The Complete Online Guide to Sociology Degrees
Sociology is part scientific research, part humanities, and part storytelling. It involves research, often quantitative in nature, but also relies heavily on qualitative research and thick written descriptions of behavioral phenomena. Broadly speaking, sociologists study culture, and their research can cover business, economics, psychology, medicine, and myriad other topics.
Starting a Degree in Sociology
Getting an undergraduate degree in sociology requires choosing a specific niche topic to do in-depth research into. Sociologic research can take years, and a typical requirement of even an undergraduate degree is to write a book-length, well-researched thesis about a unique cultural trend or aspect of society. This may require:
- Finding Primary Sources: Wikipedia isn’t going to cut it as a source for your sociology thesis. You’ll need to conduct interviews or surveys and observe your subject first hand to get the kind of original and rich information that makes a sociological study compelling.
- Longitudinal Study: Most sociological research is conducted over time. Rather than being a snapshot of a particular event, it is a detailed record of a particular period in the evolution of some tiny aspect of culture. Small trends can have major implications over time, and a sociologist’s job is to tease out these trends and understand their widespread impact.
- Historical Research: Understanding the current state of your subject requires interpreting its past. You’ll spend a lot of time in libraries and possibly private archives, depending on the subject you choose to research.
Much of what sociologists do is write, so this degree is well suited for people who are interested in reading and writing, and condensing information into readable but formal academic prose.
Business Applications of Sociological Research
Although sociological research can serve as an important cultural record, it also needs to be useful and applicable outside the academic sphere. A few potential uses for sociology outside of pure research and cultural record-keeping are as follows:
- Influencing Public Policy: Sociologists often study issues of public health and public policy for the purpose of creating pressure for change, or pressure to hold the status quo. A prominent recent example is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, informally referred to as Obamacare. Many sociological studies on U.S. citizens’ healthcare usage habits are cited both in support and in opposition of the bill.
- Improving a Business’s Performance: Gathering data on how people use the products they buy underpins the success of many retail businesses, and is the basis of all of online marketing. Sociological studies into what makes a particular demographic more likely to use and repeatedly purchase any given product are a mainstay of the business world. Even the focus groups conducted by television networks to decide whether a show will be a hit or flop can be considered sociological research.
- Investing: Markets are influenced by social behavior and cultural events, the fodder for sociological study. Major investment firms constantly do research to predict the movement of commodity and financial markets, and a sociologist with the right analytical mindset could be a linchpin in the process.
Career Paths for Sociology Majors
Doing research full time in sociology will probably require a PhD and a professorship at a well-endowed university. This is a good goal to pursue, but also requires a great deal of education and there are few positions available at the top of the field. Some other job possibilities are:
- Educator: Sociologists who don’t want to get the PhD that is required to be a professor at a prestigious university can still participate in education. High school sociology classes and even one-off seminars and lecture series’ will benefit by having an educated and passionate sociologist at the helm.
- Market Researcher: Market research that helps companies sell products and design new ones to meet consumer needs might not be the first thing that pops to mind when sociology is mentioned, but the analytical methodologies employed in sociological research and market research are similar. A sociologist could be a star player at a company that wants to enter a new market or field a new product.
- Statistician: The quantitative skills learned in sociology programs may turn out to be the most useful part for some graduates. Statistical analysis is useful in any industry, and sociologists learn enough of it to be highly employable as statisticians or data analysts.
The above career paths are just a few of many. The skills learned in sociology school are broadly applicable, but that can also make it difficult to choose a niche and stick with it. A combination of decisiveness and willingness to be flexible are important for students entering sociology programs.
Personality Traits of Successful Sociologists
Succeeding as a sociology student and finding relevant work after graduation require a few traits that not everyone has. Though degrees in the humanities are sometimes derided as being “easy” or only for people who aren’t good at math, sociologists need a healthy combination of mathematical skill and more right brained creativity and lateral thinking. Some key habits an aspiring sociologist should develop include:
- Attention to Detail: Social research tends to be very granular, and misreporting a statistic by a decimal point can change the whole meaning of a project’s findings. Knowing how to fact-check, proofread, and verify claims are important for any sociology related career.
- Communication Skills: A revolutionary new idea is useless if people can’t understand it. Written communication and the ability to pull together words, images, and data to tell a story are a sociologist’s bread and butter.
- Analytical Mindset: Being able to approach questions from multiple angles and come up with new ways to solve a given problem will make any job easier, but sociologists need to hone these skills particularly well.
Salaries and Employment Opportunities in Sociology
Finding a dream job in sociology won’t be easy. Competition is high and the number of available positions is relatively low compared to other career paths. Sociology purists, who only want to do research for research’s sake will have a hard time landing a job, but people who are willing to put their skills to diverse uses should be very hirable.
The most reliable source for average salaries in a career path is The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which gathers data every several years and publishes wages, job growth, and location based employment stats. As of May, 2010, The BLS reported that sociologists earn a median annual wage of $72,360, which equals about $34.79 per hour on a full-time schedule.
The BLS data also indicates that job opportunities for sociologists will increase by about 18% between 2010 and 2020, which is approximately the average rate of increase across all occupations.
How Long do Sociology Programs Take?
A typical bachelor’s degree in any subject will take four years and have around 120 credit hours of classes. Sociology degrees are available both online and on-campus on this timeline, though some universities may offer accelerated programs or academic credit for previous experience.
One benefit of doing academic programs online is that students can take classes all year round, and finish what would normally be a four year program in 3 years or less by eschewing summer vacations and effectively adding a semester to the calendar year. This can be draining, especially for students with families or day jobs to attend to, but for someone who wants to get a degree quickly, there are plenty of programs that use intensive schedules to cut months or years off the completion time for their academic offerings.
Of course, students seeking a master’s or doctoral degree will have a longer haul in school than those who only want a bachelor’s degree. Most academic careers in sociology require at least a master’s degree, so the total education time for a dedicated sociologist might stretch up to six years. It can be daunting, but universities are creating all the options they can to ease the time-burden of higher education.
Loans, Scholarships, and Finding A Good Program
Though the cost of higher education may seem daunting at first, the availability of governmental loans, private scholarships, and inexpensive programs can significantly lessen the price of college from the high, frightening sticker prices. The colleges listed on this site are accredited providers of sociology degrees, and you can find out more from the school’s themselves. Click a link to have them send you a packet of info on different program options that can be customized to provide the education you’re looking for.