Undergraduate Program

What is Sociology?

Sociology is the scientific study of social life. Pretty much anything involving more than one person is fair game for sociologists. We make big comparisons between whole societies or whole historical eras, and we make small comparisons between different individuals in the same situation. We look for what is universal as well as what varies across societies and groups. Sociology allows us to explore social change and provides a lens into the complexity of the causes and consequences of human behavior.

Sociologists study a broad array of topics including intimate relationships, friendship groups, families, education, politics, economic arrangements, organizations, crime, inequality (for example, by race, gender, and class), illness, and much more. We are curious about what is going on in the world and more importantly: why and how?

Sociologists develop theories about how social life works and test these theories against evidence. They seek to answer questions about human behavior using scientific research methods such as statistical analysis, survey research, ethnography, conversational analysis, and content analysis. The results of sociological investigations help develop new theories and inform social policy, programs, and laws.

Interested in Sociology? Intro to the Major has lots of information on how to declare a Sociology major, links to specialty areas within the major such as Criminal Justice, and information on the Reschke undergraduate scholarship at the UW-Madison.

Advisors lists contact information for the Sociology Undergraduate Advisor, Criminal Justice Program Advisor, and Legal Studies Advisor.

What skills can be gained with a sociology degree?

Students who major in sociology learn to deal creatively with new and challenging problems, conducting research, developing analytical and critical thinking skills, and learning to communicate ideas effectively both orally and in writing. Because it is a such broad field of inquiry, sociology majors are equipped to enter a wide range of occupational areas, including corporations, government agencies, social service institutions, and law enforcement agencies. An undergraduate sociology major is also an excellent foundation for graduate study.

Conduct Research and Analyze Data:  Sociology encompasses both qualitative and quantitative research methods. Quantitative methods are used in market research, opinion polling, sales, and countless other applications and allow researchers to recognize trends and patterns and produce social statistics. Qualitative research skills provide an in depth understanding of interactions, communications, worksite practices, and social worlds.

Communicate Skillfully:  Because a sociology major involves lots of reading, writing, and discussion, majors learn how to convey ideas effectively in writing, presentations, and everyday conferences and meetings.

Critical Thinking: Sociological inquiry involves learning to look beyond the surface of issues to discover the "why" and "how" of social order and structure. Sociology majors develop strong analytical skills and learn to solve problems and identify opportunities.

See Things from a Global Perspective: Sociologists learn about different cultures, groups, and societies. They examine both variation and universality across places and through history.

Prepare for Graduate School: An undergraduate major in sociology provides an excellent foundation for graduate study in a wide range of fields including law, business, social work, medicine, public health, public administration and, of course, sociology.

A recent New York Times article discusses the relevance of a liberal arts education, such as training in sociology, for business. The Dean of a School of Management in Canada states, "The liberal arts desire is to produce holistic thinkers who think broadly and make these important moral decisions. I have the same goal ... More specifically, they needed to learn how to approach problems from many perspectives and to combine various approaches to find innovative solutions." Such a description fits the sociology major very well!

-- Much of the text on this page is adapted from the American Sociological Association's brochure "Sociology: A 21st Century Major."