January 22, 2016
Our society is becoming increasingly interconnected and diverse. Advances in technology have broadened our sense of community. This growing interconnectivity creates complex relationships that are explored in the field of sociology. By better understanding how society functions, sociology professionals can help find practical solutions to meet the needs of communities.
You'll develop a better understanding of the world around you when you pursue an online sociology degree and develop the skills and knowledge you'll need to create a fulfilling career in this complex field.
Sociology is the study of society, which is specifically accomplished through the examination of the social lives of individuals, groups and civilization as a whole. By unifying elements of economics, psychology, history and other pertinent areas of study, sociology holds up a lens to our world.
Carolyn Paul, a lead sociology faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University, is intimately familiar with the field. She believes that the emphasis on group interactions, both large and small, is what sets sociology apart from similar disciplines that also study human behavior.
"In sociology we talk about micro groups like the family. We look at continuing trends like changing gender roles in the family," Paul said. "Then we look at large groups like social institutions. We identify clear social problems that plague a nation."
When it comes to studying humans, you have a number of fields to choose from. In addition to sociology, the student interested in human behavior or societal interactions could pursue degrees in areas of study such as anthropology, psychology, history or even criminology, to name a few. Each has a unique emphasis that sets it apart from the rest. The first step is to figure out exactly what area you're most interested in, and then determine which field focuses the most on that area.
"The student who's interested in people will wonder, 'Where should I go?'" Paul said. "They need to decide what they're interested in studying and start asking 'How do I prepare for a career working with people?'"
According to Michelle Alvarez, associate dean of social sciences for SNHU College of Online and Continuing Education, those who are interested in people in general often opt for anthropology, which is broadly defined as the study of humankind. Students who are interested in providing human services, such as mental health resources, tend to study psychology. Those who are more interested in the group dynamics of human society should consider pursuing a career in sociology.
"It's really the study of group behavior. How do groups function?" Alvarez said. "I think that's what sets it apart."
If you're interested in pursuing a career in which you work toward understanding group behavior, an online bachelor's degree in sociology could be the next step in preparing you for the job market.
When it comes to a choosing a career in this area of study, you have many options to consider. Sociology is a field that offers career opportunities that are as diverse as the people who study the topic. For example, those who fill the position of a sociologist study society and societal behavior through the examination of groups, social institutions and processes, often at a research institution or university - but that's far from the only job opportunity available to those who study the field.
"There are a lot of paths that students take," Paul said. "Some go on from a bachelor's to a master's in social work. I'm finding that more students are working in the nonprofit sector. Many students are interested in helping the homeless in their community. If you're interested in people and issues like poverty, sociology is where you should look."
Many people with backgrounds in sociology choose positions where they can actively help members of their community through work in the nonprofit sector. Some enter into social services or advocacy work. Others choose careers as varied as college admissions, criminal justice, urban planning and health policy.
Some even go into marketing after studying sociology, Paul said. By combining their educational background with the tools provided by the field of marketing, graduates are able to promote community organizations and help raise awareness for important issues on local, national and sometimes even global levels.
When you pursue a degree in sociology, you'll have a number of options to choose from in an up and coming field. For example, social and community service managers are in growing demand across the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were 132,900 people working in these jobs in 2012, a number that is expected to increase by 21% by 2022. The mean salary for service managers in this field is about $60,000 a year.
Another 61,410 members of the U.S. workforce were employed as of May 2014 as social workers. While the position can encompass a number of different areas, and generally requires a graduate degree, the mean yearly salary for these positions is $58,410.
You could also play a role in improving your community. Demand for recreation workers, for example, is on the rise, according to the BLS. With a degree, you could play a leadership role in developing or running social programs like these in your area.
Whatever career you choose to pursue, a sociology degree can widen your opportunities and open doors for advancement in this growing field.
While some pursue a career in the field without a sociology degree, a formal education is becoming increasingly important for success. By earning a bachelor's degree in sociology, you'll acquire the knowledge and skill set to pursue a particular area that you're most interested in, opening doors when it comes to career opportunities.
A degree also gives students opportunities to start building up a portfolio for future job applications. For example, Paul said that in her Sociology of the Family course, students are required to pick a trend to study and create a long-form magazine style article on the topic. Once the articles are completed, she encourages students to use them to start building up a portfolio to share with prospective employers in the future. By earning a degree in sociology, you not only gain knowledge in your area of study, you also have the chance to showcase your abilities through hands-on assignments that will help prepare you for employment in the field.
An online sociology degree allows students to pursue their interest in sociology no matter where they are on their academic journey. Whether you're looking to earn your bachelor's degree in sociology right out of high school or are working full time in a different field and are ready for a career change, the flexibility of an online program lets you advance your career while maintaining your activities outside of your academic commitments.
Students actively engage in their education through online discussion boards, community posts and other resources no matter where they're at geographically. Paul said that she often interacts more with her online students than those that she teaches at a physical location.
"I know my online students better," Paul said. "You can have a campus class where some students talk and some don't, but in online programs everyone participates."
Part of the increased engagement results from the fact that students are able to interact with others at any time of the day or night. If a student is thinking about a topic the day after the discussion, he can go back and post on the discussion board even though the discussion may have already formally ended. It's a luxury that isn't afforded to students sitting in on campus lectures, where participation is limited to the time period of the class.
"The ability to interact is endless, and some students may post multiple times," Alvarez said.
Students who are interested in issues related to community health can earn a bachelor's degree in sociology with a concentration in community health. It's perfect for those who want to work with local organizations to help address health-related concerns in their community. In this concentration, students examine current trends in health and health policy and examine the consequences that the issues have on individuals, groups and society as a whole.
Public health is an up-and-coming field that students should seriously consider if they're looking for a career that affords opportunities to help make a difference in their community, as positions are on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for health educators and community health workers are expected to grow by 21% by 2022.
In this area of study, many job seekers who are interested in sociology and healthcare are finding employment opportunities related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Paul said. Because the legislation is so intricate and lengthy, many people find it difficult to determine what they qualify for and how to go about getting their benefits. Those with a bachelor's degree in sociology are good candidates for a growing number of community positions for trained individuals who can articulate the ACA and explain eligibility rules to help promote better healthcare in populations.
One of the benefits of an online degree program is that you can fit the coursework around your existing schedule. Whether you have familial responsibilities, a full-time job or an active military assignment, you can find ways to prioritize your academic success without sacrificing other important areas of your life.
During the week, you'll study and learn just like students who are taking classes at a physical location, but instead of sitting in a classroom, you'll be working from a computer at the location of your choice. That means if you have to work a morning shift, for example, you can take care of your course work in the evening. You can structure your schedule in the way that best fits your unique needs.
Part of a student's week may also be dedicated to an internship in the field. "Those can open doors," Paul said. "I've had students finish internships and then have employers ask for their resume."
In addition to important hands-on experience, Alvarez added that these internships give students an opportunity to start networking in the field before they even graduate with their sociology degree. Even if a student isn't offered a position with the organization they worked with, they build important connections that may be helpful in their job search down the road.
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