How to Become a Sociologist

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There are more than 7 billion humans on Earth, spread out across a planet that is massive by our sense of scale but relatively small compared with other celestial bodies. Humans live in large cities and small towns, surrounded by thousands or even millions of other people. We interact in a multitude of ways, from brief conversations with the barista at our favorite coffee shop to sharing our thoughts in internet forums.

Sociologists are scientists who study humanity and our interactions with one another. They’re driven by a desire to understand who we are as social creatures and how the ways in which we interact impact different aspects of our lives. Sociologists play a key role in developing our understanding of humanity, and their work is applicable in many different fields. Keep reading to learn about this intriguing career and how to become a sociologist.

A sociologist conducts research

What Does a Sociologist Do?

Sociologists make it their life’s work to expand society’s understanding of human actions and behaviors, especially how we interact with one another. They study human behavior in different ways, from administering surveys to overseeing case studies, experiments, and other scientific research efforts. They examine individuals, groups, organizations, social movements, institutions, and anything else that brings people together or affects how they interact. Businesses, governments, research institutions, nonprofits, and nongovernmental organizations then use their findings to develop policies, marketing campaigns, and more.

Steps for Becoming a Sociologist

Getting the right education and experience can give professionals an edge upon entering the competitive job market. Sociologists who combine a rigorous academic background with field experience are typically attractive candidates to potential employers.

Postsecondary Education

Becoming a sociologist requires an advanced degree in the field, either a master’s degree in sociology or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Sociology. While many master’s and PhD programs accept applicants with undergraduate degrees in a variety of disciplines, aspiring sociologists benefit from a program such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. During this undergraduate degree program, students take courses on social change, criminological theory, sociology of health and healthcare, social class in society, racial and ethnic minorities in the United States, and more. The program is customizable, enabling students to pursue a concentration that will align with their career goals. This breadth of study gives graduates a well-rounded view of society and the factors that can affect behavior in different communities, which is invaluable during field research.

In addition, students in the program gain practical experience by completing a research project and by opting to enter an internship working alongside professionals in the field.

Field Experience

Studying society means going out into the world and experiencing different aspects of it to gain a deeper understanding of all the factors that could influence a specific area of focus. During, before, and after their academic study, sociologists should conduct field research and familiarize themselves with strategies for gathering data in a variety of conditions and environments. Future sociologists might gain experience domestically or abroad, working with community organizations in the form of internships or jobs where they practice research, analysis, and presenting their findings. They might also work under the guidance of an established sociologist, learning the research process and gaining a firsthand look at the skills needed to gain employment.

Sociologist Salaries

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for sociologists was $82,050 as of May 2018. The lowest-earning 10% of sociologists made $46,170 annually, while the top 10% made as much as $140,430. The BLS reports substantial pay differences among industries, as state government (excluding hospitals) paid a median annual salary of $92,040, research and development in the social sciences and humanities paid $91,820, and educational services paid $65,210. The median annual wage for sociologists outpaced that of all social scientists and related workers ($78,650).

Employment Outlook for Sociologists

There were 3,000 sociologists working in the United States as of May 2018, according to the BLS. About 41% (1,260) worked in research and development in the sciences and humanities, 17% (500) worked in educational services, and 14% (420) worked in state government, excluding education institutions and hospitals. The BLS expects the job market for sociologists to grow by 9% between 2018 and 2028.

Though the number of practicing sociologists in the U.S. is small, sociology degree holders can pursue other in-demand and growing careers. For example, they could earn a master’s degree in social work and become a social worker. The BLS projects the job market for social workers, which was more than 700,000 strong in 2018, will grow 11% from 2018 to 2028, adding more than 81,000 new jobs.

Learn More About Becoming a Sociologist

The road to becoming a sociologist or entering a sociology-related career begins with an undergraduate degree that encourages exploring society and understanding how to conduct meaningful research. Interested in learning more about how to become a sociologist? Explore how Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Sociology can put you in the right place to enter this competitive field.

Recommended Reading

The Study of Social Science for Kids

Trends and Skills for the Future of Research

What Do Sociologists Do? Explore the Dynamics of This Rewarding Profession


American Sociological Association, “ASA Topics”

Houston Chronicle, “The Path to Being a Sociologist”

Everyday Sociology Blog, “A Day in the Life of One Sociologist”

Everyday Sociology Blog, “How Sociology Can Save the World”

Maryville University, Online Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sociologists