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Questions about these requirements? See the contact info at the bottom of the page. 

The First Two Years

Minimum Course Requirements

Course requirements include fourteen courses in sociology, as follows. This is the minimum acceptable amount of coursework, not the norm; most students take additional courses in sociology, as well as courses in other departments that relate to their research interests.

Seven required methods and theory courses and the teaching practicum, the first four of which are normally taken during the first two years in residence:

Soc. 2202 Intermediate Quantitative Research Methods (Students who have had sufficient training in quantitative methods before entering the program may substitute a more advanced quantitative methods course for this course if they can satisfy placement procedures designed by the Soc. 2202 instructor.) 

Soc. 2203 Advanced Quantitative Research Methods 

Soc. 2204 Sociological Theory: Seminar

Soc. 2205 Sociological Research Design

Soc. 2208 Contemporary Theory and Research: Seminar

Soc. 2209 Qualitative Social Analysis: Seminar

Soc. 3310 Qualifying Paper Seminar

Soc. 3305, the Teaching Practicum

Two workshops in Sociology 

Four elective courses; three of which must be 200/2000-level courses in Sociology 


Three of the required four elective courses must be 200/2000-level courses in Sociology. Courses not listed or cross-listed in Sociology in Courses of Instruction will not count toward the requirement of at least three 200/2000-level courses in Sociology. 

The remaining elective may be chosen from 100/1000-level Sociology courses designated as Conference Courses in Courses of Instruction; 200/2000-level Sociology courses; 301/3301 individual reading courses in Sociology; or electives outside Sociology. If the remaining elective is not a 200/2000-level Sociology elective, it must be approved by the Sociology Committee on Higher Degrees (CHD). 

Any electives outside Sociology should meaningfully contribute to the student’s graduate training. They should have a Letter Graded grading basis and be chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor at the time of enrollment. To receive elective credit for a course outside Sociology, the student should submit a Petition for Elective Credit to the CHD. 

The minimum standard for satisfactory work in the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is a “B” average in each academic year. The Department of Sociology, however, expects that students will maintain an average of B+ or better in Sociology courses.


There is no language requirement.


Graduate students are permitted to take a temporary grade of Incomplete in courses other than the required ones. Notwithstanding this, the CHD strongly recommends that students not take Incompletes unless absolutely necessary, and certainly in no more than one course per term. Papers should be submitted in time to receive a letter grade; revisions for possible publication can come later. Incompletes are equivalent to Cs; and thus, for each Incomplete there must be an A in order to maintain a B average. A temporary Incomplete grade must be converted to a regular letter grade in order for a course to count toward meeting minimum course work requirements.

Research Paper

A special research paper, known as a “qualifying” paper, is required of each student. Although not a master’s thesis, this paper will be judged more critically than the normal seminar or term paper. It should offer some new contribution to knowledge, either in the form of an original interpretation of existing facts, new facts in support or disconfirmation of existing interpretations, or both. The work should be of the same length, quality, and finish as a paper acceptable to the major sociological journals, and, indeed, students normally will be encouraged to submit the paper for publication, although this is not required. In preparing to write this paper, students should consult with their academic advisor or research supervisor before the end of the third term in residence. Second-year students are required to appoint a Qualifying Paper advisor and submit a two-page overview of their planned project to the graduate program coordinator. Once the topic and research design have been agreed upon with the advisor, the student should petition the Committee on Higher Degrees (CHD) in Sociology for appointment of three readers. 

Master of Arts (AM)

The department does not admit students to study for an AM degree. Students in the PhD program who have successfully completed eight sociology courses (including 2202 or approved substitute, 2203, 2204, 2205, 2208, 2209, and 3310, and not to include Sociology 3305 or workshops), the written examination, and the research paper may apply to receive the AM degree in sociology. A student who passes the written general examination at the AM level but not the PhD level, or who passes the general examination at the PhD level but subsequently decides not to complete the requirements for the PhD in sociology, may apply for a terminal AM degree. The requirements for the terminal AM degree are successful completion of eight sociology courses (including Sociology 2202 or approved substitute, 2203, 2204, 2205, 2208, 2209, and 3310, and not to include Sociology 3305 or workshops), passing the written general examination at the AM level or higher, and completing the research paper acceptable at the AM level or higher. A student who has passed the general exam at the PhD level but will not be completing the PhD program must apply for the terminal AM before the start of a fourth year of study in the department.


All students are expected to accept one-fifth time teaching fellowship (with salary) for one term before completion of the program. Sociology 3305, the Teaching Practicum, should be taken prior to or concurrent with the first teaching assignment. Normally, students do not teach in the first two years; many students teach several sections per year in the third, fourth, and fifth years.


For the first year, prior to the written examination, students are assigned an advisor and also receive guidance from the director of graduate studies. Before the start of their second year, students must choose an advisor, who may be any senior or junior faculty member whose research interests are compatible with those of the student. The selection process is informal and at the students’ initiative. When they have mutually agreed to work together, the student obtains the faculty member’s signature on an Appointment/Change of Advisor form and files it with the graduate program coordinator. Students may appoint a new advisor at any time if their field of research changes or they find the advising relationship is otherwise unsatisfactory.

General Examinations

Written Examination

Students take the written examination in August, prior to the second year in residence. Its purpose is to ensure a working knowledge of the range of subfields that comprise the discipline of sociology. Students need to be prepared for a broad range of questions; they are given a reading list and sample questions from previous years. The results of the examination will be: honors, pass, conditional pass, or fail. The grade of conditional pass is used when just one of the four answers is found not acceptable; the student is allowed to rewrite that particular answer under faculty guidance within the next month. A student who fails the examination will be permitted to take it a second time at a later date.

Dissertation Prospectus

The prospectus should state clearly the objectives of the study and the specific set of problems to be explored; review the relevant literature; and indicate the ways in which the student hopes to make a contribution to existing ideas on the subject. The data to be employed, the research methods and design, and a plan of study should be given in as much detail as is necessary. Normally the prospectus is twenty to thirty pages in length, in addition to an extensive bibliography. When the final draft of the prospectus has been prepared, the student petitions the CHD for approval of the topic and the appointment of three examiners, one being the dissertation advisor. Following CHD approval, the student and prospectus committee schedule a prospectus defense, at which time the student is examined on the proposed research project. The intent of this meeting is to ensure that the dissertation project is viable and that the student is prepared to begin their research. Defending the prospectus by the fall of the fourth year is encouraged. Ordinarily, the prospectus should be approved before the end of the spring term of the student’s fourth year in residence.

Dissertation Completion/Oral Defense

The dissertation should build an integrated argument. While individual chapters may be stand-alone papers, the dissertation may not consist of several unrelated papers, published or not, without an introduction or conclusion. With the approval of the dissertation committee, one dissertation chapter may be co-authored, provided the student is the lead author or authorship is shared equally with one co-author. Co-authorship of any chapter must be acknowledged in the dissertation. Students who do not complete and defend their dissertation by May 31st of the sixth year must receive approval from the CHD. The student must create a planned timeline to degree with their advisor(s) and submit the timeline, signed by both the student and the advisor(s), to the CHD for approval no later than April 30th. Students must receive approval from the CHD each year to remain in good standing (see Failure to Meet Requirements). In addition, Harvard Griffin GSAS sets the following policy for all Harvard doctoral programs: “PhD candidates who have not completed requirements for the degree by their tenth year of study will be withdrawn. Once the dissertation is complete, withdrawn students may apply for readmission to register for the purpose of receiving the degree.” Harvard Griffin GSAS also sets the following policy for students who receive a Dissertation Completion Fellowship: “Students are expected to complete the dissertation during the completion fellowship year; this will be the final year of Harvard Griffin GSAS funding even for students who do not finish during the fellowship year. In addition, after holding a dissertation completion fellowship, students will ordinarily be limited to no more than one additional academic year of registration in the Graduate School.” Requirements for the format of the finished dissertation are contained in the Policies on formatting your dissertation. The CHD does not add to these specifications. When student and advisor agree that the final draft is ready, members of the dissertation committee, other faculty, students, staff, and guests are invited to attend the oral defense. At its conclusion, the committee may approve, reject, or require revisions in the dissertation. 

Contact Info 

Sociology Website

Graduate Office
Department of Sociology
William James Hall 660
33 Kirkland Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

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