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I am planning to apply to grad schools with sociology PhD programs for the 2017 academic year.  I have just begun to research grad schools (as well as roam these forums) and have a basic question: what resources did you use/recommend when searching for schools?  I understand that finding a program/professor who fits my academic inclinations is very important, but I am not at that stage yet.  Beyond consulting my former professors, the only resources I have come across so far are: gradschools.com and the various sociology program rankings.  Is the combination of those resources the best way to launch a school search?


Additionally, I am curious in regards to how one determines where one "should" apply to... In other words, how far up or down the list should I be looking?  For reference's sake (though it is surely not enough information), I have a BA in Sociology from a public college with a 3.86 GPA and worked as a research assistant on one faculty project which will result in a publication.  I have not yet taken the GRE.  I am confident in my abilities to perform at any institution, but do not wish to waste time and energy applying to those which are out of my grasp.     


Much thanks in advance.

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Figuring out where to apply is based more on your research interests than anything else. If you apply to a top 10 program where no one does the research you want to do, you aren't going to get in no matter how strong your other credentials are. Same goes for a top 50 school, to be honest.

You should find people who are doing the research you want to do by reading recent scholarship and then look up those universities. Far more fruitful than simply going through a list of programs by rank.

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I had a specific concentration in mind so I googled "urban sociology phd" and then read the profiles of the professors in the programs at various schools and found professors doing research on topics that aligned with my research goals.  I also looked through the ranked list and just looked at the department websites.

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I'm in the same boat as you!

First, I looked at sociology program rankings in conjunction with location. In my opinion, this is extremely important because if I'm going to be in school and away from family/friends for the next 5+ years, I want to be happy with where I'm at. From there, I generated a list of 15-20 universities and created an Excel sheet. Then, I looked for faculty members who had similar interests as mine and checked their program's admission statistics to see if my GPA/GRE credentials were in the ballpark. I was able to narrow down my list to about 10 programs, and I plan on applying to those 10.

If you're able to find 2-3 faculty members per program who have similar interests, have competitive credentials, and can see yourself in that town/city for several years, I don't think there's a right or wrong way to go about narrowing down your options. I hope my strategy helped, nonetheless!

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I started out by just checking where the scholars that I found myself citing the most in my own work were based. This was very fruitful - these places often had a research cluster in the areas I am interested in and I found more people I could see myself working with. 

Then, I just went through all the top 20 unis in the US News rankings to see if I could identify 2-3 people I liked in each department. I found some great departments this way, where I just hadn't come across someone's work before but it was actually very well aligned with mine. I took this list of departments to a couple of professors, and discarded most of the ones they advised against. 

My partner has also applied to grad schools, which meant I had to make some compromises to maximize our chances of landing a spot in the same city. I applied to a handful of universities that weren't a great fit (though I tried to shoehorn my interests to fit each) and that my advisers weren't keen on. Surprise, surprise: I didn't get into those.

Your current professors/advisers will be best at judging what tier of university you should be looking at. You can look at departments' websites and the gradcafe results search to get an idea of what sort of GPA and GRE scores are expected in top 10, top 30 unis etc, but your advisers will have a better idea of how strong your application would be otherwise.

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