How To Become a Sociologist

Updated July 21, 2022

The field of sociology focuses on how people shape societal groups and how these social structures influence individuals. The professionals who study sociology provide valuable insights to many important fields, such as economy and politics. Sociologists also work closely with social workers and policymakers to improve people's lives. If you are interested in people and how they organize themselves into groups and societies, a career as a sociologist may be a good fit.

In this article, we explore what a sociologist does, how to pursue this career and some commonly asked questions to help you learn more.

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What does a sociologist do?

Sociologists are professionals who study the social behavior of humans and investigate different kinds of social formations, such as families, nations, religions, organizations, cultural groups and institutions. These professionals are interested in finding out how societies develop, how segments within societies are shaped and how they interact with each other. Sociologists also study the effects that laws, social institutions and societal norms have on individuals within groups.

Sociologists gather their primary data by conducting interviews and social surveys or by observing participants. They also consult secondary sources like newspapers, the web and research papers of other specialists. The typical duties of a sociologist may also include:

  • Developing research projects with the aim of furthering knowledge in a specific field or improving the lives of target groups

  • Collecting data analysis to draw conclusions

  • Writing research papers and articles, preparing reports and sharing research findings at seminars

  • Sharing valuable research insights with other professionals, such as social workers, educators and policymakers, who can directly apply the research in their work improving people's lives and decreasing social problems

Average salary for sociologists

The salaries of sociologists vary depending on the field, the type of job and the location. Although data is not currently available for sociologists, we can supply salary information for sociologists who opt for a career in academia and research:

  • Assistant professor: $63,343 per year

  • Researcher: $77,562 per year

  • Associate professor: $82,637 per year

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How to become a sociologist

The minimum requirement to become a sociologist is a Master's Degree in Sociology, although many professionals carry doctoral degrees. Here are the steps you should take if you want a career in sociology:

  1. Complete an undergraduate degree

  2. Choose a career field

  3. Obtain a master's degree

  4. Gain practical experience

  5. Opt for a Ph.D.

  6. Get certified

1. Complete an undergraduate degree

The first step in becoming a sociologist involves obtaining a degree, such as a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology that includes coursework in sociology, social statistics, research methods and social theory. Candidates can also opt for degrees in other disciplines, such as anthropology, psychology or political science, as these are all concerned with human behavior and overlap with the field of sociology. An undergraduate degree typically requires four years of study.

2. Choose a career field

Before you continue your studies, decide whether you want a career in academia, which entails working as a professor or as an independent researcher at a university or an institute, or if you want to enter the workforce.

Studying sociology equips candidates with many useful skills, such as designing research projects, collecting and interpreting data and experience in working with data analysis software. You could apply these skills in many careers, such as those in:

  • Business

  • Higher education, both in teaching or student services

  • Social services

  • Government agencies

  • Nonprofits

  • Scientific research and development services

  • Management, scientific and technical consulting services

Related: Learn More About Being a Social Worker

3. Obtain a master's degree

Once you reach the graduate level, you can choose one of two available programs: traditional or applied. A traditional master's program prepares candidates for a Ph.D. and is the applicable educational path for those who aim to teach at universities or colleges or want to conduct independent research. Candidates who want to enter the workforce should opt for an applied master's degree.

Master's programs vary in requirements and focus but most programs consist of a core set of foundational courses and a thesis or independent research component. The core coursework typically includes classical and contemporary theory, research methodology and statistical analysis. A master's degree typically takes two years of full-time study to complete.

Related: Master's Degree: Definition, Elements and Benefits

3. Gain practical experience

Master's programs typically provide students with opportunities to gain practical experience through internships. Students who are enrolled in a traditional master's program may work as an assistant for a research sociologist, whereas a candidate who is completing an applied master's degree could conduct interviews for a marketing company.

4. Opt for a Ph.D.

Candidates who wish to enter the world of academia, whether as a lecturer or a researcher, may need to complete a doctoral degree. A Ph.D. program typically focuses on sociological theories and research methods and becoming familiar with the work of important theorists and sociologists. After students have completed their coursework and demonstrated their knowledge in an exam, they write a dissertation that must contain original research. A Ph.D. normally takes between three to four years to complete.

5. Get certified

You can enhance your career by adding certification to your qualifications. The Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology awards two different certifications, including:

  • Certified Sociological Practitioner: This certification is given to candidates who have demonstrated their competency as sociological practitioners in the fields of applied, clinical or engaged public sociology.

  • Certified Clinical Sociologist: This designation is for sociologists who have applied sociological perspectives and analysis to affect positive social change.

Applicants for both certifications must either hold a master's or a Ph.D. and submit a portfolio that includes their practice background, current practice, ethical position and recommendations from people that know them as practitioners. Selected applicants must give a presentation before final approval. If the panel approves the application, the applicant becomes a certified member and can add the designation to their qualifications.

Frequently asked questions

What are the different fields in sociology?

There are a variety of fields in sociology, including:

  • Clinical sociology: Clinical sociologists do social work in the field and get involved with community services and public health campaigns to assist with housing and trauma services among others.

  • Political sociology: This is a field that encompasses both sociology and political studies. Political sociologists study things like state formation, forms of political rule and major social policies.

  • Economic sociology: Economic sociologists are concerned with the relationship between societies, economic activities and the institutions that condition these activities.

  • Applied sociology: Also called "practical sociology," practitioners of applied sociology apply theories and research to sociological methods to try and find solutions for problems in societies.

  • Research: This field involves the gathering and analyzing of sociological data through different methods, such as observation, survey, case study and experimental research.

What is the work environment of sociologists like?

Sociologists can work in various fields, which means that the work environments of these professionals vary. The job may involve going out into the field to conduct surveys and interviews, working behind a desk analyzing data and writing reports, meeting with colleagues and other professionals and presenting research results. In general, most sociologists, however, work a 40-hour week and have regular hours.

What skills do sociologists need?

The following are useful skills for sociologists:

  • Communication and interpersonal skills: As the job often requires working with people, sociologists must have good people skills and the ability to communicate with all population groups and classes.

  • Curiosity: In general, sociologists should have a natural interest in people and their social behavior.

  • Analytical ability: To do research work well, sociologists also need strong analytical, mathematical and statistical abilities and should have the capacity to think critically and creatively.

  • Writing skills: As these professionals also need to record their research and write papers, they also need to write well.

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