Graduate Program

The department of Sociology at the University of Southern California offers graduate students a vibrant academic environment in a campus that is nestled in the midst of an exciting urban center. Our graduate students enjoy an exceptionally generous financial aid package. Upon graduation, our students take academic position in research universities, liberal arts colleges, and other academic institutions (to see recent placements, visit our alumni page).  The  department offers the Doctor of Philosophy degree. Our PhD students also receive the Master of Arts (M.A. degree) after successfully completing the qualifying examinations.

The goals of our PhD program are:

  • to provide students with a thorough grounding in the core areas of theory, statistics, and research methods;
  • to develop proficiency in the process of sociological inquiry through substantive foci in two of the several sub-areas areas of sociology;
  • to allow for student participation in research as a means of learning to formulate, implement, and report the results of social inquiry;
  • to provide opportunities to participate in such other professional activities as teaching, the presentation of professional research papers, scholarly criticism, journal publication, and the administration of educational and research programs;
  • to provide guidance and assistance in seeking employment and otherwise pursuing the professional career, both during the program and after its completion; and
  • to provide assistance with travel funding for graduate students.

Requirements Overview 

You are expected to be a full-time student, meaning that you will take at least 8 units per semester until your formal coursework is finished.  Many students are currently taking 12 units per semester, prior to taking Qualifying Exams.


Core 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 525, SOCI 610, and SOCI 621.


Areas of Specialization

In addition to six required courses mentioned above, students are required to specialize in two areas and to complete at least two courses in each of these areas. Standard Exam Areas in the department include:

  • Culture                                       
  • Economic Sociology and Organizations                      
  • Family                              
  • Gender                            
  • Globalization                  
  • Health & Medicine    
  • Immigration   
  • Labor & Occupations
  • Political Sociology             
  • Population                      
  • Religion                           
  • Science & Technology
  • Social inequality/Stratification
  • Social Movements and Civic Engagement
  • Social Theory

Students wishing to take an exam in an area not listed above may submit a one-page petition to the Director of Graduate Studies (no later than spring semester of the second year of graduate study)


 5-Member Guidance Committee

The 5-Member Guidance Committee will conduct the Qualification Examination and evaluate the Empirical Paper of each PhD student. Students must create a guidance committee during their second year of graduate school.Students will choose 4 Sociology faculty members, including a Guidance Committee Chair, to serve as their internal departmental guidance committee.  The 5th member will be selected from USC faculty outside the Sociology Department, and will be chosen by the student with advice from her Guidance Committee Chair.


Empirical Paper

Success in the field of sociology requires involvement in the conduct of empirical research. Relatively early, therefore, each student is required to complete an independent research project, which is supervised by two members of his or her faculty guidance committee. If a master's thesis or some other research project has been completed at another university, it may — subject to permission of the student’s guidance committee — be submitted in lieu of the empirical paper. Students are also required to make a public presentation of this or other independent work, either at a professional meeting or some other academic form.


Qualifying Examinations 

All students are required to complete written and oral qualifying exams on their two specialty fields in the fall semester of their third year of graduate study.  The completion of the Empirical Paper is no longer a prerequisite for the Qualifying Exams. 


Advancing to Candidacy

Students advance to Ph.D. candidacy upon the completion of their empirical paper and qualifying examination.



The dissertation is the final step in the acquisition of the Ph.D. degree. After advancement to candidacy, students are expected to submit a formal prospectus to their dissertation committee within six months. 


  • Sociology
  • 851 Downey Way
  • HSH 314
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-1059