How is the course structured?
In the first two semesters of the Bachelor's course, students consider fundamental principles such as society, order, power, social inequality and integration. They are also given an insight into the history of sociology and the theories of thinkers such as Karl Marx, Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, Niklas Luhmann, and Georg Simmel. The texts are often highly complex, tells Maja Urbanczyk, who is in the seventh semester of studying Sociology in Tübingen. "But it's worth it. You gain a great deal of insight and broaden your horizons." Since learning about the rational choice theory, for example, she questions her behaviour more often, and considers whether she is behaving rationally or not. Among the fundamentals of the degree in Sociology count an introduction to social structure analysis with whose help a society can be broken down according to specific characteristics, such as their level of education or income. A great deal of emphasis is also placed on empirical social research: students learn how to compile and evaluate mass data using computer programs. However, they also practice qualitative methods with which people's opinions can be recorded ? through interviews or observations, which are logged, for example. From the second year, students also attend seminars and lectures on the so-called Special Sociologies. They also decide on individual specialisations. In Media Sociology, they learn how to analyse Facebook profiles according to scientific criteria, for example. Technical Sociology considers the interaction between humans and machines, whereby the ways in which communication is changing in light of the spread of smartphones are researched, for example. "In such subjects, one rapidly realises that the discipline has a lot to do with your own actions, hence you automatically question your own behaviour and that of other people," explains Maja Urbanczyk. "Though the subject is very theoretical, it is also extremely close to the people and their everyday lives." Lectures, seminars and exercises are concluded with coursework, and written and oral exams. In addition, the universities require students to complete a work placement during the course, which they must organise themselves (e.g. within a company's personnel department or a social institution). The discipline's versatility allows students to develop their profile early on. Delving into other disciplines is often mandatory, and should be attuned to the chosen specialisation. Computer Science goes well with a specialisation in Technical Sociology, for example, and those wishing to work in personnel development later on can combine Sociology with Business Administration. The courses offered at the universities vary a great deal. Major sociology institutes such as those in Bielefeld, Bremen, Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg and Mannheim offer a wider range of offers than those with just two or three professors. The majority of those who obtain a Bachelor's degree in Sociology go on to take the Master's course. "In Sociology, a Master's degree is the standard qualification," confirms Martina Löw, Chairwoman of the German Sociological Association (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie ? DGS). In the Master's course, students concentrate on two specialisations and a project, which often includes a research placement. They learn how to conduct empirical studies ? by developing questionnaires to find out whether schoolchildren are interested in politics, for example.
Sociologists are currently researching the impact of the global economy, cross-border communication and immigration on society. The concept of transnationalism with which the development of communities beyond national societies should be recorded has grown in importance. Sociologists consider the similarities and differences between the consumer behaviour of young people in New York, Shanghai and Berlin, for example. The discipline's internationality is also expressed in the fact that lectures are often in English. Most institutes encourage students to spend a semester abroad, and cooperate with sociology institutes in other countries to this end. "A stay abroad changes the perception of cultures and societies ? you do not take your own culture for granted afterwards," says TU Darmstadt Sociology professor, Martina Löw. Sociological issues are increasingly being combined with other disciplines. A blend of Sociology, Politics and Business Studies is behind names such as "Social Sciences". European Studies, which many universities offer as Bachelor's and Master's courses, also covers sociological issues and methods.
Aptitude, obstacles, misconceptions
Many of those to start the course are surprised at how theoretical the course actually is and that Maths is important for sociologists. "Statistics are omnipresent; there's no avoiding them," warns Löw. Though there's no need to be a Maths genius, those who do not enjoy the subject will find the course tough going. To cope with the specialist literature, students also should enjoy reading theoretical, often complex texts, and be competent in English. Students should also enjoy debating, for despite all the theory, lively debates also often take place during the seminars. It is exactly this aspect that particularly appeals to Alexander Fürstenberg, who is in the seventh semester in Heidelberg: "Lateral thinking and sharing your opinion is desired. We use the theoretical knowledge as the basis to develop our own points of view." The admission requirements for the Bachelor's courses vary wildly. In Münster, only students with an average mark of 1.8 or higher in the Abitur school leaving certificate giving right of entry to higher education were admitted to the winter semester 2011/12; in Frankfurt am Main, an average of 3.1 was sufficient. Good marks in German and Maths can increase students' chances, as they carry more weight at most universities. Admission to the Master's courses generally depends on the mark obtained in the Bachelor's degree. In many places, at least a 1.9 is required to be added to the waiting list. Overall, there is no shortage of study places though.
Though the cliché that there is no money in Sociology has stuck, this is far from the reality. Sociology graduates' analytical thinking and expertise in statistics make them all-rounders capable of finding work in a whole host of sectors (depending on their specialisation). However, students must prepare for their entry into the world of work as early as possible and seek practical experience. Graduates are particularly in demand in opinion research. Moreover, similar to political scientists, they also work in policy consultancy or perform lobby work at public affairs agencies. They compete with social educationalists and psychologists for managerial positions in careers working with young people and the elderly. They are also employed in the personnel departments of companies and local authorities, whereby they increasingly assume tasks that used to be performed by business administrators or lawyers: they conduct application interviews or develop further training concepts for employees, for example. In administration, sociologists support urban planning or criminal prosecution. Bachelor's graduates can embark on a career in social work or with most companies via trainee schemes. According to a survey conducted in 2010 by the Hochschul-Informations-System GmbH, almost 80 per cent of graduates had found a job within one year of graduating and earned an average annual salary of 32,600 EUR.
REPORT BY: OLIVER BURGARD
soziologie.de: Homepage of the German Sociological Association (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie ? DGS) with links to courses, libraries, databases and newspapers.
soziologie-forum.de:It is possible to exchange on sociological theories, jobs and courses here.