Do Sociologists Work Outside of Universities?

It’s easy to think that all sociologists are researchers. In most sociology classes the majority of class time is spent discussing sociological research and/or the methods sociologists use to conduct their research. The truth is, only a small minority of sociology graduates go on to become research faculty. More than 25% of sociology graduates end up working in social services and between 40-60% work in other areas such as management, administration, or education related positions, just to name a few. Sociology graduates certainly use the research skills they learned from their programs, but “researcher” is often not in their job title. The fields of applied sociology and clinical sociology are just two of the many career paths that allow graduates to do sociology in more than just an academic research setting.

What is Applied Sociology?

According to the Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology, “Applied sociology is the utilization of sociological theory, methods, and skills to collect and analyze data and to communicate the findings to understand and resolve pragmatic problems of clients.” This means that applied sociologists are often using their sociology skills, even their research skills, to create positive social change in organizations and communities. For example, Mindy Fried from Arbor Consulting Partners discusses how she and others have worked as program evaluators, policy advocates, lobbyists, and researchers for non-profits, private companies, and government.

What is Clinical Sociology?

Clinical sociology is a type of applied sociology that is focused on intervening with human behavior at the individual level, with groups, and with communities (Bruhn and Rebach 2012). Clinical sociologists often use counseling and case management skills and work in a variety of settings such as social services, non-profits, health centers, and social policy.

Sociological practice is a more general term for both Applied and Clinical Sociology. Steele and Price (2004) define sociological practice as “any use (often client-centered) of the sociological perspective and/or its tools in the understanding of, intervention in, and/or enhancement of human social life.” The American Sociological Association notes that applied and clinical sociologies are complementary approaches (Careers in Clinical Sociology, 2003).

Sociologists Do More Than Just Research

I’ve only touched on two of the many ways that sociology graduates do sociological work in non-academic settings. Working in an academic setting is a great career path – I should know because that’s what I do. However, many sociology students don’t realize how many options they really have and just how beneficial their sociological skills are to a wide variety of careers and for transforming the world we live in.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Imagine you are interviewing for a job in a career you’d like to work in. The interviewer notices that you have taken sociology course(s). She/he asks you to describe how your sociology skill set will be useful to the job you’d like. First describe the hypothetical career you will be in and then describe what skills you’ve learned from your sociology classes that you think would be beneficial to you in that job.
  2. Peruse the Sociology At Work website (http://www.sociologyatwork.org/) and find at least three interesting facts you learned about applied sociology that were not discussed in the above post.
  3. The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) has recently been overhauled and includes new sociological questions. (read more about this change here). How will future doctors benefit from having an awareness of sociological concepts?
  4. Read portions of the Occupational Outlook Handbook for Sociology. Describe the work environment for sociologists and what they do.


  • Bruhn, John G., and Howard M. Rebach, eds. 2012. Handbook of clinical sociology. Springer Science & Business Media.
  • Steele, S. F. and J. Price. 2007. Applied Sociology: Terms, Topics, Tools And Tasks. 2nd ed.  Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth Publishing.