Humans are a social species, and our cultural, familial or societal connections help define us. Sociologists study these connections to better understand who we are, where we come from and where we are going. In essence, sociology is the study and science of society -- how humans behave together, make connections and move through life, in social, professional, religious or cultural groups. Sociologists work to develop a keen understanding of our activities, interactions, and political and economic tendencies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), sociologists conduct this research using widely accepted scientific methods, reporting their findings for either academic or business gain. Among other duties, sociologists might:
- Design research projects
- Collect data through observation, interviews and surveys
- Analyze results to draw conclusions about the subjects
- Prepare reports or papers detailing their findings
- Coordinate efforts with other researchers, clients or policymakers
The BLS says that many sociologists specialize in areas such as health, crime, race, poverty, education or aging, among others.
How to become a sociologist
Because sociology is a research-intensive science, it's essential to have extensive training. The BLS reports that most sociologists need master's degrees or Ph.D.s in sociology, social services, education or public policy. A Ph.D. is usually required for those who are interested in higher level research or want to teach at the college level. The BLS notes that an undergraduate degree often leads to a position as a sociology research assistant, or it could lead to other fields such as social services, administration, management, or even sales and marketing. Whatever credential one chooses to earn, students may be able to complete some training online.
According to the BLS, most sociology degree programs fall into one of two categories: traditional programs or applied, clinical programs. Which one you choose will depend on your career goals. Traditional programs usually lead to advanced degree programs and academia, while clinical, professional programs prepare you more directly for the workplace.
Sociologist salary and career outlook
Here's an idea of the salary and job growth numbers a sociologist might expect in the coming years:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage|
Since careers for sociologists vary depending on education, experience and location, it's important to research the sociology programs at any college you may be considering. This will help you find a sociology program that suits your career goals.
Long Term Occupational Projections for Sociologists, Projections Central,
Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Sociologists, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 1, 2014,
Sociologists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,