Choosing your undergraduate major is a big deal. It’s what your life will revolve around for the next few years and is a big factor when it comes to your future career. If you’re interested in how people behave either as individuals or within certain cultures or social groups, a major in psychology or sociology might be the right choice for you.
Psychology vs. Sociology Degree
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, psychology was the fourth most popular major in the U.S. in 2014-15. When it comes to choosing between a sociology or psychology degree, you should consider whether you want to pursue a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science.
The B.A. focuses more on psychology courses and is the right choice if you want to pursue a career in law, counselling, education or journalism. The B.S. involves more technical courses, such as math, science and statistics, which makes it the best path toward a career in business, government or medicine.
Areas of Study
The main difference between sociology and psychology is that sociology deals in the collective (society), while psychology focuses on the individual.
The American Sociological Association defines sociology as "the study of our behavior as social beings, covering everything from the analysis of short contacts between anonymous individuals on the street to the study of global social processes." Sociology majors study social theory and social structures, research methods and social policy. Students are encouraged to use communication, critical thinking and analytic problem solving to explore concepts of social responsibility, diversity and human rights.
According to the American Psychological Association, psychology "embraces all aspects of the human experience – from the functions of the brain to the actions of nations, from child development to care for the aged." Psychology investigates the causes of human behavior at the individual level using analysis, measurement and observation. Psychology majors study human behavior and mental processes, focusing on one person at a time to get a general understanding of society and behavioral and mental health trends.
Postgraduate Degree Options
If you want to continue your education after your psychology or sociology major, you have a range of options. Many students who wish to specialize in a particular area pursue a master's degree, typically involving 18 months to two years of full-time study.
If you would like to become a marriage and family therapist or a psychologist (such as a clinical, experimental, forensic or educational psychologist), you need a master's degree in psychology. There's no such thing as a "sociologist," but a master's degree in sociology can lead to advanced roles in many fields, including research, education or social justice.
Careers in Psychology and Sociology
Many psychology graduates find jobs in social services, criminal justice, public administration and sales. A sociology degree is a good foundation for jobs in public, human or social services, social analysis and research and human resources.
Because a wide range of careers is available to psychology and sociology graduates, both paths have good earning potential. In 2017, the median pay for a psychologist, which typically requires a doctoral degree in psychology, was $77,030 per year. By comparison, in 2017, the median pay for a human resources specialist was $60,350 per year.
Choosing Between Psychology and Sociology
When deciding between a psychology major and a sociology major, consider what topics interest you the most. If you're fascinated by the human mind, mental illness and how individuals affect society and like the idea of working one-on-one with people to help them solve their problems, then psychology is best suited for you. On the other hand, if you'd like to study class, gender and race, are interested in how society influences people and like the idea of helping to solve social problems in your community, then sociology is for you.
- California State University Long Beach: Degree Requirements for the Psychology Major
- University of California Berkeley: What Can I Do With a Sociology Major?
- National Center for Education Statistics: Fact Facts: Most Popular Majors
- American Sociological Association: What Is Sociology?
- American Psychological Association: About APA
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Psychologists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Human Resources Specialists
- Psychology Today: 14 Career Options for Psychology Majors
Claire Gillespie has been writing and editing for 18 years. She has written about high school and higher education for private clients and various websites, including SheKnows and Reader's Digest.