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Defining sociology; career information for sociology students

What is sociology?
Sociology is the study of social life, including all forms of social interaction and relationships.

What do sociologists do?
Sociologists study human behavior as it occurs in and is influenced by social groups, institutions, organizations, and societies, as well as by social conditions. For example, they examine ways in which social characteristics/categories (such as age, class, gender, race and ethnicity, sexuality) and social institutions (such as economics, education, family, media, politics, religion, sport) affect human attitudes, actions, and opportunities. Sociology is practiced in many careers, such as research, academia, business, law, social services, medicine, and government. (Psychology, on the other hand, is the study of individual behavior and mental processes. Psychologists focus on the behavior of individuals (alone or in groups) rather than the groups or aggregates themselves.)

What is the focus of UofL's Sociology Department?
Our Department focuses its research and teaching around the theme of diversity and inequality -- the significant ways in which people and groups differ from one another, particularly in terms of social characteristics/categories. By focusing on diversity and inequality, we help to advance a deeper understanding of differences among peoples, which is essential to the implementation of fair social policy and democratic society. (Read the Department's Mission Statement.)

What is the difference between sociology and social work?
Although sociology and social work are related fields, they differ in that the objective of the sociology program is to provide students with skills necessary to understand problems inherent in societal relationships and subsequently attempt to solve them. The objective of social work is to prepare students for careers in social and human services.

In other words, sociology is an academic discipline focuses on preparing students for inquiry into and research of various social issues, and social work is a professional activity that seeks to intervene in "the relationships between people and their environment in order to improve the quality of life for individuals, families, communities, or organizations" (UofL's Kent School of Social Work).

What can a student do with a degree in sociology?
Career opportunities in sociology are unlimited. Whereas a degree in social work prepares a student to work specifically in the field of social work, a degree in sociology (bachelor's and/or a master's) can lead to a variety of careers, especially given the skills inherent in liberal arts training. As our world continuously evolves, sociology majors are well prepared to offer insight into these changes and how best to accommodate them.

Therefore, sociology students can pursue careers in: business, child welfare, computer industry, criminal justice, education (teaching, evaluation research, consultation, or research), entrepreneurship, gerontology, health care, international relations, law, law enforcement, the military, military intelligence, state or federal government, social service agencies, social work, and urban planning or management.

Students are also encouraged to read a recent article by Daniel Little, entitled "Why a sociology major?"  Dr. Little is a professor of philosophy and Chancellor of University of Michigan-Dearborn and details the benefits of a sociology degree to the workforce.

How does a student decide if sociology is the right major?
Students should begin by asking themselves if they are interested in: different groups and how individuals and/or groups interact? learning about social problems/issues? developing social policies? helping people who are disadvantaged?

Students should then review both the course requirements for sociology majors as well as the course schedule for the entire academic year, and discern whether or not they have a general interest in sociology courses, such as the following sociology electives:

      Application of Sociology:  applied sociology, sociology internship, voluntarism

     Cities/Communities:  urban sociology, rural sociology

     Criminology:  criminology, social deviance, juvenile delinquency

     Economy/Occupations:  industrial sociology, occupations and organizations

     Global Issues:  global poverty; globalization, culture and Third World development; comparative sociology

     Medical Sociology:  mental health and illnessexperiences of health and illness, the healthcare system, medical demography, sociology of disabilities

     Population/Planning/Policy:  demography, community organization, public policy and social services

     Social Institutions/Social Interests:  sociology of families, sociology of music, sociology of religion, sociology of sportsociology of educationpolitical sociology, visual sociology, sociology of leisure, animals and society

     Social Problems/Issues:  race in the US; social problems, human sexuality, environmental sociology, aging, death/dying, family violencesocial change, social stratification, race and ethnicity

     Women's Studies:  sociology of gender; women and work; sociology of women's health; gender, race, work, and welfare; women: an international perspective; Gender in the Middle East

Students who answered yes to any of the questions and are intrigued by many of the elective courses should consider sociology as their major.


For further guidance, students should visit the the American Sociological Association. Their website offers additional information on pursuing sociology as a major, including career information.  Students are also encouraged to do an online search for "sociology careers" and review the numerous career information sites available from other universities, such as: Rogers State University and Portland State University.

Finally, if students wish to seek personal guidance in determining of sociology is right for them, they should contact Dr. Jonetta Weber, Director of Academic Services, at or (502) 852-8028.

We hope to see you in a sociology class soon!


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