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Wonderland93

Getting into soc PhD with econ BA

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Hi,

I graduated with a BA(from a top 15 liberal arts college) in econ with minor in French a couple yrs ago, and after long contemplation I have decided that I want to pursue a new path in sociology. I'm planning to apply next cycle, at the end of 2019, so I'm preparing to start researching & studying whatever I need to study. But I'm seriously worried if I stand any chance in top programs. I had no desire to do a PhD while I was in college and, being a rare sub-middle-class international student, I made practical decisions and never even thought of studying sociology or even taking a sociology class. Also I lean very much towards the left (not quite a Marxist but almost) but my experiences don't really reflect that :( Please give me any advice that you have!

My stats:

GPA: 3.88

GRE: diagnostic test: verbal 166 / quant 167. I could probably get something like 168/170 if I study

Research interest: Inequality, economic sociology (maybe). I'm planning to narrow down for the next few months by reading sociology journals etc

Work experience:

- currently a research assistant for fiscal policy at the International Monetary Fund. Basically a data machine with not a ton of critical thinking

- worked in econ consulting for almost 2 yrs before this which is basically useless

- other than that, small internships at an immigrant center and a Parisian social enterprise during college

Research experience:

Just a bit in econ. Didn't write thesis, but wrote 2 pretty solid papers for econ classes. I could try participating in a board paper at the IMF

LOR: 

Weak.

- An econ professor in whose class I wrote a paper and did well said he will gladly recommend me in the future, but I only took one class with him and we didn't talk a lot

- There's a poli sci professor who would remember me and might write a pretty decent, but not great letter

- IMF economists will be able to write a couple good letters for me 

 

What do you think are my chances / what can I do to improve them?!

Many thanks!!

Edited by Wonderland93

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I think that if your statement of purpose makes clear why you want to pursue a sociology PhD and shows that you understand and are planning to engage with recent sociological research, you have a good chance of being admitted. It will also help if your letter writers can speak to why sociology is a good fit for you. If you can demonstrate your quant skills and are interested in quant research I think some departments will be quite interested in you -- sometimes they complain that students with sociology undergraduate degrees don't have adequate preparation to do cutting-edge statistical research. Also, fwiw, top departments won't really care about your political leanings. 

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You have nothing to worry about. Great GRE, Good GPA, and strong work experience. I think high_hopes is right both that econ by itself is not a problem (and sometimes a bonus!) but you should make sure you can give a compelling case about why you're interested in sociology. There are multiple econ undergrad students in my cohort (top 10 department) and no one even remembers exactly what everyone's major was at this point. And, because statistical skills are a big part of the field, and often criticized among incoming soc students, econ gives you a leg up.

I wouldn't worry about not having taken sociology classes either. In general the philosophy of phd programs is to turn you from a research consumer to research producer. In fact, I think too many applicants spend the whole time talking about what sociology they like (presumably from a class they took), rather than what sociology they intend to produce. The majority of your required courses in grad school or going to be methods courses, not content courses for this reason. So, if you have the foundational interest and the beginnings of the ability to research on it, this makes for a great statement of purpose. It also doesn't have to be super specific! Economic sociology makes perfect sense given your background, is a strong subfield in a wide range of departments, and is something you should plausibly be able to make the case for.

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Honestly, the weakest part of your application sounds like recommendations. I think I may be in a similar boat. A couple of my relationships with my recommenders sound like yours; took one class, did well, demonstrated some research potential maybe, but never really talked after class or anything. Weirdly, I decided against asking the professor I did have that kind of relationship with for a recommendation; my class with him was a "writing seminar" where we never wrote a research paper or even an essay. Instead I chose recommenders who I felt could more directly speak to my ability to ask interesting questions and think through research. Hopefully I made the right choice; either way, I'm sure that my letters are extremely weak compared to many applicants'.

Moral of the story: if you're screwed, so am I. If you wanted to improve your application package, though, it might be worth taking a course in economic sociology at a local university. It would help you write a convincing SOP and give you a chance to earn a recommendation from a sociologist who can speak to your potential to contribute to the field. 

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