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What is Sociology?

Sociology is the systematic study of human society, especially present-day societies. Sociologists study the organization, institutions, and development of societies, with a particular interest in identifying the causes of the changing relationships among individuals and groups. It also covers the study of social problems, ie. the results of human society, and has sub-areas such as Criminology, Social Policy and Social Theory, and has connections to Politics, Law, History and even Geography.

Sociology is one of those great subjects that provides so many valuable skills beyond the actual subject matter. Many people who study Sociology do go into related areas of work - social work, local government, teaching/education, youth work, child protection, probation work etc etc, but you will also find Sociology graduates working in areas like retail management, banking, publishing, and so on which would appear not to actually require this degree specifically. This is because of the skills, methods and thought processes that you will be taught as part of your degree that employers in hundreds of career areas find very valuable - the ability to listen and consider other people's viewpoints, the ability to deal with data and text, plus skills like advocacy, presentation, empathy, 'seeing the big picture' and so on.

The British Sociological Association has lots more info about 'What is Sociology' and 'Why you should study it' here.

Course Structure

Like many other subjects taught at University, there are different sorts of Sociology and different ways of teaching it. Therefore do not assume that all Sociology courses are the same and all you are choosing is which Uni to study it at. There isnt some sort of 'universal syllabus' like at A level, and you need to read the course descriptions carefully and take note of what is different between them. This isnt just that one Uni might offer a module in the 'Sociology of Childhood' , or 'Societies of the Far East' or whatever but that within these courses will be a different slant. Theory or empirical? Marxist tilt or more bland & balanced? Each Uni will teach this subject differently.

Cambridge, for instance, tells applicants that : Sociology in Cambridge is taught within the context of what is called the Human, Social and Political Sciences Tripos (HSPS). HSPS is simply the general administrative framework within which Sociology and several other social science subjects – Politics, Social Anthropology, Biological Anthropology and Archaeology – are taught in Cambridge. So already you should have noticed that is taught within a group of other subjects, and will be influenced by that positioning within an interdisciplinary department. You will be expected to take on board far more than just Sociology, and given that the sociologists Cambridge has produced tend to be big time theorists such as Anthony Giddens, Michael Mann, John Goldthorpe, David Lockwood, Philip Abrams and Michael Young, you can deduce that this will be the main focus of the course. If you don't enjoy wrestling with big theoretical stuff with a lesser emphasis on applying this to real-life situations then perhaps Cambridge isn't for you.

Kent on the other hand introduces its course with : This programme provides you with an understanding of core traditions and contemporary developments in sociological thinking and research. It also features a range of specialist areas such as race and ethnic identity, sociological approaches to violence, terrorism and society, new media technologies, the sociology of health, sex and gender and the sociology of science and technology. Not as much social theory here, but big on particular areas of sociological research - but are they areas that actually interest you?

Here is the course structure for Leicester 2015 entry. It includes a balance of sociological theory units and theme units, and this sort of balance is typical of most Uni courses in Sociology.

Year One : core courses (you do all of them, no choices) Introducing Sociology: Cultivating a Sociological Imagination, Introduction to Sociological Theory, Sociology of Crime and Deviance, 
 Introducing Social Psychology.

Year Two : one core course plus options : Social Research Methods
, plus 3 options from the following: Contemporary Political Sociology, Gender, Sexuality and Inequalities, Sociology of Health and Illness, Popular Culture, Media and Society, Social Interaction and Conversation Analysis.

Year Three : Dissertation (a term long research project worth two modules) plus four module options from : Body, Identity and Society, Advanced Social Theory, Cinema, Cities & Crime, Humans and Other Animals, Social Memory, Paranormal in Society, Sociology of the North, Birth, Marriage & Death, Performance & Society, Migration & Tourism, The Global Transformation of Health, The Racial State,

Single or Joint Honours?

You can study Sociology on its own (single honours). This means you will usually study two different course units each term (therefore 6 individual courses a year). Or you can combine it with another subject (joint honours), and usually this means you take one Sociology unit and one 'other' per term, again adding up to six per year.

Common joint honours degrees including Sociology : Sociology with a language, Sociology with Criminology, Sociology and Education, Economics and Sociology, Philosophy and Sociology, Social and Political Sciences/Sociology and Politics, Sociology and Social Policy/Welfare Studies, Sociology and Criminology, Sociology and Business, Sociology with Quantifiable Methods (how to handle data) . The second subject will give you more career options, but may mean you don't study some areas within Sociology itself in as much depth.

Remember also that Sociology is often offered 'with Study Abroad' - and that this doesn't always mean in Europe. So if you are not good at languages, dont despair - some Unis offer a semester or a year in the USA, Australia, Hong Kong or to a country where teaching is conducted in English like Netherlands, Denmark etc.

Other subjects 'like Sociology'

Don't forget to look beyond plain 'Sociology' as a degree title. As the above section explains, you can do Sociology alongside lots of other subjects - but you could also do another subject entirely, one that is 'like Sociology' that you may not have heard of or considered.

Examples : Social Science - Applied Social Science - Criminology - Criminal Justice - Social Policy - Policy Studies - International Development - Welfare Studies - Youth Studies - Childhood Studies - Child Psychology - Social Psychology - Counselling - Abuse Studies (Drug and Alcohol) - Mental Health Nursing - Social Work - Community or Public Health - Cultural Studies - etc etc. A good website to search for courses like this is What Uni. Put in a few keywords and see where the search takes you. Read the course descriptions for a couple of different Unis to see what each subject involves - you could find a course that is more specifically geared to your interests than just 'Sociology'.

BA or BSc?

BA stands for Bachelor of Arts and BSc means Bachelor of Social Science. Whilst these nomenclatures are not staggeringly important in terms of career possibilities, they do tell you something about the focus of the course on offer. One of the major differences between the two is that the humanities/arts involve a more critical and analytical approach whereas social science deals with a more scientific approach. An Arts course will be more about taking an idea and exploring the background to it, and suggesting some conclusions from your discussions - this is inductive reasoning which makes broad generalizations from specific observations about an issue. A Social Science focus involves using scientific style evidence to prove or disprove a question - deductive reasoning is used to reach a logical true conclusion based on 'facts' rather than 'assumptions'. This might sound a bit baffling, and it isn't something you should get stressed about - just choose a course with modules that appeal to you and sound interesting

Admissions

Academic Requirements

Sociology is offered at most UK Universities, and the admission requirements vary greatly. A good place to look to see where you could realistically apply is What Uni as you can search on your actual or predicted grades. This will also give you relevant joint subject degrees (Sociology with another subject) at each University. It is also worth searching on other titles such as Social Sciences, Criminology, Cultural Studies, Childhood Studies and Social Policy, as these courses are also Sociology based and may be more appropriate to your interests.

To give you some idea of the grades required by different Universities, here are a few examples for Sociology in 2015  : University of Liverpool - AAB, Kings College London - AAB, University of Sussex - ABB, University of Bristol - ABB, University of Nottingham - ABB, University of Greenwich - 300 UCAS points, University of Plymouth - 280 UCAS points, University of Salford - BBC, University of Cumbria - 200 UCAS points, Burnley College - CCC.

Foundation degrees - these allow those with inadequate A level grades to do a pre-degree year to bring them up to speed before doing the full degree, and these courses will have much lower entry requirements - as an example Wolverhampton offers 'Law, Social Science and Communication Studies with Foundation Year BA (Hons)' for 120 points.

Contextual offers and Widening Participation - most Universities will make offers 1 grade lower in 1 subject (ie. BBB instead of ABB) to applicants from low-performing schools, or from disadvantaged backgrounds. If you aren't sure if you/your school qualifies for this, phone each Uni to check as each Uni will use different criteria. If a Uni quotes a 'grade range' (ABB/BBB) for a course, the first set of grades will be the standard offer made to most applicants, with the second grade set only for contextual offers.

Do you have to have studied Sociology at A level? In a word, no. It isn't offered as an A level subject at all schools and in any case, an A level doesn't mean you will be 'better' at Sociology than someone who has never studied it before. Most Universities insist on a traditional 'essay subject' - English Literature, History, Politics, Law, Economics qualify, as obviously does Sociology. Many Universities (including Russell Group) will accept a relevant BTEC Extended Diploma (like Health and Social Care), usually in combination with one 'essay' type A level.

UCAS Form & Personal Statement

Read sample sociology personal statements.

Life as a Sociology Student

Here is a great 'Life as a Sociology Student' Blog from a student at Warwick University : Blog

Graduate Destinations and Career Prospects

The following jobs which are directly related from the Sociology degree are:

Social researcher in government or local government Community development worker Youth Worker PR and Marketing Prison or Probation Officer Police and Defence Forces Social Work and Child Protection International Development /NGOs Housing manager/officer Primary/secondary school teacher Journalism and media

Although some of the jobs listed here might not be first jobs for many graduates, they are among the many realistic possibilities with your degree, provided you can demonstrate you have the attributes employers are looking for. It's also worth noting that many graduate vacancies don't specify particular degree disciplines, so don't restrict your thinking to the jobs listed here.

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