University of Southern California
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Graduate Degrees

The Department of Sociology offers programs of study leading to the Doctor of Philosophy degree. The Ph.D. is directed toward the training of theoretically and methodologically sophisticated sociologists who have an enduring commitment to the practice and teaching of sociology.


Applicants must complete their applications by December 1. Consideration for university fellowships is possible as early as November for students whose applications are complete.


All applicants must have a bachelor’s degree, a GPA of at least 3.0, and one or more courses in either undergraduate statistics or college algebra.


Admission to regular graduate status ordinarily requires possession of a bachelor’s degree, a GPA of at least 3.0, one or more courses in undergraduate statistics and/or college algebra, and three letters of recommendation. The GRE is also required; scores of 550 or better on each of the verbal, quantitative and analytic portions of the GRE are preferred. International applicants must also submit their score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Approximately 6-8 students enroll each year from the available pool of applicants. Each application receives careful attention and is judged in terms of the full set of criteria.

A limited number of graduate course units taken elsewhere may be considered for transfer into the graduate program. These units are transferred in on a course-by-course basis.

Application Procedures

The following materials should be submitted to apply for graduate study:

1. an online USC application form (available at plus a check for the admission fee;

2. official transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate work;

3. the official results of the general aptitude scores of the Graduate Record Examinations (verbal, quantitative, and analytical);

4. for international students, a TOEFL score;

5. a completed Sociology Department Graduate Application form (please save and upload);

6. one example of written work (normally a paper written for a course) of no more than 20 pages;

7. three letters of recommendation from persons who can write about your academic performance and your potential as a social scientist;

8. a personal statement describing (1) your present sociological interest, (2) the instructors, books, and/or journals that have had the greatest influence on your interests in sociology, and (3) what you hope to be doing in the field of sociology 10 years after you receive your degree. Please include any other aspect of your experience that you want to include.

Degree Requirements

These degrees are under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Refer to the Requirements for Graduation section and the Graduate School section of this catalogue for general regulations. All courses applied toward the degrees must be courses accepted by the Graduate School.


All graduate students must be in residence and must take at least eight units of graduate work each semester (except during Advanced and Qualifying Examinations), prior to work on the dissertation.

Master of Arts in Sociology

The department does not admit students whose objective is a master’s degree. However, if a student accepted in the program does not have a master’s degree, the department strongly recommends completion of the requirements for the M.A. in the course of work toward the Ph.D. degree.

Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology

Course Requirements
A minimum of 60 graduate units is necessary for the Ph.D., among which are the following required courses: SOCI 510, SOCI 520, SOCI 521, SOCI 523 or SOCI 524, SOCI 610, and SOCI 621. In addition, each student must specialize in two subareas of sociology and must take at least 8 units in each area such as: urban sociology, complex organizations, stratification, ethnic relations, sociology of aging, medical sociology, communication and culture, deviance, sociology of gender, demography, and so on.

Screening Procedure
Normally, students must complete the screening procedure during the third semester of enrollment. Students will have completed two full semesters of work by this point and, hence, will have taken no fewer than 16 and no more than 24 units, including at least three of the following: SOCI 510, SOCI 521, SOCI 523 or SOCI 524, SOCI 610, and SOCI 621. Students are evaluated on subject matter competence and satisfactory progress. When the screening procedure is successfully completed, the student has one semester in which to form a guidance committee.

Empirical Paper
Each student is required to complete an independent empirical research project which is approved by two members of his or her guidance committee. In some instances, this requirement may be met by acceptance of a satisfactory master’s thesis from some other university.

Foreign Language Requirement
The department does not generally require proficiency in a foreign language; however, as with other courses outside the department, a student’s guidance committee may in some cases require proficiency in a foreign language.

Qualifying Examinations
Following the completion of their empirical papers and most of their course work, students are required to take a written and oral examination in their two specialty areas. If the written examination is passed, the oral part of the examination can be devoted to a preliminary discussion of dissertation plans. When these are completed successfully, the student is advanced to Ph.D. candidacy.

After the dissertation is completed, the student and the dissertation committee, in conjunction with the department chair, may elect either a defense oral or a final oral examination in defense of the dissertation. The defense oral is normally chosen in sociology.