Sociologist Careers

Studying sociology involves continuous interplay between matters of concern in society and concepts and theories of society. The requirement to reason and critically analyse the workings of society makes sociology an effective medium of intellectual development in the course of an undergraduate degree or other programme of study. Employers recognise this.

The following information details various career choices in no particular order of importance:


The traditional occupation for sociology graduates has been social work or some other form of public sector welfare work such as the probation service. However in practice sociology graduates go into a much wider range of jobs. In industry, for instance, human resource management (or personnel as it used to be called) is one application close to welfare but additionally aspects of marketing draw upon sociological skills. Virtually all sociology courses include methods of social research and these can have an enlightening effect upon market research.

Some of the large retail firms, from Laura Ashley through Marks and Spencer to Tesco, recognise that their chief concern is people and consequently have taken sociology graduates into their management training schemes. In fact the range has tended to broaden in both the public and private sectors. For example, in recent returns graduate entry into the police force is a noticeable addition to the former and journalism to the latter.

Many sociology graduates go into teaching. This embraces school teaching, further education and the option to remain in higher education. Prospective school teachers and teachers in further education go on after graduation to take a postgraduate certificate in education and there are specialist courses for each sector, i.e. primary, secondary, tertiary and also teaching for special needs.

If you plan to study for a PGCE, you will need to ensure that the subjects you study as part of your degree will allow you entry to a PGCE course, as there are some restrictions. Talk to the Admissions Tutor of the course for more advice.

Students who achieve the best results during their undergraduate course may get the chance to go on to postgraduate research for higher degree with the aim of making a career in higher education either as a lecturer combining teaching with research or as a specialist researcher. However, resources for this are scarce and therefore competition is fierce. As an alternative the increasing demand for postgraduate qualifications has been met by an increase in the number of masters programmes that are available.

The MSc in Social Research is now a necessary accompaniment to PhD programmes but the training is also available to graduates going into other types of research. Additionally there is a wide range of masters programmes aimed at those specialisations into which sociology graduates go. The proliferation of undergraduate degree programmes has tended to raise the stakes so to speak and a postgraduate qualification is often made desirable as a result.

Graduate Entry into Management

Large companies take in graduate management trainees according to their current requirements. Therefore the intake for any particular company may vary from year to year but careers fairs are held at which most wish to be represented. Despite the enormous growth in business studies degrees other courses are evaluated according to their attributes.

Many prospective employers recognise that a sociology degree combines the development of skills in reasoning and critical assessment with knowledge about society and its workings. Additionally the discipline of social work lends itself to a number of business uses including of course market research.

The Civil Service and Local Government Service

It used to be the case that the Civil Service recruited its administrative officers from school-leavers but the general upgrading of qualification requirements has been such that increasingly it looks to graduates. The many branches of the civil service and of local government service are too numerous to list here but when the time comes you will find that career information appears alongside all the other prospective employers who are competing for the best graduates.

Sociology has appeal because it is society with which these various agencies in the public sector are routinely dealing. For those interested in government employment the address for information about recruitment is:

The Civil Service Commission
Alencon Link
Hants. RG21 1JB
For local government careers write to the Personnel Department of the local authority.

The Police

In response to criticism about their relationship with the public, police forces have been seeking to increase the proportion of graduates within their ranks. The Metropolitan Police for instance has for some time now operated a graduate entry scheme which seeks to include numbers of women and members of ethnic minority groups. Other police forces in conjunction with universities operate in service degree programmes of which social science teaching is a substantial component. Each of these is an indication that a sociology degree constitutes a recognised qualification for a police career.

Voluntary Agencies

This category embraces a range of activities extending from welfare services to aid agencies operating in the less developed societies. A career with these will appeal to people who want to attempt to change the world from the bottom up. Such agencies have limited resources and so generally speaking are not able to pay well but they may offer the most rewarding career in other ways.


The growth of large organisations has created an increasing number of jobs associated with forward planning and calculating the effects of alternative policies. Sociologists are often employed in groups of specialists working in both public and private sector organisations to analyse present trends and make projections for the future. The inclusion of statistics training as part of most sociology degree courses make them a suitable preparation for such a career. Additionally this is a suitable basis from which to pursue further qualification such as for instance a Diploma in Town Planning.

Social Work and the 'Caring Professions'

Social work helps people to live more successfully within their local communities by helping them find solutions to their problems. To succeed, social workers must work not only with clients but their families and friends as well as working closely with other organisations including the police, NHS, and schools.

From 2003, professional qualifying training for social workers in England changed to a degree in social work approved by the General Social Care Council ( GSCC). The diploma in social work and all other predecessor social work qualifications will continue to be recognised as valid social work qualifications.

A list of approved universities and related teaching institutions is available in this section along with their contact details. Contact UCAS or the university to find out more about the course or to apply.

You can also find information on how to train as a social worker at the Department of Health's Social Work website or by calling 0845 604 6404.

How do I become a Social Worker?

Most qualified social workers are employed by local authority social services departments but there are alternatives. Entry to the probation service, and work in family care, ethnic minority relations, juvenile justice, shelters for the homeless, residential care, equal opportunities, etc., varies enormously but clearly a professional social work qualification is a considerable asset.

Social workers do a very responsible job and will need to be trained, skilled and appropriately qualified before going into practice.  The route to this is through an honours or postgraduate degree in social work which has been approved by the GSCC and which combines theoretical learning with 200 days of assessed practice in a range of settings.

You can access the DOH's full list of universities which have been approved to offer social work degree courses and the type of courses they are approved to offer.

Please contact the university or college directly to find out more details about course delivery and university admissions requirements. This list includes web links to each university or college website so that you can view individual prospectuses, and telephone contact details for social work or admissions departments.

If you already have a degree you may be able to apply for a postgraduate course. You will see that postgraduate courses can be viewed separately.

The majority of courses are three-year full-time courses, although there are some part-time courses.  Postgraduate courses may be delivered full-time over two years.

Many universities will be looking for people who have some knowledge about social care, what it is and how it works. Some paid or voluntary experience will be helpful for your application.

The social work profession needs people who reflect the diversity of different communities in Britain.  Applications for social work courses are welcomed from people of all ages (18+), men and women,  people with disabilities and people from different racial, cultural and religious backgrounds.

The  Degree FAQs for Prospective Students (150 KB) contains more information about:

  • degree entry requirements and how to apply;
  • getting relevant experience in social care or social work;
  • mature students or students who have been out of education for several years; and
  • students with disabilities.

Students studying for a social work qualification at either undergraduate or post-graduate level may be eligible to receive a bursary and contribution to their fees.

All bursary enquiries must now be directed to the NHSBSA using their contact details below:

NHS Business Services Authority
Social Work Bursary
Sandyford House
Archbold Terrace
Newcastle Upon Tyne

Tel: 0845 6101122
Fax: 0191 2035507

What are the Practice Learning Requirements for the Social Work Degree?

All students on all courses must successfully complete at least 200 days of assessed practice before being awarded the social work degree. There is no exception to this requirement. The length of a day is agreed between the university and the placement provider and would normally be six to seven hours. If for any reason the student needs to complete a shorter or longer day, as negotiated with the university, then the hours undertaken should be aggregated. For example, if a student is undertaking half-days, then they would be expected to do double the number of days. Sickness or other absences should be made up.

The social work degree is a generic degree which aims to prepare students to work across a range of service user groups. Students must have experience:

  • in at least two practice settings with at least two user groups; and
  • of statutory social work tasks involving legal interventions (this does not mean that the student has to have a statutory placement, but must have opportunities to gain experience of statutory work).

It is the responsibility of the university to ensure that the practice learning opportunities meet the learning needs of the student and enable them to demonstrate the national occupational standards. Students should read their handbooks carefully to find out information about practice learning arrangements on their programme and discuss with their tutor in the first instance if they have any concerns about the placement.

Some universities may have arrangements in place for students to undertake one of the placements abroad. In this case the university must ensure:

  • that the student will have the opportunity to demonstrate at least some of the National Occupational Standards; and
  • that arrangements are in place for the appropriate support and assessment of the student in line with the university's approved procedures. 

All students must undergo assessed preparation to ensure their safety to undertake practice learning prior to their first placement. This will vary across universities but must include the opportunity to shadow an experienced social worker and the opportunity to develop a greater understanding of the experience of service users. 

Department of Health requirements for Social Work degree training.

If you have further questions please contact your regional inspector or for more information access the Degree FAQs.


A PGCE or Postgraduate Certificate in Education is the key to a teaching career and most universities and colleges of higher education run courses. See the comments above about the need to ensure you are studying the right combination of subjects in your degree course for entry on to a PGCE course.

There are specialist programmes for primary, secondary and tertiary (further education or post-school) teaching and all involve classroom experience. Sociology has become a popular subject at GCSE & ´A´ Level and the need for sociology graduates has grown accordingly. For those who want to teach the address for information is:

The Graduate Teacher Training Registry
3 Crawford Place, London W1H 2BN
(for England and Wales)

The General Teaching Council for Scotland
5 Royal Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 5AF
(for Scotland)

Higher Degrees

Some students become so involved with their sociology degree courses that they want to pursue the subject at a higher level. This can be approached in three ways:

  • through a taught course leading to a postgraduate certificate (as in the case of the PGCE or GSCC mentioned above), a postgraduate diploma (PGDip) or a masters degree (MA, MSc, MBA or equivalent). These courses are widely advertised and are normally focused upon a particular aspect of sociology with a view to subsequent career activity.

Support in the form of bursaries, scholarships or grants is scarce and so there is fierce competition for funded places. The alternative is to pay your own fees and expenses. Recently the MSc in Social Research or its equivalent has become popular and the PGDip part of such programmes has been made virtually a pre-requisite to PhD research (see below).

  • through a masters degree by research (MPhil or the equivalent). Funding is by means of some form of scholarship, bursary or studentship for which there will be fierce competition unless the student is self-funding. A research project, conceived of by the postgraduate student with guidance, is supervised by one or more members of staff. The project must involve a finite piece of research carried out by the student and written up as a dissertation or thesis for the MPhil research degree.

The execution of the research will most likely be empirical involving practical enquiry but it might alternatively be library based. Alternatively registration for an MPhil is often the initial stage of a more ambitious PhD project and will include the completion of a PGDip in Social Research as mentioned above. In such cases it is normal for the first year of research to be a kind of probationary period after which there will be a conversion process from MPhil to PhD registration.

  • through a PhD. As with the MPhil funding is by some form of scholarship, bursary or studentship for which there will be fierce competition unless the student is self-funding. Postgraduate students according to their experience and achievements may register directly for a PhD or may first register for an MPhil with the option of transfer after the satisfactory completion of the first year of study, as described above.

The PhD project may be of the student´s own devising or it may be specified as part of a larger research programme with funding provided and the student taking part in a research team. Either way it will consist of a major piece of research to be written up as a thesis in a way that is at least partly original and makes a contribution to knowledge.

As with the MPhil it may involve empirical research or alternatively be library based. It will be supervised by one but normally more members of academic staff. During the first there will normally be a course of research training and this is often accomplished by the completion of a PGDip in Social Research. A PhD will be expected to take between two and four years to complete, although some take longer.

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