Answer: While a criminology degree will include coursework on social problems, criminal investigations, and legal systems, sociology is a much broader field and may require coursework on other topics, such as cultural groups, organizations, and technology.
Sociology is the exploration of human behavior in group contexts and as a science, it seeks to explain and resolve issues touching on the everyday lives of humans. As a result of its wide breadth of study, sociology is growing and diverse, with a large footprint in business and government. Earning a sociology degree can provide a competitive advantage in a booming career field that includes the disciplines of criminal justice, public service, social work, and counseling. Sociology degrees can also prepare graduates for careers in human resources and support functions in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and criminal justice. While a degree is not necessarily required for some criminal justice jobs, having at least an undergraduate degree will increase job prospects and the potential for advancement in many organizations. Salaries for sociology graduates can start at $43,510 in relevant careers, such as corrections officers, and increase with experience and further study.1
Criminology and Criminal Justice in Sociology
The field of criminology is considered by most to be a subfield of the larger field of sociology, as it is the scientific study of the social phenomenon of crime. The field of criminal justice incorporates the theory of criminology, along with sociology and psychology, but its focus is on deterring crime through policing, corrections, criminal law, and the US court system. Historically, colleges and universities often offered criminal justice degree programs under the umbrella of sociology. Increasingly, though, degree programs in criminal justice are standing on their own. By separating the two programs, some fear that criminal justice programs may be missing important aspects of the larger sociology field and leaving out core sociology courses that complement a degree in criminal justice.
In fact, the American Sociological Association (ASA) conducted a study that explored the relationship between the two fields and concluded that many sociologists are worried that criminology is becoming a rogue field and argue that students of criminal justice need to take core sociology courses that will enhance their education. Even if the two programs are separated, the ASA recommends that criminology departments should consider adding “the examination of structural factors such as race, class, gender, social context and social process” to the criminal justice curriculum. Whether criminal justice and sociology are in the same program at a given school, they are undeniably related, and interest in a criminal justice degree necessarily includes some study of sociology.
Sociology Training and Courses
Sociology programs are as diverse as the study area, so individuals interested in pursuing a career in sociology have a number of options. Classes in a sociology program typically cover history, social behavior, gender politics, and race relations and training combines classroom work, group study, observation, and lab study. Sociology programs are designed to study relationships between human beings of different ages, races, and beliefs in different social situations within families, at school, and at work as well as within society as a whole. Many different tools are used to qualitatively and quantitatively examine these relationships. Career-oriented students may want to consider a two-year associate’s degree or four-year bachelor’s degree in sociology. Prospective professional-level students also often pursue master’s or doctoral degrees in sociology.
Sociology degree programs typically include courses such as:
- Introduction to Society
- Social Problems
- Minority Groups
- Organizations, Work, and Industry
- Development and Health Inequalities
- Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods
- Social Psychology
- Population Studies
- Corrections and Criminal Justice
- Identity and Society
Did you know? Notable people who have earned a degree is sociology include Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, Michelle Obama, Robin Williams, Ahmad Rashad, and Kal Penn.
Traditional Sociology Degree Programs
The University of California, Berkeley, also known as UC Berkeley, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in sociology. The graduate program is small, with a competitive application process. The required coursework focuses on developing writing skills, constructing persuasive arguments, and conducting research for the final dissertation. Graduate students can also participate in many different student groups and workshops offered throughout the year, which discuss social topics such as gender, globalization, and immigration. UC Berkeley’s sociology department was ranked in a tie for #1 by US News & World Report in 2018. In previous years, graduate students at the university have won many prestigious awards and fellowships and continued on to academic careers across the country.
The Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) is one of the top rated in the country, ranking in a tie for 6th place by US News & World Report in 2018. The department offers undergraduate and graduate degrees that can include coursework and research on a diverse range of issues. The undergraduate sociology degree takes four years to complete and can include a focus on criminal justice through the Criminal Justice Certificate Program. Students learn how to critically analyze social issues, prepare and communicate strong arguments, and conduct qualitative and quantitative research. Upon completion, students are prepared to continue to graduate studies or look for work in a variety of settings.
Online Sociology Degree Programs
Students can complete a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology degree online through the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Professional Studies. The degree focuses on theory, research, and communication skills that can be helpful for further study in sociology or a related field or a career in many sectors, including criminal justice. The curriculum includes liberal arts courses and foundation sociological courses and it may be possible to transfer previous liberal arts credit towards the degree. Choosing electives related to homeland security topics may be a good way to create a more specialized focus, such as Introduction to Criminal Justice and Political-Legal Sociology. Practical experience exposing students to the range of possible sociology careers is also an important part of the program, which includes a required senior capstone project or internship.
Arizona State University (ASU) offers an online Master of Arts in sociology through the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics as well as an online bachelor’s degree in sociology. The program focuses on the application of sociological theories to practical situations for students who plan to work outside of academia. It takes at least 1.5 years to complete the program with several start dates during the year. In the program, students take all their courses online and also complete a capstone project rather than a research-based thesis. Choosing a capstone project related to a criminal justice issue can be one way of customizing the degree towards your future career goals. ASU is consistently highly ranked across the country for its online degree programs and affordability.
Sociology Job Description
The list of potential jobs for undergraduate sociology degree program graduates is incredibly diverse. These jobs are found in major sociology-related industries such as human services, mental health services, counseling, employment, education, hospital services, and criminal justice and law enforcement. With a bachelor’s degree, sociology graduates may find jobs working directly with communities or groups to identify, understand, and address social issues or they may study, research, and analyze social issues indirectly by finding work in government, public policy, research, or the private sector. Taking courses or completing capstone projects in criminal justice, forensics, or the sociology of law may help sociology graduates prepare for a career in homeland security. With a graduate degree, individuals may work in research and academia as sociologists.
The job opportunities for sociology graduates are vast and will depend on the types of courses and internships you choose. Examples of jobs you can get with a sociology degree include:
- CIA Analyst
- Correctional Officer
- Court Reporter
- Criminal Investigator
- Customs and Border Protection Officer</li>
- ICE Agent
- Probation Officer
- Secret Service Agent
- Victims Advocate
Sociology Salary and Job Outlook
As the job opportunities for sociology graduates are diverse, the salary and job outlook is equally vast. The earning potential will also depend on whether you have an undergraduate or graduate degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides information on several possible career options. For example, correctional officers earn an average annual salary of $43,510 and are projected to experience a 7% decrease in available jobs through 2026.1 Mediators, who help resolve conflicts outside the legal system, earn an average of $60,670 per year with 10% jobs growth projected between 2016 and 2026.2 Individuals employed as criminal investigators earn a higher average salary at $79,970, and this category has 5 to 9% projected job growth through 2026.3 With a graduate degree, individuals may work in research and academia as sociologists, who earn an average annual salary of $79,650 according to the BLS.4
- American Sociological Association: The ASA is a national organization that connects sociology students and professionals from all subject areas and specializations through conferences, events, and career resources.
- International Sociological Association: Research Council on Disasters: This international research group connects students and researchers that study human and natural disasters and emergency disaster management.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a sociology degree and a criminology degree?
Can I earn a sociology degree online?
Answer: Yes, sociology is a very diverse field and many programs are offered fully online by universities and colleges across the country.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Correctional Officers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/correctional-officers.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators:https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/arbitrators-mediators-and-conciliators.htm
3. O*NET OnLine, Criminal Investigators: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-3021.03
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Sociologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/sociologists.htm
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