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Value of PhD from lower tier schools


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I am starting to decide which schools to apply to for my PhD. There are two schools that acutely match my research interests albeit their their rankings are >40. My question is two fold. First, is there any chance of going to one of these schools and ending up in a tenure-track position at a top 20 or top 40 research university. Second, for the schools that are outside the top 20, 30, or 40 rankings, where do most people end up, particularly if they are placed outside of academia?

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Certainly, there are some professors in the top 20 programs who came from lower tier programs. There are several possibilities, since some lower tier programs are relatively niche and being known for their specialties in several subfields (take BC and environmental sociology for instance), and individually, some people have good publications and/or connections. From my point of view, prestige (for like top 50-60 programs) works like a threshold that affects the bar for job candidates, but it does not fundamentally limit or permit a person's chance on the job market. But, generally, I would say that once the rank got lower, one should be more strategically planning their way to stay in academia.

As for outside of academia, I tend to think that it is like a different career path/ lifestyle preference, whether it is IOs, think-tanks, HRs, or consultant groups, it requires different connections and skill settings. There are people that graduated from top 20 and still chose to go outside of academia. Job placement page on each program's website is a good start to understand where do their graduates go.

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The overwhelming majority of people from all sociology PhD programs do not get TT jobs. The job market is abysmal. You need to go into it knowing that. This means having a back-up plan to academia. The chance of getting a TT job is much higher at the T20. If you care deeply about getting a TT job, you shouldn't go to a program much lower ranked than 20. (There are some schools below 20 that place quite well, e.g. Arizona.) Do people outside the T20ish get TT jobs? Sure. Is it likely? No. And it's already unlikely enough at the top ranked schools in the country. If you want TT, also get rid of the idea that it will be at a T20 or T40. Getting a TT job anywhere is difficult, so you need to be ready, if you want TT, to move somewhere super remote at a low ranked school.

In terms of what people do, that depends. I know people planning on working jobs in data analysis (this actually pays crazy well depending on where you are). I actually love teaching, so I could always wind up teaching at a high school somewhere or maybe working at a nonprofit focused on issues related to my research. It really depends on your interests.

Edited by lkaitlyn
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