Are you thinking of studying Sociology?

Image shows London, with terraced houses in the foreground and skyscrapers in the background.

Sociology is the study of society and human social behaviour: the wide range of things that govern our interactions with one another.
It addresses society from the perspectives of culture, history, politics and psychology, looking at how people operate socially, from religious groups to office politics. Students will also look at how social problems such as racism arise and can be tackled.
Despite how fascinating this subject is, if you google ‘sociology degree’, the first suggestion is ‘sociology degree useless’. It is true that a sociology degree is seldom a route to becoming rich (though, as we’ve stated many times in this series, there are a variety of high-earning jobs that are open to graduates of any subject), but this is less because sociology is inherently a poor degree choice and more because the kind of careers that sociology graduates are likely to be interested in, such as social work, counselling and community development, are not highly paid.

What kind of things can I expect to study?

Image shows a jail.
You may have the opportunity to study criminology.

As Sociology is a social science, a significant part of your first year will involve learning about research design and methods, the use of evidence, and other scientific skills. You will gain an introduction to key ideas and thinkers in sociology, and learn about sociological theory in general, seeing its application from the personal to the global. Sociology also offers more interdisciplinary options that most subjects, so you may be able to take a course or two from other faculties, which could range from psychology to gender studies, or more closely related subjects such as politics, international relations or criminology.
In later years, you will be able to choose from a range of modules, and may choose to specialise in a specific sociological issue, such as the sociology of race relations. Examples of optional modules from different universities include “Sociology of Success and Fame” (Birmingham), “Developing Societies: Understanding Development” (Plymouth), “Ideology and Conflict” (Winchester), “Ethnography and Everyday Life” (Cardiff), “Facebook, Twitter and Political Revolution” (Lancaster) and “Education and Social Justice” (Leicester).
It’s worth noting that a Sociology degree can be either a BA or a BSc; some universities will offer one or both, or will even allow you to choose which one you graduate with depending on which modules you study. It’s likely that the content that you study will be much the same regardless of which you study, but the approach may be slightly different with a BSc, requiring more quantitative research, more statistical analysis and a more mathematical mindset generally.

What do I need for a Sociology degree?

Image shows a compass on a map.
Geography can be a good choice of A-level for prospective Sociology students.

No particular A-levels are required for Sociology. It’s a good idea to take at least one of the broader spectrum of science or science-related A-levels – Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Maths, Psychology, Sociology, Geography or Geology – as even BA Sociology is reasonably scientific, and you should be sure that you enjoy scientific analysis. However, if the rest of your A-levels are humanities, that’s fine; it may be of benefit to have a balance of sciences and humanities.
On a related note, it isn’t necessary to take A-level Sociology. As is usually the case with A-levels that aren’t offered everywhere, if your school does offer it, it may be advantageous to you personally to take it in order to be sure it’s a subject you enjoy. However  it is by no means compulsory, and your university application will not be disadvantaged if you don’t take it.
Other than the specific qualifications required, having an open-minded, tolerant, interested attitude towards the world around you is important for prospective Sociology students.

What skills will I acquire?

Image shows someone working on a laptop.
Students often undervalue the computer skills they learn in their degrees, but those skills are appreciated by employers.

As a Sociology graduate, you’ll have learned about a wide variety of societies, social situations and social pressures, and will be able to respond to them appropriately. You’ll have gained transferable skills in research, presentation, statistical analysis and possibly more scientific skills such as experimental design as well. You will be able to assess difficult situations from a perspective that is both dispassionate and sensitive. You will also have the usual graduate skills from computer skills to the ability to make reasoned arguments.

Will I get to travel as part of my degree?

Sociology degrees don’t usually require you to travel, but travel is frequently an option. This might include spending a year or a semester abroad, or building up your work experience with a placement year in industry. However, these options are not offered by all universities, so if travel is an important part of the university experience for you, it’s best to find out before applying if the universities you’re interested in make this option available.

What careers are possible with a Sociology degree?

Image shows a family walking through a cornfield.
Social work is a popular career for Sociology graduates.

Sociology has something of an undeserved reputation for offering poor job prospects. While graduate starting salaries are low (a fact that can sometimes be masked by Sociology’s inclusion in the category of ‘social sciences and law’, where Law graduates bring up the average pay considerably) and Sociology graduates are frequently employed in non-graduate roles, graduate unemployment itself is not especially high.
Popular careers for Sociology graduates are often in the areas of caring, legal, social and welfare work. Such roles might include being an advice worker, charity fundraiser, youth worker or probation officer. Education is also a popular direction, as is working in the Civil Service.

Related degrees

Students thinking of studying Sociology might also want to consider:

  • Politics – the two subjects are sufficiently closely related that students of either can often take modules of each other’s courses.
  • Geography – the study of human Geography can have a lot of overlap with Sociology, and the subject crosses the divide between the sciences and the humanities in a similar way.

A final thought on Sociology

It’s interesting to note that while Sociology is sometimes derided as an easy, pointless degree, it has a sizeable overlap with subjects such as Economics, Politics and even Law – all of which are accorded much more respect. It is worth bearing this in mind if you are considering Sociology as an option and might otherwise be put off by tabloid articles mocking the subject. The work that is usually done by Sociology graduates is almost universally lauded as vital to the functioning of our society.  Even if that is not the kind of career you ultimately end up choosing, the understanding of the world around you that is gained from a Sociology degree is likely to stand you in good stead in whichever direction you pursue.

Image credits: banner; prison; Geography; computer; family.