American Sociological Association

Study of Master's Candidates

What Can I Do With a Master's Degree in Sociology?

A Study of Master's Candidates

The Master’s, especially as a vocational and professional degree, has become an increasingly important focus in higher education. It is in the interest of the overall health of sociology that such programs not be ignored by the discipline, but rather be provided with greater guidance and support. One area of weakness appears to be the lack of information available about the career trajectories of Master’s degree recipients.

To better position programs, the Task Force on the Master’s Degree, in cooperation with the ASA Research Department, began to conduct a longitudinal survey in early 2008 to learn what becomes of Master’s graduates after they obtain their degrees. The first year of the survey (Phase I) examined characteristics of the their Master's programs. Phase II examined employment and additional education outcomes. Phase III examined job characteristics, job satisfaction, PhD fields, use of sociological skills and concepts, and master's program evaluation.

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Task Force on the Master's Degree

In 2004, an informal group of chairs of master's-only programs asked the ASA to work with them to develop strategies to ensure the master's degree is a meaningful professional degree. The ASA Council appointed a Task Force on the Master's Degree to produce a report that would be useful to sociology departments starting or reviewing an applied, professional, clinical or other terminal master's degree program.

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Findings from a Survey of Graduate Program Directors

In early 2008, the ASA Research Department and the Task Force on the Master's invited graduate directors from the 224 departments that awarded at least one sociology Master's degree in Academic Year 2006-07 to participate in a survey about their programs. 122 departments responded, providing the background and contact information for more than 1,400 Master's candidates who were invited to participate in the student survey. A follow-up to the survey of graduate program directors was conducted in the summer of 2011. Findings from these two surveys are outlined in the materials below.

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Findings: Phase I of the Student Survey

The ASA Research Department invited more than 1,400 Master's candidates to participate in a longitudinal study designed to answer the question: What becomes of the Master's graduate? Do they go on to obtain PhDs? Will they immediately enter the labor market, and if so, in what types of jobs? How are these outcomes related to the sociological skills and concepts learned at this level, the planned learning experiences in which they participated, the social capital they developed, and the job placement programs that existed?

Initial analysis from the first phase of the "What Can I Do with a Master’s in Sociology" study points to the importance of including career training and advising in sociology programs. Respondents are very satisfied or satisfied with program characteristics such as the quality of teaching, having the ability to see faculty outside of class, interacting with their fellow students, and having access to technology. They are significantly less satisfied with the quality of career counseling. Dissatisfaction with career counseling is especially frustrating for the 43 percent of respondents who do not intend to pursue a PhD in sociology. The first research brief in this study discusses the experiences among master’s students and their different reasons for entering, and expectations of, a master’s program.

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Following Up : The Second Wave Survey

One year later, in the winter of 2009-10, we surveyed the cohort a second time. This survey asked respondents about their current  degree, education and employment status, how closely current employment is related to sociological skills and concepts learned in their Master's programs, and the types of skills or concepts they would have liked to learn.

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Following Up: The Third Wave of the Survey

Two years after the first wave, we surveyed the cohort a third time in 2011. This final survey asked about job characteristics, job satisfaction, relation of job activities to Master's skills, evaluation of their Master's programs, and skills former students wished they had learned. See the results from the final wave of the study, What Can I Do With a Master's Degree in Sociology?, which shows the factors that result in job satisfaction and the value added of a terminal master’s degree in sociology.

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