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 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 Applied Population Laboratory, the Center for Demography & Ecology, the Center for Demography of Health & Aging, the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, the High Road Strategy Center, 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, non-profit organizations, or private firms.


Please consult the table below for key information about this degree program’s admissions requirements. The program may have more detailed admissions requirements, which can be found below the table or on the program’s website.

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements of the Graduate School as well as the program(s). Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.

Fall Deadline December 15
Spring Deadline The program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Not required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not exclusively in English, must provide an English proficiency test score earned within two years of the anticipated term of enrollment. Refer to the Graduate School: Minimum Requirements for Admission policy:
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

The program receives a large number of applications each fall from highly qualified individuals, requiring the admissions committee to be extremely selective.  The Departments of Sociology and Community & Environmental Sociology offer graduate study leading to the Doctor of Philosophy degree in sociology.  The departments do not admit applicants to pursue master’s degrees only. Applicants admitted to the PhD program earn an MS degree en route to the PhD. 

A cohort of approximately 20 students is ideal, in terms of providing mentoring and training to all admitted applicants as well as making financial support available to them. Total graduate enrollment in the program is roughly 140 students.  An undergraduate major in sociology is not a prerequisite.

The admissions committee conducts a holistic assessment of each applicant’s qualifications. Faculty members look for academic excellence as indicated by undergraduate GPA, a writing sample, and references, along with interest in and motivation for graduate study in sociology as indicated by the statement of purpose.  (Note that a weakness in one indicator can be balanced by evidence of strong abilities in others.)  In particular, committee members look for applicants with the ability or potential to define a research question succinctly and to use empirical evidence to address significant sociological issues.  They also make an effort to identify individuals who demonstrate the potential for a creative approach to investigating empirical and conceptual social science issues. 

To apply, please submit an online application, all transcripts, a statement of reasons for graduate study, writing sample, and recommendations. International degree-seeking applicants must prove English proficiency using the Graduate School's requirements.


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.

Program Resources

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 awards such as National Science Foundation or Fulbright grants. 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 often must submit additional financial support documentation, demonstrating that 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 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 51 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 32 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement 26 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.
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 PhD students must pass two 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.
Language Requirements No language requirements.
Graduate School Breadth Requirement All doctoral students are required to complete a doctoral minor or graduate/professional certificate. Refer to the Graduate School: Breadth Requirement in Doctoral Training policy:
  • Option A, external: a minimum of nine graduate credits in one department or program (either single disciplinary or multi-disciplinary) outside of both Sociology and CE Sociology.
  • Option B, distributed: a minimum of nine graduate credits in two or more departments outside of both Sociology and CE Sociology. The courses must be thematically unified and thus form a coherent topic. The nine credits for the Option B Minor may include one (but no more than one) course cross-listed with Sociology or CE Sociology, but no courses may be taught by either Sociology or CE Sociology professors.
  • Option C, certificate: completion of a graduate/professional certificate in a program outside of Sociology and CE Sociology. Certificate programs coordinate teaching and research among scholars active in interrelated disciplines, and they typically require 9-12 credits.

Required Courses

All required courses except for SOC 700 Introductory Proseminar for Graduate Students, which is a credit/no credit course, must be taken for an A-F letter grade.

Students must complete the following courses.
SOC 700 Introductory Proseminar for Graduate Students1
SOC/​C&E SOC  361 Statistics for Sociologists II4
SOC 362 Statistics for Sociologists III4
SOC/​C&E SOC  750 Research Methods in Sociology3
SOC 754 Qualitative Research Methods in Sociology3
SOC 773 Intermediate Classical Theory3
Seminars 112
Affiliation with Center for Demography Ecology and Center for Demography of Health Aging
Students affiliated with the Center for Demography Ecology and Center for Demography of Health Aging must complete the following courses.
Seminar-Topics in Demography and Ecology (Seminars in Population Society I and II )
Breadthminimum 9 credits
Additional Credits
Affiliation with Center for Demography Ecology and Center for Demography of Health Aging
SOC 674 Demographic Techniques I3
SOC 756 Demographic Techniques II3
Students must take 3 credits once they reach dissertator status.
Affiliation with Center for Demography Ecology and Center for Demography of Health Aging
Students must take 1 credit in each of the following courses once in dissertator status.
Research: Methodology Trainees (Enroll in each semester through program)
Research: Demography and Ecology Trainees (Enroll in each semester through program)
Total CreditsMinimum of 51

Typically, these are courses numbered 900 to 979. These courses may or may not contain the word “Seminar” in the title. Working group courses (for example, those numbered 980 to 995) do not satisfy this requirement.

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 19 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions toward the minimum 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.

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

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 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 dissertation committee, which must have at least five members, all of whom read and evaluate the dissertation prior to the student's final oral exam.  Committees are composed of three graduate faculty in Sociology and/or Community & Environmental Sociology, one graduate faculty member from outside these two departments, and a fifth person who may be any individual deemed qualified by the student and their advisor.

Credits Per Term Allowed

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

Time Limits

Doctoral students are expected to pass both written preliminary exams and the oral preliminary exam, thereby attaining dissertator status, by the summer after their eighth semester in the graduate program.  They then must complete the PhD within five years of attaining dissertator status.

Refer to the Graduate School: Time Limits policy.

Grievances and Appeals

These resources may be helpful in addressing your concerns:

For students in the College of Agricultural & Life Sciences:

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences: Grievance Policy

In the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), any student who feels unfairly treated by a member of the CALS faculty or staff has the right to complain about the treatment and to receive a prompt hearing. Some complaints may arise from misunderstandings or communication breakdowns and be easily resolved; others may require formal action. Complaints may concern any matter of perceived unfairness.

To ensure a prompt and fair hearing of any complaint, and to protect the rights of both the person complaining and the person at whom the complaint is directed, the following procedures are used in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Any student, undergraduate or graduate, may use these procedures, except employees whose complaints are covered under other campus policies.

  1. The student should first talk with the person at whom the complaint is directed. Most issues can be settled at this level. Others may be resolved by established departmental procedures.
  2. If the student is unsatisfied, and the complaint involves any unit outside CALS, the student should seek the advice of the dean or director of that unit to determine how to proceed.
    1. If the complaint involves an academic department in CALS the student should proceed in accordance with item 3 below.
    2. If the grievance involves a unit in CALS that is not an academic department, the student should proceed in accordance with item 4 below.
  3. The student should contact the department’s grievance advisor within 120 calendar days of the alleged unfair treatment. The departmental administrator can provide this person’s name. The grievance advisor will attempt to resolve the problem informally within 10 working days of receiving the complaint, in discussions with the student and the person at whom the complaint is directed.
    1. If informal mediation fails, the student can submit the grievance in writing to the grievance advisor within 10 working days of the date the student is informed of the failure of the mediation attempt by the grievance advisor. The grievance advisor will provide a copy to the person at whom the grievance is directed.
    2. The grievance advisor will refer the complaint to a department committee that will obtain a written response from the person at whom the complaint is directed, providing a copy to the student. Either party may request a hearing before the committee. The grievance advisor will provide both parties a written decision within 20 working days from the date of receipt of the written complaint.
    3. If the grievance involves the department chairperson, the grievance advisor or a member of the grievance committee, these persons may not participate in the review.
    4. If not satisfied with departmental action, either party has 10 working days from the date of notification of the departmental committee action to file a written appeal to the CALS Equity and Diversity Committee. A subcommittee of this committee will make a preliminary judgement as to whether the case merits further investigation and review. If the subcommittee unanimously determines that the case does not merit further investigation and review, its decision is final. If one or more members of the subcommittee determine that the case does merit further investigation and review, the subcommittee will investigate and seek to resolve the dispute through mediation. If this mediation attempt fails, the subcommittee will bring the case to the full committee. The committee may seek additional information from the parties or hold a hearing. The committee will present a written recommendation to the dean who will provide a final decision within 20 working days of receipt of the committee recommendation.
  4. If the alleged unfair treatment occurs in a CALS unit that is not an academic department, the student should, within 120 calendar days of the alleged incident, take his/her grievance directly to the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. The dean will attempt to resolve the problem informally within 10 working days of receiving the complaint. If this mediation attempt does not succeed the student may file a written complaint with the dean who will refer it to the CALS Equity and Diversity Committee. The committee will seek a written response from the person at whom the complaint is directed, subsequently following other steps delineated in item 3d above.

For students in the College of Letters & Science:

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 teach and conduct research with intellectual and ethical rigor, care, and creativity.
  2. Create individualized programs to suit their specific interests and goals. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Advance the contributions of sociological study to society by conducting research that explores complex ideas, analyzes quantitative and qualitative data, and disseminates new knowledge. Contribute to the vast body of scholarship and applied work that leads to the improvement of society. 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.
  6. Communicate complex ideas in a clear, organized, engaging manner to diverse audiences. 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.
  7. Foster ethical and professional conduct by demonstrating respect for and having positive interactions with faculty members and staff, graduate student colleagues, and undergraduate students. Foster such conduct by the scientific rigor and honesty with which they design research, collect and analyze data, and interpret and report results.
  8. (Career Preparation) Prepare for a range of sustainable careers in academia as well as government, private industry, and the nonprofit sector. Develop flexibility, leadership, and broadly applicable skills in critical thinking, problem solving, project management, collaboration, and communication.