Holloway Hall

Planning for Graduate School

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Thinking about graduate school

The SU Student Guide to Preparing for Graduate School suggests a number of questions to ask yourself before deciding to continue your education: 
  • What do I want to accomplish in my lifetime? 
  • What are my long-range and short-range career goals? 
  • Is graduate study necessary for me to achieve these goals? 
  • Do I have the interest and abilities to be successful in a graduate program? 
  • What type of value if any do I place on attaining a graduate degree? 
  • Am I mentally and physically prepared to undertake such a long-term academic commitment? 
  • At the present time do I have other needs that conflict with pursuing a graduate degree? 
  • Do I have enough information about this career field to determine if I want to make a long term commitment of pursuing a graduate degree? 
  • Can I realistically invest the time and money required to pursue another academic degree?

If you think you may be interested in graduate school start gathering information about graduate programs and their admissions requirements. Ideally you should decide by the end of your junior year to seek admission so that you will have ample time during senior year to complete the application process. 

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Selecting a program

Some things to consider when selecting a graduate program: 

The ASA's Guide to Graduate Departments available in the Sociology Department office (FH 266) has information on over 200 graduate programs. One of the appendices is an "Index of Special Programs which lists the schools specializing in particular areas of sociology. 

In general, the better programs are more competitive. You will probably want to apply to several schools, including at least one or two that are less exclusive. 

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Degree programs

The Master's degree requires one to two years of full-time graduate coursework. It may also require passing a comprehensive exam and/or writing a major paper. 

The Doctoral degree requires about two more years of full-time coursework beyond the Master's. It usually requires an oral or written comprehensive exam after which the student is eligible to complete the degree by writing a doctoral dissertation. The dissertation is based on an original research project conducted under the direction of a faculty committee. The entire process usually takes four to six years after graduating from college. 

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Admission requirements

  • GPA: Graduate schools usually expect an overall grade point average of at least 3.0. They may also consider your GPA in sociology courses specifically.
  • Tests: Many schools require one or both parts of the Graduate Record Exam. There is an "aptitude test" measuring general academic ability and an "advanced test" in sociology. Information and applications are available at the Center for Personal and Professional Development.
  • Transcripts: Contact the Registrar's office to arrange to have your transcript sent.
  • Letters of reference: Request these from faculty or from others who are in a position to evaluate your work. It is most helpful if your referees know something about you in addition to your grade in a course something that makes your qualifications stand out from those of other students.
  • Personal statement: This is your opportunity to call attention to any personal qualities or accomplishments that might otherwise go unnoticed. The graduate faculty will be looking for signs of maturity thoughtfulness and dedication to sociology.

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Financial aid

Graduate students are not normally eligible for assistance based on financial need. They may continue to rely on student loans although doing so for many years is to be avoided if possible. The best way to finance graduate school is to receive support from the university itself which takes several forms: 
  • Fellowships from federal agencies and foundations: These are often channeled through the university which selects the recipients from among their most promising students.
  • Teaching assistantships: Teaching assistants receive a stipend and usually a tuition waiver or reduction as well. They are normally responsible for moderating discussions when large lecture classes are divided into smaller discussion classes. Advanced graduate students may teach their own classes.
  • Research assistantships: The financial arrangements are similar to teaching assistantships but the work involves assisting faculty with research projects.
  • Tuition waivers: Graduate students without other forms of assistance are sometimes granted tuition waivers.

Some universities have far more financial aid to distribute than others especially because they have large research grants. It is helpful to know what percentage of graduate students are receiving assistance. 

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Resource materials

The Center for Personal and Professional Development has a number of useful resources: 
  • 200 graduate catalogs 
  • How to Prepare for the GRE 
  • How to Write a Personal Statement for Graduate and Professional School 
  • SU Student Guide to Preparing for Graduate School 
  • Financing Graduate School 
  • Computer software: "Graduate School Selector"

The Guide to Graduate Programs in Sociology is available in the department office FH 266. 

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