Best Ph.D in Sociology

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Learn to examine society’s most pressing issues by pursuing one of the Best PhDs in Sociology, then become a researcher or professor.

Sociology is the study of social relationships and institutions. It explores topics including religion, culture, education, crime, family, gender, sexuality, social change, inequality, and much more. Sociologists use a variety of research methods to understand and analyze social issues and the social processes that shape human lives.

By earning a Ph.D. in Sociology, you’ll learn to think critically, evaluate, analyze, and communicate effectively. You’ll also learn to ask and answer insightful research questions that expand our understanding of people and society. After completing your degree, you’ll be prepared to work in academia or for a government organization, nonprofit, business, or public policy agency.

Whether you want to conduct research at a top think tank or teach courses at a nationally ranked university, earning a Ph.D. from one of these programs will help you reach your goals.

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Top 10 Best PhD in Sociology

Rank School Location
1 Columbia University New York, NY
2 Duke University Durham, NC
3 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
4 Iowa State University Ames, IA
5 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
6 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
7 New York University New York, NY
8 Northwestern University Evanston, IL
9 Ohio State University Columbus, OH
10 Pennsylvania State University Carlisle, PA

What kind of Ph.D. in Sociology should you get?

Some universities offer specialized degrees in sociology, like NYU’s Ph.D. in Sociology of Education. At most universities, you’ll declare one or two areas of specialization. Your options generally depend on the expertise and research interests of the faculty. As you browse the PhDs listed here, pay attention to the specializations offered. Try to choose a program that aligns with your interests in the field.

Although most Ph.D. programs are on campus, some programs are available online. Online programs give you the convenience and flexibility to work around your schedule. If you’re interested in pursuing an online degree, browse our list of the Best Online Colleges and Universities.

How much money do people make with a Ph.D. in Sociology?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a sociologist is $82,050. High-level employment in research institutes think tanks, and private and government agencies may offer higher pay.

Graduates with a Ph.D. in Sociology may also teach courses and conduct scholarly research at universities. According to PayScale, the average salary for a full-time professor is $99,712. Of course, this salary may vary widely depending on the university.

Jobs for sociologists are projected to show little to no growth over the next decade. However, the demand for professors is expected to grow at a rate of 15%, which is much faster than average.

What can you do with a Ph.D. in Sociology?

Most graduates with a Ph.D. in Sociology teach at liberal arts colleges and research universities. There, you will continue your scholarly research while also teaching college courses. You will be expected to continue publishing your work in journals or even books.

Another option is to work as a researcher for institutes, government agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and public policy organizations. A master’s degree will suffice for some of these positions. However, most high-level roles with good promotion prospects require a Ph.D. in the field.

What are the requirements for a Ph.D. in Sociology?

Typically, you will only need a bachelor’s degree to enter a Ph.D. program in Sociology. You will earn your MA in Sociology as you complete requirements for the Ph.D. If you already have a master’s degree, you may be able to complete the Ph.D. program at a faster pace.

Requirements for a Ph.D. generally include coursework in sociological theory, methodology, and statistics. You’ll develop a general foundation in these areas, then acquire an advanced level of knowledge in at least one area of specialization. Other requirements may include passing a qualifying examination, writing papers and/or submitting them for publication, and devising and completing a reading list in your area(s) of specialization.

After completing these requirements, you advance from Ph.D. candidate to Ph.D. student. You will then need to write and defend a dissertation, a process that takes 1-2 years. In total, you should expect to spend five-seven years completing your Ph.D.

What are the best PhDs in Sociology?

The 30 schools listed below offer the best PhDs in Sociology. To compile this list, we’ve considered factors like tuition costs, return on investment, and school reputation. In addition, every school on this list is accredited, and many are nationally ranked.

All data comes from sources like:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • PayScale
  • U.S. News & World Report
  • Princeton Review
  • Official university websites and course catalogs

Earning your Ph.D. in Sociology is a major investment, so it’s natural that you want the best of the best. Choose any program on this list, and you’ll gain the skills and knowledge you need for long-term success in the field.

  • Columbia University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Established in 1754, Columbia University is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York. The private Ivy League research university located in Upper Manhattan and ranked No. 3 among national universities by U.S. News & World Report. Columbia enrolls over 32,000 students and offers a comprehensive array of academic programs. The campus features 25 libraries and more than 100 research centers and institutes. Columbia’s Department of Sociology offers a Ph.D. 

    Program Features

    The Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology program prepares academic sociologists who are grounded in the discipline of sociology, knowledgeable about critical debates in at least one field, capable of designing and carrying out research projects, able to present results in written and oral form, and ready to teach courses. To earn a Ph.D., students must submit a grant/fellowship application for a research project, write a field statement, present a paper at a conference, and submit a paper to a scholarly journal. Courses include:

    • Sociological Theory
    • Introductory Social Data Analysis
    • Designs of Social Research
    • Advanced theory course and advanced methods course 
    • Graduate Research Practicum 

    Notables

    The typical trajectory through Columbia’s program includes the awarding of the MA after the second year, the M.Phil. degree after the third year, and ABD – All But Dissertation – status during the fourth year. Some students receive “Advanced Standing” equivalent to the awarding of the MA degree and are able to progress through the program more rapidly.

  • Duke University
    Location

    Durham, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Founded in 1838, Duke University is a highly ranked private research university in Durham, NC. Duke enrolls more than 15,000 students, who are required to live on campus for the first three years. The school offers many student activities and traditions, as well as more than 400 clubs and organizations. Although best known for its professional schools, Duke has over 100 widely regarded degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. You may be interested in Duke’s Ph.D. in Sociology. 

    Program Features

    Duke’s challenging and rigorous Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology program has a reputation for placing graduates in excellent positions in academia and elsewhere. Students benefit from an intensive program of study, a supportive research environment, and collaboration with Duke’s productive and diverse faculty. Requirements include coursework, professional development, exams and milestones, and the dissertation. Coursework includes:

    • Two courses on theory
    • Two courses on statistics
    • Two courses on methods
    • Statistics “boot camp” prior to the start of classes
    • Nine electives, including two methods electives

    Notables

    Exams and milestones consist of a first-year essay exam, qualification for two specialty areas, and the preliminary exam. The preliminary exam is a defense of the dissertation proposal. This exam leads to an MA degree and marks the transition from Ph.D. student to Ph.D. candidate. The final requirement for the Ph.D. is the dissertation, which may be article-style or book-style.

  • Harvard University
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    A private Ivy League university in Cambridge, MA, Harvard University is one of the most recognized and renowned names in higher education. It was established in 1636 and currently serves 36,102 students in total. Harvard is ranked No. 2 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Alumni include 48 Nobel laureates, 32 heads of state, and 48 Pulitzer Prize winners. The university’s world-class learning opportunities include a Ph.D. in Sociology.

    Program Features

    Students in the Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology program at Harvard develop strong proficiency in both social theory and research methods, with opportunities to develop their own interests. The program includes a sequence of required courses on theory and theory construction. Students also take courses on advanced statistics and qualitative methods. Students are trained in several subfields of sociology related to faculty expertise, including:

    • Social stratification and inequality
    • Economic sociology
    • Political sociology
    • Cultural analysis
    • Comparative/historical sociology

    Notables

    Applicants must submit a sample of recent written work, such as a master’s essay, term paper, or senior thesis. Program graduates are prepared for scholarly and applied research and for teaching. Harvard also offers a Ph.D. in Sociology and Social Behavior and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior.

  • Iowa State University
    Location

    Ames, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Located in Ames, Iowa, Iowa State University is a public research university. The school’s mission is to make Iowa and the world a better place, and it’s considered the most student-centered university of its kind. The largest university in the state, ISU serves over 36,000 students who stay active in 800 organizations, research, internships, and study abroad programs. ISU is home to ten schools and colleges, 100 majors, and a range of graduate programs, including a Ph.D. in Sociology.

    Program Features

    Graduate students in ISU’s Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology program develop the ability to conduct original, creative, and relevant research. Students develop an integrated grasp of the field while working toward intellectual independence. They conduct independent and group research under the direction of faculty members, and exploration is encouraged. Requirements include:

    • Core coursework
    • Yearly evaluation by faculty
    • Written and oral preliminary examination
    • Dissertation proposal
    • Dissertation defense

    Notables

    The program is generally completed in five to seven years. ISU’s Sociology department offers excellent training in classical and contemporary theory and a range of advanced methods and data analysis. The program offers award-winning education in three key areas of research: Social and Economic Disparities; Agriculture, Environment, and Development; and Criminology and Criminal Justice.

  • Johns Hopkins University
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Founded in 1876, Johns Hopkins University was America’s first research university and continues to revolutionize higher education and bring important discoveries to the world. The private research university in Baltimore enrolls more than 24,000 students across nine academic divisions. Students choose from over 260 academic programs in the arts, humanities, sciences, engineering, education, business, and health professions. Ranked a Top 10 University nationally by U.S. News & World Report, Johns Hopkins offers a respected Ph.D. in Sociology.

    Program Features

    Students in the Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology program at Johns Hopkins University build foundational knowledge of social theory, sociological analysis, and methods and statistics. In addition to the core curriculum and elective courses, students complete a research apprenticeship, a teaching assistantship, and a dissertation. Beyond these requirements, students are free to customize their graduate training under the supervision of their advisors. Potential courses include:

    • Theories of Society
    • Sociological Analysis
    • Linear Models for the Social Sciences
    • Categorical Data Analysis and Selected Topics
    • Research Designs for Causal Inference and Mixed Methods

    Notables

    All required courses must be completed with a grade of B minus or higher. By the end of the spring semester of the third year, students must have completed an approved Trial Research Paper. With the exception of the dissertation, all requirements must be completed by the end of the spring semester of the fourth year.

  • Michigan State University
    Location

    East Lansing, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Starting in 1855 when Michigan State University was founded as a prototype for land-grant universities, the school has a strong tradition as an innovative pioneer. The public university in East Lansing, MI, is ranked No. 33 in the nation and No. 100 globally. It’s also a Top 40 Best Value public college. MSU enrolls more than 50,000 students and offers over 200 academic programs, including a Ph.D. in Sociology. 

    Program Features

    In the Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology program at MSU, students are prepared for careers in academia and the public and private sectors. The program generally takes five years to complete, but students with advanced research portfolios can sometimes graduate within four years. Requirements include:

    • Core courses/elective courses
    • Workshop attendance
    • Qualifying paper
    • Comprehensive examination
    • Dissertation proposal defense and dissertation defense 

    Notables

    MSU’s Department of Sociology is especially strong in three signature areas: Environment, Health and Medicine, and Migration. Students may also enhance their training with certificates in topics like Animal Studies; Chicano/Latino Studies; Environmental Science and Policy; Gender, Justice, and Environmental Change; and Women’s Studies. A hallmark of the program is its working relationships with a variety of other disciplines.

  • New York University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    One of the largest universities in the nation, New York University is a private research university serving more than 50,000 students. Since being founded in 1831, NYU has expanded to campuses in New York City, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai, as well as study-away sites on six continents. NYU promotes diversity, creativity, and enriching intellectual and cultural experiences. The university offers more than 400 excellent academic programs, including a Ph.D. in Sociology of Education. 

    Program Features

    NYU’s Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology of Education prepares students to think sociologically and effectively using the research methods of sociology. They learn to analyze educational problems and issues using the knowledge and concepts of sociology. Students work with an adviser to develop their course of study. They complete substantive coursework, school requirements, a comprehensive examination, and a dissertation. Courses include:

    • An Introduction to the Sociology of Education
    • The Sociology of Urban Life and Education
    • Sociology of Higher Education
    • Education as a Social Institution
    • Planned Change in Organizational Settings 

    Notables

    NYU’s Ph.D. program is 48 credits for students who matriculate with an MA and 65 credits for students who matriculate with a BA only. To advance to candidacy, students must pass a comprehensive oral exam on core books and articles in the field of educational sociology, in addition to a list of readings in the student’s area of specialization.

  • Northwestern University
    Location

    Evanston, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Based in Evanston, IL, Northwestern University is one of the nation’s leading private research universities. It’s committed to excellent teaching, innovative research, and the intellectual and personal growth of students. 21,000 students are enrolled across 12 schools and colleges and benefit from over 500 organizations and clubs. According to U.S. News & World Report, Northwestern is one of the Top Ten Universities nationally. Among the school’s exceptional programs is a Ph.D. in Sociology.

    Program Features

    Students in Northwestern’s Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology program developed an individualized program of study and research. During the first year, students take courses on a variety of theories and methods. The second-year revolves around seminars, workshops, and independent research. Students write a field essay to demonstrate their grasp of their third-year subfield. Work then focuses on the dissertation, workshops, and research seminars. Courses include:

    • Classical Theory in Sociological Analysis
    • Contemporary Theory in Sociological Analysis
    • Stratification, Race, and Gender
    • Seminar on College Teaching
    • Topics in Sociological Analysis: War and Society 

    Notables

    Northwestern’s Department of Sociology is one of the top sociology departments in the nation. However, there is virtually no area of sociological inquiry that students cannot pursue. Nearly all graduates move into academic or research positions.

  • Ohio State University
    Location

    Columbus, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Ohio’s highest-ranked public university, Ohio State University is also ranked among the Top 20 public universities nationally. OSU is a large university that enrolls more than 67,000 students who choose from over 200 academic programs. Located in Columbus, Ohio, the university offers something for everyone. In addition to top-notch academic programs, offerings include entertainment like sports, food, art, history, and more. The spirited school also offers a Ph.D. in Sociology.

    Program Features

    The Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology at Ohio State University offers a thorough grounding in theory, methods, and statistics while allowing students to pursue their individual interests in sociology. Students learn to ask questions, collect and analyze data, and advance knowledge on issues that are critical to societies. Graduates are prepared for positions in academia, government, business, and research organizations. Requirements include:

    • MA thesis and minimum of ten graduate courses in Sociology
    • Proseminar
    • Six additional courses at the Ph.D. level
    • Candidacy examination (written and oral)
    • Dissertation proposal and dissertation defense

    Notables

    OSU’s research facilities are among the finest in the country, and both faculty and students conduct innovative research and publish books and articles in top journals in the field. The department is best known for scholarship and training in Comparative Social Change; Crime and Community; Gender, Race, Work, and Inequality; and Population, Health, and Life Course.

  • Pennsylvania State University
    Location

    Carlisle, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Commonly known as Penn State, Pennsylvania State University is a public university in Centre County, PA. The school was founded in 1855 and is ranked No. 14 among public universities by U.S. News & World Report. Penn State enrolls 100,000 students across 24 campuses and offers more than 275 degree programs. Known for expert research and innovation, Penn State encourages creativity and collaboration. The school’s Top-20-ranked sociology department offers a Ph.D. in Sociology.

    Program Features

    In the first two years of Penn State’s Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology program, students develop an area of interest and learn how to ask insightful research questions and design investigations. By the end of the second year, they’ve launched a project and written a publishable paper. As students complete formal coursework and select their areas of concentration, their dissertations begin to take shape. Areas of concentration include:

    • Criminology
    • Families, Relationships, and Interpersonal Networks
    • Social Institutions and Culture
    • Urban, Community, and Spatial Sociology
    • Health and Life Course

    Notables

    Students may also choose Demography or Social Inequality as major or minor areas of concentration. During the third year of the program, students formulate a reading list that will serve as the basis for their written and oral examination. They begin writing their doctoral prospectus, and formal training concludes with the dissertation defense. Penn State provides two summer workshops on the job search process, and students participate in mock interviews.

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