The Department of Sociology and the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology conduct a combined graduate program in sociology designed to prepare students for scholarly research, teaching, or applied work. The program leads to the master of science degree with a major in sociology and the doctor of philosophy degree in sociology. It also offers a minor to students earning a doctoral degree in other departments. All major areas of sociological inquiry are represented in the curriculum. The program consistently ranks at or near the top in studies of U.S. doctoral programs.

Distinguished faculty, outstanding students who learn from and support each other, an increasingly multi-ethnic student body, a curriculum covering a broad spectrum of sociological interests, thriving research projects in many areas, and a stimulating campus environment make UW–Madison an excellent choice for students interested in sociology and/or community and environmental sociology.

Members of the departments also participate in a number of interdisciplinary programs. Faculty and students are involved with several research institutes, including the Center for Demography and Ecology, the Center for Demography of Health and Aging, the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, the Institute for Research on Poverty, the Institute on Aging, the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, the University of Wisconsin Survey Center, the Applied Population Laboratory, the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. Further information about faculty and areas of study is available on the department websites: Department of Sociology, and Department of Community and Environmental Sociology.

Degrees and Career Goals

The sociology graduate program admits students who intend to earn a Ph.D. Students complete a master of science degree on the way to the Ph.D. or receive a waiver of the program’s master’s requirements based on their having written a thesis and obtained a master’s degree previously. A few students leave the program after completing the master’s degree and pursue careers in the public and private sectors.  Of those who graduate with the Ph.D., a majority obtain university teaching and/or research positions; others take research and/or administrative positions in government organizations or private firms.

The departments guarantee five continuous years of funding to all incoming students. Sources of funding include teaching assistantships, project assistantships, research assistantships, traineeships, and fellowships. In addition, some admitted students arrive with outside fellowships such as National Science Foundation or Fulbright awards.  International applicants admitted to the program must complete a financial statement that provides evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves for their first year and the intent for support to continue throughout the duration of study.  Even though departmental funding is guaranteed, international students must often provide additional financial support documentation, showing they can cover the gap between the amount the departments provide and the amount the U.S. State Department requires.  Additional information about international student expenses can be found here.

Minimum Degree Requirements and Satisfactory Progress

To make progress toward a graduate degree, students must meet the Graduate School Minimum Degree Requirements and Satisfactory Progress in addition to the requirements of the program.

Doctoral Degrees


Minimum Graduate Degree Credit Requirement

51 credits

Minimum Graduate Residence Credit Requirement

32 credits

Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement

At least half of the coursework (i.e., 26 of the required 51 credits) must be in graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide.

Prior Coursework Requirements: Graduate Work from Other Institutions

With program approval, students may count up to 19 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions toward the minimum 51-credit Ph.D. degree requirement and the minimum 50% graduate coursework requirement. Coursework completed ten or more years prior to admission to the doctoral program may not be used to satisfy either of these requirements.

Prior Coursework Requirements: UW–Madison Undergraduate

With program approval, students may count up to 7 credits earned in an undergraduate degree program at UW–Madison toward the Ph.D. degree requirements. If the courses are numbered 300–699, the credits may count toward the minimum 51-credit degree requirement. If the courses are numbered 700–999, the credits may also count toward the minimum 50% graduate coursework requirement. Coursework completed ten or more years prior to admission to the doctoral program may not be used to satisfy either of these requirements.

Prior Coursework Requirements: UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students may count up to 15 credits taken as a Special Student toward the Ph.D. degree requirements. If the courses are numbered 300–699, the credits may count toward the minimum 51-credit degree requirement. If the courses are numbered 700–999, the credits may also count toward the minimum 50% graduate coursework requirement. Coursework completed ten or more years prior to admission to the doctoral program may not be used to satisfy either of these requirements.

Credits per Term Allowed

15 credits

Program-Specific Courses Required

SOC/​C&E SOC  361 Statistics for Sociologists II3
SOC 362 Statistics for Sociologists III3
SOC/​C&E SOC  750 Research Methods in Sociology3
SOC 773 Intermediate Classical Theory3
Select four seminars in Sociology or Community and Environmental Sociology

Doctoral Minor/Breadth Requirements

All doctoral students are required to complete a minor comprised of 9 credits in one department or 9 credits united by a common theme in two or more departments.

Overall Graduate GPA Requirement

3.25 GPA required

Other Grade Requirements

Students must earn a BC or above in all required courses. Grades of Incomplete are considered to be unsatisfactory if they are not removed during the next enrolled semester.

Probation Policy

The status of a student can be one of three options:

  1. Good standing (progressing according to standards; any funding guarantee remains in place).
  2. Probation (not progressing according to standards but permitted to enroll; loss of funding guarantee; student must submit an advisor-approved plan outlining specific steps for removal of probationary status and deadlines for doing so).
  3. Unsatisfactory progress (not progressing according to standards; not permitted to enroll).

Advisor / Committee

Students are expected to have ongoing contact with their faculty advisor. Dissertators who fail to confer with their advisor at least once each semester will not be allowed to register in the subsequent semester. All students are required to submit a yearly progress report that is read and discussed by a committee of faculty at an annual review.

Assessments and Examinations

Ph.D. students must pass two six-hour written preliminary exams in two different sociology subfields as well as an oral prelim. They then write a dissertation under the supervision of their major professor. After completing the dissertation, students take a final oral exam covering the dissertation and the general field of the major and minor studies.

Time Constraints

Doctoral students must complete the Ph.D. within five years of passing the oral preliminary examination and attaining dissertator status.

Language Requirements

No language requirements.

The program receives a large number of applications each fall from highly qualified individuals, requiring the admissions committee to be extremely selective. There is a very strong preference for students planning to pursue a Ph.D.; students whose goal is a master’s are rarely accepted. A cohort of around 20 students is ideal, in terms of providing quality training and making financial support available to all admitted students. Total graduate enrollment in the program is approximately 140 students. An undergraduate major in sociology is not a prerequisite. The admissions committee looks for academic excellence as indicated by undergraduate GPA and Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, a writing sample, and references, plus interest in and motivation for graduate study in sociology as indicated by the statement of purpose. However, a weakness in one indicator can be balanced by evidence of strong abilities in the others. To apply, please submit an online application, all transcripts, statement of reasons for graduate study, writing sample, recommendations, and tests scores.  GRE scores (general test only) are required of all applicants; in addition, international applicants are required to submit English Proficiency test scores—either TOEFL, MELAB, or IELTS.

Knowledge and Skills

  • Students will demonstrate a broad understanding of major theories, methodologies, and research findings in the sociological literature. They will also develop critical thinking skills that empower them to analyze strengths and weaknesses in the existing literature, identify knowledge gaps, evaluate evidence, synthesize information, and form conclusions. They will thus attain the skills necessary to teach and conduct research with intellectual and ethical rigor, care, and creativity.
  • Students will create individualized programs to suit their specific interests and goals. In doing so, they will learn to formulate ideas and develop research questions, design feasible research projects, use appropriate methodologies, analyze and interpret the resulting data, and identify avenues for further exploration. Their original research will expand the current boundaries of knowledge in the field.
  • Doctoral students will write seminar papers and conduct dissertation research, prepare and submit manuscripts resulting from their research for publication in respected journals, and submit papers for presentation at professional conferences. Their independent research will contribute substantively to scholarship in the field.
  • Students will demonstrate breadth within their learning experience by taking at least four seminars, completing a minor area of study, and passing written preliminary exams in two different subfields. In addition, because our program emphasizes collective responsibility for training, students will be supervised and mentored by several faculty members with a range of expertise. They will also learn to mentor others.
  • Ph.D. students will advance the contributions of sociological study to society by conducting research that explores complex ideas, analyzes quantitative and qualitative data, and disseminates new knowledge. In so doing, they will contribute to the vast body of scholarship and applied work that leads to the improvement of society. Students will also share theory, methodology, and the results of research with the undergraduate students whom they teach and thereby foster an understanding of how social life works, what causes social change, and why humans behave in the ways they do.

Professional Conduct

  • Students will communicate complex ideas in a clear, organized, engaging manner to diverse audiences. They will craft effective grant proposals; gather, manage, and analyze data; write papers that are thought-provoking, concise, and persuasive; present research informatively; listen with care and patience; and give and receive feedback orally and in writing.
  • Students will foster ethical and professional conduct by demonstrating respect for and having positive interactions with faculty members and staff, graduate student colleagues, and undergraduate students. They will also foster such conduct by the scientific rigor and honesty with which they design research, collect and analyze data, and interpret and report results.

Additional Learning Goals

  • Career Preparation: Students will prepare for a range of sustainable careers in academia as well as government, private industry, and the nonprofit sector. They will develop flexibility, leadership, and broadly applicable skills in critical thinking, problem solving, project management, collaboration, and communication.

Faculty: Professors Oliver (chair, Sociology), Green (chair, Community and Environmental Sociology), Bell, Borman (affiliated), Carlson, Collins, DeLamater, Emirbayer, Ermakoff, Ferree, Ford (affiliated), Friedland (affiliated), Fujimura, Gerber, Goldberg, Goldrick-Rab (affiliated), Herd, Kleinman, Logan, Massoglia, Maynard, Montgomery, Nordheim (affiliated), Raymo, Rogers (director, COWS), Schaeffer (director, UWSC), Schwartz, Seidman, Stoecker, Thornton (affiliated), Tigges, Wright; Associate Professors Alatout, Christens (affiliated), Curtis, Elwert, Feinstein, Fletcher, Freeland (director, Graduate Studies), Grodsky, Lim, Morales (affiliated), Nobles, Shoemaker (affiliated); Assistant Professors Conti, Engelman, Garoon, Goffman, Grant, Leachman (affiliated), Liu, Simmons (affiliated), Vargas, White, Xiong (affiliated)