Sociology graduate Rahina Mossabir, 23, describes her BA at the University of Leeds as "a fun subject." But what is sociology all about? Basically, it looks at human social life, groups and societies and tries to get under the skin of society to explain it. Anthony Giddens, author of one of the must-reads on any sociology degree syllabus, the weighty tome Sociology, sums it up as a subject that takes "a broader view of why we are as we are and why we act as we do". It looks at the way social, political and economic processes shape our experiences and how people shape the world.
Sociology is often regarded as a young academic subject, although its roots actually stretch back to the middle of the 19th century when mass industrialisation was sweeping across Europe. A century on, it started to take off and make its mark in the USA when the study of the impact of the major social movements of the Sixties and Seventies (the civil rights movement and feminism, for example) flourished.
Since then, sociology has grappled with many developments, conflicts and phenomenons in society. Following the recent terrorist attacks against Britain and America, Paul Bagguley, senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Leeds says his department has seen a surge in students wanting to study issues such as race and ethnicity, culture and identity. "The impact of 9/11 and the July 7 bombings in London have led to a lot of questions from students wanting to look at British identity," Bagguley says.
Sounds interesting, you might be thinking, but how will it help me find a great job? The good news is that sociology graduates can expect to leave uni with a broad range of skills, going on to enter all sorts of careers where excellent communication skills and the ability to examine and interpret information critically are crucial. These skills are just what prospective employers are looking for. Journalism and media; market research; human resources; local and national government; the civil service; teaching; charity; youth and community work; health service management are just a few fields that graduates have recently entered.
Following her BA, Mossabir worked for a small community organisation developing programmes to help local women improve basic language and numeracy skills. She then returned to the University of Leeds, where she is now studying for an MA in social research.
As sociology tries to keep up with and make sense of so much rapid change in the world, many students find it one of the most dynamic subjects around. Describing what she enjoyed about her degree, Mossabir says: "One of the things that really appealed to me about it was that there was so much variety with what you could study. If you're not sure what to specialise in when you start out, you're bound to find something that will really interest you."
After a foundation year focusing on key sociological thinkers (Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Auguste Comte to name but a few) and learning to think sociologically, the range of options are pretty huge. Check out different courses to see what they offer and any specialisms you might be interested in. Mossabir was particularly interested in race and ethnicity. This led her to look at the way black men are represented in Hollywood for her final year dissertation, examining the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day and the 1939 epic Gone with the Wind as part of her study.
It probably goes without saying that tutors look for students with a real interest in social issues. In term of aptitudes that departments are looking for in prospective undergraduates Bagguley says, "Students should be able to demonstrate they can communicate, think critically and are willing to re-think or challenge a view on an issue."
You need humanities or arts-based A-levels to get onto a degree course. Some universities and colleges prefer prospective students to have gained one social science A-level, but many don't. Average entry grades at a UK university or college are BCC, though some courses will accept BC or two Cs. You might also want to consider studying sociology as part of a joint honours degree. Popular combinations include sociology and politics; social policy; history; English or journalism.
If you think sociology might be the degree for you, its future couldn't look brighter. In the last five years, around 4,500 students have graduated in the subject. With an academic team of 25, the University of Leeds has seen a three-fold growth in its sociology department since the early Nineties and other departments around the country have expanded likewise. So what are you waiting for?
For more information, log on to the British Sociological Association website at www.britsoc.co.ukReuse content