From the impact of video game violence on teens or the effect of divorce on society to the root cause of riots in communities such as Baltimore.
If you're interested in exploring questions about social change and the causes and consequences of human behavior, a sociology degree may be for you.
Sociology: focused on people and interactions
According to Dr. Eileen O'Brien, associate professor of sociology at Saint Leo University, sociology is the systematic, scientific, data-driven study of external influences on human behavior.
And while the data-driven aspect of that definition is what makes sociology a social science, it's the human behavior piece that initially grabs many students. According to the American Sociology Association, the top reason students study sociology is that they find sociological concepts fascinating and many choose sociology as their major after just a single introductory course.
A major for people-watchers
Bill Adkins, a student in Saint Leo's online sociology bachelor's degree program, found the sociology program to be a good fit for him because he says he has always been a people-watcher. He enjoys reading about social experiments and is especially interested in the aspect of sociology called symbolic interactionism.
"Interactionism, quite simply, says life is about interactions," says Bill. "Every situation and every person you come into contact with has been socialized in a certain way. We learn from our culture things such as how to interact with others and how to interpret another person's actions. So how certain interactions unfold depends on how you've been socialized."
Insight into relationships and social forces
For Anissa McLaurin, another student in Saint Leo's online sociology degree program and self-described people-watcher, sociology is an academic area that allows you to understand why people behave and interact the way they do.
"For me, sociology is the window to being able to think on a different level."
Part of Anissa's motivation for studying sociology comes from past job experience where employees weren't being utilized to their full potential. She wanted to better understand relationships between individuals and social forces to help bring about change. In addition, she thought that studying sociology would give her knowledge that would help as she raises two children with cognitive disabilities, giving her insight to help them develop into adults who could make positive contributions to society.
Engaging courses and projects
Dr. O'Brien says her goal since she first started teaching sociology has been to open student's minds to see that "the world is not always as 'equal opportunity' as we are all led to believe," and to encourage them to do their part to make it a better place.
Classes in sociology cover topics such as social problems, marriage and the family, deviance and social control, and race and ethnic relations. The courses often include eye-opening assignments for students.
For one assignment, students put themselves in a situation where they are part of a racial minority and then write a paper to analyze the experience.
One of Bill's favorite assignments was a project based on the theory that all the world's a stage. Bill analyzed his life in the structure of a play and considered the various roles he and the other people in his life play.
Anissa enjoyed a project where each student did something outside the norm. She chose to look directly in the eyes of strangers such as a McDonalds cashier or toll booth worker and say, "I love you," to see how they would respond.
"They looked at me like I was crazy," she says, until she explained what she was doing for class.
The value of a sociology degree in the marketplace
A degree in sociology can lead to a variety of careers. Saint Leo graduates have moved into careers in education/administration, marketing and market research, counseling, human resources, and more.
"The nice thing about a sociology degree is it can prepare you to enter any number of career paths. That flexibility is great to have in today's economy, where people are changing jobs, or even careers, multiple times over the course of their lives," Dr. O'Brien says.
As Bill nears his graduation, he realizes and appreciates even more the value of a sociology degree.
"The further I get into the degree program, the more I catch the eyes of specific employers I want to make an impression on," he says. When he completes the program, he hopes to leverage his skills and knowledge as an analyst for one of the nation's intelligence agencies.
Anissa plans to start her own agency to help ex-felons and other individuals in rehab get back on track and learn how to present themselves so employers see them as a viable fit for a job. She also plans to pursue an MBA—something she had never dreamed of before coming to Saint Leo.
"Studying sociology has expanded my ability to think more deeply and critically," says Anissa. "I didn't know I could think that deeply. I thought based on what I knew, and now I challenge myself to think further beyond what I know and understand."
What do you love about studying sociology?
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Image credits: Ed Samuel on Shutterstock.com; Jo-Ann Johnston, University Communications (Dr. O'Brien), and courtesy Bill Adkins and Anissa McLaurin