Job options for Sociology graduates

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Q. What jobs might a recent U.S. college graduate with bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Japanese be able to get? The focus is on Sociology though use of the Japanese degree would be a plus. The goal is to move into business as opposed to obtaining a PhD and staying in the academic world.

A. Quite a few Sociology graduates do get jobs outside the academic world.

In one study, two years after graduation, about 35% of one group of Sociology students had gone on to graduate school (either school exclusively or school combined with work). 60% had skipped graduate school and gone to work. The rest were unemployed, out of school, and/or special cases. Source: A.S.A. (American Sociological Association).

During the period that the A.S.A. studied the issue, professions for Sociology graduates who landed full-time jobs outside the academic world broke down as follows:

  1. Social services, counselors, and psychologists — the most common professions at about 27%

  2. Clerical staff and office administrators — 16%

  3. Managers of various types — 14%

  4. Sales and Marketing — 10%

  5. Teachers and librarians — 8%

  6. Ordinary service — 8% (apparently fast-food jobs, bank tellers, etc.)

  7. Social Science and/or research — 6%

  8. Other — 11%

Note: Becoming a psychologist requires an appropriate master's degree, at a minimum. Teaching in the U.S. requires a credential but not a master's degree (though a master's degree is helpful).

Only a minority of the graduates were able to land jobs that had a close connection to their Sociology degree. Those who managed to do so were significantly happier than those who didn't.

Based on these facts and other reading, I'd make four recommendations:

  1. If a Sociology graduate won't be pursuing a PhD and/or an academic career, he or she should look into these areas: social services, youth services, teaching, counseling, crisis management (for example, FEMA), medical administration, and human resources.

  2. If teaching is seen as an option, the graduate should obtain a teaching credential. Note: This isn't required for teaching in Japan (which we'll come back to), though it may be helpful.

  3. The graduate should consider earning a master's degree in psychology, sociology, teaching, or education. Note that this step may be done concurrently with step 2. In some cases, there are programs available which will combine the two steps.

    A master's degree will take much less time than a PhD but should open a number of doors regardless.

  4. If the graduate doesn't pursue a master's degree, he or she may wish to consider an alternative. Instead of the degree, he or she could invest from one to four years in an intermediate occupation selected to add weight to the bachelor's degree.

Four intermediate programs or occupations come to mind:

  1. Teaching English in Japan

  2. Peace Corps volunteer

  3. AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer

  4. Becoming an Army officer

I'll comment further on these four options below.

Teaching English in Japan

The Sociology graduate who this was written for speaks English and apparently some Japanese as well. Therefore, teaching English in Japan is an interesting possibility. This would demonstrate a number of qualities to future employers, add to experience in various areas, and ideally build a small but reasonable amount of capital.

Note: The money part would require the ability to make a budget and stick to it. Life in Japan can be relatively expensive.

For entry-level positions, this position doesn't require an advanced degree or past teaching experience. A TEFL certificate may be helpful but is not required either.

Pay is apparently about $2,500 USD per month. Taxes, rent, food, and other expenses will take a significant portion of this. However, it may be possible to increase pay through the addition of extra hours at schools or private classes on personal time.

The Japanese school year starts in the Spring. New teachers are generally hired in the first few months of the calendar year. For more information, visit these pages: here, here, and here.

Peace Corps volunteer

This position is less profitable financially than the preceding option; pay is minimal, as explained below. It also requires a commitment of 27 months. However, a Peace Corps program provides two noteworthy benefits in addition to experience and a resume boost:

  1. Volunteers who complete their commitment are awarded one year of non-competitive eligibility for federal jobs. This may be relevant for our Sociology graduate as it will apparently move him or her to the front of the line for government Sociology jobs.

  2. Additionally, some Peace Corps programs allow volunteers with bachelor's degrees to earn credit towards a master's degree while they're serving.

Most U.S. citizens with four-year degrees qualify for Peace Corps programs. Volunteers are typically trained for three months and then sent to work in an underdeveloped nation for two years.

While a volunteer is serving, he or she receives living expenses plus full medical care and two vacation days per month. Additionally, volunteers who complete their program successfully receive a payment of about $6,000 when they leave.

For more information about the Peace Corps, click here.

AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer

AmeriCorps is analogous to the Peace Corps but operates in the U.S. One division of AmeriCorps, VISTA, offers a non-competitive job eligibility benefit similar to that provided by the Peace Corps. This benefit may be of interest to Sociology graduates.

VISTA volunteers work to build and improve organizations which, in turn, work to help people living in poverty.

In this case, the commitment is for one year, as opposed to two. There is a small monthly living allowance but medical benefits are limited.

For more information about AmeriCorps VISTA, click here.

Becoming an Army officer

A Sociology graduate may qualify to become an Army officer. This option has some positive points: salary and benefits for officers should be good, significant experience should be gained, the Army does have positions connected to Sociology, and in theory officer status should demonstrate to civilian employers that a candidate is highly trained and trustworthy.

However, there are caveats as well; I'll discuss them below.

To become an Army officer, the graduate would first enlist in the Army, then attend Basic Training (a 9-week program), and finally attend Officer Candidate School (a 14-week program). The total process should take about six months, not counting delays that may occur after each step.

Upon completion of Officer Candidate School (also known as OCS), the graduate would need to serve in the Army for three years. This is where the first caveat comes in. If the graduate fails OCS, he or she would apparently need to serve as a regular enlistee regardless.

Requirements for OCS are moderately strict. Among other things, they include: a four-year college degree, passing a test known as the ASVAB, passing a physical examination, qualifying for a security clearance, and a clean criminal record (including a clean juvenile record). Note: Minor traffic violations aren't a problem, provided that the penalties imposed were $250.00 or less.

About 60% of the civilians who apply to OCS are accepted. The majority of those who are accepted (90%) complete OCS successfully. The second caveat comes in here. I'd advise anybody considering OCS to verify that they can apply to OCS and learn if they've been accepted or rejected before they enlist.

Another caveat is that the new officer will have little say regarding his or her assignment. There is no guarantee that it will involve Sociology.

A fourth and final caveat is that civilian employers do respect military experience, but an applicant needs to be able to make the connection between that experience and their needs clear.

For more information about OCS, click here.

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