Why do people do what they do? How do group dynamics work — and why do they sometimes fail? What role does gender play in employment opportunities, salaries, and leadership? These are only a few of the many questions professionals in the field of sociology think about and seek to answer. Sociology is a broad discipline in which “everything in the social realm is open for study, including family, marriage, deviance, criminology, group interaction, gender roles, sexuality, work roles, public policy, aging, social inequality, attitude development, and much more.” But, even though the field covers so many topics, what can you do with a bachelor’s in sociology?
The Versatility of a Bachelor’s in Sociology
According to the American Sociological Association (ASA), a bachelor degree in sociology “serves as an excellent springboard for a variety of careers in many diverse fields.” The skills taught in sociology programs like the online degree offered at National University can be applied in many different ways to follow a variety of different career paths.
“I’m a great example of how versatile a degree in sociology can be,” says Dr. Thomas M. Green, a professor in National University’s College of Letters and Sciences. “Teaching here at National is my third career.”
Green says he became interested in sociology early in his years as an undergraduate. “One of my sociology professors did some work at a local penitentiary and we’d go over there with him sometimes,” he recalls. “One day, as part of the work we were doing with the inmates, my school’s JV team played a basketball game against some of the prisoners and I was scared to death. In fact, none of us wanted to rebound against them because we were afraid we’d get hurt. But during a break in the action, I had a chance to talk with some of the inmates and I realized that those guys were a lot like my friends — except they’d done something wrong and had gotten caught.” That moment of understanding was a key factor in Green’s decision to pursue a major in sociology.
After graduating with a bachelor’s in sociology, Green earned his teaching certificate and taught special education classes at a local high school. “This is when the light bulb came on,” he says. “I realized that working with people in this way — helping them to learn and maximize their potential — was what I was meant to do.” However, after teaching for five years, while also earning a master’s degree in education and a master’s degree in sociology, he and his wife moved to Hawaii. During the decade they spent there, Green earned his Ph.D. in sociology and began working for the state’s attorney general’s office where he was in charge of the Uniform Crime Reporting program.
When Green and his wife moved back to southern California, he decided he wanted to combine his love of teaching with his interest in the work he had done for the attorney general’s office. This decision led him to accept a teaching position at National University, where he has had the opportunity to help hundreds of students earn their online degrees in the social sciences — including sociology.
Giving Employers and Students What They Want
The sociology curriculum at National University is based on what employers indicate they want and expect from employees. “They’re looking for job candidates with very good oral and written communication skills, a capability for critical thinking, excellent presentation skills, multidisciplinary thinking, research skills, and the ability to thoroughly evaluate information,” explains Green. “They want problem solvers — those who understand how all of the pieces fit. And that’s what we’re delivering when it comes to National students who graduate with a bachelors in sociology.”
The ASA has found that those with a bachelor degree in sociology also use additional skills and concepts they learned through their studies. They include alternative or critical perspectives, sociological concepts and theories, data analysis, research design, diversity, groups and teams, the impact of social institutions on individuals, and social problems.
While the sociology curriculum at National University is informed by the needs of employers, it’s also inspired by the goals of students. “Our sociology students are focused on making a difference,” says Green. “They like our program because it provides an understanding of diversity and an appreciation of how those who are different from us can bring things to the table that are valuable.”
Sociology majors at National University develop a deep understanding of how social institutions work — including the military, businesses, prisons, and religious organizations. “They learn about social problems and the impact they have on all of us,” says Green. “This is where a lot of sociology majors have light bulbs coming on. Because, for the first time, they begin to understand things like why there are so many kids living on the streets today, why people are complaining about police in certain neighborhoods and all kind of other social issues.”
Where and How Sociology Majors are Making a Difference
In a study conducted by the American Sociological Association, researchers looked at why students choose to pursue a bachelor’s in sociology. They categorized responses into two groups. The first group pursued the degree “to help change society, to understand their own lives, and to understand the relationship between social forces and individuals.” The second group pursued the degree “to prepare for a job or to prepare for graduate school.” At National University, students tend to fall into these two groups.
Regardless of a student’s major, “it’s not the knowledge or information that’s particularly useful,” says Green, it’s how you apply it.” At National University, sociology majors are taught how to take the skills they learn — such as problem-solving, research, empathy, and critical thinking skills — and find ways to successfully apply them to any work environment.
“A lot of our graduates who earn their bachelor’s in sociology work in law enforcement, doing everything from helping at-risk youth to serving as probation officers,” says Green. “We have students who are working as nurses, but want a bachelor’s in sociology so that they can expand their multicultural understanding of the patients they’re working with.” According to Green, other career paths that National University’s sociology majors take include health services, coaching, global NGOs, community service, program evaluation, health and social policy analysis, and education.
The American Sociological Association conducted a study of 2012 graduates with a bachelor degree in sociology to see what types of career paths they would choose. Job categories included social services/counselors, administrative support/clerical, sales/marketing, teachers/librarians, service occupations, other professional fields, management-related careers, and social science researcher.
Work descriptions provided by some of the 575 study respondents reflect the variety of career options open to someone with a background in sociology:
- “I work as an advocate for victims of domestic violence in a public assistance office.”
- “Provide support within different parts of Human Resources (including recruiting, benefits, payroll, and director of HR).”
- “I sell survey software – specifically I sell 360 feedback software.”
- “Assessed the performance of social media strategies as they relate to traffic growth, reader engagement, SEO, sales, and marketing. Created quantitative analyses using advanced Excel, Omniture, Google Analytics, and WordPress.”
- “Counselor for homeless and runaway youth in a shelter.”
- “I plan the events and do all marketing and communication for the mentoring and career services office…”
- “I manage a before and after school program for elementary students that includes activities, lessons, and enrichment.”
- “I am a Kindergarten teacher: I instruct students in the Spanish language.”
The study not only looked at what respondents were doing but where they were working. It found that work environments for these sociology majors included private for-profit companies; private non-profit, tax-exempt, or charitable organizations; local government (e.g., city, county); state government; U.S. government as a civilian employee, U.S. military, and some were self-employed.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), states with the highest employment level in the sociology field include California, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Texas. The BLS that the states that the job outlook for sociologists is projected to remain stable through 2026.
Salaries in the field vary depending on where you work and whether you go on to pursue a master’s degree or a Ph.D. The BLS puts the annual median salary of sociologists at $79,650 nationally and $95,550 in California, but most jobs at those salary levels will require advanced education.
With additional study beyond a bachelor’s in sociology, majors in this field can also go on to pursue careers in social work, law, market research, counseling, public relations, polling, media planning, and other areas.
For students who have already chosen a career path that’s not directly related to sociology, deciding to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sociology can still be very beneficial. “By studying as a sociology major, students who are currently working full-time can gain a broader perspective about the role they’re in,” says Green. “For example, if they’re enlisted in the military, they might find themselves in a culture they’re not used to and are wondering how to get along with those they don’t have much in common with. Studying the principles of sociology can give them the skills they need to succeed.”
Finding a Job in Sociology
It’s clear that a bachelor’s degree in sociology can open up many different career paths. But, how do you find the job that’s right for you?
The ASA offers a number of tips for students who are graduating with a bachelor’s in sociology. First, do your research. What are recent graduates in the field doing? A study conducted by the ASA found that sociology grads with the highest job satisfaction tend to be employed in social services or as counselors, and they also tend to be applying the sociological concepts they learned in school. But, finding the career that fits your particular interests is the goal. “The key is describing how your degree offers the skills employers want.”
Second, the ASA recommends looking at online job boards to search for entry-level positions that are similar to the type of job you want. Once you get your foot in the door, you can work your way up.
Finally, asking for an informational interview with a company or organization you’re interested in provides a wonderful opportunity to expand your network — as does reaching out to professional colleagues you already know. Social media platforms — especially LinkedIn — can be another effective way to make connections with those who are in your field.
What Courses Do Sociology Students Take at National University?
“One of the things I hear from our sociology students here at National is this: ‘I’ve never thought about it that way. There are other forces at work. And now I finally get it.’,” says Green. “They discover a different way to think about the world — and that’s pretty contagious and pretty exciting.”
“We focus on two fundamental concepts within our sociology major at National,” says Green. “The first one is sociological imagination. In other words, you can’t give meaning to your social world unless you broaden your perspective and think about things like how someone’s economic status, personal history, or politics might influence how they view the world.”
The second concept is the social construction of knowledge. “People need to understand that, in the social world, there isn’t anything like the law of gravity that applies to human beings,” says Green. He explained how there are no absolutes—particularly when it comes to the creation of knowledge and impressions. “Most of what we think we know has been socially constructed in a manner that makes sense to certain people in a certain way,” says Green. “For example, those on social media often post things to their timelines that validate how they think or feel about a certain issue. That creates an echo chamber.”
By gaining a thorough understanding of these two concepts —sociological imagination and the social construction of knowledge — “our students learn how to find answers,” says Green. “How do we evaluate the validity of information? What passes for knowledge? What’s ‘fake news’ and what isn’t? These are the types of questions we teach our students how to answer for themselves.”
The majority of the core sociology curriculum at National University conforms to the American Sociological Association’s best practices. Courses focus on topics such as probability and statistics; marriage, sex, and the family; cultural pluralism; social theory; social inquiry; organizational sociology; sociology of deviance; and power and social change.
Those pursuing their bachelor’s in sociology are also required to complete electives related to the major. These courses cover a diverse array of topics, including global communications, gender, violence and society, popular culture, geography, law, intercultural thinking, environmental ethics, the global economy, and social movements.
“What we’re doing is immersing our students in a particular set of sociological concepts, from stratification to human relations, in a way that gives them a deep understanding of what they’re studying,” says Green. “And because students only take one class at a time — finishing each class in a four-week period — they’re able to focus their energy on learning about a single topic rather than splitting their attention among several classes at a time.”
In addition to taking courses, sociology majors at National University are also required to complete a senior project toward the end of their studies. “This is a project that allows students to really put their research skills to use about a specific sociology topic that interests them,” says Green. Topics students have chosen to explore include homelessness, sex education among LGBTQ students, military culture, the relationship between education and income, social service agency program evaluations, policy analysis, immigration, and gender wage gaps.
Green says that at the end of their studies in sociology, students who have earned their bachelor’s in sociology in the online degree program at National University have a great appreciation for the understanding they’ve gained about how to answer questions, the ability to develop more positive relationships with their co-workers and respect the different views they hold, and the skills required to be a successful team member. Some go on to graduate school, where they earn degrees that will allow them to pursue careers in social work, education, and other areas that are directly or indirectly related to sociology.
The Inspiration of Light Bulb Moments
What is it that keeps professors like Tom Green coming back year after year to teach sociology at National University? The answer can be found in what they see in their students.
“For me, it’s the light bulb moments,” says Green. “It’s seeing students, over the course of a month, thinking about things in a different way. It’s teaching them how to make decisions based on their own understanding rather than someone else’s understanding. And it’s about helping them comprehend the complexity of their social world and enabling them to see their place in it.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the world around you and how you fit into it, consider earning a bachelor degree in sociology at National University. Our admission advisors can answer any questions you might have about the program and can guide you through the application process.