2023-24 Graduate Handbook

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 positions in research universities, liberal arts colleges, and other academic institutions. The department offers a Doctor of Philosophy degree. Our PhD students also receive the Master of Arts (M.A. degree) after successfully completing the qualifying examinations. To learn more about graduate study at USC, see what alumni have to say about the program and our placements.

We are particularly proud that our graduate students have recently (2016-18) been awarded fellowships and grants including: ACLS/Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellowship, AAUW American Dissertation Fellowship, American Sociological Association’s Minority Fellowship Program, Ford Foundation Dissertation Completion Fellowship, Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, Fulbright Commission Fellowship, Haynes Lindley Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant, National Academy of Education (NAEd)/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, and the SSRC Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship. Read more about our graduate students’ recent publications, fellowships, and awards.

    Core Requirements

    A minimum of 60 graduate units is necessary for the Ph.D., among which the following 28 credits are required courses:

    – SOCI 500 Sociology Proseminar: Approaches to Sociological Research
    – SOCI 510 Sociological Theory I
    – SOCI 511 Sociological Theory II
    – SOCI 520 Qualitative Research Methods
    – SOCI 521 Quantitative Methods and Statistics
    – SOCI 593 Practicum in Teaching the Liberal Arts
    – SOCI 680 Writing for Publication in Sociology



    – SOCI 620 Advanced Methods – Qualitative Research
    – SOCI 621 Advanced Methods – Quantitative Research

    Areas of Specialization

    Students are required to specialize in two areas and to complete at least one course in each of these areas. Standard Exam Areas in the department include:

    – Culture
    – Demography
    – Economic Sociology & Organizations
    – Family
    – Gender
    – Globalization
    – Health & Medicine
    – Immigration
    – Labor & Occupations
    – Political Sociology
    – Race and Ethnicity
    – Social Stratification
    – Social Movements & Civic Engagement
    – Social Theory
    – Urban Sociology

    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 faculty members. 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 in some other academic forum.

    5-Member Guidance Committee

    The 5-Member Guidance Committee will conduct the Qualification Examination of each PhD student. Sociology uses two-person standing qualifying committees for each of our areas. The two standing qualifying review committees (4 members) form the skeleton of the 5-person guidance committee.

    Qualifying Examinations

    All students are required to complete written and oral qualifying exams on their two specialty fields in the spring 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.

    Program Learning Objectives

    Our graduates will be able to demonstrate:

    • A thorough grounding in the core areas of theory, research methods, and statistics.
      • This is assessed through professional-level performance in required coursework as demonstrated by well-crafted seminar papers in core courses.
    • Proficiency in the process of sociological inquiry through substantive foci in two sub-areas of sociology.
      • This is assessed through professional-level performance in elective coursework and on qualifying exams.
    • The capacity to formulate, implement, and report the results of original social inquiry.
      • This is assessed through the empirical paper, dissertation, and research collaborations with faculty.
    • A mastery of skills and knowledge at a level required for undergraduate and graduate teaching.
      • This is assessed through the completion of the teaching practicum and TA-ships.
    • Professionalization and preparedness for the academic job market.
      • This is assessed by the required presentation of the empirical paper and submission of the empirical paper for journal publication (after the required workshop in publishing), attendance at professional conferences (subsidized by the department), and attendance at department professionalization seminars, colloquium, and brown bags.