Psychology and sociology are closely related fields that both involve the study of human behavior. However, while there are some similarities between these two disciplines, there are also significant differences. If you’re planning on pursuing a degree in either field, it’s critical to understand how those differences might impact your coursework — and even more importantly, how they could shape your career and future.
Choosing between sociology vs. psychology is a major decision for any graduate or undergraduate student, but this article will help you get started. In it, we’ll explore the unique and complex relationship of sociology and psychology to one another, answering FAQs like how they differ, what they share in common, and critically, what types of careers you can pursue with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in either field.
How is Sociology Related to Psychology?
Psychology and sociology are both considered social sciences, which are disciplines that study individual or group behavior. In fact, it is this very division — the individual versus the group — that separates the discipline of sociology from the discipline of psychology, as we’ll see throughout this article. Other examples of social sciences include anthropology, which is the study of how societies and cultures develop; political science, which is the study of government and political policies; and, as you might be surprised to see in this category, even economics, which is the study of production, consumption, and wealth.
How Does Sociology Differ from Psychology?
While both study human behavior, psychology and sociology approach this subject on a different scale. Psychology is focused on understanding the individual, while sociology — like its name suggests — focuses on social groups, communities, and cultures.
As a psychologist, you’ll be focused on researching, analyzing, and managing the factors that drive or impact individual behavior, such as mental illness, mood disorders, substance addiction, or family and romantic relationships. As a sociologist, you’ll be focused on large-scale societal issues, such as globalization, poverty, racial injustice, gender inequality, workplace dynamics, or public health concerns.
It might be helpful to think of psychology like microeconomics, which “zooms in” to look at people, households, or businesses, while sociology is more like macroeconomics, “zooming out” to deal with entire economic systems. Psychologists evaluate the ways in which individuals interact with each other or their environments, whereas sociologists are more concerned with social structures and policies.
Social Psychology vs. Sociology
There are numerous fields of psychology, such as clinical psychology, school psychology, forensic psychology, and social psychology. But if psychology deals with individual behavior, what is “social” psychology, and how is it different from sociology? Put simply, social psychology is the study of how individuals relate to and try to function within broader society, whereas sociology looks at the ways entire groups function within society.
What Are Some Similarities Between Sociology and Psychology?
Sociology and psychology may study behavior through different lenses, but both disciplines require similar skills, such as critical thinking and reasoning; conducting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative research; and having the ability to communicate clearly, both verbally and in writing. Crucially from a financial perspective, psychology and sociology are also similar in terms of job outlook and projected growth rates.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2019 median pay for psychologists was $80,370 per year, or about $38.60 per hour, compared to a median pay and hourly rate of $83,420 and $40.10 for sociologists. While sociologists averaged slightly higher earnings, psychologists’ earnings were close behind — and both averaged more than double the median annual salary for all U.S. workers, which the BLS reported was under $40,000. The BLS also reported similar job outlooks for each occupation, projecting growth of three percent and four percent for psychologists and sociologists respectively for the period 2019 to 2029.
What Careers Can You Pursue with a Degree in Sociology or Psychology?
Both psychologists and sociologists can find employment opportunities in government, in academia, or in the private sector, depending on the individual’s interests. Psychologists often enter industries such as criminal justice, public administration, market research, and counseling. By comparison, sociologists frequently work in fields like human resources, social services, and public services.
As you can see from both lists, a degree in sociology or psychology can lead to a diverse, exciting, and potentially lucrative range of careers — some of which might surprise you. Examples of careers you could pursue with a psychology degree may include:
- Forensic Psychologist
- Health Educator
- Human Factors Specialist
- Victim’s Advocate
- Vocational Career Counselor
Examples of careers you could pursue with a sociology degree include:
- Census Researcher
- Policy Analyst
- Public Health Supervisor
- Social Services Consultant
- Urban Planner
You can get started in some of these careers with a bachelor’s degree, but for others, you’ll need to earn an advanced degree, such as a master’s or doctoral degree. For instance, you’ll generally need a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or Ph.D. in psychology if you wish to become a research psychologist, who researches behavior and thought by using scientific methods; a clinical psychologist, who, as the American Psychological Association (APA) describes it, works to “assess and treat mental, emotional and behavioral disorders”; or to become certified as a counselor and operate your own private practice.
However, you shouldn’t feel discouraged or overwhelmed if you haven’t reached that stage of your academic journey. Learn more about the numerous careers you can pursue with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or explore more career options for a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
Can a Sociologist Become a Therapist?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions for students who are considering entering either field. The short answer is that, generally speaking, you’ll need to obtain additional education in fields like social work or psychology — then, meet rigorous licensing and testing requirements, such as passing the National Counselor Examination (NCE) — in order to provide therapy services.
Should I Take Psychology or Sociology Courses?
The answer to this question depends on your personal interests. If you’d rather pursue a career providing therapy or counseling services for individuals, the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology might be your better option. On the other hand, a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology is probably more appropriate to pursue if you find yourself drawn toward the study of gender, race, religion, class, or other social and cultural issues.
At National University, our sociology and psychology programs are designed to be supportive and flexible, yet rigorous and fast-paced, challenging students to think critically, immerse themselves in the curriculum, complete various practicums, and prepare effectively for state and federal licensing exams. Examples of core classes you’ll be required to complete as a sociology major at National University include Sociology of Deviance (SOC 443), Classical Social Theory (SOC 365), Power and Social Change (SOC 540), and Cultural Pluralism in the USA (SOC 500). By comparison, a psychology major will complete courses such as Counseling Techniques I (PSY 340A), Psychology of Bereavement (PSY 455), Psychological Testing (PSY 431), and Human Sexuality (PSY 469).
In addition to its psychology program, NU’s College of Letters and Sciences also offers related programs in specialized fields of psychology, including the Bachelor of Arts in Sport Psychology and Bachelor of Arts in Integrative Psychology, which focuses on creativity, self-reflection, and other subjective experiences. Undergraduate students with an interest in addiction services can also explore the Undergraduate Certificate in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling.
For experienced professionals who are interested in advancing their careers, there are also multiple tracks for graduate students to explore, including the Master of Arts in Human Behavior, Master of Arts in Sports and Performance Psychology, and Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology. In addition, students may wish to pair a minor in psychology or minor in sociology with one of more than 75 dynamic programs NU offers.
Earn Your Degree in Sociology or Psychology from National University
Hopefully, this comparison has provided you with a clearer understanding of sociological perspectives vs. psychological perspectives, how they differ from one another, and how those differences might affect your choice of major or career. For more information about our graduate or undergraduate programs in sociology, psychology, and other social sciences, contact the National University admissions office today and take the first step toward your future.