Sociology is a way of understanding the social world around us. Sociologists study the behavior of people as members of groups rather than as individuals, and they also study how individuals are shaped by their social environments. As such, they examine the processes through which we as people express our social being: cooperation, exchange, conflict, domination, morality, dependency, violence, crime, social control, and symbolism. Sociology also examines the phenomena to which these processes give rise: social networks, small groups, families, subcultures, professional affiliations, social classes, gender relations, structures of race and ethnicity, bureaucracies, social movements, the state, religion, and popular and “high” culture. Students concerned with solving social problems and engaging in community service, or generally working in organizational contexts, find that the sociology curriculum is especially relevant to their interests.
The Sociology Skill Set
A degree in sociology provides several skills that can be the basis for a successful career in many fields:
- Sociology majors are trained to weigh controversies and develop complex analyses of social and organizational problems, a skill set that is important in many careers.
- Sociology majors understand how to review the social science literature on a problem. The capacity to digest, analyze, and synthesize a diverse set of sources is valuable in a wide range of careers.
- Sociology majors are trained to translate research into policy analysis and develop policy based on research.
- Sociology majors are trained in hypothesis generation and testing, data analysis, and both qualitative and quantitative methods.
- Sociology majors gain a broad understanding of our changing world and emerge well-equipped to adapt to new careers and to help organizations adapt to changing economic, political, and social environments.
Students are able to choose from over 40 sociology courses taught by faculty who are highly skilled in their subject areas as well as in the craft of teaching. Students may pursue a major and minor in Sociology with options for a standard and honors track. The Sociology Department also offers a major in Environmental Sociology with options for a standard and honors track.
Summary of the Major
The sociology major consists of three main types of courses:
- Foundation courses: an introductory sociology course, a research methods course, and an advanced theory course.
- Concentration areas: one course from three of the department’s four specialization areas:
1. Culture, Institutions, and Socialization
2. Health, Environment, Population, and Migration
3. Politics, Law, and Conflict
4. Race, Ethnicity, and Gender
- Electives: five additional advanced sociology courses. Students are encouraged to develop a cluster of related courses in a concentration area. More details are available on the department’s website.
Honors Program and Society
The Honors Research Track offers superior majors in Sociology the opportunity to pursue intensive work through an independent research project. Students interested in pursuing the Honors Research Track in Sociology should view the catalog for requirements, and you will be contacted in your junior year to see if you are interested. More information is also available on the department’s website.
Sociology majors and minors with a GPA of at least 3.3 are eligible for membership in the Sociology Honors Society, Alpha Kappa Delta (AKΔ). Students do not have to be in the honors program to join the Honors Society.
Undergraduate research options are available as research assistants on faculty research projects, participation in the senior honors thesis, and independent study courses with faculty. There are some large, interdisciplinary research grants on the campus that offer some students research opportunities. Some research is paid, and other research is available for course credit.
Other Special Opportunities
Sociology offers an internship program of 6 to 9 credit hours that allows students an opportunity to gain real world experience and to integrate the experience with a research project. Sociology students frequently spend a semester in the study abroad program, and there are options in many countries.
Sociology students are encouraged to work with Alternative Spring Break and to participate in Study Abroad programs, especially VISAGE (Vanderbilt Initiative for Scholarship and Global Education).
Sociology provides majors and minors with an excellent foundation for a multitude of career paths, including many of those in government, education, law, business, the criminal justice system, health fields (both medicine and public health), and community and social services. Based on our surveys of graduating seniors, approximately half of the students pursue graduate education and half go directly into jobs. Some take one year off before going on to graduate study. Students receive job offers from a wide range of organizations, including in the business, education, government, and nonprofit sectors. When the Sociology major is combined with the Business minor, students are well-positioned for jobs that require knowledge of society and organizations, such as marketing and human resources.
The Sociology Department’s web site provides more information on career pathways and on alumni careers. There are four main areas of career pathways based on the exit surveys of recent classes: teaching and research, the nonprofit sector, law and policy, and the private sector.
The strong methods sequence in the honors program is excellent preparation for graduate school and careers as educators and researchers in addition to its value in other careers. Each year we have several students who pursue a PhD program directly or opt to go into a teaching corps position that may later lead to an education career.
The Sociology Department has a strong group of courses in the department for students with a pre-med or pre-health career path. These options can be combined with a major or minor in Medicine, Health, and Society. The department also has a major in environmental sociology.
Another strength of the department is the study of politics, law, and institutions. The sociology degree provides a good background for law school, and four students in the recent graduating class attended law school. Students in this group also go on to jobs in the nonprofit sector, think tanks in Washington, journalism, and other positions in the nonprofit and government sectors.
Courses on institutions and criminology also prepare some students for careers in the social services and criminal justice systems. The cluster of courses on race, gender, and sexuality can also be valuable for students interested in this career area.
The Sociology Department has approximately two dozen faculty actively involved in teaching and research in the department, and there is another dozen affiliated faculty in other departments. The professors are actively involved in various grants and research projects, and they have won many prizes for their research. Details are available at the departmental website.
David J. Hess
Director of Undergraduate Studies