What is sociology and what can students do with it?

An overview of what studying sociology involves and where it can take you by the American Sociological Association.

Sociology is the study of the interplay of human behaviour and social institutions such as the family, politics, religion, work and the economy, leisure, education, criminal justice and health care. Sociological research shows how differences among diverse populations matter in everyday life. Students who major in sociology find concepts such as culture, interactions, inequalities, change, social problems, social organisations, deviance and urbanisation to be fascinating and based in both theory and research methods. More sociology departments are integrating global perspectives into their curricula, beginning with introductory courses. Sociology has the highest percentage of undergraduates from under-represented minority groups in the United States.

What is sociology and what can students do with it?

“Those who enter the workforce directly find jobs in a wide variety of fields including social services, human relations, social science or market research, management, public relations, computer technology and teaching”

In the United States, students major in sociology because they are idealists who want to change the society around them, understand the relations between individuals and social forces and want to be prepared to do different kinds of research. Others major in the discipline because they are careerists and agree that sociology will prepare them for the job they want or to attend graduate and professional school. Both idealists and careerists find jobs, go on to graduate school, or both.

They are trained to conduct survey research, use statistical software, write reports understandable to non-sociologists, analyse and interpret data and to identify ethical issues. Faculty who teach undergraduates are rewarded for doing research in cutting-edge areas such as network analysis, social stratification, gender studies, race and ethnic relations, criminology and the impact of public policy, but also for creating programmes and courses that reflect sociological concepts and the latest research findings. In their teaching, they make connections between sociological concepts and real world problems. They teach students about the social movements that have addressed these problems and how to take these issues to the public. Along with classroom learning, students participate in out-of-classroom activities such as internships, community service, sociology clubs and honour societies, faculty research projects and professional associations in order to obtain the knowledge and contacts they need for the successful pursuit of a career or additional graduate school training.

The majority of sociology majors go directly into the workforce, although many later return to school in order to change jobs, gain promotions, or pursue doctoral degrees. Those who enter the workforce directly find jobs in a wide variety of fields including social services, human relations, social science or market research, management, public relations, computer technology and teaching. These jobs are close to what they learned as undergraduate majors. Once on the job, they use skills and concepts that they learned as majors especially understanding race, ethnic, class and gender differences, viewing society from an alternative or critical perspective, using current sociological explanations about social issues and knowing how small groups work.

Overall, the sociology major is an excellent preparation for a wide variety of social, behavioural and professional degrees. Along with advanced degrees in sociology, majors pursue advanced degrees in other areas such as social work, education, law, psychology, counselling, business or management and public policy. For those who pursue doctoral degrees in sociology, paid research and teaching assistantships are available which expose students to top researchers and teachers so that they gain first-hand experience and training.

As the national disciplinary organisation in sociology, the American Sociological Association (ASA), founded in 1905 and headquartered in Washington, DC, has programmes for undergraduate majors (please visit www.asanet.org for more information). These include the ASA Honors Program and the ASA Student Forum, which both sponsor students to present research papers at the ASA Annual Meeting - attended by more than 6,000 ASA members. The Annual Meeting takes place each August and provides students with a valuable professional socialisation experience and is an important event for the entire membership. ASA is also an active participant in the International Sociological Association (ISA) whose members reside in 167 countries.

Written by Roberta Spalter-Roth and Jean H. Shin (2010)
American Sociological Association

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