Sociology Professor Ivan Ermakoff, chalk in hand, standing in front of a blackboard, teaching a graduate course in political sociology.

The Department of Sociology and the Department of Community & 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 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 Applied Population Laboratory, the Center for Demography & Ecology, the Center for Demography of Health & Aging, the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, the Holtz Center for Science & Technology Studies, the Institute for Research on Poverty, the Institute on Aging, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, and the University of Wisconsin Survey Center. Further information about faculty and areas of study is available on the department websites: Department of Sociology and Department of Community & Environmental Sociology.

Degrees and Career Goals

The sociology graduate program admits students who intend to earn a PhD. Students complete a Master of Science degree on the way to the PhD or receive a waiver of the program’s Master’s requirements based on 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 or private sectors. Of those who graduate with the PhD, a majority obtain university teaching and/or research positions; others take research and/or administrative positions in government organizations, nonprofit organizations, or private firms.


This master’s program is offered for work leading to the PhD.  Students may not apply directly for the master’s and should instead see the admissions information for the PhD. 


Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements

Mode of Instruction

Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions

Accelerated: Accelerated programs are offered at a fast pace that condenses the time to completion. Students typically take enough credits aimed at completing the program in a year or two.

Evening/Weekend: ​Courses meet on the UW–Madison campus only in evenings and/or on weekends to accommodate typical business schedules.  Students have the advantages of face-to-face courses with the flexibility to keep work and other life commitments.

Face-to-Face: Courses typically meet during weekdays on the UW-Madison Campus.

Hybrid: These programs combine face-to-face and online learning formats.  Contact the program for more specific information.

Online: These programs are offered 100% online.  Some programs may require an on-campus orientation or residency experience, but the courses will be facilitated in an online format.

Curricular Requirements

Minimum Credit Requirement 30 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 16 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement 15 credits must be graduate-level coursework. Refer to the Graduate School: Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement policy:
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.25 GPA required (3.00 in the first semester)
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.
Assessments and Examinations Master’s students write a thesis under the supervision of their major professor. After completing the thesis, students take a comprehensive oral exam covering general sociology, graduate work to date, and the thesis.

Occasionally students decide not to continue pursuit of the PhD and opt to complete the requirements for a non-thesis master’s degree. In these rare cases, students complete course requirements and take the comprehensive oral exam.
Language Requirements No language requirements.

Required Courses

The Departments of Sociology and Community & Environmental Sociology have one graduate program, and we admit only those students who intend to complete a PhD.  Students admitted to the doctoral program earn a master’s degree en route to the PhD.  They complete the courses listed below and also write and defend a thesis.  Students who earned a master’s degree that included a thesis before entering the program may apply the work to the thesis requirement.

Master's Degree Course Requirements

Required Courses
SOC 700 Introductory Proseminar for Graduate Students1
SOC/​C&E SOC  361 Statistics for Sociologists II4
SOC 754 Qualitative Research Methods in Sociology3
SOC 773 Intermediate Classical Theory3
Additional credits19
Additional credits should be selected from SOC/CE SOC courses and seminars restricted to graduate students (typically these courses are numbered 700-984). These additional credits may include no more than 9 credits numbered 985 and above (e.g., working group courses, independent reading courses, and thesis credits).
Those students affiliated with the multi-disciplinary Center for Demography Ecology and Center for Demography of Health Aging must complete these courses toward the Methods requirement:
SOC 674 Demographic Techniques I3
SOC 756 Demographic Techniques II3
Each semester, throughout the graduate program, CDE/CDHA students must also enroll in:
SOC/​C&E SOC  995 Research: Methodology Trainees1-3
SOC/​C&E SOC  997 Research: Demography and Ecology Trainees1-3
Total Credits30

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Prior Coursework

Graduate Credits Earned at Other Institutions

With program approval, students may transfer up to 14 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions toward the minimum 30-credit master’s degree requirement and the minimum 50% graduate coursework requirement.  Coursework completed ten or more years prior to admission to the master’s program may not be used to satisfy either of these requirements.

Undergraduate Credits Earned at Other Institutions or UW-Madison

Refer to the Graduate School: Transfer Credits for Prior Coursework policy.

Credits Earned as a Professional Student at UW-Madison (Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, and Veterinary careers)

Refer to the Graduate School: Transfer Credits for Prior Coursework policy.

Credits Earned as a University Special student at UW–Madison

Refer to the Graduate School: Transfer Credits for Prior Coursework policy.


Refer to the Graduate School: Probation policy.

Advisor / Committee

Each new graduate student is matched with a first-year faculty advisor who shares his or her research interests. The first-year advisor helps with the transition to graduate school, offers an introduction to department culture, provides a structured point of contact should questions or problems arise, and provides information and support as the student selects a permanent advisor and thesis director.  Students are expected to have ongoing contact with their advisor.  All students are required to submit a yearly progress report that is read and discussed by a committee of faculty during the annual review.  In addition, all students are expected to create and regularly update an Individual Development Plan (IDP) and use it as the basis for conversations with their advisor about evolving goals, current strengths, and plans for mastery of new skills.  A student's advisor serves as chair of the thesis committee, which is composed of three graduate faculty members in Sociology and/or Community & Environmental Sociology.

Credits Per Term Allowed

15 credits maximum are allowed, but only 12 are recommended.

Time Limits

Students are expected to complete the master’s degree by the end of the summer after their third year in the program.

Refer to the Graduate School: Time Limits policy.

Grievances and Appeals

These resources may be helpful in addressing your concerns:

Students should contact the department chair or program director with questions about grievances. They may also contact the L&S Academic Divisional Associate Deans, the L&S Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning Administration, or the L&S Director of Human Resources.



Professional Development

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

Program Resources

The Sociology graduate program offers students an array of professional development opportunities. 

SOC 700 Introductory Proseminar for Graduate Students  provides an overview of the discipline and the graduate program and addresses such professional development issues as teaching strategies and grant proposal writing. The proseminar also explores topics like productive advisor-advisee relationships, working effectively as part of a research team, co-authoring, and other matters important to graduate school success. 

SOC/​C&E SOC  875 Special Topics (Topic: Professional Development) covers a broad spectrum of topics — e.g., networking and peer support; time management; IRB approval and considering ethics throughout the research process; writing, revising, and submitting papers to scholarly journals; writing for public audiences; doing outreach work; speaking at conferences; investigating careers within and outside academia; and learning how to mentor. 

SOC 910 Teaching Sociology is a seminar focusing on course development, pedagogy, and evaluation.

SOC/​C&E SOC  995 Research: Methodology Trainees, for students affiliated with the Center for Demography & Ecology and the Center for Demography of Health & Aging, covers essential professional development skills such as grant writing, data visualization, presentation design, publication writing, applying for academic and research jobs, and responsible conduct of research.

SOC/​C&E SOC  997 Research: Demography and Ecology Trainees, for students affiliated with the Center for Demography & Ecology and the Center for Demography of Health & Aging, offers presentations of substantive work at the forefront of population sciences.

For students who are teaching for the first time, there is a weekly teaching workshop that focuses on issues typically of concern to new TAs—e.g., developing lesson plans, engaging students, facilitating discussions, and evaluating written work. 

Students are encouraged to participate in “Working Groups” each semester. The departments offer nine of these training groups, each focusing on a different sociology subfield. The groups meet weekly and involve presentation and discussion of student and faculty work-in-progress as well as analysis of current developments and debates; often guest speakers from other universities join the conversation. 

The departments host scholars from other institutions who speak at departmental colloquia as well as speakers from campus units such as the Havens-Wright Center for Social Justice and the Institute for Research on Poverty.  Students are encouraged to attend these events. They are also advised to participate in the graduate program's workshops on career exploration and creating a professional website. Students are invited to collaborate with faculty and staff serving on department committees, and they are encouraged to develop leadership skills by becoming involved in the Sociology Graduate Student Association. 

The departments provide small grants that assist students with research expenses and support those who are traveling to present their work at professional conferences.  

The Sociology Department website includes several pages containing valuable resources for graduate students — e.g., Diversity & Inclusion Resources for the Classroom, Collected Wisdom, Academic Job Market, and Blogs on Academia. 

All graduate students are expected to create an Individual Development Plan to help them define interests and values, evaluate skills, develop specific plans for meeting degree milestones and professional goals, and communicate effectively with their advisors. 

Learning Outcomes

  1. Demonstrate a broad understanding of major theories, methodologies, and research findings in the sociological literature. 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. Attain the skills necessary to conduct research with intellectual and ethical rigor, care, and creativity.
  2. Complete an original research project in one of the subfields of sociology. In doing so, they will learn to formulate ideas and develop research questions, interpret and evaluate existing literature on the topic, design a feasible research project, use an appropriate methodology, analyze and interpret the resulting data, and consider avenues for future research. Write a thesis describing their research project and defend it during a comprehensive oral exam.
  3. Develop an understanding of the field of sociology by participating in a required introductory proseminar as well as completing required courses in sociological theory, research methods, and statistics along with elective courses in their area of interest. Demonstrate their understanding by working as teaching assistants, project assistants, research assistants, and trainees; by presenting work-in-progress at informal brownbag colloquia; by preparing and submitting manuscripts resulting from their research for publication in respected journals; and by submitting papers for presentation at professional conferences.
  4. Retrieve, interpret, and evaluate social science literature and use it, along with their own understanding of relevant methodologies, to employ the most appropriate methods and practices in their own research.
  5. Develop analytical thinking skills that enable them to evaluate information pertinent to their research questions. Develop the breadth of knowledge and experience that empowers them to synthesize disparate information and use the resulting synthesis to respond creatively to challenges in their field of study.
  6. Communicate in a clear, organized, engaging manner, using language, methods, and critical tools appropriate to the social sciences. Learn to develop grant proposals; gather, manage, and analyze data; write a thesis that is thought-provoking, concise, and persuasive; present research informatively; listen with care and patience; and give and receive feedback orally and in writing.
  7. Understand, recognize, and apply principles of ethical and professional conduct by developing effective relationships with faculty mentors, graduate student colleagues, and the undergraduate students whom they teach. Design research, collect and analyze data, and interpret and report results with honesty and scientific rigor.