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Which social science PhD is easiest to get into? Best job market?

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As I'm planning my graduate school applications for this winter, I'm having trouble deciding between social science disciplines. Obviously there are important personal factors involved, but I'm also wondering about the overall competitiveness of different PhD program admissions. So for which social science (especially sociology, psychology, economics, and organizational behavior) is it easiest to get into a top program?

I'm also wondering: Which social sciences have the best job market?

Assume the candidate is generic with good qualifications for all of these disciplines. Just for the sake of isolating the variables of interest!

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Doctoral programs as a whole are not "easy" to get into. I don't know if this direct question really has an answer given the emphasis on research fit in doctoral applications, as most programs have a mentor model. When you assume all generic variables are equal, research experience and mentor match are going to be the deciding variables. Therefore, that should be the main factor in your decision. Also, as a side note, the academic job market is heavily saturated so you should look into the job opportunities available in industry for any of these degrees. 

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Thanks, PsyDGrad90. I know it's a theoretical question, but I think it's informative. So I'm still curious which programs are easiest (or, least difficult, if you prefer) for a generic applicant.

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Organizational Psych seems to be doing quite well on the job market. Social psych will also depend for a big part on what your line of research is on.

Edited by Psygeek

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29 minutes ago, neurosoc said:

Thanks, PsyDGrad90. I know it's a theoretical question, but I think it's informative. So I'm still curious which programs are easiest (or, least difficult, if you prefer) for a generic applicant.

There's not really any program that's considered "easiest" to get into. Clinical Psych seems to be super difficult (very low acceptance percentages), but other than that I don't think you can make these generalities.

There's no such thing as a generic applicant either. Every applicant has a background that makes them either a good fit, not good fit, or somewhere in between between for any given program. This just depends on the program itself, the professors in it that the student could work with, and the skills the program wants applicants to come in with. The better the fit for your program, the better your chances of being admitted, given that your grades and test scores are also okay. There's also interviews, which have varying weights and procedures by program.

The best advice for identifying programs that I received is to look over the research papers you've found the most interesting, or the ones that you've used in your research, and try to find professors that way. For example, I wrote a research project proposal and cited two professors I applied to work with for graduate school. Those were the programs I was accepted to, and I think a large part of that was the overlap between our research interests.

Edited by GradPerson
Forgot something

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I mean clinical psych has a bigger pool of applicants than I/O psych but there are also a lot more of the programs for the former than the latter. So I guess you can say it's easier to get to the top of the pile in I/O but it's not easy in general.

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7 minutes ago, GradPerson said:

There's not really any program that's considered "easiest" to get into. Clinical Psych seems to be super difficult (very low acceptance percentages), but other than that I don't think you can make these generalities.

There's no such thing as a generic applicant either. Every applicant has a background that makes them either a good fit, not good fit, or somewhere in between between for any given program. This just depends on the program itself, the professors in it that the student could work with, and the skills the program wants applicants to come in with. The better the fit for your program, the better your chances of being admitted, given that your grades and test scores are also okay. There's also interviews, which have varying weights and procedures by program.

The best advice for identifying programs that I received is to look over the research papers you've found the most interesting, or the ones that you've used in your research, and try to find professors that way. For example, I wrote a research project proposal and cited two professors I applied to work with for graduate school. Those were the programs I was accepted to, and I think a large part of that was the overlap between our research interests.

There still has to be an answer, an overall difference in competitiveness, even if there tends to be a lot of individual variation. I thought we were scientists here 😉

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Just now, neurosoc said:

There still has to be an answer, an overall difference in competitiveness, even if there tends to be a lot of individual variation. I thought we were scientists here 😉

I suppose you could look at acceptance rates for a set of universities you're interested in across the programs you mentioned. But like as a whole I don't think people really compare programs and look for the easiest ones to get into. You could reverse competitiveness??

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Just now, GradPerson said:

I suppose you could look at acceptance rates for a set of universities you're interested in across the programs you mentioned. But like as a whole I don't think people really compare programs and look for the easiest ones to get into. You could reverse competitiveness??

Yes, that's one factor. Though since applicant quality varies, it's not a perfect one. I think another useful data point here is average GRE scores.

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The private and government sector's are always looking for PhD's and MS's in Human Factors Psychology. If you're looking for strict acceptance rate ratios, i'm your guy. From what I have observed, generally speaking, masters programs have an acceptance rate between 20-40% and doctoral programs between 15-25%. For example, on average a typical HFES accredited Human Factors Psychology doctorate program has roughly 25-30 applicants. So roughly 5-7 applicants would be accepted to this program. 

User Experience jobs are hot on the market and some programs (i.e., Arizona State) have terminal degrees specifically for User Experience. A PhD in Human Factors is a very good fit for User Experience, and the pay ceiling is much higher. 

Edit:

Here's a list of accredited programs: https://www.hfes.org/resources/educational-and-professional-resources/hfes-graduate-program-accreditation/directory-of-human-factorsergonomics-graduate-programs-in-the-united-states-and-canada

Edited by dakotaS

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15 minutes ago, dakotaS said:

The private and government sector's are always looking for PhD's and MS's in Human Factors Psychology. If you're looking for strict acceptance rate ratios, i'm your guy. From what I have observed, generally speaking, masters programs have an acceptance rate between 20-40% and doctoral programs between 15-25%. For example, on average a typical HFES accredited Human Factors Psychology doctorate program has roughly 25-30 applicants. So roughly 5-7 applicants would be accepted to this program. 

User Experience jobs are hot on the market and some programs (i.e., Arizona State) have terminal degrees specifically for User Experience. A PhD in Human Factors is a very good fit for User Experience, and the pay ceiling is much higher. 

Edit:

Here's a list of accredited programs: https://www.hfes.org/resources/educational-and-professional-resources/hfes-graduate-program-accreditation/directory-of-human-factorsergonomics-graduate-programs-in-the-united-states-and-canada

That's really interesting. Thanks.

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11 minutes ago, neurosoc said:

That's really interesting. Thanks.

No problem. If you look at User Research (UX) job listings they also consider PhDs in Anthropology, Cognitive Psychology, or anything similar (think social sciences). 

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7 hours ago, neurosoc said:

Yes, that's one factor. Though since applicant quality varies, it's not a perfect one. I think another useful data point here is average GRE scores.

As other posters stated, the biggest factor of admissions is research match and "fit". GRE scores are a useful first pass, but I would not name that as a marker of competitiveness at all.

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5 hours ago, dancedementia said:

As other posters stated, the biggest factor of admissions is research match and "fit". GRE scores are a useful first pass, but I would not name that as a marker of competitiveness at all.

GRE scores indicate competitiveness in that a person with, say, a 165Q would be seen as having stellar scores in some disciplines (e.g. sociology) and mediocre scores in others (e.g. economics). It's definitely an indicator in that sense, unless I'm missing something.

Again, I know fit/match/etc matter a lot, perhaps more than anything else. I'm just discussing competitiveness for the sake of argument and deeper understanding.

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29 minutes ago, neurosoc said:

GRE scores indicate competitiveness in that a person with, say, a 165Q would be seen as having stellar scores in some disciplines (e.g. sociology) and mediocre scores in others (e.g. economics). It's definitely an indicator in that sense, unless I'm missing something.

Again, I know fit/match/etc matter a lot, perhaps more than anything else. I'm just discussing competitiveness for the sake of argument and deeper understanding.

Applying to programs based on how easy they are to get into rather than based on the research their faculty do is probably not going to result in a very successful admissions cycle. Being able to convincingly articulate fit was, at least in my experience, effectively what determined whether or not I got into a program. I had the same GRE scores you mentioned on the soc forum as well as 2-3 years of research experience and the programs I didn't get admitted to are the ones for which I was least excited about preparing my application. 

In other words, you're a strong applicant and worrying about which program is "easiest" to get into is kind of a waste of your time. You're better off perusing faculty rosters at any department which you think might be a good intellectual home for you until you've developed a list of programs whose faculty do work that really gets you excited. Geeking out a bit was what distinguished my successful SOPs from my unsuccessful SOPs. 

In any case, I'm not convinced that at the level of the top 5 or 10, programs across these disciplines are really any more competitive than one another. Maybe you can make a case for differences the quality of the "average" PhD student in that discipline, but I think that these differences are more rooted in the philosophical orientations of the disciplines themselves (and therefore the socialization structures they create) than in intrinsic differences between their students. Either that, or students self-select into disciplines based on these philosophical orientations. 

Edited by sociopolitic

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20 hours ago, dakotaS said:

The private and government sector's are always looking for PhD's and MS's in Human Factors Psychology. If you're looking for strict acceptance rate ratios, i'm your guy. From what I have observed, generally speaking, masters programs have an acceptance rate between 20-40% and doctoral programs between 15-25%. For example, on average a typical HFES accredited Human Factors Psychology doctorate program has roughly 25-30 applicants. So roughly 5-7 applicants would be accepted to this program. 

User Experience jobs are hot on the market and some programs (i.e., Arizona State) have terminal degrees specifically for User Experience. A PhD in Human Factors is a very good fit for User Experience, and the pay ceiling is much higher. 

 Edit:

 Here's a list of accredited programs: https://www.hfes.org/resources/educational-and-professional-resources/hfes-graduate-program-accreditation/directory-of-human-factorsergonomics-graduate-programs-in-the-united-states-and-canada

Do you know of any resources on placement rates in HF? Only about half of my cohort managed to break into HF or UX after graduating, and I'm wondering if that's part of a larger trend. The ones who broke into the field have awesome jobs, but they had to fight tooth and nail to get them.  

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20 minutes ago, dmacfour said:

Do you know of any resources on placement rates in HF? Only about half of my cohort managed to break into HF or UX after graduating, and I'm wondering if that's part of a larger trend. The ones who broke into the field have awesome jobs, but they had to fight tooth and nail to get them.  

I don't have those sources and I do not think there is a public database that keeps track of placement rates. You bring up an excellent point though. I would talk to current students in the program and get their impressions. All my peers seem to be very satisfied with their job prospects and have had no issues getting internships in the private sector. I haven't heard of anyone from my program that did not already have a job lined up in HF's at graduation. 

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1 hour ago, dakotaS said:

I don't have those sources and I do not think there is a public database that keeps track of placement rates. You bring up an excellent point though. I would talk to current students in the program and get their impressions. All my peers seem to be very satisfied with their job prospects and have had no issues getting internships in the private sector. I haven't heard of anyone from my program that did not already have a job lined up in HF's at graduation. 

Man, that would have been nice. Only one person in my cohort had a job lined up (at a place he was already working). The rest of us took 1-2 years to land jobs. I think location had something to do with it - the closest major city was 6 hours away, and it had a small market for UX and HF. 

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1 hour ago, dmacfour said:

Man, that would have been nice. Only one person in my cohort had a job lined up (at a place he was already working). The rest of us took 1-2 years to land jobs. I think location had something to do with it - the closest major city was 6 hours away, and it had a small market for UX and HF. 

I think it’s strange that location was an issue for you. My peers intern halfway across the country with high wages and housing allowances. They interned in all major cities in the US. 

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17 hours ago, dmacfour said:

Man, that would have been nice. Only one person in my cohort had a job lined up (at a place he was already working). The rest of us took 1-2 years to land jobs. I think location had something to do with it - the closest major city was 6 hours away, and it had a small market for UX and HF. 

Were you and your peers not willing to take a summer and travel for an internship?

Edited by dakotaS

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4 hours ago, dakotaS said:

Were you and your peers not willing to take a summer and travel for an internship?

We all were, but we weren't getting many call backs. This was in 2013 so it's possible that things have changed a bit since then.

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If you're applying to a program solely because it's "easy to get into", you're applying for the wrong reasons. Also, what are your research interests that they span so many disciplines?

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This is such a weird question, because it sounds like you just want a PhD, any PhD, and like, why? Getting a PhD is so specialized, and in the social sciences, there’s not a lot you can do with it really. There a lot of non-academic jobs you could get without one. I would highly recommend thinking about what it is you actually want to do with your life rather than which program will accept you and get you a job.

That said, one area of social science that is often overlooked is Communication. The social science focused comm programs tie strongly with social psychology, experimental psychology and other areas, are quant heavy, and have excellent job prospects. My interests straddle the lines between comm and psych, and I have learned that comm doctorates face a better job market. Also I have found as an applicant that my psychology background and research experience makes me competitive and desirable. So it’s an area to consider. Comm programs get far less applicants than psych too, if that’s really all you care about.

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I wouldn't spend my time applying to economics PhD programs unless you have some significant math experience. I majored in economics during undergrad and saw that those who were successful in applying to econ PhD's typically double majored in math and econ (or at least minored in math), had 3.8+ GPA's, several years of research experience, and 166+ quant scores on their GRE's. The only other way is to have majored in a STEM discipline (math, physics, statistics, etc.) with high grades and equally high quant scores on the GRE. It's essentially an applied math degree when it comes down to it.

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