Like most majors in the liberal arts the undergraduate major in sociology does not train students for one specific job. Think of it instead as a foundation for many possible careers. How you use your sociology degree depends on your answer to several questions:
What additional education if any do you expect to receive? Being a professional sociologist requires at least a master's degree. A Ph.D. will qualify you for the higher jobs in the profession. Graduate education is also a gateway to other professions such as law or public health. Although students with only the bachelor's degree are not considered professional sociologists they can apply what they have learned in a wide variety of jobs.
What kind of sociological activity would you like to be involved in? The main alternatives are teaching research and the many forms of sociological practice. Sociological practice applies sociology for such purposes as evaluating programs and policies changing organizations resolving social conflicts and counseling individuals or groups. Many combinations of activity are also possible. Academic sociologists usually combine teaching and research and many of the practical jobs most relevant to sociology involve doing research or applying the research findings of others.
What kind of work setting appeals to you? Sociological jobs are available in a wide range of settings including colleges and universities research institutes company human resources departments agencies at all levels of government and non-profit organizations.
Professional careers in sociology require education beyond the bachelor's degree. The most common professional careers are:
Research project director or analyst
Administrator in a public or private social agency
Most full-time positions in college or university sociology departments now require the Ph.D. In recent years competition for these jobs has been intense but opportunities may expand as teachers from the baby-boom generation start retiring and as their children's generation enters their college years. At larger universities scholarly research is a normal and expected part of the job and may be essential for advancement. Community college teaching is possible with a master's degree.
Research organizations and offices employ sociologists at all degree levels but often reserve the highest positions for those with the highest degrees and the most experience. Research sociologists may work either for organizations entirely devoted to contractual research or for public or private organizations needing some research to support their other activities. These jobs require quantitative and/or qualitative skills especially statistics computer skills and writing ability. Research outside of academic settings is often applied research rather than theoretical research for such purposes as evaluating social programs or studying markets.
Sociologists are especially likely to be employed in the government or in the non-profit sector. They may hold any number of specific job titles such as policy analyst consultant human resource manager program manager counselor statistician gerontologist planner community developer or demographer.
Students with undergraduate sociology degrees are not considered professional sociologists but they usually find jobs in which they can use what they have learned. When the department surveyed its graduates in 1985, 72 said that their job was either very related or somewhat related to their sociology major.
The American Sociological Association's Careers in Sociology (1995) suggests the following areas for seeking employment:
social services--in rehabilitation, case management, group work with youth or the elderly, recreation, or administration
community work--in fund-raising for social service organizations, nonprofits, child-care or community development agencies, or environmental groups
corrections--in probation, parole, or other criminal justice work
business--in advertising, marketing and consumer research, insurance, real estate, personnel work, training, or sales
college settings--in admissions, alumni relations, or placement offices
health services--in family planning, substance abuse, rehabilitation counseling, health planning, hospital admissions, and insurance companies
publishing, journalism, and public relations--in writing, research, and editing
government services--in federal, state, and local government jobs in such areas as transportation, housing, agriculture, and labor
teaching--in elementary and secondary schools, in conjunction with appropriate teacher certification.
Here are a few of the many jobs that sociology majors do:
human resources specialist
correctional service officer
child care provider
family planning counselor
community service agency worker
group home provider
See also Great Jobs for Sociology Majors by Stephen Lambert available in the SU Career Services and the American Sociology Association career information.
You can enhance your job prospects by branching out to cultivate a particular skill or secondary area of study. There are many possibilities:
A second major or minor in a field related to sociology such as political science or human geography.
An interdisciplinary minor such as gerontology or planning.
One or more courses devoted to a particular skill or interest such as a modern language computer training or statistics.
A graduate degree in a discipline other than sociology such as social work law business administration or urban planning. (Note that many kinds of graduate programs will accept sociology majors with good academic records.)