Psychology and Sociology Majors: What’s the Difference?

The fundamental difference between sociology and psychology comes down to how many people are involved. Sociology deals with a group of people while psychology focuses on the individual. 

When thinking about what you want to major in at college, there can often be some confusion. A lot of majors seem similar or just sound like they may be interchangeable. During my undergraduate experience, I studied both sociology and psychology and began to see the differences and similarities between the two. Going into college, I don’t think I had the best grasp on what either one was. While I knew right away that I wanted to minor in psychology, I did not declare my sociology major until the end of my sophomore year. Thanks to my professors and the classes I took, I have a pretty good grasp of the differences and similarities between the two majors. Here’s our breakdown of psychology vs sociology.

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Overview Of Sociology And Psychology 

Sociology and psychology are both equally important fields. Both examine human behavior and contribute considerably to helping us better understand ourselves and the world we live in. 

Social science looks closely at groups of people and how they interact with each other at different levels. Groups of people may include small groups such as families, medium-sized groups such as companies, and larger groups such as entire nations. 

Psychology focuses on the individual person. It looks closely at an individual’s thoughts and behaviors and how they may be influenced by their circumstances.  

However, what’s interesting about these two fields is that they are not exclusive to one another. At the very core, both fields relate to the study of humans. For example, although sociology studies groups of persons, the fact is the group is made up of individual persons. And the individuals within that group are not necessarily similar. In reality, every individual within that group is more likely to be different from the others. Similarly, every individual may be a part of multiple social groups. They may be part of a family and also belong to a certain cultural or religious demographic. In addition, they would also be part of the company they work at. 

So, while there is an overall difference between sociology and psychology, there is a close, inseparable connection between the two fields. The two often intersect in various studies. 

Here’s a more detailed look at each field as well as the differences between sociology and psychology. 

What is Psychology?

Psychology focuses largely on the individual. 

Psychology students are curious about how a person’s mind works, why it reacts in certain ways, and what causes someone to behave the way they do. In short, they try to understand what makes you “you”. 

The larger chunk of psychology centers on the cognitive processes in an individual’s mind. However, there is also a field within psychology focusing on how groups are affected by the behavior of individuals.

A fascinating part of psychology is learning about abnormalities in the brain. In other words, disorders or mental illnesses, things considered “taboo” in many societies, when they are extremely prevalent. Take a look at our mental health handbook, in which we skim the surface of these topics, and how they relate to college students. Find it here.

What is Sociology? 

Sociology tends to look at society at large. 

While the way a society works depends on the individuals in it, it is more focused on groups of people. Sociologists tend to think about why and how certain factors (race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, etc) play a part in the way different groups of people interact with each other. 

Some colleges offer a variety of tracks within their sociology major for students to study from. These tracks might be family relationships, criminology, organizations in society, and religion in sociology.

Sociologists work to bring real social problems to the forefront by studying subjects such as race, religion, and more. They have an abundance of research on aspects such as racial bias, marriage, economic inequality, and disparity in education across the country. To a sociologist, the well-being of the entire society is vital.

Similarities & Differences Between Psychology and Sociology

Similarities

Psychology and sociology are both social sciences that focus on the study of the thought processes and behaviors of humans in different circumstances. Professionals in both fields aim to enhance people’s lives, whether individually or as part of a larger society. These professionals use a combination of interpersonal, observational, listening, communication, problem-solving and analytical skills. Both degrees are very versatile, opening up a variety of interesting career paths. 

Differences

Psychology focuses on the study of an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Sociology on the other hand looks beyond the individual to study groups of people in different settings. Psychologists must have a basic knowledge of medical science and pass a test to become licensed before they are allowed to diagnose and treat mental health disorders. Sociologists don’t have such stringent requirements but they are also not qualified to diagnose or treat mental health disorders. Psychologists work in counseling, human resources, or health clinics. Sociologists work in social services, social justice, and general social work. 

Difference Between Sociology And Psychology – What You’ll Study

What you’ll study in sociology

As a sociology undergrad student, you will study human behavior in different social contexts. Your coursework will cover areas ranging from social structures, social behaviors, and social problems to race, ethnicity, diversity, and inequality in society. 

Research forms a very vital part of the sociology curriculum. You will be introduced to a wide range of research methods for collecting and analyzing data. You will learn how to conduct large-scale surveys, interview groups, analyze census data, interpret historical documents, conduct laboratory experiments, and analyze taped interactions. 

The sociology curriculum offers a wide range of topics to choose from. Choices typically include gender inequality, criminal justice system, social class inequalities, race and ethnicity inequalities, power-based personal violence, social life, and much more. You can specialize in one area or combine your interests, depending on your career goals. 

Pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree in sociology will help you further niche down your specialization. Industrial sociology, cultural or medical sociology, law and society, applied sociology, and deviant behavior are just some of many in-demand sociology specializations 

What you’ll study in psychology

As a psychology undergrad student, you will study human behavior and how it is influenced by a person’s cognitive and emotional processes. Your coursework will cover areas such as human development, personality, behavior, psychopathology, and mental illness among others. You will also learn the basics of brain functioning, motion, cognition, perception, attention, and motivation during your undergrad studies. 

The psychology curriculum offers a wide range of courses to choose from. Typical courses include clinical, cognitive, and cultural psychology, behavioral neuroscience, lifespan development, and psychological assessment. Courses in child development and psychopathology and psychology of adolescence, adulthood, and aging are also available to students interested in focusing their study on a specific age group. 

To practice as a psychologist in any field, you will have to earn a master’s or doctoral degree in your area of specialization. You can choose an advanced psychology degree in a wide range of specialties. Educational, clinical, forensic, developmental, community, rehabilitation, and social psychology are just some of the many subfields you can specialize in. 

Difference Between Sociology And Psychology – Career Paths

A degree in either sociology or psychology can open the door to limitless career paths. Interestingly, both specialists may be employed by similar organizations although their jobs functions will vary. 

Career Paths in Sociology

As a sociologist, you can pursue a career as a public health worker, health statistician or planner, public policy researcher, market research analyst, public education coordinator, case worker, or health facilities evaluator. You could even choose to pursue a career as a journalist.

Sociologists are typically employed by public health and welfare organizations, research institutes, health, and medical centers, educational institutions, and even criminal justice systems. Some private businesses, advertising firms, and international agencies may also employ sociologists to conduct research on a temporary or permanent basis. 

Career Paths in Psychology

Career paths in psychology can be just as varied and as exciting. As a psychologist, you can pursue a career as a clinical psychologist, social psychologist, case worker, or art therapist. If you’re especially interested in working with youth or young children, you can pursue a career as a career counselor, youth worker, or childcare worker. If your area of interest lies in reform, you can pursue a career as a correctional officer or a probation or parole officer. The options are endless. 

As a licensed psychologist, you can open your private counseling practice or be employed in an organization. Psychologists are often employed by hospitals, health clinics, educational institutions, rehabilitation centers, and sports teams. Larger corporations also often employ Organizational Psychologists. 

Should I Major In Psychology Or Sociology? Which One Is Better?  

Neither one is better than the other in terms of curriculum, career prospects, or demand. Both majors have tremendous potential and can open the doors to diverse career paths. The right choice for you will depend on your interests and your long-term career goals. 

Are you interested in social work and generally working with groups of people? In that case, sociology may be a better choice for you. 

Are you interested in working with individuals on a one-on-one basis and helping them resolve their issues and live better lives? In this case, psychology may be a better option for you. 

Recap Of The Difference Between Sociology And Psychology 

Both psychology and sociology majors work to understand the human being, just at different levels. While the two address distinctly different areas, there are several areas where the two overlap. Both fields focus on people but differ in how closely they look at individual behaviors. Psychology focuses mostly on individuals and their behavior, while sociology focuses on how a whole group interacts. Both majors usually offer tracks for students to focus more on one aspect. 

Interested in sociology or psychology? Head on to our majors page. You can find the majors you’re interested in and see what schools offer them.