Some of you are probably wondering what sociology is like, and whether it is likely to fit into your future career plans. This will answer some of your questions. Sociology is one of the social sciences, a group of subjects focusing on human behaviour. Professional sociologists are often interviewed in the news to explain the rise in a particular type of crime or whether changing the benefit system could encourage more couples to get married. They might be asked to offer a view about whether media violence affects children or why certain groups continue to perform badly at school or truant. Sociologists perform a very useful function because they have studied these issues thoroughly by observing or interviewing people or using similar methods. All these topics are part of the AS/2 course, so potentially you too could become an expert sociologist interviewed on television or consulted by a government deciding how to address a pressing social issue!
However many students who have other ambitions take sociology to widen their horizons. We are all intrigued by issues such as why men and women often act so differently, whether children’s behaviour is changing and whether it is possible to reduce crime and global inequalities. Sociologists disagree amongst themselves about these things as there are no easy answers, so in the lessons we spend a lot of time in lively discussions. Our students feel pleased that they have taken a new subject giving them detailed insights into the adult world. They feel they can join in conversations in a well informed way when other people are talking about current affairs or social issues and this sort of confidence is particularly useful in university and job interviews.
What topics are covered?
The AS course with AQA examination board begins with a general introduction about how being brought up in a society makes people different from feral (wild) humans. We also examine some contrasting views about equality and hierarchies.
This involves study of the family including how family arrangements differ around the world, why divorce and cohabitation have increased, changes in the nature of childhood and whether there are connections between family life and crime and deviance. We examine changes in men’s, women’s roles and children’s roles, power relationships within the family, the views of feminists, Marxists and psychiatrists about the family and the way government polices have affected the way people live, for example by permitting civil partnerships.
Is education good or bad for people? Surprisingly some sociologists argue that schools only reward students of certain backgrounds and they provide research evidence of teacher labelling, expectations that some students will do badly that turn into self fulfilling prophecies. Other sociologists examine the reasons why girls are now out performing boys or conduct observations of unintentional teacher racism. There are discussions about whether the comprehensive school system produces better results and a more equal society than independent and grammar schools.
As well as covering the sociology of education, Unit 2 introduces you to research methods. You learn about the different ways sociologists find things out, by observation, experiments, questionnaires, interviews, analysis of media, statistics and other secondary data. All of these methods have strengths and weaknesses, depending on the circumstances and some can be dangerous or unethical. Famous studies are examined and we discuss whether it would be better to use one method or another in particular scenarios, perhaps trying out some straightforward methods.
The A2 course also consists of two units.
Unit 3 is World Sociology. This fascinating topic examines different explanations for global inequalities, gender roles in developing countries, the problems of giving aid, reasons for inadequacies of education and health in different parts of the world, the connections between poverty and the drugs trade and many other current issues.
Unit 4 covers two topics, Crime and Deviance and Research Methods and Theories. Much of the time is spent on the fascinating study of crime, looking at contrasting explanations of why different types of crime occur, amongst juveniles, the wealthy, women and so on. We also examine whether the media make crime worse and why youths join subcultures. In addition we assess the different methods that can be used to study crime, which ones produce a truer picture and whether we can believe official crime figures. SEE AQA WEBSITE FOR FURTHER DETAILS OF AS and A2.
What skills do you need for Sociology?
You will be trained to find out about research which is often conflicting, and in exams you will have to assess the evidence on both sides and argue the case in writing as you would in a controversial essay in English lessons. This means you eventually have to be fairly good at essay writing, enjoy reading and have a reasonable vocabulary. You also need to like the parts of the humanities subjects such as history that encourage you to look at different points of view. However there are short questions as well as essay questions in the exam papers and the essays required at AS level are only twenty minute ones so the skill of planning long essays can be developed during A2. You will need a reasonable memory to remember enough details of specific studies to be able to write about them in an informed way.
Much of the lesson time is spent in discussion, with some group research, brief presentations and a wide variety of different activities, games and a few videos. Naturally you take and are given notes and try out exam questions later in the course so you are fully prepared.
How will Sociology help your career?
Many girls go on to do degrees in sociology itself or in other related subjects such as psychology, media studies, cultural studies, art history, politics, anthropology, social policy, development and economics.
I want to do History of Art at University. Sociology will give me an understanding of the social conditions and reasons behind paintings so I can understand why they were painted. (Abigail)
It is a good A level for Law as we cover Crime in depth as well as family and education legislation. I want to study Law at university. Sociology has taught me how some legislation has affected society. (Lucy)
If you would really like to have done psychology at A level, sociology is the nearest subject we offer and there is quite a lot of common ground.
It helped me decide what I wanted to study at university, Sociology and Psychology. Sociology relates to almost everything. It can help you in all aspects of life- give you a wider view of society. It influences you on a daily basis and thus is just as important as science. (Charlotte)
If you are thinking of working in one of the caring professions, such as teaching, psychiatry, child- guidance, nursery nursing, police, nursing, legal, social or charity work or as a welfare officer in a company, sociology would be extremely relevant. World sociology and Crime studies are useful in broadcasting, journalism and law. Understanding social movements such as feminism and postmodernism and learning how society has changed over the last century is helpful to those intending to study English, history, politics, medicine, philosophy or PPE at University.
I want to study medicine at university. Sociology has helped me to gain knowledge about people and their behaviour and I feel this will help my application as it shows my understanding of people. (Zahraa)
Sociology is a particularly appropriate A Level choice with religious studies, history, economics, critical thinking or English because it shares some common ground with each subject. On the other hand you could study it with something entirely different if it fits in with university requirements or to expand your horizons.
I felt excited to start learning a new subject, especially sociology which can help broaden the mind. I have applied for Management at university. Sociology helped increase my level of essay writing. LSE regard Sociology as a Social Science so like it. (Nakita)
Linguists find much of the material useful in their orals. Sally, who applied for French at Southampton in 2010 says, It’s not a mickey mouse subject. It’s the most useful subject if you want a world overview. In French we studied similar topics e.g. multicultural society, environment, contemporary social issues- I can use knowledge from sociology to argue. The lady in the interview asked me about crime….Information so interesting you won’t forget it, unlike other subjects.
Note that Sociology is NOT on the list of ‘soft’ A levels that some universities such as Cambridge consider ‘less than ideal’ for applicants and it has been offered as a degree for half a century at most Russell group universities.
Other Current students say:
Something new is more interesting and exciting. It has made me more understanding of different viewpoints and given me relevant historical information (such as the history of education that has shaped the world I live in. Sociology has helped me put English novels into context and I am now looking at the family relationships within a novel more closely. I am hoping to study Law at university and feel that Sociology has helped me better understand the society in which we live. A thorough understanding of research methods and when to use them has helped in conducting my own research. (Anca).
I always link Sociology to what I hear on the news and relate it to anything in real life- for example when I see gangs I interpret what different crime theories say. I like sociology. I’m doing it for university. I said Sociology helped to broaden my horizons. (Juliana)
Views of Former Kendrick Sociology Students
Sociology genuinely changed my life! Before starting my A Level at Kendrick, I assumed society was the way it was for the best. However; since starting the course I have been encouraged to question and challenge the world around me. This is a skill that has stayed with me for life. Studying Sociology forces you to be critical of the world around you, question sources of power and established norms. The skills I learned on the course of being critical and developing well thought out arguments have helped me immensely in both undergraduate and postgraduate study. After leaving Kendrick I went on to study Sociology as a minor at university and went on to work in advertising for 7 years! Understanding the way the media can be used to manipulate public opinion was crucial in this profession and my study of Sociology was valued immensely.
I have since had a change of heart and have retrained as a teacher where I will now be teaching Sociology in secondary schools. My advice to anyone considering embarking on an A Level in Sociology - do it! Many adults have not had the opportunity to have their minds opened as this course will do for yours! Study what you're interested in and the rest will fall into place. Employers will value someone that is open minded and is willing to follow their passions and interests.
(Hannah Walter, nee Lever)
"Sociology as an A-level and a degree equips you with the soft skills that employers look favourably upon. These include: team work, independent learning, essay skills and analytical and critical skills. Furthermore, studying Sociology reflects an interest on social policy, politics and indicates a greater social awareness.
The jobs that Sociology leads into are varied. I personally have used my Sociology education to work as a D of E Young Ambassador; a research assistant in a social policy division in one of the best Research and Consultancy companies in Europe; and as an entry into teaching. Friends who have studied sociology have gone on to work in the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police's in-house research centre, local county councils, charities and in larger companies such as TNS. Many universities allow students to study Sociology with a Human Resources option which widens the prospective job market further to include banks, investment companies, IT companies and any other company with an HR need.
Sociology can provide you with fantastic job opportunities. The broad scope of the subject reflects an interest and a desire to learn and excel in different areas. Sociology also gives a unique perspective that other degrees or subjects can sometimes negate."
Other former sociology students from Kendrick have gone on to a range of successful careers including magazine publishing after reading History at Oxford, working for World Challenge after taking Anthropology at Cambridge, social work after Social Policy at York and theatre directing after Drama at Exeter and an MA.