August 08, 2022

How to Apply Your Degree in Sociology to Any Career

Author photoBy Karen Sternheimer

One of the most frequent questions students ask me is what they can do with a sociology degree. My answer: it is only a useful degree if you plan on working with people. Or working alone but with clients. In other words, a sociology degree provides a lot of useful applications for any career.

Any degree provides a skill set, and often the skill sets you develop within one major overlap quite a bit with others. Rather than thinking of a degree as training for a specific career (i.e. being a sociology major is for people who want to be sociologists), a degree helps you fine-tune your unique skills and interests for a career which will likely evolve quite a bit over time. According to a 2021 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people born between 1957 and 1964 held on average 12.4 jobs in their working life.

Where your career will lead is often a mystery, one that you probably won’t be able to predict far in advance. As I discussed in this post a decade ago, your interest in a subject should guide what major you choose. The career application is the next step to consider.

Let’s apply sociology to several career options. This comprehensive infographic shows how sociological concepts connect with a very wide range of jobs. Which sociology classes have you taken (or hope to take) that are most interesting to you? Take a look at the larger circles on the infographic and check out the jobs described in the smaller connecting circles.

S-222_Sociology Poster
Courtesy of W.W. Norton

Maybe you already have some job interests you are considering. Which large circles are those jobs connected with? The large circles can help point you to courses you might consider taking that will be particularly relevant to your career interests. You can also independently read a sociological text on that subject or peruse research that looks interesting in that area. (Your Introduction to Sociology book will have a long list of references for each chapter that can get you started reading more.)

I occasionally hear back from students years later and learn a little about their career trajectories. Some have gotten involved in politics after being part of advocacy organizations hoping to create social change (one of my former students ran for mayor of a large metropolitan area!). Others have become organizers registering people to vote and advocating for particular causes.

Sometimes students come to my classes with a clear path in mind (law school, medical school are some top choices) only to find once they are there it is not quite right for them. One former student became an attorney and noticed the vast inequities within the high-powered law firm he worked for and decided to specialize in human resource management in the legal profession. His skills in observing and identifying various forms of inequality were sharpened within his sociology courses, but he didn’t know how he would be using them until many years later.

You might start off focusing on one of the job circles, and later find yourself gravitating towards another as your interests and your career evolves. In my later days of graduate school, I thought I would eventually focus on research only, working either at a think tank or in private industry. As a graduate student teaching assistant, I graded hundreds of blue book essays and knew I never wanted to do that again. I was a research assistant for several years in graduate school and figured that was the path that I would take.

And yet I started teaching right after graduate school (but never had students write essays in blue books), and I teach research methods. While I have done quite a bit of research over the years, my interest in teaching emerged after graduate school and has evolved ever since.

Your career will likely evolve to. Findings your interests and sharpening your vast array of tools is an important first step that you can take within your sociology major.

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Norton Sociology Books

The Real World

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Terrible Magnificent Sociology

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You May Ask Yourself

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Essentials of Sociology

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Introduction to Sociology

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The Art and Science of Social Research

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The Family

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Race in America

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Gender

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