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Going from a Statistics Bachelor/Masters to a Sociology PhD?


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Hey guys, I just wanted to come here to ask for some advice about pursuing a Sociology PhD. Here is a little background on me: I just completed my Bachelor's degree at Harvard with a joint concentration in Statistics and Applied Mathematics, and I will be going to the University of Michigan this fall for a Master's in Statistics (which will thankfully be funded). My GPA is between 3.5 and 3.6 (which I know is on the lower side for Harvard, due to the grade inflation here), and my GRE scores are V 167, Q 170, W 5.0.

While I'm happy with studying Statistics, I'm not quite sure it's my passion yet, and an idea that I've been considering for a while is applying for a PhD in Sociology after finishing my Master's degree at Michigan. Most of the classes I took at Harvard have been completely quantitative due to my more math-y background, and I've only taken a few sociology/social science courses. However, I had to write a senior thesis in Statistics in order to get honors, and it ended up being very much statistics applied to social science (i.e. building models to measure the effects of socioeconomic/spatial factors on quality of hospital visits), and I ended up working with a sociology professor on this project (who ended up being a co-author of this soon-to-be-published paper). I really enjoyed this project, and I started to realize that sociology is perhaps what I want to be pursuing.

However, I don't think my background is very typical of Sociology PhD students, who I think tend to come from more of a social science background. I'm a little worried that adcoms will be a little wary of my transcript and background, especially due to my lack of advanced sociology courses (math and statistics courses basically comprise 80% of my transcript). I would try to spin my application essay in a way to demonstrate my interest in quantitative/mathematical sociology, but I'm still a little worried that my sociology background will be insufficient. Another thing is that I have quite a few personal reasons why I want to return to the Boston area after getting my Masters (family lives nearby/significant other is working in Boston), so my goal is to aim for Harvard's Sociology PhD program, which unfortunately is a very prestigious program and will have strong competition from very qualified applicants. I would apply to other PhD programs of course, but my goal would be to return to Harvard. 

Does anyone have any advice regarding my situation? Is it a realistic goal to try to aim for Harvard's Sociology PhD program? Which programs should I look at that best matches my background? Thank you so much for your help!

Edited by veryexcited
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  • 2 weeks later...


I have scoured lots of websites for my own graduate school inquiries, and nearly every single one mentions that a specific background in sociology is not required or even preferred. Often what it comes down to are your research interests. Do you have a specific field of sociological inquiry in mind? Have you looked at the professors' recent research projects to see if your interests align with theirs? You mentioned an interest in mathematical sociology, but clearly defining your goals within this subfield in the statement of purpose will likely help your application.

That being said, to me it seems like your application doesn't need much "help!" Your background at both Harvard and Michigan shows an advanced level of scholarly ability, even if you consider your GPA to be low. Moreover your GRE scores are in the top percentiles which is an advantage. A verbal score of 167 shows that what you may lack in writing-oriented research experience can be made up for in ability.

Your letters of recommendation can be a large asset as well, depending on your experiences with your professors. For example, perhaps you could contact the sociology professor for whom you assisted in undergrad, and ask them to discuss specifically how you handled the project from a sociological perspective. When approaching your statistics professors, perhaps explain how you plan on applying statistical knowledge to the field.

The last thing I'd recommend is to look into other quantitative subfields. Have you investigated demography or quantitative research methods as their own disciplines? There is a lot of fascinating scholarship there, for which your background may provide an asset to the discipline.

Wishing you the best!

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