Exploring the Difference Between Sociology vs. Psychology

Male social sciences instructor leading a small classroom discussion with students

There are many compelling reasons to study humanities such as sociology and psychology in college. Humanities degree programs teach students transferable job skills like critical thinking and communication. In fact, nearly 86% of employers responding to NACE’s Job Outlook 2022 survey are seeking evidence of problem-solving skills on the resumes of the graduates they are recruiting this year. Meanwhile, more than three-quarters are looking for proof of candidates’ analytical/quantitative and teamwork skills.1

Once you decide to major in the humanities, you will need to choose a degree program, such as a social science degree. What’s the difference between psychology and sociology, and which degree option should you choose? Here’s a quick guide to help you decide which career path could be best suited to you.

In This Article:

Types of Psychology Subfields You Can Study

Psychology is the study of thought patterns and how they influence an individual’s behavior. The study of psychology is intended to explain how the mind works and to help predict as well as change the mental processes and behaviors of individuals.

There are many fields of psychology that you can specialize in. For example, clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental health disorders. Sports psychology focuses on the thought patterns and behaviors of athletes, and forensic psychology focuses on the application of psychological principles to the law.

These are just a few examples of psychology subfields. To comprehend the difference between sociology and psychology, you’ll also need to develop a basic understanding of sociology.

An Overview of the Study of Sociology

Sociology is the study of societal institutions, human social relationships and behaviors. It is a broad field that includes the study of everything from crime to religion. Ultimately, sociology seeks to understand how society influences human thought processes and behaviors. Family conflict, race relations, deviant behaviors, personal identity, poverty, prejudice and romantic love are all examples of subject areas that a sociologist might study.

The work of sociologists can influence social programs and public policy. For example, jobs for sociology graduates may include researching new crime prevention programs or after-school educational enrichment activities for children.

Sociology vs. Psychology: Similarities and Differences

As you work toward choosing your major, there are some similarities and differences to be aware of. Both psychology and sociology professionals study human thought processes and behaviors. They may also work in similar organizations, such as humanitarian organizations. In addition, with either major, a graduate might choose to work directly with people or to focus primarily on research.

As for the differences between these fields of study, sociology focuses on societal institutions and groups of people, whereas psychology examines the individual. Psychologists must understand basic medical science, such as the biological processes of the brain, whereas sociologists must have a keen grasp of social theory and public policy.

Sociology and psychology are indeed closely related, and there is a great deal of overlap between these two fields. Both sociology and psychology are social sciences, and both fields strive toward a greater understanding of humanity. These fields are also closely related to other social sciences, including political science (which focuses on the study of government and political processes) and anthropology (which explores the development of cultures and societies).

However, as previously noted, these fields do diverge on a few key areas. Whereas psychologists focus on the thoughts and behavioral patterns of individuals, sociologists focus on human behavioral patterns within their collective social life (in groups as well as institutions).

Social Psychology vs. Sociology

Before diving into the similarities and differences of social sociology vs. psychology, it’s necessary to define exactly what social psychology is and how it differs from any other subfield of psychology. First, you’ll recall that psychology is the study of human thought and behavioral patterns. However, those thought and behavioral patterns do not occur independently in a vacuum; they can be influenced by external forces.

Social psychology is the study of human thought and behavior within a social context. In other words, social psychology studies how human thoughts and behaviors can change in response to external stimuli, such as the presence of other humans. Note that the “presence of other humans” may be actual, imagined or implied (e.g., another human might actually be present, or their presence might be suggested, such as in the form of a surveillance camera).

An example of behavioral changes in response to human presence may help you to better understand just how much people can be influenced by others. Imagine that you have a white-collar office job. You dress up for work, sit in your cubicle and use relatively formal language to address your co-workers and supervisor.

When you return home in the evening, you change into comfortable, less formal clothes, sprawl out on the couch, prop your feet up on the coffee table and hang out with your friends. Perhaps you turn the TV on and watch a game, and maybe you yell at the TV when your team does poorly.

In this environment, surrounded by your friends, it seems perfectly natural to yell at the TV and use harsh language. In contrast, you’d never think of yelling at your computer screen at work when something goes wrong because your co-workers and supervisor would likely hear you. This is just one scenario that illustrates how you’re influenced by the people around you.

Social psychologists can study all sorts of human behaviors in the context of social situations, such as aggression, prejudice, conformity or leadership. There are some similarities between social psychology and sociology. For example, both fields explore human behaviors in groups and in different situations.

However, there are also some differences. Sociologists tend to study larger groups, such as whole societies or significant segments of society. For example, they might study whether the availability of mental health services in urban areas leads to a decrease in crime.

In contrast, although social psychologists study groups to some extent, their primary focus is on the individual. They seek answers to the question: how does the individual change their behavior in response to social pressures from the group?

Career Options for Sociology Graduates

If you are still not sure whether studying psychology or sociology is right for you, it is a good idea to consider your career options. If you graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, you may find entry-level positions in areas such as education, social services and public policy. Here’s a look at some examples of jobs that would be a good fit for a sociology graduate:

  • Support staff in a homeless shelter for runaway youth
  • Advocate for victims of domestic violence
  • Human resources specialist
  • Mentor within a career services office
  • Case manager within a nonprofit that helps retired military service members transition to civilian life

If you think you would like to work as a research-oriented sociologist, you will likely need to earn a master’s degree or perhaps a doctoral degree.

Can a Sociologist Become a Therapist?

Now that you have a basic understanding of the difference between sociology and psychology, you may be starting to shape your own career path. You might also be thinking about career alternatives if you choose to earn a degree in sociology vs. psychology. For example, is it possible to become a therapist after having already become a sociologist?

This is a tricky question because there are different types of therapists and the requirements vary. In addition, each state establishes their own requirements for therapists. Some therapists, such as clinical therapists, need a license to practice, while others might not.

In general, yes, it’s possible for a sociologist to become a therapist. However, it’s also entirely possible that, in order to execute this career transition, you would need to return to school to obtain additional academic credentials. For example, you may need to earn a master’s degree in counseling or social work, and you may need to complete supervised field experience hours in order to obtain a license.

If you’re currently a sociologist and you’re thinking about transitioning to a career in therapy, you should start by researching the requirements for your state (or the state where you plan to practice). You should also research the specific requirements for the type of therapist you would like to become (e.g., marriage and family therapist or substance abuse therapist).

Career Options for Psychology Graduates

Both psychology and sociology degrees are versatile and can lead to a range of career opportunities. A bachelor’s degree in psychology can prepare you for any of the following types of psychology positions:

  • Medical and health services manager
  • Correctional treatment specialist within a prison system
  • Mental health technician
  • Psychiatric case manager
  • Career counselor
  • Market researcher or advertising copywriter

Psychology graduates may also pursue careers in childcare, laboratory research and education. Some careers, such as social work, may require additional training and/or licensure. If you think you might like to become a clinical psychologist, you will need to continue your education. Psychologists are generally required to hold a doctoral degree and state licensure.

Do Sociology and Psychology Majors Earn a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts Degree?

Although there are quite a few answers to the question, What’s the difference between psychology and sociology? these two fields do share some commonalities as well. For instance, pursuing a career in either psychology or sociology will require earning a bachelor of science degree, rather than a bachelor of arts degree.

What exactly is the difference between a bachelor of science and a bachelor of arts degree? A bachelor of arts degree is typically a humanities degree (e.g., communications and history) that tends to focus on critical thinking and qualitative data. In contrast, a bachelor of science degree is typically used for STEM fields (e.g., engineering and accounting) that focuses on analytical reasoning and quantitative data.

Choosing a Major: Knowing the Difference Between Sociology and Psychology

If you are still undecided between a career path in sociology or in psychology, it might be helpful to speak with a career counselor. If you are already college-bound, you should know that you may not need to choose a major right away. If you've already declared a major and wish to switch, it may be possible to do so. Contact a university counselor for assistance.

You can also take advantage of your college’s alumni network. Reach out to alums with sociology and psychology degrees to find out where their studies took them. If they are local, you might even be able to arrange a job shadowing visit. This can help you decide which course of study is right for you.

No matter where your life takes you, you can build a solid academic foundation for success at Grand Canyon University. Choose the Bachelor of Science in Psychology or the Bachelor of Science in Sociology program and explore our specialization options, such as social work and forensic psychology. You can find the right degree program for your career aspirations by filling out the form on this page.


1 National Association of Colleges and Employers, The Attributes Employers Want To See on College Students’ Resumes in February 2023


Approved by the assistant dean for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on March 14, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.