Though similar in many respects, students who pursue studies in sociology or psychology will develop somewhat differing skills and career prospects. Both fields involve understanding human behavior, and both teach the skills necessary to enter a wide range of career paths.
Pending your individual tastes, intellectual curiosity, and career goals, you might find one field better suited to you than the other. But what are the most important differences? What kind of careers in sociology and psychology can you find, and how can you make an informed decision when choosing? Understanding the nuanced differences between the two can help.
What’s the Difference Between Sociology and Psychology?
Psychology is the study of mental processes and behavior. It answers questions about what people do and understanding why — such as, the mental processes behind their behavior. Psychology is oriented towards understanding the individual and how the individual relates to the group.
By contrast, sociology is a study of systems and society. It investigates macro-level issues like poverty, food deserts, and unemployment. How do these structures behave within society, and what perpetuates them? It’s a big picture look at humans within the context of their society: how the group relates to the individual.
Sociology studies the anthill; psychology studies the ants. But what does that mean in practice? And what kind of theories, skills, or ideas would you learn in each degree?
Sociology vs Psychology: What Sociology Students Learn
Sociology looks past individual differences to examine societies through a variety of group associations, including social class, religion, age, gender, sexuality, race, and more. In doing so, sociologists try to answer questions about current social issues. For example, how will new variables affect the wellbeing of a broader community?
A sociologist uses scientific methods to answer social questions, to learn about the way diverse communities interact with each other, and how social change occurs over time. Coursework may hone in on topics like globalization, race and ethnicity, diversity and inequality, methods of research, and social problems.
Graduates of a sociology program learn to distinguish between sociological research methods, describe social constructs, and learn to apply major theories to an understanding of the real world. As a foundation for understanding the rapidly globalizing world around us, studying this field helps students develop analytical problem solving, critical thinking, and communication skills.
Psychology vs Sociology – What Psychology Students Learn
Psychology looks into the mind of the individuals that make up a society or culture, focusing on social and emotional factors like memory, anger, intelligence, aging, and stress. Students learn more about the cognitive and emotional capabilities of individuals, the development of the brain, and how all those elements interact to influence human behavior.
Coursework often includes topics like human development, statistics, mental illness, personality, and the psychology of learning. Graduates learn to explain behavior, cognition, and emotional responses, from multiple perspectives; to analyze statistical procedures, identify problems, evaluate evidence, analyze assumptions, and apply research methods to help people come to terms with any of their behaviors they hope to better understand and deal with.
Career Paths in Sociology and Psychology
When people think about careers in psychology or sociology, they usually imagine a psychiatrist and a sociologist. But a better understanding of human behavior and the way social systems work can be applied to an enormous range of industries.
Students in both fields also develop transferable skills in research, written/verbal communication, & analytical ability. Those skills allow you to work for advocacy groups or non-profits, governmental agencies, and countless parts of the private sector.
Marketing, sales, PR, HR, real estate,social services, criminal justice, law, health and social services are all just a few industries where a psychology or sociology degree can add a layer of human understanding to best work with different people and spheres of the public.
Historically, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the most common careers for people with a psychology degree include:
- 20% social services or public affairs
- 21% administrative support
- 14% education
- 10% business
- 10% sales
- 9% service personnel
- 5% health professions
- 3% computer science, biological science
Likewise, according to the American Sociological Association, about a quarter of those with a bachelor’s degrees in sociology end up working in social services, as counselors, or as psychologists, about a third in clerical/administrative support or management, and about one in ten work in sales/marketing.
It’s worth noting that while a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for a huge range of career paths for psychology and sociology students, research positions will typically require a graduate degree. But what kind of careers in sociology and psychology might you find with a bachelor’s degree?
BA Careers in Sociology and Psychology
Clinical Social Worker – A career path in social work is one of the most common jobs for both sociology and psychology degrees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical social workers have a $50,470 median annual wage. With a staggering 25% projected growth over the next decade, there’s a particularly high demand for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers – Understanding people and the way groups interrelate is essential to marketing, advertising, promotions, and other branches of corporate communication. After several years of experience from an entry-level position, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the median annual salary of these positions to be $135,900.
Human Resources Manager – Nearly every industry needs qualified human resources (HR) personnel to coordinate, plan, and help improve the various administrative functions of an organization. The skills acquired by a sociology or psychology degree are perfect for heading into a career in HR. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for an HR manager is $116,720.
Marriage and Family Therapists – Similar to social work, becoming a marriage or family therapist provides a chance to help others improve and manage their social relationships. According to the BLS, this field is anticipating above-average growth, with a median annual income of $49,610.
Additional career paths for those with a sociology or psychology degree may include school counselor, clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, or a forensic psychologist.
Sociology vs Psychology: How to Choose?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the median annual earnings of recent graduates with a bachelor’s in psychology is $41,400. That’s marginally lower than sociology, which comes in at $43,100. Similarly, in 2018, the average unemployment rate for all bachelor’s degrees was 2.9%, while those with a psychology degree had a rate of 3.2% and those with a sociology degree had an unemployment rate of 2.7%. Psychology degrees are nearly twice as common as sociology degrees, which can make the latter more valuable in some circumstances.
However, outside of career path differences, choosing between sociology vs psychology will also come down to a matter of personal interest. If you want to learn more about social structures and human society at the macro-level, sociology will be worth exploring. If you’re more interested in learning about individual human behavior within those macro-level social structures, then psychology might be more appropriate for your intellectual curiosity.
Sociology and Psychology Programs at National University
A sociology degree or a psychology degree can put you on a rewarding career path that allows you to work with people from all walks of life and help to solve problems. Earning a degree in either of these disciplines is the first step you can take along this career journey.
National University is a regionally accredited university that offers both a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Intensive four-week courses make it possible to finish your degree faster while focusing your attention on one topic at a time. If you’re ready to learn more about careers in psychology or sociology, contact our admissions office today.
- American Psychological Association
- American Sociological Association
- BLS: Marriage & Family Therapists
- BLS: Substance Abuse / Mental Health Counselors
- BLS: Clinical Social Worker
- BLS: HR Manager
- BLS Advertising/Promotions/Marketing Manager
- BLS HR Manager
- National Center for Education Statistics
- California U Long Beach (Old NCES data about psychology degrees)