Choosing your undergraduate major is a big decision, one that determines not only what topics you’ll be living and breathing for the next several years, but also what career opportunities will likely be most attainable to you upon graduating.
For those interested in the scope of human behavior and experience, a major in sociology* or psychology* is a popular choice. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2015-2016, psychology is the fourth most awarded degree in the US.
If you’re considering a career in either psychology or sociology, you might be wondering "which is more interesting?", "which is easier?", or "what jobs can I get?". To answer these questions, it can be helpful to understand exactly what these fields have in common, key aspects of studying each at the undergraduate level, as well as the job outlook and career opportunities connected to each.
Similarities and Differences between Sociology and Psychology
An easy way to begin to understand the difference between sociology and psychology is that sociology deals in both specific social identity groups (example: gender, race or social class), as well as collective society, while psychology focuses on the individual, although this focus also includes group dynamics, such as behaviors in the workplace.
Whichever field you choose, courses in research methods, social identity groups, and behavioral analysis are typical.
A degree in either sociology or psychology can prepare you for a variety of careers.
To dive in deeper, sociology explores the social behavior of identity groups, cultures, organizations, and social institutions. Sociology majors study social theory and social structures, research methods, and social policy. The American Sociology Association suggests that “studying sociology fosters creativity, innovation, critical thinking, analytic problem solving, and communication skills,” further noting that “sociology challenges you to see the world through the lens of different cultures and communities.”
Your coursework in sociology will likely explore concepts of diversity, social responsibility, human rights, and dignity and respect for others in society.
In contrast, psychology investigates the causes of human behavior at the individual level using observation, measurement, and analysis. Psychologists study the cognitive, emotional, and social means by which individuals relate to one another and to their environments.
Your coursework as a psychology major will focus on the study of human behavior and mental processes based on culture, diversity, and self-development.
Sociology vs. Psychology Careers
A degree in either sociology or psychology can prepare you for a variety of careers. Both emphasize critical thinking and research skills.
A sociology degree will help you to move through an increasingly diverse world, and provide you with problem-solving tools for social problems. Career-wise, you will have a strong foundation from which to explore jobs in areas such as:
- Public, Human, or Social Services
- Social Research and Analysis
- Social Justice-Related Services
- Human Resources
Careers with a psychology degree, on the other hand, may include sectors like:
- Public Administration
- Criminal Justice
- Social Services
10 Skills Gained from Studying Sociology & Psychology
Whichever degree you decide to pursue, you can build a wide range of transferable skills that could aid in your personal and career development. Some of these shared transferable skills that you can learn include:
- Critical thinking skills
- Problem solving skills
- Communication skills
- Writing Skills
- Data Collection and Research skills
- Reasoning Skills
- Numeracy Skills
- Prioritization Skills
- Evidence-based decision-making skills
Sociology or Psychology - What’s Right For Me?
A: I’m more fascinated by the human mind.
B: I’m more interested in how society influences people.
A: I’d like to better understand mental illness.
B: I’d like to study race, social class, and gender.
A: I like to work with people one-on-one to help solve their problems.
B: I’d like to help solve the social problems in my community.
A: Child & Adolescent Development sounds like an interesting class to me.
B: I’d rather take a class called “Identity & Social Inequality."
A: It’s important to me to understand how individuals impact society.
B: It’s important to me to understand how society impacts individuals.
Mostly A’s: Congrats! You’re likely more interested in a psychology degree
Mostly B’s: Congrats! You’re likely more interested in a sociology degree
What was your quiz result? Do you think the outcome will influence what degree you decide to pursue?
*Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.