Guidelines for Researching Sociology PhD Programs

Questions to Consider


  • What is your goal?
  • What are your priorities during graduate school? After graduate school?
  • Do you have particular substantive interests within sociology?
  • How will you pay for grad school? See additional information below regarding Ph.D. program funding scenarios.

Steps to Take

  1. Initial Research (Online)
  2. Take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
    • Utilize study guides and test preparation courses
    • Scores can be reported at up to 4 institutions
  3. Focus on earning good grades
  4. Talk with current professors
  5. Decide when to apply
    • The majority of Ph.D. students take time off between undergrad and graduate schooling

Applying to Graduate Schools

  • Apply to as many schools as possible (perhaps between 4-10)
    • These should be schools you would consider attending, but do not have to be your top choices. In some cases, they can function as bargaining chips for more advantageous funding packages.
  • Application packets might require the following, by mid-December for Fall admission:
    • Fees
    • 2 copies of Transcripts
    • Signed and dated department application form pages
    • The Sociology Graduate Program Checklist
    • Coursework Worksheet
    • GRE Scores: verbal, quantitative, and analytical tests
    • Three letters of recommendation (including information evaluating past academic performance)
    • Statement of Purpose: describing applicants' relevant background, past work, proposed areas of study, plans for graduate work and overall career objectives.
      • Because this statement is used to evaluate applicants' scholarly potential, it should be well written, cogently argued, and well conceived.
      • Applicants should offer specific ideas for potential research topics in the statement
    • Sample of written work that provides evidence of creative and critical thinking, quality of writing, and potential for engaging in independent research
  • If you have a specific research interest, consider contacting individual professors.  However, our recommendation is to be very respectful of the many competing demands that researchers  face
  • Don’t be afraid to contact the department administrator to ensure your application is complete, or to find out about where the admissions committee is in the process.
  • Remember it is difficult to predict outcomes. You will never know why you are accepted at University A and rejected at University B (and C, and D . . .)
    • If you are rejected you can request a formal review of your application, which may help you for the next round

When You Are Accepted

  • Talk to professors at the school—now you are being recruited!
    • Prepare a list of specific questions to demonstrate your interest and investment
      • Potential question subject areas: quality of graduate programming, system for student training/mentoring, T.A. requirements/workload/pay/benefits, availability of research assistant positions, current research, strengths in your area of interest
      • Have some ideas about where your sociological interests lie, even if you aren’t completely sure
    • If there are professors with whom you would like to work, definitely talk to them at this stage. Find out if they have positions for research assistants
  • Visit the school (arrange this with department administrator—this person will schedule appointments, and possibly give you travel money)
    • Meet with/stay with students and ask them everything you can about life as a graduate student at the university
    • Talk with professors
    • Collect information about housing costs, community life, etc.

When You Are NOT Accepted

  • Consider taking graduate courses as a non-enrolled student
  • Request application review
  • Consider re-taking GRE
  • Get involved in research through employment or volunteer work
  • Try again!

How Will I Pay For Graduate School?

  • For Ph.D. programs, you will usually be offered some form of financial support
    • Most often, this is a T.A. position, but could also be a fellowship or research assistant position
    • You may need another job
    • One reason to apply to many places is so that you can judge the best financial offer
  • For professional programs, usually you will pay through savings, loans, and employment

What Is Graduate School Like (other than really hard work)?

  • Talk to students where you applied, after you are accepted
  • Seek advice from your undergraduate professors
  • Though difficult, graduate school can be remarkably stimulating, motivating, rewarding, and opportunity-producing