In social sciences, two disciplines—sociology and psychology—often intertwine yet maintain distinct identities. In this article, you will explore their differences, the degrees they offer, and the diverse careers they can lead to.
Both majors are a mirror image of each other. There’s no definitive answer to say that one is superior to the other. Each has its own areas of expertise. But if you earn a bachelor’s degree in either of the majors, you can pretty much pursue their careers interchangeably.
However, the real distinction starts to emerge as you begin pursuing advanced studies and roles. That’s what you’re going to learn further in this article.
|Focus of Study
|Study of society, human groups, and social structures.
|Study of individual behavior and mental processes.
|Broad, encompassing large groups and societal trends.
|Narrower, often focused on individual or small group behavior.
|Surveys, interviews, observations, and statistical analysis.
|Experiments, case studies, surveys, and statistical analysis.
|Nature vs. Nurture
|Emphasizes the role of societal factors and structures.
|Explores the interplay between genetic and environmental influences.
|Social policy, criminology, education, and social change.
|Clinical psychology, counseling, organizational psychology, and therapy.
|Social work, public policy, advocacy, community development.
|Counseling, therapy, human resources, marketing research.
What is Sociology?
Sociology is the study of how societies work, focusing on relationships and interactions among people, groups, and societal institutions. It involves studying social structures (e.g., families, schools, governments), behaviors, and issues (e.g., crime, poverty, discrimination).
What is Psychology?
Psychology is the science of how our brain influences our actions. It helps us understand human behavior, from how our brain works to how society affects us. It uses this understanding to help with mental problems in everyday life, like work, school, or home.
Sociology vs. Psychology
Psychology and sociology are interconnected fields of social science.
Sociology is about studying society and how people behave in groups. It examines how social rules, culture, and community affect people and groups.
On the other hand, psychology is about studying the human mind and how it affects a person’s actions. It looks at things like thoughts, feelings, and what motivates us.
What is Social Psychology? How is it Different from Sociology?
Social psychology is about understanding how others shape a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. It looks at how people’s minds affect their behavior in social situations, often focusing on group behavior.
Sociology and social psychology both study human behavior, but they focus on different aspects. Sociology looks at society as a whole, while social psychology looks at individuals within society.
What is Social Work?
Social work is about helping people and communities to better their lives. It deals with meeting basic needs and improving life quality.
Social workers assist those dealing with life problems or who are socially disadvantaged. They can work directly with people or focus on improving social conditions and promoting fairness.
Social work is closely tied to social sciences like sociology, psychology, economics, and political science. These fields provide the theories and research that help social workers understand complex social issues.
- Psychology helps social workers understand individual behavior and mental health.
- Sociology offers insights into social structures and issues like poverty and inequality.
- Economics aids in understanding how economic factors affect social issues.
- Political science helps understand the role of policy and government in social issues.
In essence, social work is an applied social science.
While psychology focuses on the individual level, sociology looks at the broader picture of society and social structures. Both fields complement each other in understanding human behavior and social phenomena.
If you have a bachelor’s degree in either of these fields, you can choose to pursue one of the following graduate degrees:
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Master’s in Social Work
- Master of Public Health (MPH)
- MA in Strategic Communications & Public Relations (SCPR)
- Master of Science in Healthcare Management
- Master of Public Administration (MPA)
- Master of Science in Business Analytics
- Master of Science in Industrial/Organizational (I-O) Psychology
As you read along, you’ll learn about the different degree options available to you across undergraduate and graduate programs in both majors, so you can make an informed choice for your career.
Are you curious about the world around you, how it functions as a whole, and how groups interact with each other? Sociology is the study of finding the patterns and characteristics that govern groups, cultures, and how societies impact people.
The key skill you will learn while studying sociology is being able to think critically, evaluate, and make inferences that help the greater good of our communities. If you’re still hooked, check out the following degree options in sociology:
Associate Degree in Sociology
If you’re looking to jump into the job market ASAP, an associate of arts (AA) in sociology is a great fit for you. Many of these programs are available online, making them convenient for those who are working at the same time.
Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology
You can choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sociology either in liberal arts or science discipline. A bachelor of arts degree is more focused on the humanities and liberal arts aspects of sociology, while a bachelor’s of science degree is more focused on data collection and analysis.
If you intend to pursue an advanced degree—like a master’s or a doctorate—and a career in sociology, selecting a bachelor of science is an excellent choice. However, if you are not sure about your career goals, a bachelor of arts degree is a more flexible option.
During your bachelor’s program, you’ll study the basics of sociology, social inequality, research methodologies, social psychology, and much more. You don’t necessarily have to become a sociologist but the fundamentals of your bachelor’s degree provide you with transferable skills that are applicable across a wide variety of industries and roles.
Master’s Degree in Sociology
A master’s degree in sociology can prepare you for a career in teaching, research, policy-making, management, and many other related fields. Pursuing a doctorate program is also an option if you wish to become a sociologist.
You can choose to pursue your master’s degree in either liberal arts or science discipline, similar to pursuing an undergraduate degree in sociology. A master’s program is designed to help you learn statistics and data analysis, research methods using surveys and interviews, advanced sociological theories, critical social issues, and much more.
If you have a knack for numbers and data analysis, here’s a guide to help you become a data analyst.
During your master’s program, you can specialize in various subjects, including but not limited to:
- Criminology and deviance
- Social inequality and social class
- Gender and race/ethnicity
- Urban sociology and environment
- Education, and health
As part of your syllabus, you can choose to complete a thesis, research project, literature review, or case study for your final project.
A bachelor’s degree from any background is eligible to pursue a master’s degree in sociology. However, specific admission requirements may vary, so please check with your college.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Sociology
At the PhD level, you can specialize in criminal justice, political economy, and other related subjects in addition to sociology. The coursework includes advanced courses in sociological theory, research methods, and data analysis.
You will also be required to complete a dissertation project, which involves original research on a topic of your choice. This project typically takes several years to complete and requires you to demonstrate your ability to conduct independent research and contribute to the field of sociology.
If you have a bachelor’s degree in sociology and are committed to professional studies, you can choose to skip your master’s degree and pursue a doctoral degree in sociology through certain degree programs.
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, a psychology major is indeed a popular choice among students compared to sociology. The reasons are multi-faceted, some are:
- A degree in psychology opens up doors to a wide range of career possibilities across clinical and non-clinical roles in psychology and other fields.
- Psychology helps you understand your own behavior and personality on a much deeper level. It’s always a tool for improved communication.
- Similar to a sociology major, students study psychology for its application to the human element of work.
NOTE: In many states, using ‘psychologist’ in your title or practicing psychology as a profession requires a license. As long as you don’t pursue any clinical role, you can study psychology for its application across various industries.
More Info: 9 Types of Psychology Degrees
When you consider careers in psychology or sociology, you might typically picture roles like psychiatrists or sociologists. But the reality is that these fields offer a whole lot more. Majoring in psychology or sociology equips you with skills that are transferable across a broad range of industries.
For instance, in marketing, studying any one of these majors can help you understand customer behavior and craft successful advertising campaigns. In human resources, you can improve employee satisfaction and ramp up productivity.
Both sociology and psychology degrees can open doors to a wide range of career paths, excluding certain clinical professions that may require specific qualifications. The curriculum of these two majors often overlap and complement each other, providing you with a broad skill set that can be applied to various job markets.
Let’s explore various career paths for sociology and psychology majors.
Careers in Sociology
A sociology major equips you with a skill set that’s in high demand by employers. Sociology expands your perspective, allowing you to understand the bigger picture and make informed decisions.
These skills are in demand across various industries, increasing your employability in today’s job market. Apart from some occupations that may require a master’s degree and/or certification to work, here are some rewarding career choices for a sociology major:
Community Health Worker
Health workers help people in specific communities to improve their health and well-being. They do this by providing education, support, and outreach services. Their average salary is $59,766 per year.
Criminologists study criminal behavior to understand why it happens and how to prevent it. They analyze crime patterns, conduct research, and develop strategies for crime prevention. Their average salary is $59,459 per year.
Demographers study population dynamics to understand how populations change over time. They look at birth and death rates, migration patterns, and demographic trends to provide insights into population structure and changes. Their average salary is $72,563 per year.
Public Policy Analyst
Public policy analysts examine and evaluate government policies to provide insights and recommendations to improve public programs and services. Their average salary is $64,387 per year.
Survey researchers design and conduct surveys to gather data on various topics, opinions, and behaviors. They analyze survey results to provide insights into trends and preferences. Their average salary is $60,410 per year.
Extension Service Specialist
Extension service specialists work in agricultural or community outreach programs to provide expertise and education to farmers, communities, or other target groups. Their average salary is $64,559 per year.
Parole or Probation Officer
Parole or probation officers work with individuals who have been released from incarceration to ensure they comply with the conditions of their release. They help provide support and supervision to help individuals reintegrate into society. Their average salary is $63,478 per year.
Careers in Psychology
A psychology major can work across a broad range of fields such as healthcare, education, social work, business, human resources, marketing, legal, non-profit, government agencies, and many other work areas.
Moreover, digital mental health services are on the rise, where you can provide therapy and counseling services online. Likewise, roles in user experience (UX) design and market research also benefit from a solid understanding of human behavior, making you a competitive candidate among your peers.
You can choose to work in a clinical setting or a non-clinical one, depending on your preparedness and career approach. Apart from some occupations that may require a master’s degree and/or certification to work, here are some rewarding career choices for a psychology major:
School counselors provide academic, personal, and social support to students. They assist with academic planning, career development, and address emotional or behavioral issues to promote overall well-being of students. Their average salary is $67,723 per year.
NOTE: You need a master’s degree in school counseling and a state licensure to work as a school counselor.
Correctional Treatment Specialist
Correctional treatment specialists work within the criminal justice system to assess and develop rehabilitation plans for individuals in correctional facilities. They focus on helping offenders address underlying issues and develop skills to reintegrate into society. Their average salary is $59,860 per year.
NOTE: You typically need rehabilitation counselor certification to work as a correctional treatment specialist.
Public Relations Specialist
Public relations specialists handle communication between an organization and the public. They craft press releases, organize events, and use various media channels to create and maintain a positive image for their clients and build public relationships. Their average salary is $59,653 per year.
Forensic psychologists apply psychological principles to legal and criminal justice matters. They assess individuals involved in legal cases, providing insights into their mental state, behavior, or motivations. Their average salary is $78,869 per year.
NOTE: You need to pursue a master’s degree in forensic psychology approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and a minimum of three years of supervised practice or HCPC-accredited doctoral programme.
Social workers assist individuals and families facing challenges such as poverty, abuse, or mental health issues. They provide support, connect clients with resources, and advocate for their well-being. Their average salary is $54,034 per year.
NOTE: You need state licensure to work as a social worker.
Case workers manage and coordinate social services for individuals or families in need. They assess client needs, develop care plans, and connect clients with appropriate resources, such as healthcare, housing, or financial assistance. Their average salary is $71,991 per year.
NOTE: You need state licensure to work as a case worker.
A human resources representative manages employee relations, facilitates communication between staff and management, addresses employee issues, oversees onboarding and offboarding, and ensures adherence to company policies. Their average salary is $63,290 per year.
Social sciences, often overshadowed by STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) majors, are vital in understanding our cultures, societies, and ecosystems of the world.
Studying social sciences is like holding up a mirror to society. It clues us in on why people behave the way they do. They allow us to see how science and technology affect society, ensuring these changes are helpful and just.
Before You Go: How to Pay for College Without Loans
Yes, psychology is typically seen as a social science because it helps you study human behavior and mental processes, which are shaped by social constructs and interactions.
Psychology examines how individuals behave based on their mental processes, while sociology looks at how groups act, with a focus on societal patterns and influences.
Sociology offers a wider view, looking at how social structures and cultural norms impact individuals and groups. It’s different from other social sciences that concentrate on specific facets of society.