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Sociology, Political Science, & Justice Degrees

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The social sciences include various topics and majors, ranging from English to poetry to criminal justice to psychology and more. Many students who don’t want a STEM degree trend instead toward sociology, political science, or justice degrees.

Out of all available majors, sociology, political science, and justice studies degrees are some of the most popular and valuable in today’s job market. However, their similarities make them difficult to choose between. These three majors share several foundational courses and topics, as well.

Today, let’s explore sociology, political science, and justice studies degrees. We’ll break down what each major offers, what professions each degree is suitable for, and help you choose your degree based on personal fit and salary potential. Let’s begin.

Sociology Degrees

Sociology degrees revolve around the study of sociology: the science of human behavior and societies at large. As a designated social science, sociology emphasizes deep and rigorous analysis of human interactions. It also focuses on understanding the forces that affect those interactions. When you become a sociology student, you’ll study:

  • Individuals
  • Communities
  • Cultures
  • Organizations
  • Broader Societies
  • How all of these groups fit together and interact

As social creatures, humans and their behaviors are often dictated by the circumstances of their surrounding social groups. Sociology students learn how to understand these pressures and how they impact individual and group decisions.

A sociology student will learn how to:

  • Conduct sociological research
  • Collect sociological data for analysis and writing papers
  • Ask important sociological questions
  • Use their skills to address sociological issues in society
  • And more

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What Kind of Coursework Does a Sociology Program Include?

Most sociology programs are “multidisciplinary.” They will include courses or subjects across various disciplines like history, psychology, and more.

Most sociology programs will first require students to build up a foundation of research and analysis methods. Students will also study prior sociological efforts or studies. Then they examine how the researchers used their information to enact critical public policies or initiatives.

Later in a program, sociology students may directly study populations. For example, many in-person sociology programs require students to do a project (such as a capstone project) to graduate. This project may involve studying small groups or collecting data from larger groups.

Students may take the following specific classes depending on their program:

  • Race and ethnic relations
  • Sex and gender studies
  • Classes on the aging population
  • Drugs and crime and how they affect society
  • Family interactions and dynamics
  • The effects of media
  • Religious beliefs and their impact
  • City vs. suburban living
  • And more

Many sociology programs allow students to concentrate in a specific area. This may involve taking specialized classes and receiving a certificate. These specializations may prepare sociology students for specific career paths or positions in the sociology field.

What Kind of Careers is a Sociology Degree Suitable For?

Because sociology is a multidisciplinary field, students who acquire degrees in this subject are prepared for a wide range of careers. Some example careers for sociology majors include:

  • Foreign service officers
  • Peace corps volunteers
  • Human resources managers for companies
  • Technical writers
  • Market analysts
  • Urban planners
  • Criminal investigators
  • Police officers
  • Admissions counselors
  • Teachers
  • Public health educators
  • Consumer researchers
  • Data analysts
  • Hospital administrators
  • Public health supervisors
  • Substance abuse counselors
  • And more

However, sociology majors are a little more generalized in the social sciences than political science and justice studies majors.

Earnings for Those with Sociology Degrees

The earnings for any type of social studies major can vary depending on one’s eventual profession.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the median annual wage for individuals in life, physical, and social science occupations was $69,760.

But you may end up making more or less than this average amount. Social workers who help individuals and communities overcome local challenges earn an average salary of $51,760 per year.

Maybe you’ll eventually become a sociologist instead. While dedicated sociologists need a master’s degree to acquire a position, you first need to get a sociology bachelor’s degree. Should you become a sociologist (a sociology researcher), you may earn an average salary of $86,110 per year.

Other sociology majors may decide to become teachers. The BLS estimates that sociology teachers in postsecondary positions earn a mean annual wage of $85,180.

As you can see, your potential earnings are heavily dependent on your exact position, your experience, and your location.

Political Science Degrees

Political science degrees are some of the most popular in American universities at the time of this writing. A political science program has students study government theories and the practical applications of government initiatives.

Depending on the concentration or specialization chosen, students may explore topics like:

  • Political theory (i.e., democracy, communism, nationalism, fascism, etc.)
  • Comparative politics between different nations or states
  • International relations and diplomatic topics
  • And more

Political science focuses on the underlying social science theories behind political groups and activities. Those who study political science can then take those theories and put them into practice for political campaigns, research studies, and other purposes.

Graduates with political science degrees can deeply understand political issues at a higher or more abstract level. They also communicate those ideas to others at a lower or interpersonal level.

Political science degrees are appropriate for various careers, ranging from politicians to researchers to administrators and more. Additionally, many political science programs include opportunities for students to receive class credits for extracurricular activities, such as internships in law firms or campaign offices. Aspiring politicians may wish to study political science to get a leg up over the competition.

What Kind of Coursework Does a Political Science Program Include?

A given political science program may include different coursework or classes from its fellow programs because of its available specializations. Many political science programs include concentrations such as:

  • American politics
  • Political science research methods
  • International politics and history
  • Political theory and development of political thought
  • And more

However, all political science programs require students to enroll in various introductory courses. These courses provide foundational knowledge that students can then apply to their analysis and understanding of more complex political topics.

Once students reach the second half of their degree program, they may explore more specialized subjects. These subjects include international law, energy policies, immigration policies, civil wars, and more.

Additionally, many programs require students to take interdisciplinary classes to round out their education. For example, statistics classes are popular inclusions in political science programs. Statistics knowledge helps students make more accurate political analyses.

Most political science degrees are available as either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science. The latter typically involves more quantitative (i.e., math-focused) coursework.

What Kind of Careers is a Political Science Degree Suitable For?

The career opportunities for students who hold political science degrees are almost endless. Regardless of whether you receive a BA or BS in political science, you’ll have many potential degree pathways. Just some of these include:

  • Teachers, either for primary or secondary schools
  • Political theory development and advisement, in which you will advise politicians or policymakers
  • Legislative aid, staff assistant, press aide, policy analyst, etc.
  • Political scientist
  • Legislator (i.e., representative or senator)
  • Advocate
  • Policy researcher
  • Communications coordinator
  • Diplomat
  • Lobbyist or consultant
  • Reporter, radio host, writer, editor, etc.
  • Market researcher
  • Public relations manager
  • Data analyst
  • Human resources specialist
  • And more

As you can see, many of these potential careers are shared with the sociology major. That’s because political science programs share many of the same topics or foundational frameworks as sociology programs. In many ways, the two disciplines’ social studies backgrounds make them more similar than not.

Earnings for Those with Political Science Degrees

As with sociology, political science can lead you down many different career paths. Your expected earnings can vary.

For instance, political scientists earn an average salary of $125,350 per year, according to the BLS. But most political scientists must earn a master’s degree either in political science or a similar field to acquire these positions.

Politicians may receive extremely high salaries ranging from hundreds of thousands to even millions of dollars depending on their position, seniority, and home state.

Should you decide to become a political science teacher, you may receive an annual salary of over $100,000 per year, provided you acquire a postsecondary teaching position.

Many political science majors may become public relations specialists working for corporate America. These professionals earn average salaries of $62,810 per year.

The sky is truly the limit when it comes to political science degrees in terms of salary potential. The more specialized you are and the higher your education, the more money you’ll make as a political science major.

Justice Studies Degrees

Another popular choice for social studies students are justice studies majors. Justice studies degrees focus on criminal justice and law, making them similar to “regular” law degrees.

However, justice studies degrees are intended to prepare students for careers in the criminal justice system, not necessarily to become lawyers. Justice studies degrees may make practical bachelor’s degrees for pre-law students who plan to become attorneys.

Most justice studies programs educate students on all aspects of justice rather than a single specialization. Therefore, justice studies degrees are often considered foundational compared to master’s level degrees like legal degrees.

When students attend justice studies programs, they learn how the American criminal justice system works, how law enforcement personnel relate to the criminal justice system, and how laws are developed and implemented. Most programs will include some theoretical or abstract coursework, as well.

What Kind of Coursework Does a Justice Studies Program Include?

The coursework for criminal justice studies programs is often shared across universities. Students take courses covering topics like:

  • Criminology, which is the study of criminal behavior and tendencies
  • Law and evidence, emphasizing how evidence relates to laws, what kind of evidence can be submitted to court, and so on
  • Court procedures and doctrine
  • Psychology for both criminals and law-abiding citizens
  • Public administration
  • The history of the criminal justice system
  • Law enforcement tactics and procedures
  • And more

What Kind of Careers is a Justice Studies Degree Suitable For?

A justice studies degree may be suitable for a wide range of careers. As noted above, it may be a good bachelor’s degree for pre-law students looking to attain a full degree before moving into law school for financial or other reasons.

However, a justice studies degree may also be suitable for any number of professions in the criminal justice system, including:

  • Police officers – in some cases, a justice studies degree may allow police officers to acquire higher pay or responsibility earlier than officers with high school diplomas only
  • Court administrators
  • Justices
  • Corrections officers
  • Teachers
  • And more

Earnings for Those with Justice Studies Degrees

A justice studies degree will prepare you for a career with a reasonable salary, no matter the position. However, the exact salary level is dependent on your location, experience, and job title.

The best example of this is the position of a police officer, which covers entry-level officers to experienced sergeants or detectives. Police officers earn an average salary of $67,290 per year. However, the top 10% of police officers earn more than $113,000 per year because they receive promotions or stay with the same department for several years.

Meanwhile, judges and hearing officers earn an average salary of $124,200 per year. Note, though, that judge and hearing officer positions require a doctoral or professional degree; a BS in Justice Studies is just a stepping stone to this eventual profession.

You can more easily become a correctional officer or bailiff with a bachelor’s degree in this major. These professionals earn an average of $47,440 per year, though more is possible depending on seniority and experience.

As with other social studies majors, justice studies can lead you to a wide range of salary possibilities.

Where Do Sociology, Political Science, and Justice Degrees Intersect?

Each of the above three degrees intersects because all deal in social studies. They are not counted as part of “STEM” majors, so keep this in mind if you are looking for that kind of career.

Furthermore, each of these degrees involves similar educational focuses and foundations. For example, sociology, political science, and justice studies students may all learn introductory or foundational theories before moving on to more specialized subjects.

For example, political science and sociology’s underlying theories are often interchangeable or usable in both fields. The ideas of Karl Marx may be studied by both political science and sociology students.

Similarly, many of the theories behind political science and justice studies are shared or take elements from one another. Political science and justice studies programs may both include classes on criminal studies, the effects of the economy on criminal behavior, and more.

Sociology, political science, and justice studies degrees share some level of subject relatability. It may be difficult for students to determine which degrees are best for their interests or career goals.

What Skills Do You Need for a Sociology, Political Science, or Justice Studies Degree?

The shared foundational subjects and coursework between these three degrees also means that they require many of the same skills. The essential skills for sociology, political science, or justice studies degrees include:

Critical Thinking

Each of these degrees requires you to absorb information and think about it critically to come to your own conclusions. This is doubly true if you want to pursue a research-oriented profession.

Problem Solving

The sociology and political science fields especially require strong problem-solving skills. Both of these career paths will require you to come up with novel solutions to discovered problems.

Time Management

Time management is important in every college program but especially in social studies. You may need to juggle multiple responsibilities simultaneously, like an internship for a political office and your degree program.

Communication

The social studies fields often rely on teamwork and cooperation. This may be even more important for your profession if you decide to work with other researchers in your field.

Research Skills

You will develop these as you progress down your career path, but having a strong affinity for research already will be beneficial in the earliest years of your journey. If you don’t like research, justice studies might be the best choice out of the three.

Writing Skills

You’ll need to write multiple essays and papers for each of these majors, plus complete research projects that may require in-depth writing from you and your partners.

Math Skills

Depending on your focus, you may also need a certain amount of math skills. Each of these majors may require you to take one or more statistics courses to fully understand the statistical studies and analysis that led to their modern conclusions.

For example, you’ll need to understand statistics so you can grasp sociological trends in America and the wider world. You may also need statistical understanding to succeed in the criminal justice field, as statistics often influence policy or legal decisions.

Therefore, don’t expect sociology, political science, or justice studies degrees to be utterly devoid of math. These majors are not in the STEM fields, but math is still important.

Which to Pursue: Sociology, Political Science, or Justice Degrees

Sociology, political science, and justice studies degrees share a core similarity. They focus on human behavior and how humans interact with societal systems.

However, each major teaches students to apply the knowledge to different ends. For example, sociology degrees prepare students for a more research-oriented or technical approach. Sociology majors are usually more interested in how individuals interact with society. Sociologists study the underlying societal patterns that govern many of our day-to-day activities, pressures, and more.

In contrast, political science majors focus more on how the already-active political parties affect our daily lives and evolve. They may play a more direct role in day-to-day political actions or groups, becoming lobbyists, political analysts, or politicians themselves.

Justice studies majors focus on criminal justice policies and sociological concepts. They do not learn as much about broad sociological topics. Instead, they focus more on how and why criminals interact the way they do and how the criminal justice system allows for the control and punishment of such individuals.

Questions to Ask Yourself to Help Select a Degree Path

Therefore, the best way to determine which of these degrees you should pursue is to think about your end career goals.

  • Does the idea of spending most of your time researching more abstract psychological or social concepts appeal? In that case, a sociology degree might be a great choice.
  • Do you want to become a law enforcement officer, lawyer, or help keep your country’s cities safe? A justice studies degree could be just the ticket.
  • Maybe you want to influence policy at a local or national level. A political science degree could help you become a politician or influence policy in many ways.

If you are still undecided after asking yourself your eventual career goals, remember that all of these majors share foundational courses. Sociology, political science, and justice studies programs will usually have you take classes like:

  • Psychology
  • Statistics
  • Research methods and analysis
  • Political theory
  • History

Because of these shared courses, you may be able to hold off declaring your major for a year or two after starting college. You could choose a major out of the above three, then swap after taking a few courses and seeing what each topic feels like in class.

Sociology, Political Science, & Justice Degrees: In Summary

Ultimately, sociology, political science, and justice studies degrees are valuable in their unique ways. Students who pursue these degrees will be valuable contributors to society and will likely have lucrative and rewarding careers after graduation.

But it’s up to you to determine which of the three topics is most appealing and which eventual career seems like the best fit. Consider your options carefully and GetEducated with our schools and programs list today!

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