Sociologists use cultural indicators to not only assess the various institutions that comprise our modern society, but also to bring about positive change for millions of people nationwide. This field, which can be previewed through several online sociology courses, combines research, community outreach, and a healthy dose of creative thinking to better understand the way groups interact, how they emerged, and the factors that influence their behavior.
Sociologists are primarily concerned with the various ways in which human behavior and interaction impact individual communities and society as a whole. Religion, race, gender, age, income bracket, and education level are just a few of the factors sociologists use to evaluate the strengths and areas for improvement within government, the judicial system, schools, churches, and other cultural institutions.
As an academic field, sociology is best described as an amalgam of psychology, anthropology, and statistics. Experts in this area use empirical evidence, case studies, and legal precedents to evaluate social norms, conditions, and institutions. Sociological reasoning dates back to ancient Greece, but the academic field has only existed for roughly 150-200 years — and not surprisingly, the methods and philosophies of sociologists have evolved immensely during that time.
Most sociology degree programs follow the same curricular structure. The typical course load for a sociology student might include the following:
- Urban Poverty
- Disabilities and Culture
- Law and Society
- Sociology of Deviance
- Modern Communication Systems
- Abnormal Psychology
- Wealth, Power, Status: Inequality in Society
- Social Movements, Protest, and Conflict
- American History
Clustered courses, at least one minor, and a specialized degree focus are all common in undergraduate sociology degree programs. Many students find it's best to tackle this broad field by narrowing their focus on areas that interest them most.
Many specializations combine sociology with another liberal arts field that deals with cultural impacts, such as psychology, economics, or criminal justice. Some take the global approach, such as international development, while others focus on aspects of sociology that are somewhat unique to American culture. Many take a comparative approach by studying the similarities and differences between living environments, educational strategies, and other factors that vary considerably from place to place. The numerous topics encompassed under the sociological umbrella allow students to choose from a wide range of specialization options.
A master's in sociology is probably the minimum educational level required to pursue a career in sociology. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), there are two primary types of sociology master's degree programs: traditional and clinical. Traditional programs prepare students for a Ph.D. in sociology. Clinical programs, on the other hand, include plenty of hands-on training intended to prepare students for professional settings. While an increasing number of Ph.D. graduates choose to work for nonprofit organizations and government agencies, the majority go on to pursue careers in academia.
In addition to accredited degrees, there are many other online and campus-based certification programs that allow students to focus on specific areas of sociology; many of these programs mirror the specializations earned by college and university students.
Ideal Candidates for Sociology
Sociology is a very data-driven discipline; for this reason, analytical, observant individuals who can think critically and are adept at problem-solving tend to be ideal candidates for this field. Sociologists often tackle complex problems and use statistical calculations to make sense of the messy world of human behavior, so thick skin and lots of compassion are also required.
Sociologists often conduct independent research, but communication skills are inherently important whether you work alone or in a group. Generating a dialogue about one's work with other professionals and listening to their ideas is the most effective way for sociologists to facilitate change within their surroundings.
While there is a growing interest in sociological research as a tool to better understand society and human interactions, it's important to remember that the professional field is quite small. Though the BLS projects a growth rate of roughly 18% between 2010 and 2020, job-seekers can expect stiff competition for the relatively small number of research positions. However, many bachelor's or master's degree-holders take on positions that utilize sociological concepts and methodologies without the official title.
In 2010, sociologists earned a median salary of $72,360; the lowest 10% brought home less than $44,000, while the top 10% made more than $129,000.
Sociology is a fascinating field that draws from many different disciplines in the hope of helping us better understand the human race and improve our communities. Students who are passionate about participating in globally-oriented research and study will enjoy their careers in this field as well as the time they spent studying to get there.