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Careers in Sociology, Social Science, and Ethnic Studies

Commencement cap with words hire me painted on top

There are a number of reasons for deciding upon a major or a specific set of classes, and all of our students come at their studies from a sense of altruism, of service to community, and of self-discovery. But preparing for a career is of course central to most students. Whatever your motivations for completing a major or minor in the sociology department, keeping career plans in mind will help you get the most out of your education. Too often students ask “What can I do with this major?” The first question should be: “What do I want of my future?” Only then does it make sense to ask: “Which major and minor will best help me get there?”

As you plan your academic  program, make sure that your conversations with your advisor always include discussion of your professional goals.

What can I do with a Sociology Degree?

Boise State graduates in Sociology have taken jobs in many areas: juvenile rehabilitation, community organizing, non-profit organizations, police officers, and more. Some students go on to graduate school to complete master’s degrees or doctorates in a variety of fields. Recent Boise State graduates have chosen to do graduate work fields such as: law, public administration, sociology, communication, race and ethnic relations, and gender studies. The career center offers a comprehensive list on the Career Services website.

To explore your options, take advantage of all the resources available to you: come talk to faculty during our office hours, and visit the Boise State Career Center. A free online resource that can help match your interests to a particular career can be on the Career Services Website.

Why do a Sociology Undergraduate Degree?

Many applied fields are grounded in sociological theories and concepts. Sociological research influences the way we think about work and organizational life, and enables us to discover new knowledge. Sociology is a valuable preparation for careers in modern organizational settings.

Most people who think of themselves as “sociologists” or have the word “sociologist” in their job title, have graduate training, but an B.S in sociology apply the sociological perspective to a wide variety of jobs in such sectors as business, the health professions, the criminal justice system, social services, and government.

Planning Your Internship/Practicum

Internships and practicums (along with Service Learning opportunities available in the Sociology Department) offer excellent opportunity to explore career options and gain practical experience. Students learn a variety of skills through direct participation in settings where sociological concepts, methods and theories are applied. Such experiences also offer a way to build your resume and enhance prospects for employment after graduation. Many of our students have found jobs at their internship/practicum sites!

Job Search Strategies

Don’t wait until the last minute! Starting in your junior year, you can prepare for your career in the following ways:

  • Learn how to research careers, promote your skills and prepare a resume and cover letter.
  • Attend Boise State job fairs.
  • Use the Career Center’s Discover Career Guidance System to find a good career fit for yourself.
  • A list of other Career Center resources can help you learn how to research companies.
  • Go on informational interviews – contact someone who works in a field of interest and ask them about that career. Faculty can help point you in the right direction.

Career-Related Resources

  • Boise State Career Center
  • Careers in Sociology – A book by W. Richard Stephens, Jr. – Answers the often-asked question, “What can I do with a degree in sociology?”
  • Careers in Criminal Justice and more! – Career opportunities in the field of juvenile/criminal justice, including law, policing, the courts and corrections. Also careers in government, planning, public administration, research, teaching, and community activism
  • The Corrections Connection – The largest on-line resource for news and resources in corrections, including job openings
  • Career Guide to Industries – Career information by industry for over 42 industries, including nature of the industry, working conditions, occupations in the industry, training and advancement, earnings & benefits, employment outlook. Browse Social Services, Management & Public Relations, & more.

Skills That Employers Look For

Interviews conducted by the American Sociological Association (ASA) with several major corporations and small businesses confirm that employers look for the following skills when they screen entry-level candidates. Many of these are skills that sociology graduates should have acquired at least to some extent. These are functional skills and can be transferred from one setting to another:

  • Communication skills, or the ability to express yourself in both verbal and written form. Employers are looking for people who are “comfortable expressing themselves and their ideas in clear, concise, and meaningful language.” If you have written term papers, given class reports, or participated in group projects, you can state that you have developed and refined your communication skills.
  • Interpersonal skills, including the ability to share leadership and responsibility, work cooperatively, and get along with co-workers. Employers seek graduates who can work on task forces and self-managed task teams, but are also capable of initiating ideas and pursuing a project independently. Many organizations stress a consumer-oriented approach that involves “people who will be good at networking and affiliating.”
  • Leadership skills, or the ability to influence people. Being able to recruit and motivate others toward their top performance is a plus. Leadership includes “tenacity, flexibility, tolerance for risk-taking, and the ability to function well in undefined situations.” Employers value those who help other employees adapt to changing priorities within an organization and who can anticipate change.”
  • Analytical skills, particularly problem-solving ability and sharp, critical thinking. These skills are a plus for all kinds of duties and projects.
  • Statistics and research design, especially for in-house research. Organizations value an employee who can work with others to define a problem or research question, design a study to find answers, design the appropriate instruments, code and analyze the data, report (orally and in writing) on the findings, and make recommendations based on the findings. Being able to conceptualize a project from inception to conclusion is the key.
  • Computer literacy, including familiarity with word processing, data analysis, and graphics. Most organizations will train you on their own systems–what they really want is employees who are not computer-shy.
  • Cross-cultural understanding, especially regarding racial, ethnic, and gender differences in values, perceptions, and approaches to work. Employers need workers who can understand and operate within the context of cultural and other diversities. According to several executives interviewed by ASA, corporations increasingly seek employees “who hold a global perspective and have a high degree of intercultural awareness and more sensitivity in race relations”. A global outlook is valued: “We need people who are free of traditional stereotypes.”
  • Business sense, especially in combination with technical training and good interpersonal skills. Employers need employees who have “business savvy” and knowledge of advanced quality processes and general principles of performance management.

In addition, the desires to achieve, work hard, and function ethically are increasingly held by employers as important attributes.

Other Skills That Sociology Students Acquire

In addition to basic functional skills as listed above, a sociology B.S. provides more specialized transferable skills that can be highlighted in your resume. For example:

  • Classical and Contemporary Theory courses provide training in analytical thought and tighten your grasp on central sociological concepts and theories.
  • Statistics, Applied Sociology, and computer-based Social Data Analysis courses contribute to your ability to conceptualize problems and develop research strategies. Such courses help prepare you for working in government research offices, public opinion polling agencies, marketing firms and other research or program development settings.
  • Group Process, Social Psychology or Social Structure courses increase your understanding of team dynamics and informal organization; they also help you develop such interpersonal attributes as empathy and tolerance toward diversity in interpersonal styles and group roles.
  • Social Problems courses contribute broadly to many careers, as they address the most critical issues facing North American society today, including crime, substance abuse, violence against women, poverty, homelessness, and AIDS.
  • Minority Groups and Race Relations courses help to develop a keen understanding the complexities of diversity in modern society. This will benefit you generally in any position and specifically if you are seeking employment in the human resources department of a firm or agency with a multiracial work force and/or a multicultural clientele, or plan to work in ethnically diverse communities.
  • Urban Sociology, Community Sociology, and Sociology of Education courses can be put to good use in an urban planning agency or working with youth.
  • Criminology, Sociology of Law, Women and Justice, Sociology of Adolescence, Crime and Criminal Justice offer valuable preparation for jobs in agencies that deal with criminal justice, probation, parole, juvenile delinquency, gangs, crime statistics, and policing.
  • Other areas: If you are planning a career in business, it might be advantageous to supplement your sociology courses with a few courses in economics, management, marketing, accounting, and so forth. Computer science courses are also useful, especially if they enhance your data analysis skills. If you are interested in a career in the social service sector, a few psychology courses can be an asset. Political science is useful if you are considering a career in public administration.

Reference: American Sociological Association