The Sociology curriculum is designed to give students a comprehensive introduction to the discipline and opportunities for each student to pursue their particular research interests. First-year coursework/exams and the qualifying paper provide students with a firm foundation in many major subfields as well as the skills required for scholarly research. The special field requirement, including the methods specialization, prepares students for their dissertation research. Teaching, at the University of Chicago or other local institutions, provides further opportunities to develop substantive and methodological specialties.

PhD Program

The Department of Sociology offers a program for the Ph.D. degree. Students ordinarily earn a master's degree as part of the Ph.D. program. The M.A. is awarded for completion of the first year of coursework and at least a masters-level pass on the Department’s M.A. Examinations (see below).

During the early years, students are engaged primarily in course work. During the later years, although often continuing course work, they focus more on examinations and independent research to fulfill degree requirements. Coursework for the Ph.D. program is to be completed in 2 – 3 years and we expect students to meet all requirements for candidacy by the Autumn Quarter of their fourth year. The total time to degree will vary with the type of dissertation each student chooses to write, but one can expect to complete the degree in 5 – 7 years.

The University of Chicago has a continuous registration system for students in Ph.D. programs. To receive a Ph.D., students must complete a minimum of twelve quarters over four calendar years (unless they complete all requirements for the Ph.D. in fewer than four years). Students matriculating in 2016 or later are allowed to register for up to 9 years from matriculation (up to 12 years for students who matriculated in 2015 or earlier).

Satisfactory completion of the first phase of the Ph.D. program is signified by the awarding of the M.A. degree. Students entering with the master's degree in sociology from another university may be able to complete the Ph.D. program in less time.

Students are generally expected to be in residency in Chicago or its environs during the academic year (Autumn, Winter, and Spring Quarters) until they are admitted to Ph.D. candidacy.

Degree Requirements for the Ph.D.

Students matriculating at Chicago without a prior master's degree must pass eighteen courses, exclusive of language instruction, at the level of B- or higher for the Ph.D. Nine of these must be passed at the B- or higher level for the M.A. Students matriculating at Chicago who already have a master's degree (in sociology or another field) from another institution or who have a master's degree from Chicago in a field other than sociology must pass fifteen courses, exclusive of language instruction, at the level of B- or higher. Students are expected to complete nine courses in the first year, six courses in the second year, and a total of eighteen by the end of the third year. Those entering with a master's degree will generally have completed their required number of courses by the end of the second year.

Students seeking the Ph.D. complete a set of required courses for credit in the first year of the program. These include SOCI 30002 Principles of Sociological Research and SOCI 30003 History of Social Theory. First-year students are also required to register for SOCI 60020 1st-Year Colloquium: Research Questions and Design, a non-credit colloquium, in Autumn Quarter. In the second and third years, students complete the Writing Seminars (SOCI 30006/30007); each seminar is one course spread over Winter and Spring quarters.  The Writing Seminars support 2nd-years as they develop their qualifying papers and 3rd-years as they revise their qualifying papers for publication and develop dissertation proposals.

Students seeking the doctorate are also required to complete "Statistical Methods of Research 1, 2" during the first year. The department approves alternative sequences for students with strong preparation in statistics or mathematics. All students, however, are to take two courses in statistics in the first year of study.

Other requirements are:

M.A. Examinations

First-year Ph.D. students are required to take a total of five sociology (SOCI) courses designated as “exam courses” among their nine graded courses; designated exam courses will vary from year to year. The courses are divided into ten topic areas. Students are required to take SOCI 30003 History of Social Theory as their first exam course. For the remaining four courses, students select ONE course each from four additional subject areas. Students are not allowed to count multiple courses from the same subject area or to substitute in courses that are not on the list of designated exam courses for their cohort year.

The Qualifying Paper

The qualifying paper should represent an original piece of scholarship or theoretical analysis and must be written in a format appropriate for submission to a professional publication. Note that the requirement is “publishable,” not “published,” although many recent papers have been presented at professional conferences and eventually published. The paper is prepared under the direct supervision and approval of a faculty member and may be written or revised in connection with one or more regular courses. Students entering with M.A. papers may petition to submit an supervised revision to meet the qualifying paper requirement.

Special Field Requirement

Ph.D. students are required to demonstrate competence in two special fields of sociological inquiry. The Special Field Requirement is to be met during the third year of graduate study. Students must pass the M.A. Examinations at the Ph.D. level before meeting the Special Field Requirement. This requirement may be met in three ways: by examination, with a review essay, or through a specified sequence of methods courses. Both the examination and review essay options are prepared on an individual basis, overseen by two faculty readers, in the fields of sociology in which the student wishes to develop research competence; one should be related to the subject of the subsequent Ph.D. dissertation. Special Fields cover both theoretical and substantive materials as well as the methods required for effective research. Preparation takes the form of specialized courses and seminars, supplemented by independent study and reading. For either an exam or essay, the student must first construct a bibliography to be approved by both faculty readers; readers must also agree in advance to either the examination or review essay format. The fields most commonly taken are urban sociology, organizational analysis, sociology of gender, sociology of education, culture/STS/knowledge, sociology of health and medicine, economic sociology, political sociology, stratification, social movements/change, and sociology of religion.

One of the two special field requirements may be met with a sequence of courses. Three types of special fields in methodology are recognized: (1) social statistics, (2) survey research methods, and (3) qualitative methods.


The student prepares a research plan under the guidance of a special faculty committee. The Ph.D. dissertation is judged by its contribution to sociological knowledge and the evidence it shows of ability to carry out independent research. The plan is subject to review by the faculty committee to determine whether the project is feasible and to assist in the development of research. Upon approval of the dissertation proposal and completion of the other requirements listed above, the department recommends that the Division of the Social Sciences formally admit the student to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree.

When the dissertation is completed, an oral examination is held on the dissertation and the field to which it is related.

More detailed information about degree requirements for the PhD may be found in the Student Handbook (2020). For students in Cohort 2020 and later, please refer to Student Handbook (2022) for the updated curriculum.