety of disciplines: anthropology, political science, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, and others. It follows, therefore, that graduates in the field can consider a similarly wide range of professional options:

Counseling calls upon the interviewing, general communications, and conflict resolution skills developed by sociology majors.

Criminal Justice / Law Enforcement / Corrections
An understanding of social behaviors – which sociology teaches – is key for those who work in the various branches of the criminal justice system.

Teachers who are aware of their students’ sociological backgrounds are better equipped to understand and capitalize on the social relationships inside their classrooms.

Human Resources
Individuals working in the human resources sector must have the capacity to interact with a very broad range of people. They must be effective communicators, interviewers, and conflict mediators.

Management Consulting
Management consulting is about analyzing business issues and researching business solutions. So, in this field as well, the sociology major’s training in observing, investigating, and eventually understanding sometimes complex matters and relationships is highly valuable.

Marketing / Consumer Research
To test products and services and evaluate marketing campaigns, market and consumer research analysts use the social science research techniques that sociology majors are taught: interviews, surveys, focus groups, and statistical analysis.

Media Planning
Media planners determine the advertising needs of their clients by identifying the desires of their target audience. To achieve this objective, they conduct and interpret research, much like sociology majors do throughout their course of study.

Policy Analysis
The job of policy analysts is to study issues that affect the public. An understanding of social issues like poverty and healthcare and a general knowledge of sociology are very useful in this field of work.

Public Office / Politics
Sociology’s concern with the study of cultures and societies is of significant importance in the field of politics, in which cultural and societal values impact political policy and strategy.

Public Relations
Public relations officers need to know how to appeal to their target audience. An understanding of sociology, of the different values and views held by different cultures and groups, is therefore both very important and very useful.

Social Work and Health Services Administration
Sociology graduates who choose to enter the social work or health administration fields and work with those with mental, emotional, and behavioral issues can benefit greatly from their understanding of human interaction and social issues.


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