Washington, DC About Sociology Graduate Programs
Sociology graduate programs teach students to use scientific principles to understand how societies function and explore ways to use the resulting knowledge to encourage social change.
Bringing together different aspects of psychology and anthropology, sociology programs discuss the values, biases, and behaviors of social groups. Students might learn to analyze where these elements come from, and identify ways they influence social organization. While many programs are research-oriented, some may also be practitioner-based, focusing on applying research data strategically to effect change.
Sociology graduate programs might result in masters or doctorate degrees, or graduate certificates. Students may also study in a variety of convenient online and graduate school formats, to accommodate each student’s lifestyle and learning needs.
What is a Sociologist?
A sociologist is somebody dedicated to understanding how different parts of society interact, and why people behave the way they do in groups. As such, sociology is both a scientific field and an interdisciplinary one. Diverse topics like psychology, communication, and statistical analysis are all important components in what makes sociology unique. Sociology concepts and skills could be useful in a variety of contexts, from academic research, to business, policy, human services, and more.i
Sociology graduate programs usually emphasize research and analysis skills, such as how to write and conduct surveys and representative samplings, to prepare students to take on a variety of sociology related roles. This is alongside other varied topics, including socioeconomics, government, global conflict, racial and cultural diversity, and more. Overall, sociology programs promote values of diversity, empathy, and learning—and also the ability to set those feelings aside and conduct unbiased research.
We asked Liese Sherwood-Fabre, Ph.D. how sociology graduate programs can lead to a rewarding career:
"With a PhD in sociology focused on research, I have held various positions involving projects related to issues in health, education, and population. Some of the most exciting aspects of my work included working and living abroad for more than ten years. The most rewarding have been the impact my efforts have had on the lives of some of the most vulnerable in the US and internationally. Looking back at more than thirty years of applied sociological research and theory, I cannot think of a more fulfilling career."
~Liese Sherwood-Fabre, Ph.D.Click to Tweet
Example Course Topics in Sociology Graduate Programs
One of the central topics of sociology is the diversity of human communities. So it’s no wonder that sociology programs also tend to have a fairly diverse curriculum to go along with it. After all, people and society are complex, and understanding them requires a broad array of skills and knowledge.
Here are some examples of the types of courses you might find in your program of choice.
- Formal Organizations and Bureaucracy: This type of course discusses the organizational structures people create, particularly in a business context. It might cover different types of organizations, the advantages and challenges of each variation, and how those imposed social structures influence society as a whole.
- Collective Behavior: Human behavior is influenced by group dynamics in many different ways. Collective behavior courses look not only at spontaneous group behavior (like social trends and riots), but also at more organized variations. This could include collective bargaining, protests, and other demonstrations.
- Social Stratification: This topic centers on social hierarchies and how they impact the people involved in them. Examples include working class versus the wealthy in society, employer/employee relationships, and the experiences of various minority groups.
- Politics and Society: Politics play a huge role in how day-to-day society functions, influencing law, policy, public opinion, the economy and more. Courses like this one examine the complex relationship politics has with social systems. They may also discuss how best to study that relationships from a research standpoint.
- Socioeconomics: This interdisciplinary topic discusses not just how collective behavior and social organization impact the economy, but also how the economy influences, maintains, or challenges social hierarchies. This type of course might especially focus on poverty and how it impacts social development, social advancement, and the distribution of wealth and services.
- Society and Mental Health: Mental illness could have a huge impact on the way individuals interact with society. But the relationship could be more complex than that. Sociology programs may spend time studying not only the impact society has on mental illness and its prevalence, but also mental health and social stratification, socioeconomic factors, and more. Similar courses may also be offered concerning society and physical or public health issues.
- Culture-Specific Courses: Each social group is unique. That’s what makes sociology so interesting! That’s why sociology graduate programs often offer a series of electives centering on specific social or religious groups, cultures, and ethnicities.
- Human Rights & Social Justice: This brings an element of service to sociology. Topics discussed may include the important role human rights play in peace, international cooperation, and global prosperity. Courses may also touch on different philosophies surrounding human rights, and ways to address social justice issues.
Course names and availability vary by program. Contact prospective sociology graduate programs for complete course listings.
Types of Sociology Degrees
Many sociology major students choose to continue their education beyond their bachelors degree. Which degree they aspire to depends heavily on their particular interests and motivations for doing so. Some might want to leverage their sociology expertise to help people and advise organizations in doing so. Others may want to perform research, while some maybe just love to learn. Each of those aspirations—and others not mentioned here—might be supported by a sociology graduate program.
Sociology Masters Programs
Sociology masters programs typically confer either a Master of Science (MS) or a Master of Arts (MA) degree. The differences between these two options could be minimal, as both programs typically emphasize classical and contemporary sociology theory and research methodology. However, occasionally, the type of degree might tell you something about the curriculum. For example, a master of science in sociology program might lean more toward analytical skills and the science behind why people behave the way they do. Whereas a master of arts program might emphasize other skills, like cultural awareness and communication. Masters in sociology programs might also offer a thesis or non-thesis track.
Some sociology masters progams allow students to specialize in one of several areas to further focus their studies. Potential concentrations include criminal justice, family studies, social policy, urban studies and education. A concentration will likely influence the program's curriculum and requirements. While every school is unique, generally it takes about 2 years of full time study to earn a masters degree in sociology. Applicants may need a bachelors degree and a minimum GPA. Masters in sociology programs may also ask for a resume, letters of recommendation or additional test scores. Contact schools to learn more.
Doctorate in Sociology Programs
Earning a doctorate in sociology, your experience depends heavily on your area of interest and course of study. That’s because most PhD programs in sociology are research based—meaning your topic of choice has a big influence on what you learn and the types of courses you take. Because research is generally such a big component in earning a sociology PhD, your curriculum is likely to include a number of courses centered on research practices and methodology. That could include things like survey design, writing survey questions effectively, representative sampling, and statistical analysis and weighting. Doctorate programs typically also include a dissertation requirement. However, every program is unique so contact an admission advisor to confirm details.
Sociology Graduate Certificate Programs
Sociology graduate certificate programs tend to focus on a unique topic of interest rather than spanning the field as a whole. For example, somebody might choose to earn a sociology certificate focused on family dynamics, disability in society, gender, or honing in on certain social research skills. These programs tend to require relatively few courses to complete, as compared to masters and doctoral programs, and may therefore be shorter in length. They might be offered at either the masters or doctoral level. This indicates both the types of courses in the curriculum and the minimum education prerequisite to attend. For more information on your options and requirements, reach out to the program you’re thinking about attending.
Human Development Sociology Graduate Programs
Human Development, a subset of sociology, examines the relationship between people as they grow and change, specifically through relationships and environmental factors. As such, human development programs typically place a strong emphasis on developmental psychology. They may also touch on neuroscience and cognition, among other topics.
Some human development graduate programs may allow students to focus on more specific research areas. For example, some might study how people’s interaction with society changes as they age. Others might look at how cognitive health is impacted by social behavior. Or even how emotional, cognitive and social development of young children in different types of communities.
Human development masters and doctoral programs may be available, as well as graduate certificate programs, in a variety of convenient formats.
Sociology Graduate Program Formats
Sociology graduate programs are offered in a variety of formats. That way, they could potentially accommodate students from all walks of life. Whether you’re busy with family or working full time and need a ton of flexibility, or learn better on a regular schedule sitting in a physical classroom, a variety of options could be out there for you to consider. These could be sorted down into two essential categories.
- Online Programs: Online sociology graduate programs emphasize flexibility in their design. By offering courses through internet-based modules, they enable students to study when and where works for them. One thing to watch out for when selecting your online sociology program: some programs may include offline elements. In-person elements could include campus-based courses or short residencies, field experience, or thesis or dissertation presentations. Sometimes these typies of programs are referred to as hybrid or blended learning, as they contain components of both the online and on campus format.
- On Campus Programs: On campus programs may also be referred to as sociology graduate school programs. Studying on campus could be an attractive option for students who prefer a little more stability in their schedule. Campus programs allow students to study in a classroom format, on an established schedule. Plus, students may have easier access to campus facilities, faculty and research support. Some sociology graduate school programs may offer some online course options, granting additional flexibility to students who choose to take advantage of that option.
What Can You Do With A Sociology Degree?
Sociology degrees could support a variety of career paths. While many sociology graduate students look toward the academic path—that is, as research scientists and university faculty—it’s far from the only option. Sociology expertise may also be useful in public and social services, policy, law, and even potentially in business settings.
Here are a few example career paths sociology majors may be interested in. Keep in mind that entry-level requirements may vary on a case by case basis. Some may only require a bachelors degree, or may be accessible with varying education.
- Sociologist: 2016 Median Salary $79,750i
- Postsecondary Teacher: 2016 Median Salary $75,430ii
- Political Scientist/Policy Researcher: 2016 Median Salary $114,290iii
- Social Work: 2016 Median Salary $46,890iv
- Survey Research: 2016 Median Salary: $54,470v
Search Sociology Graduate Programs
Start searching for sociology graduate programs with GradSchools.com! Filter your results using the menu, by selecting your preferred degree level and format. Then review your options! Once you find some programs you think sound promising, click on the program names to read more and request information. Then schedule a visit or start your application!
Sources: [i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/sociologists.htm | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm | [v] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/survey-researchers.htm
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