How Do I Become a Sociology Professor?

Susan Abe

Sociology is the study of social systems and social organizations. The discipline is an exceedingly malleable one and can often include aspects of political science, marketing, organization management and even law enforcement. Many students take a sociology class in high school as one of the requirements for a diploma and one of the introductory social science classes — sociology, psychology or economics — is almost always a required class for a student earning an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree.

Some individuals are able to instruct introductory classes at the community-college level with a master's degree.
Some individuals are able to instruct introductory classes at the community-college level with a master's degree.

Even for a college graduate with a major and a bachelor's degree in sociology, additional education is required to become a sociology professor. Some individuals can instruct introductory classes at the community college level with a master's degree; however, a doctorate in the field is required to become a sociology professor vying for tenure at a four-year college or university.

Sociology professors have to be able to explain subject matter clearly to be an effective educator.
Sociology professors have to be able to explain subject matter clearly to be an effective educator.

The first step, then, on the road to become a sociology professor is to earn a high school diploma and gain admission to a college or university. Sociology majors are popular areas of study and are offered by most accredited institutions of higher education in the US. Students planning to ultimately become a sociology professor usually major in the field, with or without a major or minor in a related field, such as criminal justice or political science.

Instructing introductory sociology courses at a community college may only require a master's degree.
Instructing introductory sociology courses at a community college may only require a master's degree.

In addition to introductory classes in sociological theory and different specializations in the field — criminology, social stratification, medical sociology and research methods — undergraduates will also need to successfully complete basic statistics classes. Although not anticipated by many students, in the social sciences, a working knowledge of statistics is important for both designing experiments and knowledgeably evaluating published reports of scholarly and public studies.

Future professors often serve as teaching or graduate assistants while they are still in school.
Future professors often serve as teaching or graduate assistants while they are still in school.

Beginning in an undergraduate's junior year, preparations need to be started for the student to take the Graduate Record Examination® (GRE®). The results of the GRE®, the student's undergraduate grades, professors' recommendations and the quality of any independent study projects all determine whether application to a sociology graduate school program will be successful. Fairly early in the first year of graduate study, students begin to decide whether their efforts will end with a thesis and a master's degree in sociology, also referred to as a terminal degree in academic circles.

Most people in the U.S. must take the GRE prior to gaining admission to a graduate-level sociology program.
Most people in the U.S. must take the GRE prior to gaining admission to a graduate-level sociology program.

Students who plan to become a sociology professor — eventually earning a doctorate — must also first complete a master's degree in their field. Doctoral students usually work as teaching assistants while writing their dissertations and preparing to defend them before a committee of department professors.

A doctorate in sociology is required to become a tenured sociology professor.
A doctorate in sociology is required to become a tenured sociology professor.

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