Careers in Sociology and Advice For Pursuing Graduate School

Sociology students are those intrigued by the challenging social issues pervading our world, how society influences and is influenced by them, and how to encourage change. They learn how to address these issues through scientific research and application, and, as our world continuously evolves, sociology majors are well prepared to offer insight into these changes and how best to accommodate them.  (Read/Watch Dr. Bendapudi's presentation on the value of a liberal arts degree in a global economy.)

Given the basis in research and focus on diversity and inequality, sociology students develop skills and knowledge employers are seeking:  critical thinking and effective communication skills and the knowledge and ability to conduct ethical research, as well as offer evidence-based analyses and innovative solutions in an increasingly diverse world.  As such, students find employment in a wide variety of fields:  business, child welfare, community services, computer industry, criminal justice, education, gerontology, health care, human resources, international relations, law, leisure/recreation/sport, marketing, military, public health, public/ social policy, social work, urban planning or management…and so much more.

For those planning on moving directly into the workforce:

First, UofL's Career Center offers practical advice to both current students and alumni on career exploration (including sociology), creating a résumé and cover letter, networking, finding available jobs or internships, tips for safe job huntingcareer fairsinterviewing, and much more.  You can also access a collection of diversity resources, as well as resources for military and veterans, and/or make an appointment with one of the career coaches.

Second, students should visit the American Sociological Association's website on career resources and employment opportunities.  These sites are focused specifically on career opportunities for sociology students (undergraduates and graduates) - and remind students that sociology majors are well prepared to handle jobs in the 21st century.

Finally, any current student or alumni wanting to discuss career options in sociology and/or graduation plans is welcome to contact , the Director of Academic Services & Advisor for Undergraduate and Graduate Programs in Sociology.

For those considering or pursuing a graduate or professional degree:

Students who are unsure about pursuing a graduate degree may find Peterson's "A Guide for Potential Grad Students:  Should You Go To Graduate School" useful.  It includes reasons for (and not) attending graduate school; types of programs; ways to balance school with other obligations; online degree programs; funding sources; and calculating your total expenses for graduate school.

Second, UofL's Career Center offers guidance on clarifying goals and school selection, the application process, and paying for graduate school.  Third, elaborating on the Career Center's tips, determine what you consider to be critical features (and potential “deal-breakers”) of the program and of the school, such as:

  • Topical expertise of faculty:  How many faculty are available in your particular area(s) of interest, and will you have an opportunity to take courses and/or work with those faculty? If only one person specializes in your area of interest, is the program still a viable one if that person is not available to advise/guide your thesis, project, or other work? 
  • Size of the program:  What is the faculty-to-student ratio as regards both class size and the number of students each faculty generally works with in a given semester/year.  Will the average class size allow you the type of interaction you seek with faculty and/or other students, and will the faculty have sufficient time to work with you on your thesis, project, or other work?
  • Size/Location of the school:  Do you prefer a larger or smaller campus, one in a larger city or smaller town, and do the local amenities meet your expectations/needs?  Is a move to the school feasible for you?
  • Curriculum and course offerings:  Is the coursework required appealing and/or manageable?  Do any electives allow for specialization in an area of interest?  When are courses offered - and when they are offered (day and/or evening), does it interfere with a current/potential work schedule?  Can the program be completed on a part-time basis and/or partially or wholly online?  Are courses offered frequently so that students can complete the program in a timely manner?  Are summer courses offered and/or required? Are faculty and/or other resources available during the summer?
  • Duration of program:  How long will it take to complete the program going full-time (or part-time, if allowed)? Typically, master's-level programs take take approximately two years to complete if attending full-time, while doctoral programs can take two to four or five years.
  • Degree completion requirements(if any) beyond coursework:  Upon (or near) completion of coursework, are there any requirements to earn the degree, such as the successful defense of a thesis, completion of a practicum or internship and subsequent written report and/or oral presentation; or an exit exam.  (A thesis is an independent work of research guided by a faculty member and a thesis committee usually comprised of at least two other faculty members in the discipline.) 
  • Preparation for a doctoral program:  Will the program adequately prepare you for a doctoral degree? (Some PhD programs will require completion of a thesis or independent work of research and some may require completion of specific coursework.)
  • Career placement of program graduates:  Does the program and/or school offer career placement services?  Even if not, what types of career fields do students from the program tend to enter?  For example, you can read about how some of the graduates from the MA and PhD in sociology from UofL have used their degrees here.

Additionally, you should review the specific application materials required and deadlines for each program, as they will differ from program to program (even at the same school). 

Application requirements:  The will typically include a formal application; official transcripts from any/all colleges/universities attended; two (or more) letters of recommendation (the program may request that these be from instructors in the discipline, specifically those who can attest to your ability to handle graduate-level work); a personal statement (often discussing your interest in that particular program and personal goals for earning the degree); writing samples (particularly if applying to a doctoral program); a résumé or CV (curriculum vitae); and, for some programs, graduate entrance exams, such as the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) LSAT (for law school), MCAT (for medical school), or the GMAT (for business school).

On each of their individual exam websites, you will find information about test content and structure, fees, registration and test centers, strategies and tips for preparing for the exam, including sample questions, and information about scoring and reporting scores to graduate schools.  Students should consult each program's application to learn if the GRE or other entrance exam is required, as some schools have recently eliminated the GRE requirement but allow it as a supplement to an application.  If you do need/wish to take the GRE or other exam, UofL offers free workshops each fall and spring, and you can more information here.

Application deadlines:  Typically, deadlines for students seeking funding will be earlier than those not seeking funding.  For example, applicants to the sociology program at UofL who wish to be considered for any funding opportunities (e.g., assistantships or fellowships) must submit their materials by January 5 prior to the fall semester in which they are seeking admission; for all others, the deadline is June 1.  You should also consider the date by which the program will make admission decisions and the deadline by which admitted students must commit to attending the program, particularly if they have been offered funding.  (Many program will require students to accept funding invitations by April 15 for the following academic year.)  You may also want to inquire if spring admission is possible and, if so, the deadlines.\

Also, remember to approach faculty with whom you think would write a strong letter of recommendation (and/or complete an evaluation form) for you and provide them with the program(s) to which you are applying - and why you are applying to that particular program; your personal statement, résumé, and/or career goals to assist the faculty as they write the letter; and the deadline(s) by which they need to submit the recommendation or complete the evaluation.

Further, you should consider the total cost of attendance and potential funding sources:  Will you be a self-paying student, relying on your own resources (including private and/or student loans) to fund your degree, or will you be seeking any funding opportunities the school may offer?  What does the funding include (tuition, stipend, and/or student health insurance), over what length of time (a semester, year, or the full length of your program), and are there any service requirements (e.g., working as a teaching or research assistant to one or more faculty) attached to the funding.  (At UofL, both fellowships and graduate assistantships are offered.  For information about the assistantships available to sociology graduate students, visit here, and for information about other sources of UofL funding, visit here.)

Finally, when possible, visit each campus and meet faculty and students.  If not, email/talk to faculty with whom you might work, and get to know the program, faculty, and campus where you might be spending two or more years.  Find a contact at each school, preferably in the program to which you are applying, who can answer your questions – or direct you to those who can.  Then, once you have gathered information about the programs in which you have an interest, make a pros/cons list for each program, allowing yourself the opportunity to compare programs on paper instead of in your head.  Note the critical advantages and disadvantages (and any deal-breakers) of each - being honest with yourself in your assessment - and begin to narrow your search.  Your best post-graduation plans begin with honesty and include lots of questions and careful consideration of the answers/options.  

Any current student or alumni wanting to discuss career options in sociology and/or graduation plans is welcome to contact , the Director of Academic Services & Advisor for Undergraduate and Graduate Programs in Sociology.