As you all know by now, I have a Bachelor's and a Master's in Sociology. For some reason, I have never done a post like this on The Happy Arkansan, and I thought it was time for me to do this. So, here we have it, ten tips for aspiring sociology majors and minors. I hope that you get a lot out of the post that I wish I had as an undergraduate.
1. Get Ready To Read & Write (All The Time)
Reading is a huge part of being a sociology major. The more sociology classes you take, the harder and longer the readings get. Especially if you are reading some of the more classic sociological works, they can be hard to understand. Articles can be filled with jargon, statistics, and ickiness. I have written extensively on this blog about the powers of skimming. I used to think that everyone was reading everything and just beating me because I was a slow reader. Then I realized everyone was skimming. I wrote two great articles to teach you the art of skimming articles and academic books that I think will help you tremendously. You don't have to feel slow or behind. You got this! I am confident of that.
Another thing you will probably do a lot of is write. Writing takes time and practice to learn. I have written about writing a ton on this blog, and I loved the two-part series I am linking below featuring the ten mistakes I saw college students make when I was a graduate assistant in grad school. Writing is something that you get better at the more you practice so keep writing so that you will keep getting better at it.
2. Don't Think That You Will Escape Math
Sociology isn't super math heavy, but you will need to know some basic (and not-so-basic) statistics. Your research needs to be statistically significant, even as a social science, so having some knowledge of statistical concepts is critical. Pay attention in your stats and research methods courses because that will help you so much as you get older!
Also, you need to learn to utilize stats software like STATA or SPSS. Your school probably has access to at least one of these on the school computers so I would encourage you to download a random data set and play around in SPSS or STATA. One of my favorite data sets for sociology majors is the General Social Survey (or GSS.) I based my senior thesis in college from General Social Survey data, and I did all the calculations by getting the data in SPSS format and manipulating it so I could focus on the parts I cared about. If you go to the GSS Data Explorer, you can quickly get the datasets in formats that your stats software can understand.
Working on stats is probably the easiest way to get better at it. Look up stats exercises for your preferred software and work through them. This will help you get exponentially better at doing them, even if it's not the most fun use of a weeknight or weekend.
3. Take Time To Experience All The Paths of Being A Sociology Major
Anything and everything can be studied through the sociological imagination. That is scary to think about: you mean, I can research everything? I have had professors who studied a wide array of things like religion, divorce, sports, race, class, immigration, deviance, gender, protests, hate groups, social movements, etc. Sociology studies the social world, and in that world, we do a lot of things!
I think the best thing a student can do, in my eyes, is take your collegiate years to experience it all. Experience all the courses that you can manage in college and explore different paths of being a sociology major.
As you get older, you will have to focus your attention. You may have to write longer papers in undergrad such as a thesis. In that paper, you can delve deep on a subject that matters to you.
When you get into your Master's or Ph.D. program, you will have to be even more focused on one or a couple of paths. For me, I found my love in studying race and social movements through the sociological lens.
4. Get To Know Your Professors Research (And Even Join It If You Can)
Each of your professors has a research interest. Getting to know your professors and their research interests are essential because you can easily use that information to get more involved with the work that they are doing. Many professors want to work closely with students, but they can't work with every single student. If you take some time to showcase that you are interested in what they are doing, you can probably get more involved with a professor's research.
Getting involved in a professor's research looks incredible on your resume! You may even be able to become a research assistant or take an independent study with a professor, so you get class credit for working with them!
5. Get Ready To Face The Uncomfortable Topics
Sociology reflects society, and sometimes society isn't always pretty. You may have to cover some hard topics like criminal justice, race, gender, discrimination, poverty, class, sex, employment, etc.
You may be forced to think of a viewpoint you have never considered or even some views that seem far-fetched or crazy. Sociology shouldn't be about comfort. It should be about thinking about things using a variety of theories.
Don't get set in your theory of thinking about things, especially not as an undergraduate. After you have taken some classes and learned some stuff, you may find that you agree with a specific sociological theory or view more (for example, I am a conflict theorist) but you should get to know other perspectives and put yourself in other people's shoes.
Even though we study so much in sociology, I feel that it's good practice. I don't think everyone practices sociology the right way, some people refuse to hear other people's points of views, and that's not okay. You don't have to agree with someone, but listen, and argue with facts.
6. Carry A Small Notebook With You All The Time
My best advice as a sociology major is to carry a small notebook with you or to take notes on your phone. When I was a sociology major (especially in graduate school) ideas for things to research, things to write, etc. struck me ALL THE TIME. You don't want to be forced to write your thoughts down on random pieces of scrap paper because those can get lost easily. I wrote so many article ideas in the margins of articles or on scrap pieces of paper that I can't get back now. Do yourself a favor and keep a notebook near!
I encourage a notebook over your phone because you can always take out your notebook, even if you get an idea in the middle of a lecture (and I got plenty of mid-lecture ideas!) This is especially great if you plan to pursue a Master's or Ph.D. in sociology!
7. Keep Up With Current Events (It Will Help You So Much In Class!)
Since sociologists study society, they also keep up to date with what's going on in the news and the world. If you keep up with the news going on, this will help you out so much, and you will be able to relate the things you learn in class to what is happening in the news.
I encourage you to make a habit of checking the news in the morning whether you use a newsletter like The Skimm or the news app on your iPhone.
You also want to get your news from a variety of sources. I am as liberal as they come, but sometimes I peek over to see what Fox News is reporting to see what they are talking about. I also tend to get a lot of my news from moderate sources as well. You don't want all your news to come from a single source!
8. Learn How To Utilize The Skills You Learn On Your Resume
If you are stopping at a BA or BS in Sociology, you need to understand the skills of what you are learning from a Sociology major. Being a Sociology major won't cast you out from getting jobs, but it's not as cut and dry as a Mathematics major or a Biology major. Humanities are always going to be harder to categorize when it comes to showcasing them in a resume.
Instead of focusing on the major you received, focus on the skills you learned. Also, while you are in college, learn those skills!
Here Are Some Skills You Can Work Hard To Build In College:
- Oral Communication/Public Speaking: I had to do a lot of speaking in my college and graduate school sociology courses. I had to do presentations on papers that I read and wrote multiple times throughout my time in college and graduate school. People love people who can communicate, especially in front of people!
- Written Communication: If you are a sociology major and you haven't written like a million papers, I am not sure how! I wrote all the time in college and graduate school. Use that skill to get a job after college.
- Statistics/Surveying: The art of building a survey, administering a study, and interpreting the results of that survey is a skill to be reckoned with. Not many people know how to do all of that, and you don't even have to have a HUGE understanding of the process. Basic knowledge of statistics and surveying is such a great skill to have!
- Research: People don't want to have to babysit you and tell you what to do every step of the way. They want you to be able to look things up on your own and solve as many of your problems as possible. Being good at research, vetting research articles, etc. is always a great skill to have as an employee!
These are all great skills that you will get out of being a sociology major (and more, I couldn't list all the skills!)
In today's economy, having a college degree is more important than the degree you have. If you know how to work the skills that you have, you can become indispensable in the workplace.
9. Focus On Application Not Memorization
One of the main ways many of us are taught to study is through memorization. We are taught to memorize this list of things and regurgitate them on a test or piece of homework. That won't work well in sociology.
Yes, you need to be able to memorize certain things to a point like some critical figures in sociology, sociological concepts, sociological theories, etc. but more importantly you need to learn how to apply them.
You can't get through your entire life as a sociologist rattling off fact after fact about sociology. The point of sociology is to study society. We use these pieces of jargon to analyze society. You need to know the lingo to examine society, but you also need to be able to utilize the jargon correctly.
You can't create a 30-page paper for a class just rattling off definitions. Your grasp of the concepts has to go much further than that!
10. Join Academic Organizations If You Can
Sociology is all about studying people in groups so it's not surprising that there are a TON of groups that you can join as a sociology student and professional. These academic organizations are extremely valuable in my opinion, and you should try to join at least two if you can. Joining these organizations will help you connect, network, and be a part of the larger picture of sociology. Don't get so stuck in your head that you forget to make those connections because those connections are essential in sociology (just like any other major!)
Academic Organization Options
- University Sociology Clubs: At the most basic level, your school probably has a sociology club that you can join to meet more people in your major. I loved being involved in the Sociology club at my school, and I know you will enjoy joining yours too!
- State Wide Sociological Societies: Your state probably has a sociological society as well that you can be a member of, though it might be a bit harder to find. You can probably ask your professors though as they may be able to help you locate a statewide membership.
- Regional Sociological Societies: There are various regional sociological societies across the country. I am listing the ones I could find below. These are great for when you want to connect with more sociologist on a regional scale, plus going to these conferences are usually way more laid back than the national meeting at ASA.
- Alpha Kappa Delta: Alpha Kappa Delta is the Sociological Honor Society. Many of the professors that I have met over my years as a student have been members of AKD. It isn't the end all be all (I know many professors who weren't), but it is nice to be involved in an organization that has helped many professors of the years.
- American Sociological Association: ASA is the main sociological organization. It doesn't have a GPA requirement, and it's a pretty cool organization to be a part of, especially if you join the sections. It does cost a bit of cash, though, but students get discounted memberships. ASA has a huge conference every year, and they also put out multiple journals across a wide array of sociological focuses each year. As a member, you get access to one print subscription each year which I always found fascinating. Plus, certain sections also have their own journals that you can get access to as well.
I hope that listing these out helped you find a sociology club, society, or association to join!
I'll never regret being a sociology major in college or getting my Master's in it, although it has pushed me a ton. I love studying people in this way and learning about sociology has helped me analyze so much in the world today. I hope that this article has helped any future sociology majors out there.