As a sociology student you’ve learned to “peel back the curtain” and glimpse at what lurks behind the exterior of society. Looking closely at the development and creation of social institutions as well as the actors and agents within them, sociologists study to understand the greater, macrocosmic patterns of society as well as the microcosmic occurrences of everyday life that take place in society and which work to define us all as individuals. You’ve studied a lot about how society works, how it constructs social beings, where power comes from, and how it’s maintained. Now it’s time to apply it in practice, not simply in theory.
In 2010, Sociology undergraduates totaled about 173,000 of the 1,650,000 given, about 9.5%. As a general trend, the number of sociology majors has increased since the 1970’s. Surveys indicate that the vast majority of sociology undergraduates choose to directly enter the work force rather than attend some form of graduate school. Of those working full time, about 25% were in social service and counseling positions, the next largest share applying their education to positions in administrative support and management.
Sociology is a multi-faceted discipline that involves social theory and analysis of social movements on both a quantitative and qualitative level. As a sociology major, you’ve likely read some ethnographies of particular individuals that authors feel are descriptive of greater social schema, considered statistical tables of data, and studied theories of the ways in which current power structures came into being.
Like many of those who study in the social sciences, sociology majors build a strong foundation of skills in research & analysis. Throughout the last few years of your life focusing on sociology, you’ve likely contended with readings that speak to the nature of societies on both a statistic and qualitative basis. The ability to understand the linkages between the two types of information, and analyze the correlations between the statistical representation of sociological trends and the greater theoretical frameworks supplied by the authors you’ve read is foundational to almost any career. Sociologists sometimes come under fire for theorizing massive, sweeping claims about society – it’s the ability to back these claims up with collected data that makes for a good sociologist and highlights the skills that are applicable in the job market. Strong analytical skills are highly desirable by employers in any and all job markets at this point.
Closely related to the skills of research and analysis is the ability to effectively communicate your findings. Most sociological readings are textual but backed with tables, charts, graphs, etc and as a result you’ve become well-versed in the ability to relate both. To communicate sociological theory is no easy task, but the ability to synthesize information of varying types showcases your ability to contend with theory and data, integrate the two into a paper or presentation, and then communicate your findings highlights the strengths of sociology majors to communicate both in speaking and in writing.
In my experience, many sociology classes are discussion based, and supplemented by research projects. It can be nerve-wracking to raise your hand in class and speak your opinion relating to the finer points of a controversial sociological theory, but overcoming that obstacle heralds a burgeoning strength in speaking, especially with people and about topics you may not be familiar or comfortable with. Not only can you speak and write well, but you can speak and write well about concepts that are often no small challenge to understand. The ability to relate sociological theory in an understandable is not an unimportant skill to have in the job world. While you might not be presenting Foucault to a group of investors, the ability to easily and coherently relate complex information will likely come in handy at some point, if not often.
All of these skills fall under the greater heading of the sociological mission: to solve problems. In aiming to understand the ways that institutional power comes into being and stays there, sociologists look to unpack conceptions of gender, race, sexuality, etc. to solve the societal problems that these institutions bring about.
If you want to get into work as a sociologist, you better start prepping yourself for some further study for Master’s degree or Ph.D. in sociology. However, sociology is a majors that, through the breadth of skills developed and material seen, prepares students for a number of different entry-level jobs as alternatives to graduate school. Some of these fields and positions might include:
Median Pay: $42,480
Many sociology majors enter the work force in counseling positions. These positions are often with non-profit, community, or government groups, and may be more of a volunteer capacity in some cases, but can also provide incredibly useful opportunities for specialization in the type of issues a sociologist is concerned with, learning a second language, continuing to hone communication skills, and working toward a master’s degree in social work.
Median Pay: Varies By Industry, about $40,000
If you’ve written a senior essay or thesis for the sociology department at your university, you’ve likely done quite a bit of research to support your findings, and as such a job as a research assistant might be right up your alley. These positions might be for universities, government agencies, non-profits, or others, and continue to bolster the efficacy of your analytical, quantitative, and statistical skills, all while networking and potentially working towards a further degree in sociology.
Median Pay: $57,000
After studying societal trends and institutions for years as an undergraduate, it makes sense that many sociology majors go on to work shaping public policy after graduation. These positions can include working alongside the government to help shape laws as well as in the nonprofit, business, and private sectors.
Median Pay: Around $50,000-$55,000
It’s not uncommon for marketing, advertising, and public relations firms to look to sociologist to help them understand their market and how they should attempt to market their product. As a sociologist, you might employ your skills in research and analysis to help companies to understand the characteristics and attitudes of targeted demographics. In short, as a sociology major you’ve teased apart conceptions of race, gender, sexuality, appearance, and so on – these are the exact topics that advertising and marketing firms need to understand in order to be successful, and you might just be the key to that success.
In short, start to exercise the skills you’re acquiring as a Sociology major. Join the student government organization at your school, the debate team, mock trial – anything you can show to employers that exhibits your commitment to the issues at hand. Like other majors in the social sciences, it’s never a bad idea to start a blog and begin to jot down your thoughts. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be formal, but an easily accessible showcase of your ability to think, read, write, and analyze can’t hurt for potential employers to see when they Google your name.