How Sociology Can Prepare You For Work in the Public Sector

A Review of Employment at Local, State, and Federal Levels

Government employees work together in a meeting. There are many public sector jobs that sociologists are qualified for.
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There are many public sector opportunities, at local, state, and federal levels, for which sociology graduates are qualified. They run the gamut from public health, to transportation and city planning, to education and social work, to environmental agencies, and even criminal justice and corrections. Many jobs in these various sectors require the kinds of quantitative and qualitative research skills, and data analytics skills, that sociologists have. Further, sociologists do well in these sectors because they have developed a sense for seeing how individual or localized problems are connected to larger, systemic ones, and because they are trained to understand and respect differences of culture, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, class, and sexuality, among others, and how these affect people's lives. While many of these sectors will have entry-level jobs for graduates with a Bachelor's degree, some will require a specialized Master's.

Public Health

Sociologists can take jobs as researchers and analysts in public health organizations. These exist at local, city, state, and federal levels, and include organizations like city and state departments of health, to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control at the federal level. Sociologists who have a background or interest in health and illness and statistics will do well in such jobs, as will those with interest in how issues of inequality affect health and access to health care. Some jobs may require qualitative research skills like one-on-one interviewing and the conduct of focus groups. Others might require the kinds of quantitative data analysis skills that sociologists have, and knowledge of statistical software programs like SPSS or SAS. Sociologists who work in this sector might be involved in big data projects, like those involving outbreaks or widespread diseases, or more localized ones, like studying the efficacy of a children’s health program, for example.

Transportation and City Planning

Sociologists are prepared for jobs that facilitate large-scale planning of public projects because of their training in research and data analysis. Those with an interest and background in how people interact with the built environment, in urban sociology, or in sustainability will do well in this sector of government work. A sociologist in this line of work might find herself conducting macro data analysis of how people use public transit, with an eye to increasing use or improving service; or, she might conduct surveys, interviews, and focus groups with citizens to inform development or redevelopment of neighborhoods, among other things. In addition to working for city or state organizations, a sociologist interested in this sector might seek employment at the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Federal Aviation Administration, or the Federal Highway Administration, among others.

Education and Social Work

A sociologist who has studied education is well suited to jobs that involve analyzing educational data and/or aiding in policy-making decisions at the state level, and they make excellent teachers and counselors, thanks to their training and expertise in social interaction and general awareness of how social factors will influence a student's experience in the educational system.

Social work is another area of employment in which a sociologist can draw on their knowledge of the many relationships between individual people, social structure, and social factors to help others negotiate these complex webs. Sociologists with interests and expertise in inequality, poverty, and violence may be well suited to careers in social work, which involves one-on-one counseling of those struggling to get by, and in many cases, struggling to survive via legal means.


With a growth in the field of environmental sociology in recent decades, many sociologists graduating today are well-prepared for public sector careers that involve protecting the environment, fighting climate change, and managing environmental risks. At the local level, a sociologist with these interests might pursue a career in waste management, which involves organizing the responsible disposal of waste and operation of recycling programs; or, he might pursue a career in a parks department and lend his skills to maximizing the safe and responsible use of natural resources by local citizens. Similar jobs will exist at the state level, as will those that involve studying, managing, and mitigating environmental risks that tend to affect certain populations more than others. At the federal level, an environmental sociologist might look for a job at the Environmental Protection Agency, conducting large-scale research projects about human impacts on the environment, developing tools to help citizens understand these, and conducting research to inform national and state policies.

Criminal Justice, Corrections, and Reentry

Sociologists who have knowledge and interests in deviance and crime, issues of injustice within the criminal justice system and among the police, and in the barriers to successful reentry that formerly incarcerated people face may pursue careers in criminal justice, corrections, and reentry. This is another sector in which quantitative research and data analysis skills will be useful within city, state, and federal agencies. It is also one in which, similar to social work and education, knowledge of how systems of inequality operate, like racism and classism, will serve one well in roles that involve working with offenders while they are incarcerated and after, as they seek to reenter their communities.