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Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences

Frequently Asked Questions

graduate applicants - frequently asked questions

Why should I consider pursuing graduate studies in sociology?

Sociological analysis is indispensable for understanding the world and making it a better place. What makes sociology unique is that it refuses to take the world at face value. For example, while most social sciences (e.g., economics and psychology) theorize the individual, sociology begins with the premise that we are social creatures, and that context, norms, discourse, and interaction not only matter, but are often paramount. It also insists on analyzing power, in contrast to some other fields. In a world of deepening inequalities and mounting social problems, understanding both structural and everyday forms of power is essential.

If you are considering a career in sociology, you can be encouraged by the diversity of approaches and research areas in the profession, the commitment to openness and tolerance among its members, and by the high levels of disciplinary involvement and sociability. This represents one of its greatest strengths, and provides an unusual level of intellectual freedom for graduate students. Sociology has a long history of critical analysis, a public orientation, and a bedrock commitment to relevance and action. The discipline thrives on methodological, theoretical, and topical innovation. Sociology also boasts a very healthy job market, particularly in academic settings.

Why should I apply to Boston College?

We are a dynamic department with a nationally renowned faculty, a relatively small graduate program, and extensive opportunities for small classes and one-on-one mentorship. Our faculty members work in a variety of areas, from gender and family to consumer culture and social movements. We have deep expertise in both qualitative methods and advanced statistical methodologies. To get a better sense of current concentrations of faculty expertise, visit our faculty clusters page.

Our department provides access to a range of additional resources that enrich the experience of our graduate students. First, our Departmental Seminar and Distinguished Visiting Scholars series give our graduate students access to cutting-edge scholars from around the country.  Second, students benefit from BC’s membership in a larger consortium of affiliated Boston-area universities, which provides access to a very wide array of classes and faculty members. The department provides two ongoing research and writing seminars for graduate students, one designed for second year students, and the other for those at the dissertation stage. Our faculty members are also involved in research organizations that provide a host of opportunities—from activism to paid employment.

The department also has an unusually strong orientation toward sociological analysis that promotes social change. We are heavily involved in both critical sociology—which involves unraveling ideology and conventional wisdom through careful study, and in public sociology—which involves serving larger publics. Whether studying social movements aimed at reducing inequality or analyzing reconfigurations of culture, sexuality, health care, crime, education, spirituality, or politics, our students engage in creative social research in their quest for social justice. As a department, we support originality in content and method, and believe in a model of graduate training that allows students to follow their passions.

What can I do with a graduate degree in Sociology?

A Ph.D. in sociology provides preparation for a career in academic research and teaching.  In recent years, our graduates have found employment in a wide array of colleges and universities, including SUNY Stony Brook, Dalhousie University, Montana State University, Stonehill College, North Dakota State University, the College of William and Mary, and many others. A Ph.D. in sociology can also be used to prepare for more applied careers, and some of our graduates have taken positions in consulting, philanthropy and civil service.

An M.A. in sociology can be used to prepare for careers in applied settings, such as academic administration or policy research. It can also be used to apply to Ph.D. programs either in sociology or other disciplines (e.g., public health). Our M.A. students have an excellent track record of moving on to highly competitive Ph.D. programs.

Should I apply to the M.A. or to the Ph.D. program?

The Ph.D. is a highly selective track that enrolls between four and seven students each year. Our Ph.D. students have a strong commitment to research and writing, and mostly intend to pursue academic careers. They are generally offered five years of funding (including tuition waiver and stipend). It generally takes between five and eight years for our students to complete a Ph.D. in sociology if they enter without a prior M.A. All of our Ph.D. students are required to complete a sociology M.A. during their first years in the program. However, students entering the Ph.D. program with prior M.A.s may be able to have this requirement waived, and may also be able to have some or all of their prior coursework deducted from the courses usually required of Ph.D. students.

The M.A. takes about two years to complete. M.A. students do not usually receive either tuition waivers or stipends. Some of our M.A. students are interested in but not yet committed to the Ph.D. route, and choose the M.A. as a first step. Others enter the M.A. program to gain skills and credentials for jobs in areas such as applied research and policy research. Still others begin the program while already in careers (e.g., law enforcement) that require graduate degrees for advancement.

People who apply but are not admitted to the Ph.D. program are automatically considered for the M.A. program (although admission to the M.A. program is also highly selective). Thus, if you are unsure about which program is right for you, it is probably best to start out applying to the Ph.D. program. If you have further questions, please contact the Director of Admissions, Professor Natasha Sarkisian.