For some students, studying sociology at PLU will only be part of the academic journey. Many options exist for students to pursue graduate studies related to sociology. Graduate programs are often classified by the terminal degree offered. Students wishing to pursue a graduate degree can seek a certificate, a Master’s, or a Ph.D. program.
Certificate programs tend to focus on classroom learning and are most suited for individuals wanting to be applied sociologists. While enrolled, students will take a variety of practical courses dedicated to learning skills specific to their occupation or position. Certificate programs often involve an internship or clinical work. Acquiring a certificate will make students marketable for specific positions but will not be as generally applicable as a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.
Master’s programs are another possibility for students wanting to further pursue their sociological education. Some Ph.D. programs offer a terminal Master’s option, meaning that students can graduate and leave the program upon completing a Master’s degree. Other sociology programs offer an M.A. (master of Arts degree) or M.S. (Master of Science degree) as the terminal degree.
In an M.A. program, the learning will be more strongly focused on the theoretical understanding of sociology rather than practical understanding, like that which would occur in a certificate program. M.A. students will take 2-3 classes a semester for 2 academic years while also conducting their own independent research project(s). While some classroom-only M.A. programs exist, the vast majority of M.A. students are required to write a thesis. The Master’s thesis is an independent research project which a student designs, under the guidance of an advisor and advising committee, somewhat similar to a capstone project. The thesis project requires students to ask a unique and interesting research question, familiarize themselves with the literature, gather data to answer that question, analyze the data, and write themselves an academic paper (30-50 pages in length). Earning a M.A. often qualifies individuals to work in state and local governments, for non-profit organizations, and in for-profit professional environments. Many sociology undergraduates elect to earn M.A.s in sociology; however, sociology graduates are also suited to earn an M.A. in such fields as anthropology, political science, economics, among others. Sociology degree holders may also be interested in earning a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.), a Master of Public Health (M.P.H.), a Master of Arts in Public Policy (M.P.P.), a Master of Arts in City and Regional Planning (M.C.P.), or a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.).
Students wishing to earn a Ph.D. must enroll in a doctoral program. Sociology doctoral programs are typically 6-8 years in length. They are organized to give students strong theoretical and methodological training. Students spend a significant amount of their time in a doctoral program pursuing independent research projects; any student thinking about pursuing a Ph.D. should have a strong interest in academic research. Students spend the first 3-4 years of the Ph.D. program satisfying course requirements, writing the thesis (usually defending the thesis at the end of the 2nd year), and conducting independent research. After successfully defending the thesis, students then begin to prepare for a general or comprehensive exam in the discipline. Procedures for general or comprehensive exams vary widely by department, but most require a student to successfully pass this exam before becoming a Ph.D. candidate. Doctoral students in sociology spend their final 2-3 years in graduate school working on independent research projects and writing their dissertation. To be awarded a Ph.D., students must successfully defend their dissertation, pass their general or comprehensive exams, and complete required coursework. Upon completion of their degrees, most sociology Ph.D.s go on to work in academic positions at colleges and universities. Sociology Ph.D.s also work for federal and state governments, private companies, non-profit organizations, and think tanks. The American Sociology Association collects data and publishes reports on trends in employment of degree holders which they make available on their website.
An undergraduate degree in sociology also prepares students to pursue law degrees (J.D.s or Juris Doctorates). For more information on law school, students should consult Professors Michael Artime or Ralph Flick, PLU’s Law School Advisors.
Funding for Graduate School
For a student thinking about graduate school, it is important to note that numerous funding opportunities exist for graduate study. Most doctoral programs and some M.A. and certificate programs have graduate assistantships available to students. Graduate assistantships often provide tuition, health benefits, and a modest living stipend to students in exchange for their work as teaching, research, or administrative assistants. The majority of graduate students are not awarded federal grants to assist with tuition; however, it is possible to receive federally-subsidized student loans to attend a certified graduate program. Our department strongly encourages students interested in graduate school, and particularly those interested in pursuing a Ph.D., to only attend programs that offer funding. Your PLU faculty advisor will work with you to help you identify options for graduate school and make informed decisions about enrolling in a graduate program.
Graduate School Advising
Deciding whether or not to continue your education beyond a Bachelor’s degree is an exciting process, but it can also be overwhelming. Feel free to ask your major advisor or your sociology professors any questions you have about graduate school or the application process. We are happy and available to offer help and advice.