Sections excerpted with permission from the booklet "Careers in Sociology" published by the American Sociological Association.
There are two basic graduate degrees available in sociology, the "doctorate" and the "Masters" degrees. The Doctorate in Philosophy (PhD) is typically the highest degree awarded in sociology. The Master's degree may be either an MA (Master of Arts) or an MS (Master of Science). The PhD requires at least four or five years of study beyond the BA or BS and signifies competence for original research and scholarship as evidenced by the completion of a book length research study called a "dissertation". The Master's degree, which takes from one to three years, can be either a step toward the PhD or an end in its own right. It generally signifies sophisticated knowledge of the field's perspectives and methods, but does not necessarily indicate that any original research has been conducted.
There are many jobs and careers for which a Masters alone is adequate. A sociology MA or MS is sufficient for professional work within public agencies and private businesses. However, for teaching at the secondary school or two-year college level, the PhD is generally preferable to the Master's degree. A PhD is usually required for teaching and research at the university level and for high-level employment with good promotion prospects in non-academic research institutes, private industry, and government agencies.
The Guide to Graduate Departments of Sociology, put out each year by the American Sociological Association, contains critical information on over 200 graduate programs in the US. and Canada. It includes degrees awarded, rosters of individual faculty and their interests, special programs, tuition and fees, the availability of fellowships and assistantships, deadlines for applications, and the names, addresses, and telephone numbers to contact for further information and application forms. The Guide is available in the advising and main offices of the Department of Sociology and can be ordered as well directly from the American Sociological Association.
Early in your senior year or in the year before entering graduate school, you should begin to make contact with the schools you wish to consider. Most departments require you to fill out a rather extensive application form. This will often include a personal statement on why you want to pursue graduate work, why you chose sociology and that particular school. In addition, you will probably be asked to supply a transcript of your undergraduate record and several letters of reference. Many departments require applicants to take the nationally administered Graduate Record Examinations. This involves a battery of exams on verbal and quantitative skills, and sociology itself. Note that these examinations are administered on a fixed schedule in designated locations. You may apply to take these examinations several months in advance. At Hunter, the Office of Student Services has all the appropriate information and forms.
Finally, take advantage of the opportunity to visit the sociology departments you are considering. Departments differ in many ways, in tone, style and in the environment which they will provide the student. You are considering not just a set of sociology courses, but a larger learning context, and a town and region in which you may be living for the next several years. See a favorite faculty or undergraduate advisor as early in your senior year as possible for assistance with your application to graduate school.