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"Top Schools" in Sociology Docotoral Programs


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I am applying to doctoral programs in Sociology now for (matriculation in) the fall of 2010. I have been meeting with professors around the country to learn more about programs and find the ones that I feel are a good fit for me. When I was visiting with a professor in the soc department at Stanford, she kept talking about "the top schools" and I really do not fully understand how this "top" status is determined and by whom. I know that US News ranks all the sociology programs but I have looked at their methodology and I am surprised if anyone would give those ratings much credence. I was/am under the assumption that the "top" schools in Sociology should be individually determined, based on your disciplinary interests and the faculty/resources that institutions have to offer. That being said, I want to make sure I am applying to a range of schools to make sure that I can get in somewhere. I am aware that some programs take far fewer students and some programs fund all of their students while others take many and do not offer funding. Are these the only measures that I may go off of to better understand these ranking distinctions? Is there a more credible ranking list from which I may draw? Does anyone have any general advice on this front?

Thank you so much!



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You have the right idea in that it's more important what fits your interests etc. but don't be surprised that rankings do "matter", at least somewhat. What's funny is most professionals you talk to will acknowledge that the methodology for ranking systems is hazy and that it shouldn't be taken too seriously, but they still do.

Also, funding and cohort sizes does not predict ranking. You can find schools across the spectrum that fund most new students (though they are more common in higher rankings). You can apply only to schools that offer funding and still get a range of rankings. Be aware that some schools that have top ranking programs in your subfield may not be top schools in general sociology - those make great middle-tier or "safety" schools!

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  • 2 weeks later...

The National Research Council is the "gold" standard among most academics concerned with rankings. Here's the link and I will post the list at the end of this message.

Programs are (unofficially) tiered. There's the top 10, top 15, top 25, top 30, and top 50. The rule of thumb is you never want to go below a school ranked 50th (lower graduation rates) and want to stay within the top 25 if possible.

Rankings (in many minds) equates to training. The higher the ranking, the higher the quality of training, the higher likelihood that you'll have more opportunities once you graduate. If you attend from a lower ranked program, there will be questions about your training. Publications can answer those questions, but the road to publishing is a long one (http://www.stat.tamu.edu/~jnewton/nrc_r ... rea41.html).

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Thanks so much to both of you for your responses.

Spaulding: is this the cite to which you referred: http://www.stat.tamu.edu/~jnewton/nrc_r ... tml#area41 ?

I clicked on Sociology to find the top soc. programs.

I have one lingering question though: I intend to do research at the intersection of gender and health. I have been speaking with faculty all summer to assess their resources for doing this kind of research and it appears that there are only a handful of schools that have true gender scholars who also work in medical sociology. UCSF is one such school but it's technically ranked at 51 on the NRC list. Should I be weary of the quality of my training there, even if it appears to be one of few institutions that could support work i want to do?

I am applying to several schools within the top 50, some within the top 10, but I think if I get into UCSF, I would love to attend because it uniquely offers me two scholars that can support and advise my research. Most of the other programs have medical sociologists and gender scholars but it is rare that an institution houses a scholar who works in both areas--and even rarer that it houses two (as UCSF does). Should I rethink my first choice based on these rankings? I want to make sure I get adequate and strong training but I also want to make sure I go to the institution that can offer me the best advisement in my particular area of interest...

Thanks again, I so appreciate your help


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Hi sa854:

Yes, that is the correct site.

The pick of a graduate school is a VERY personal choice that should be based on fit and/or ranking of the program. I advise people to look at the entire program (i.e., its overall ranking, ranking of the school, ranking in discipline and subfield, what types of students it produces, if faculty publish with students...) before making a decision.

People move, ideas change, funding gets cut, and personalities conflict. Most graduate students, regardless of the type of training they had prior to enrolling in Ph.D programs change topics, and its best if the student is in an environment where they can feel free to explore and develop ideas.

You're lucky.....health and gender is a growing field (my minors in health) and depending on the type of health research you conduct (mental, physical, attitudes, behaviors.....) there are a number of places you can apply to (send me a personal message if you need help) especially since the major funding push a few months ago to develop more studies on health inequalities.

I say all that to say be as broadly specific as possible when you speak with schools.

Hope that helps.


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