The Versatility of a Sociology Degree: Exploring Career Possibilities

19/10/202333 minute read
The Versatility of a Sociology Degree: Exploring Career Possibilities

We live and work In a world constantly shaped by human interaction and consequential behavioral norms. Understanding these dynamics is invaluable, and sociology holds the key to these insights.

As C. Wright Mills, a celebrated sociologist, once remarked, "Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both." Therefore, a degree in sociology has intrinsic value for living a thoughtful, well-examined life.

Sociology training can empower students with knowledge, skills, and perspectives they can apply in fields as diverse as organizational psychology and leadership, mental and behavioral health, academia, criminology, social work, and education, to name a few. Sociology students also develop versatile skills for higher-order thinking, long-term professional learning, and career fulfillment.

So while most people don’t consider sociology a “practical” major, don’t be quick to dismiss the prospect of getting a sociology degree. This piece explores the skills you'll walk away with and the many career pathways you can consider as a sociology graduate.


I. Is a Sociology Degree Worth It?

Sociology is a mix of empirical science and theory that seeks to understand the intricate maze of human behavioral norms and how these norms impact or are shaped themselves by groups, teams, social structures, and social institutions. This discipline also offers a wide-angle understanding of how societies function and evolve. With so many intriguing objects of study, sociology opens doors to many avenues of captivating investigation and theorizing, making it a fascinating field of study, attractive to many students.

However, even though extensive study and postgraduate learning could open doors to careers as a professional sociologist doing research or advanced analysis, or to jobs in academia that usually require a doctoral degree, getting a bachelor’s degree in sociology might not appear to be a very practical approach to finding a good job after college in the way a degree in nursing or business administration might.

Because it’s hard to know where your sociology degree will lead you, it’s natural to ask if a college degree in sociology is worth it, or to wonder what you’ll do once you get your sociology degree.

First keep in mind that studying sociology can have intrinsic rewards. But that’s definitely not the whole story… Experts point out that studying sociology is also a practical way to develop and deepen many qualitative and quantitative critical thinking skills.

It’s hard to neatly measure the value of these broad professional and cognitive skills in narrow career terms, but many of these versatile skills are among some of the most in-demand skills for today’s global economy.

Top 10 Skills of 2023
TOP 10 RANKSKILL
1Analytical Thinking
2Creative Thinking
4Motivation and Self-awareness
5Curiosity and Lifelong Learning
8Empathy and Active Listening
9Leadership and Social Influence
10Quality Control

World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs Report 2023

You’ll typically need some sector-specific skills along with holistic professional and cognitive skills like these, but getting a sociology degree should equip you with excellent foundational skills for the 21st-century job market.

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Another metric to consider comes from research into the lived experiences of students who recently earned bachelor degrees in sociology. How did these students fare after college? What did they do with their sociology degree?

According to a report issued in 2008 by the American Sociological Association, many students with bachelor’s degrees in sociology were experiencing significant job satisfaction.

Here’s a snapshot from the report that spotlights the kinds of real job pathways students with bachelor degrees in sociology followed after graduation from college:

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In essence, there’s ample evidence that a sociology degree has many benefits and that many students earning sociology degrees today will have many career fields to choose from and enjoy a future with significant job satisfaction.

Finally, continuing your education to pursue a master’s degree in sociology or a complementary career field may also be worth it, because it has the potential to significantly boost career prospects and opportunities for promotions and advancement.

But, remember the ASA study we cited above?

Well the researchers found that although more than 20% of students entered the bachelor’s program intending to go on for a master’s degree in sociology after graduation, only 13% did so. This means that among the 1,800 students surveyed, more than 85% never went on to get an advanced degree — suggesting that the bachelor’s degree itself opened doors to rewarding career opportunities and benefits.

How is this possible? Well one good explanation is that sociology graduates have versatile professional and cognitive skills they can apply for success in counseling, education, law and criminal justice work, human resources, and more…

Let’s take a closer look at some specific and useful transferable skills that make a degree in sociology practical and valuable.

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II. Transferable Skills That Make Sociology a Good Major

One important metric of educational ROI (return on investment) for students who choose sociology or a similar liberal arts field are not just specific job qualifications, but the relevance and usefulness of a broad range of transferable skills.

Sociology graduates should find themselves leaving college equipped with a broad range of versatile, higher-order thinking skills — practical professional competencies with enduring value.

So let’s explore some of the more important kinds of professional skills we’re talking about…

Research and Data Analysis

Through surveys, case studies, and observational research, sociology students become very adept with skills used in many organizational and business settings.

When you study sociology you’ll develop enduring and versatile skills related to advanced reading comprehension, research and summation skills, research methodologies, and analytical skills. These kinds of research and data analysis skills can be used for managing organizations or for assessing larger public or social trends and can be applied to various kinds of policy development, to compliance and risk management, to trend analysis and more.

In other words, a sociology degree isn’t just about research in sociology; your sociology training will be transferable to many consequential professional roles and challenges, making it more “practical” than you might imagine.

Sociology teacher Sarie-Mo often heard students question the practicality of majoring in sociology and tried to help them see the bigger picture:

One of the things I like most about Sociology is that it teaches you skills that are highly valued in many careers (written and verbal communication skills, interpersonal skills — like networking and affiliating, leadership skills, analytical skills, data collection and analysis, research design, computer literacy, cross-cultural understanding, etc.). Because of this wide skill set, I have former students who have graduated and moved into many different careers: community organizing, activism, HR, marketing and advertising, non-profits, administrative and clerical positions, employment and labor relations, jobs with city government, editing, IT, social services, research, advocacy… the list goes on and on.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Sociological studies empower students to view society through a magnifying glass, examining even its minutest structures. Sociologists use critical thinking skills to home in on meaningful and useful trends and patterns, or cause-effect relationships or correlations — processes that are relevant for advocacy and public policy work across many domains.

To get from observational data and quantitative data, to insights that can be applied in practical ways however, is often challenging in its own right. As a sociology student you’ll get exposure to scientific inquiry and methodology principles and skills that are suited to these kinds of challenges.

These skills are not just applicable to clinical research in sociology! They should help prepare you to tackle nuanced analysis work and help you extract relevant findings from complex, qualitative data sets while you instill rigorous standards for quality control, accuracy, and validity to your problem-solving insights.

“Whatever sociology may be, it is the result of constantly asking the question, what is the meaning of this?”

- C. Wright Mills (American Sociologist, 1916 – 1962)

Turning information into insights, and turning insights into effective policies or urgent solutions… These are complex skills — more complex than many people realize. As a sociology graduate you’ll have foundational learning that will help you with a range of routine but also complex workplace challenges:

  • advanced problem-solving
  • policy assessments and reforms
  • regulatory compliance work
  • organizational training and HR leadership
PROSPECTIVE CAREER PATHWAYS FOR SOCIOLOGY GRADUATES
OCCUPATIONMEDIAN ANNUAL PAY (US$)
Sociologists$98,590
Psychologists$85,330
Social Workers$55,350
Survey Researchers$60,410
Urban & Regional Planners$79,540
Employee Training & Development Specialists$63,080

Bureau of Labor Statistics

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III. Careers to Consider with a Degree in Sociology

The downside of getting a sociology degree, for some people, is that it may not provide a clear career path. The upside of this may be that instead of providing a clear career path, it opens doors to a wide range of career sectors!

With open-ended prospects, your next steps as a sociology graduate may seem less clear, but it’s also your opportunity to explore options and choose a direction that excites you and aligns with your broader interests.

The list below will give you a big-picture view of the diverse kinds of roles and sectors you might pursue with a sociology degree, keeping in mind that most of the roles will require a range of learning and work experiences. You may also want to consider a multi-disciplinary approach to your college journey for some of these pathways.

1. Social Services and Advocacy

Social Worker

Equipped with the ability to understand societal influences on individual behavior, sociology graduates can become the pillars supporting those facing life's challenges. The deep comprehension of societal structures significantly enriches social work, often resulting in transformative interventions.

After all, many aspects of behavioral psychology, community health and outreach, or family counseling all have dynamics that involve social or group dynamics, or cultural factors that shape and influence community structures. Therefore, with training in sociology you’ll have an excellent foundation for many kinds of social work.

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Nonprofit Advocacy

Many sociology graduates gravitate towards roles where they can become champions for change, fighting against social inequalities and injustices. The nonprofit sector — in domains as diverse as health, education, and criminal justice — offers abundant opportunities for both entry-level work and longer-term career advancement, with your sociology degree as your foundation and stepping stone.

Sociology majors can apply a wide range of academic skills to their work as effective advocates:

  • case study skills
  • behavioral assessment skills
  • concepts for understanding organizational and community structures or marginalized groups or individuals
  • principles related to criminology and behavioral rehabilitation
  • researching and reporting on social trends or community needs
  • designing or implementing social change models and interventions

“Far and away, the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

- Theodore Roosevelt

OCCUPATIONMEDIAN ANNUAL PAY (US$)
School & Community Service Managers$74,240
Marriage & Family Therapists$56,570
Rehabilitation Counselors$39,990

Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Research and Policy Analysis

Societal Research

Picture sociologists as detectives investigating societal trends. Their findings often serve as the foundation for policy development. But investigating and pinpointing these trends with proper research and communication methods and approaches takes academic training of the kind you can develop getting a sociology degree.

Skilled societal researchers play important roles in informing decision making. For example, governments and institutions rely heavily on sociological research to shape policies, trusting its unbiased approach.

Policy Analysts

A specific role within the world of public, legislative, and regulatory policy is policy analyst.

Policy analysts are equipped to fully evaluate the language, impacts, and flaws or limitations of present or past policies. They can also help analyze and evaluate new policies as they are being developed and amended.

In short, as a sociology graduate in the role of policy analyst, you might play a pivotal role in dissecting policies, ensuring they are attuned to societal needs and likely to achieve the goals intended.

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3. Education and Academia

Teaching and Higher Education

Arming yourself with a deep understanding of social behavior and group dynamics as a sociology student is a great launch pad for work in education, starting with the K-12 education sector. With a sociology degree you’ll be equipped with professional skills for assessing classroom dynamics, campus dynamics, or even the dynamics of the school’s professional culture — all areas that benefit from objective, data-driven planning and analysis, methodic problem solving, and empathetic interventions and guidance.

“Education is a social thing; that is to say, it brings the child into contact with a definite society and not with society in general”

- Émile Durkheim, Education and Sociology

You can also use your background in sociology and related college foundations in social science and the humanities as a classroom teacher in either elementary or secondary settings. All those critical thinking skills and writing and analysis skills you learned getting a sociology degree… They will help you impart valuable skills young students need for success — for the next grade level, for high school, college, and beyond.

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Research and Academia

Universities and research institutions offer fertile grounds for passionate sociology researchers, clinicians, policy experts, or theorists. Postgraduate studies and disciplined and methodical research accomplishments are great stepping stones to a rewarding career in these kinds of roles, in research centers, government, and in academia.

Roles in academia may give you both a sense of purpose as an educator while also allowing you a fair measure of intellectual freedom.

A screen shot of a job posting for a Associate Professor of Sociology positionat Tufts University

Those who pursue a career in higher education can consider a wide range of prospective academic settings to work in — from community colleges, to four-year universities — and consider different roles, such as teaching and/or research role, undergraduate- or graduate-level education, academic publishing, and higher education administration.

OCCUPATIONMEDIAN ANNUAL PAY (US$)
High School Teachers$62,360
K-12 School Principals$101,320
School & Career Counselors$60,140
Postsecondary Teachers$80,840
Postsecondary Education Administrators$99,940

Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Public Relations and Communication

Media and Journalism

If you’re a sociology graduate intrigued by social phenomena, customs, and behaviors, and you have observational and reporting skills, consider a niche in media and journalism.

You could find yourself developing and articulating engaging and creative communications for larger audiences — expertly analyzing social trends or applying case study analysis skills to investigative reporting challenges.

Crafting media content that delves into social institutions and social policy reforms could be of interest to a wide audience. Your reporting and communications could connect to any of these sociology-related themes:

  • culture and customs
  • crime and justice
  • marginalized communities
  • education
  • marriage and family life
  • youth culture
  • economics and consumer behaviors

All of these domains and many more areas of public interest are being scrutinized in intriguing ways, not only by journalists, but by many kinds of media creatives working in diverse formats. These media pioneers often apply insights from sociology, criminology, education, economics, or psychology to create thoughtful and provocative radio programs, short-form video content, or podcasts.

Corporate Communication

Companies across every sector have a never-ending need for a wide range of clear, strategic, and targeted communications:

  • internal communications
  • public relations
  • investor relations
  • speech writing
  • marketing

With strong critical thinking and communication skills as well as training in principles related to social dynamics or group behaviors, sociology graduates should discover they have a strong initial foundation for a long-term career path in communications.

Additional study in a complementary field such as business, communications, or marketing, for example, could provide an even more potent skill set for advancing into rewarding roles in corporate communication or marketing.

OCCUPATIONMEDIAN ANNUAL PAY (US$)
Editors$73,080
Advertising, Promotions, & Marketing Managers$138,730
Public Relations Managers$125,620
New Analysts, Reporters, & Journalists$55,960

Bureau of Labor Statistics

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5. Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement

Criminology and Criminal Justice

Through the lens of sociology and relevant principles from psychology, anthropology, and criminology, sociology students are well positioned to advance in numerous criminal justice occupations. As a sociology graduate you’ll be uniquely equipped to approach challenges in this field with a holistic approach to understanding criminal behavior and criminal justice policies and their impacts.

“Criminology & Criminal Justice Studies are the sociology-based study of crime and the criminal justice system.”

- University of Ohio

With a background in sociology and additional training in criminal law, criminal justice, social work, or public policy, you might find yourself equipped to make purposeful contributions in jobs such as:

  • parole officer
  • court officer
  • correctional counselor
  • rehabilitation counselor
  • youth diversion program administrator
  • policy reform analyst or advocate

In roles like these, you'll build on your foundation in sociology to contribute to pubic safety, support other law enforcement colleagues and agencies, and provide insights for enlightened approaches to supporting those struggling to navigate criminal justice systems or access effective rehabilitation programs.

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Law Enforcement

Having an objective, empathetic, and holistic approach to assessing criminal behavior or thinking critically about the ways police, court, parole, and rehabilitation officers engage with offenders or victims is a critical skill for working in law enforcement.

Whether it’s community policing, youth diversion programs, restorative justice, or cultural competency training, foundations in sociology should help you acquire the mindsets, perspectives, and principles that are invaluable to making sense of law enforcement dynamics.

If you find intrinsic rewards in getting a degree in sociology but also want a pathway with many practical job opportunities, then pursuing opportunities in the field of criminal justice and law enforcement could be a perfect next step.

OCCUPATIONMEDIAN ANNUAL PAY (US$)
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists$59,860
Social Workers$55,350
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors$49,710
Police and Detectives$69,160

Bureau of Labor Statistics

6. Human Resources and Diversity Management

Human Resources Specialists

Helping complex organizations thrive is another way you can find practical value in a sociology degree. Businesses and other organizations have a strong need for skilled human resource directors who can see beyond administrative routines and proactively build a positive work culture.

Improving turnover rates, productivity, collaboration, and staff morale requires nuanced understandings of many kinds of social and psychological organizational structures and dynamics. Human resource specialists with a strong foundation in sociology or organizational psychology should be positioned to excel in this career path.

As an HR professional steeped in sociology training, you can use your knowledge not only to fulfill administrative tasks but in assessment, problem-solving, and policy development roles. This kind of organizational leadership work can help ensure a more harmonious and more productive organizational culture.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

In today's globalized world, promoting inclusivity is paramount. Sociology graduates learn concepts that uniquely position them to make an impact in roles related to social cohesion and the ways cultural differences and bias can create organizational challenges.

DEI leaders craft norms, protocols, and policies to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, that cultural differences, gender differences, age differences, or other attributes, don’t create unfair barriers or discrimination in schools or work places. They also use a range of incentive programs, disciplinary structures, and training interventions to help ensure all members find fair treatment and supportive environments that embrace and celebrate diversity.

OCCUPATIONMEDIAN ANNUAL PAY (US$)
Human Resources Specialists$64,240
Human Resources Managers$130,000
Labor Relations Specialists$82,010
Training and Development Managers$120,000
Training and Development Specialists$63,080

Bureau of Labor Statistics

7. Global and International Development

Global Affairs and NGOs

Tackling global challenges requires a deep understanding of societal dynamics across cultures, making sociology graduates ideal candidates for these roles. Concepts and skills you learn by earning a sociology degree transfer to many NGO advising and leadership roles that involve:

  • communications
  • needs surveys and assessments
  • case study reporting
  • program evaluation
  • diversity training
  • cultivating donor relations
  • academic research and writing methods

If you have an interest in developing complementary skills in nonprofit or business administration, survey research, or public relations, then an NGO pathway could be an ideal and exciting pathway that allows you to use your sociology degree for pursuing purposeful, mission-driven work in diverse global settings.

International Relations

International relations is another intriguing path to consider. As a sociology student you’ll learn unique perspectives for understanding complex and nuanced social, political, and behavioral dynamics that you can leverage to navigate strategy and policy assessments and diplomatic exchanges and negotiations.

Your ability to view foreign state contexts through objective lenses and assess the importance and impacts of different cultural and social norms and institutions can be invaluable in a foreign service or international relations role.

With your sociology degree and other relevant training and experiences, you could find yourself expertly equipped to help build diplomatic bridges, resolve diplomatic conflicts, and help foster smoother international collaborations.

OCCUPATIONMEDIAN ANNUAL PAY (US$)
Social and Community Service Managers$74,240
Market Research Analysts68,230
Public Relations & Fundraising Managers$125,620
Project Management Specialists$95,370

Bureau of Labor Statistics

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IV. Final Thoughts

From shaping global policies to enhancing community policing, the versatility of a sociology degree is undeniable. So, for those wondering, "What can you do with a sociology degree?" you now see the many ways a sociology degree can help launch and advance a fulfilling career trajectory.

The ability to draw important findings from a wide and varied range of quantitative and qualitative data, to formulate valid conclusions and problem-solving methodologies, and navigate a range of nuanced professional and organizational challenges, including excelling as a lifetime learner — these are all skills that empower exceptional career success.

You may not find the kind of straight line from your degree to your next job, like you might with a degree in nursing or business administration, but it’s likely that with patient persistence, a dose of passion, and a willingness to actively pursue complementary and relevant skills, you’ll find yourself thriving professionally in no time.

And, remember, as you grapple with important decisions about college and your degree track, you can always get help charting your journey. At Crimson, experienced counselors are ready to provide personalized guidance tailored to your unique questions and aspirations. Starting with helping you understand if a sociology degree aligns with your true career interests, a Crimson counselor can also help you figure out the best schools to target.

Ready to begin your journey? Book a free consultation with a Crimson counselor today. Together, let's explore your potential in sociology and how to align it with the right career path for you.

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