Should I take a degree in sociology?

people in a crowd - sociology degrees
Sociology degrees involve studying human social groups and cultures. Not many people become sociologists, but you could choose a related career, such as social work, or go into something different, such as business.

Sociology is the science and study of humans, their social groups and cultures. If you’re interested in why people behave in the way they do and how poverty, politics and policy affect society then sociology could be the subject for you.

Aspects of sociology influence education, mental health, criminal justice, government, charity and social research work, media, the arts and more. Study sociology and you will learn about different societies and analysing data, as well as developing critical thinking and presentation skills.

Sociology degree entry requirements

Typically, universities won’t specify the subjects you should study at A level, Highers, or IB, but a few offer additional guidance about what they like to see in applicants. For example:

  • Durham University and the University of Abertay like essay-based or ‘literate’ A level and Higher subjects such as business studies, English, geography, history, politics, philosophy and sociology.
  • Bath Spa University prefers applicants with a proven interest in social issues and problems, an ability to see different points of view and those who display a sense of social justice and fairness.
  • Leeds University suggests you should already be studying social science, arts and humanities subjects before applying.

Universities vary widely over grade offers, so for instance:

  • Exeter University asks for AAB at A level, (DDD at BTEC, or the equivalent)
  • University of Lincoln typically has a minimum requirement of BBC at A level
  • Some universities make their offers as a UCAS tariff; in 2019 applicants for Plymouth University’s sociology BSc were being asked for 88–104 points, achieved with at least two A level results or the equivalent.

There are opportunities to start a sociology degree with fewer formal qualifications. Sunderland is one of several universities to run a four-year course with an integrated foundation year.

Types of sociology degree

Sociology students usually gain a bachelor of arts (BA) award but you can also study for a bachelor of science (BSc) award, which places more emphasis on data, statistics and applied research skills. If you’re not sure which you’ll take to, look out for universities offering both courses, such as University of Exeter – here it’s possible to start out on the BSc and then switch to the BA if you wish.

Sociology can be studied alongside other subjects, known as a joint honours degree. The following list is a small sample, but you could combine sociology with:

  • criminology
  • psychology
  • international relations
  • education
  • history
  • data science
  • economics.

Joint honours degrees mean dividing your available time between subjects, but they can broaden your horizons, as Jade Anderson, 21, explains. She completed her degree in criminology and sociology at the University of Kent in 2019, having not studied criminology before going to univerity. ‘I liked how much race was involved in my degree,’ she comments. ‘As a black female, some of the race-related issues that we touched on in criminology and sociology I didn't expect, and I have enjoyed learning about them.’

Sociology degree modules

In year one expect to study compulsory core modules, such as:

  • individuals and society
  • power, privilege and diversity
  • an introduction to social theory.

In years two and three, besides compulsory modules you’ll have a number of optional modules to study. University websites often have a drop-down menu detailing these, but remember they can change. Here’s a small sample of the modules you might come across:

  • domestic abuse
  • food, culture and society
  • football and society
  • an introduction to teaching
  • investigating gender and sexuality
  • media, culture and national identity
  • professional development: recruitment and candidates
  • social power and elites.

Some universities offer very unusual topics; for instance, the University of Northampton has a module covering the sociology of death, and Southampton University runs a module based on the novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, examining ethics in science, engineering and technology.

Jade says that while she gained valuable knowledge in her first year, the modules she chose in her second and third year, including gender and criminal justice, race and racism, and sociology of imprisonment, all challenged her to think about intersexuality and racism and helped her discover a passion for certain areas of work and research.

Sociology degree placements and overseas partnerships

Look out for universities that have partnerships with universities overseas if you want insights into different cultures, societies and groups. Swansea University sociology undergraduates, for example, get to spend a term studying at Lund University in Sweden, or California State University in Long Beach, USA. Other courses include a placement or internship abroad or within the UK. You can read about securing these on our graduate careers website TARGETjobs or follow on Twitter @TjobsInterns.

Teaching and assessment methods on a sociology degree

Sociology is taught through:

  • lectures – listening to talks as part of a large group and taking notes
  • seminars and tutorials – these may be online and/or interactive, including debates and discussions
  • workshops.

Your assessments might be:

  • essays
  • group projects
  • literature reviews
  • learning journals and portfolios
  • presentations
  • a final year dissertation
  • exams.

Contact hours on a sociology degree

The amount of contact time you’ll have and the way it’s delivered will vary between universities, but expect 12–18 hours a week. The rest of your studying will be done independently, using resources such as:

  • podcasts
  • the library
  • online material.

Lincoln University expects students to spend two to three hours in independent study for every hour in class.

Martina Curry, who graduated with a first (the top grade) in sociology from University of Bedfordshire, found her self-led and tutor-led studies split 50/50. ‘I was probably in university for 20 hours, but on top of that I did 20 hours at home,’ she says.

Jade had 16 hours’ contact time a week, split between lectures and seminars. ‘Reading sets you up for the seminars,’ she says. ‘You can’t not do the reading and just show up, because then you don’t know what’s going on’. Jade calculates she put in a further 16 hours of reading each week, explaining: ‘There were two or three core readers for the seminar, then further reading and depending on your method of assessment, for example coursework and what essay you did, there might be more reading around that subject.’

Martina’s tutors made clear from the word go that students had to get used to self-led study. ‘I remember one of the lecturers saying to me, “You read for a degree, you don’t get spoon-fed for a degree,” so I spent all my time outside my lecture and seminar hours reading,’ she says.

Alternatives to a sociology degree

Alternative subjects you might like to consider include:

  • applied social science
  • international relations
  • psychology.

Vocational (career-focused) degree courses are an alternative route if you already know you’d like to do in after your degree, for example:

  • childhood and youth studies
  • social work
  • human resources
  • cyber security.

Sociology degree careers

You’re unlikely to see employers advertising jobs for sociology graduates so unless you plan to write books or lecture on the subject look for a career that makes best use of your skills and new knowledge. Our graduate careers website TARGETjobs has more detail on jobs with a sociology degree but some of the options include:

  • education
  • mental health work
  • work with vulnerable people
  • government and politics
  • international development
  • charities and community.

Martina, who works as a faculty executive administrator at the University of Bedfordshire, thinks graduates should be realistic about the careers sociology can take them on to. She says, ‘My job specified that you needed a degree, but not what degree, so it was about being able to study at that level, and being able to work at that level. You gain analytical skills, and just having a degree is something, but jobs in sociology are so far and few between that it's difficult to get something specifically, unless you want to become a sociology lecturer.’

However, she continues: ‘Sociology does give you an understanding of people and the way that they behave. It broadens your political views. It gives you the critical thinking that a lot of employers want.’

Jade volunteered to work on Kent University’s 'Decolonising the Curriculum' project alongside her studies. ‘It was based in the law school and was about how we could add more black and ethnic culture to the curriculum,’ she says. Her studies and voluntary work contributed to her decision to apply for a masters in criminal justice law. She says, ‘I don't know if this will work out but I want to do government research, mainly in the criminal justice system, and do more around race and youth related matters.’

If you want to go into:

  • human resources (HR), marketing or public relations (PR), quite a number of employers will accept you regardless of your degree subject, though relevant work experience is a big help
  • accountancy, many employers don't mind what you studied at university and you can join straight after your degree, though you'll need to take further qualifications while you work
  • teaching, you will need additional postgraduate qualification; it’s possible to gain this on the job but it’s most common to study for it at uni, which takes another year
  • law, you’ll need to take another course after graduating, regardless of your first degree; some law firms help to pay for this
  • media, you’ll be expected to have internship and voluntary experience and may need an additional postgraduate qualification – it’s a highly competitive career choice.

Quick stats – what do sociology graduates do after university?

According to the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey of all UK graduates, among sociology graduates who finished their degrees in 2017:

  • 61.2% were in full- or part-time employment in the UK within six months of graduating.
  • 20% were undertaking further study – this is much higher than the percentage of graduates of all subjects who were doing so, which was 11.9%.
  • 5.7% were unemployed – this is a bit higher than the figure for graduates as a whole, which was 5.1%.

Among sociology graduates who were in employment, the most common job roles were:

  • retail, catering, waiting and bar staff (21.6%)
  • legal, social and welfare professionals (12.2%)
  • clerical, secretarial and numerical clerks (11.6%)
  • business, HR and finance professionals (10.4%).

Employment statistics vary between universities and most publish these figures on their websites – it’s worth looking into this as you complete your UCAS application.

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