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Law and Policy Careers

What careers are possible in this area?

Understanding law and politics is a great preparation for careers in the nonprofit sector, the government, and the law. Each year several sociology majors go on to law school and careers in the government and nonprofit sector. Criminology is also a subfield of sociology.


Careers in Law, the Criminal Justice System, and the Government


If you are interested in working in the legal field, in government, or in the criminal justice system, the sociology major could be a good fit for you. Sociology is the home discipline to studies of the criminal justice system, and a sociological perspective, including social science methods, is a great foundation for future careers in law, the government, and the criminal justice system. Plus, it is easy to combine a sociology major with other majors or minors, including business, HOD, political science, economics, and public policy.

Sociology gives you the skills to understand organizations, our social world, and people. It also gives you solid research skills that are important for formulating arguments in a law-and-policy setting, analyzing problems in the workplace, and writing memos. You’ll learn how to research and analyze data, understand human relations and social difference, and think about social structure and social trends.

You’ll also have the solid research and analytic skills and credibility of a well-recognized degree for graduate school. Our sociology majors have been accepted to the top schools in law, business, PhD programs, education, social work, the health fields, and other areas.


Unique Offerings for Sociology Majors


The sociology department provides great background knowledge in how the law, government, and criminal justice system work.  You’ll have the choice of many courses about law, politics, and the state taught by professors such as Cornfield, Isaac, McCammon, and Murray. Examples include:

  • 3601: Self, Society, and Social Change
  • 3602: Change and Social Movements in the Sixties
  • 3604: American Social Movements
  • 3605: Law and Social Movements
  • 3611: Women and the Law
  • 3613: Law and Society
  • 3614: Politics, State, and Society
  • 3616: Women and Public Policy in America

Criminology is also part of sociology, and the department also offers courses in this area taught by professors such as Becker, Noble, Patterson, and Wood. Examples include:

  • 3621: Criminology
  • 3623: Deviant Behavior and Social Control
  • 3624: Prison Life

Sociology also is known for its perceptive study of social inequality, unfairness, racism, sexism, and prejudice taught by professors such as Cooter, Irving, McCammon, Patterson, and Pitt. Examples include:

  • 3611: Women and the Law
  • 3701: Racial Domination, Racial Progress
  • 3703: Social Psychology of Prejudice
  • 3704: Race, Gender, and Sport
  • 3724: Gender Identities, Interactions, and Relationships


What Law and Graduate Schools do Sociology Majors Get Into?


Vanderbilt sociology majors have gone on to a wide range of law schools, including those close to home, where there are good networks for future practice, and some of the top-ranked schools in the country. Our graduates can also find jobs immediately working in law firms, and some pursue these jobs for a few years before going on to graduate study. Here are few examples from recent years:

  • Nicole LaBelle (2017): University of Chicago Law School
  • Asheeka Desai (2016): UCLA Law School
  • Jordan McNary (2016): University of Arkansas Law School
  • Isabelle Shain (2016): legal assistant at a law firm in Seattle
  • Jacqueline Scott (2016): Vanderbilt Law School
  • Ashley Shan (2016): Duke University Law School
  • Sarah McClenahan (2015): litigation coordinator at a law firm in Nashville
  • Evan McCants-Goldman (2014): NYU Law School
  • Zipporah Freeman (2014): De Paul University College of Law
  • Charity Wood (2014): Georgia State College of Law
  • Molly Morley (2013): George Washington University, master’s in public policy
  • April Philley (2012): University of Texas Law School, later assistant attorney general for the Texas Attorney General


You’re in Good Company


As a sociology major, you’ll join 26,000 other sociology majors who graduate from U.S. colleges and universities every year. Sociology is a well-known and well-established social science discipline, and sociology majors have excelled in many areas of life.  Famous sociology majors include President Ronald Reagan, First Lady Michelle Obama, Orvil Dyrfus (publisher of the New York Times), Reverend Martin Luther King, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Senator Barbara Mikulski, Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins, actors Dan Ackroyd and Robin Williams, singer Dinah Shore, and columnist E.J. Dionne. One of our graduates, Zhubin Parang (2003), attended law school at the Georgetown University, then spent four years practicing commercial litigation in New York City. He then left the profession to pursue a writing career, and he became head writer of “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah.




What is special about the major in sociology?

The sociology degree has a very strong sequence of four courses on theory and research methods that are the foundation for the major. The sequence provides you with the basis for reading scientific research and also conducting research. Some of our students have gone on to jobs in think tanks and other nonprofit organizations, where these skills are very important.

A degree in sociology provides several skills that can be the basis of a successful career in many fields:

  • Sociologists are trained to weigh controversies and develop complex analyses of social and organizational problems, a skill that is important in many careers, especially those that involve leadership positions.
  • Sociologists understand how to review a social science literature on a problem, assess the direction of the literature, and provide thoughtful and well-written summaries and analyses. The capacity to digest, analyze, and synthesize a diverse set of sources is valuable in a wide range of careers.
  • Sociologists are trained to translate research into policy analysis and develop policy based on research.
  • Sociologists are trained in hypothesis generation and testing, data analysis, and both qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • Sociologists have a broad understanding of our rapidly changing world and are well-equipped to adapt to new career circumstances and to help organizations adapt to changing economic, political, and social environments.


Combining majors and minors

There are many opportunities to create a bundle of majors and minors that work for you. Some students opt to combine a major in sociology with a major or minor in political science.  If you plan to work in the government or nonprofit sector, one option is to add the minor in Managerial Studies with a focus on Leadership and Organizations.  If you are interested in health law, then the MHS (Medicine, Health, and Society) and sociology combination would work well. Some sociology majors also take a minor or double major in economics to prepare them for work in the nonprofit and government sector.

For More Information

Contact Professor David Hess, Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Sociology offers great training for careers in law, the criminal justice system, and the government. Sociology graduates can immediately take jobs in the government, work in law firms, or go on to graduate school in law or public policy.