PhD Program


Students interested in the PhD should apply directly to that program. Students admitted without a Masters degree earn the M.A. in Sociology en route to completing their PhD requirements. Students admitted with a Masters degree in Sociology from another institution may be exempt from taking the Qualifying Exam (see below), but may be required to do some additional coursework in Theory and Methods. For students admitted with a Masters degree in a field other than Sociology, the Qualifying Exam requirement and supplementary coursework requirements will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Please note that, in addition to the usual application materials required for admission, all applicants for the doctoral program are required to submit a writing sample. The writing sample should consist of written materials that demonstrate their capacity for scholarship at the doctoral level. (Copies of several course or term papers or a copy of a master’s thesis or paper are appropriate.)

Residency Requirement

The University’s residence requirement can be satisfied by one year of full-time graduate work, or its equivalent, beyond the Master of Arts degree. If the student’s MA degree is not in sociology, a longer period of residence is typically required. Most students should expect to spend approximately two years, or the equivalent, in full-time graduate study beyond the requirements of the master’s degree.

Qualifying Examination

Students entering the graduate program must take a theory qualifying examination at the conclusion of their first year of study during the Spring semester. The theory qualifying examination is a standard exam taken by all students in the same cohort. The exam is graded on a pass/fail basis. Students who fail the examination may take it a second time but will not be allowed to enroll for course work beyond the thirty-semester hours MA requirement or their first year of Ph.D. residence (whichever case applies) until successfully completing the qualifying exam. Students who fail the examination on their second attempt will be asked to leave the program. In the latter case, a student may petition the graduate committee for a review of the student’s record and performance in the program.

Degree Candidacy

To enter into degree candidacy, the student must have earned a Master of Arts degree or its departmental semester hour’s equivalent, passed the qualifying examination, established a graduate committee of three faculty members from the Sociology department, and successfully completed the candidacy examination.

Course Requirements

As prerequisites, all doctoral candidates are expected to have completed the core methodology and theory requirements for the Master of Arts in Sociology:

  • SOCL 7210 Statistical Methods of Sociology
  • SOCL 7211 Research Methods
  • SOCL 7200 Foundations of Social Theory 1
  • SOCL 7201 Foundations of Social Theory 2

Students entering the Ph.D. program from another university will be required to take the core requirements courses unless they can provide evidence of the completion of equivalent courses during their master’s degree work. Credits earned for master’s-level core requirements cannot be counted toward the doctorate.

Doctoral candidates are also required to complete two advanced methods classes from a list of approved courses maintained by the department. These include*:

  • SOCL 7212 Feminist Methodologies
  • Feminist Inquiry–MIT Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies
  • SOCL 7213 Advanced Research Methods
  • SOCL 7215 Advanced Quantitative Analysis
  • SOCL 7220 Seminar in Qualitative Analysis
  • POLS 7215 Advanced Quantitative Techniques
  • POLS 7318 Techniques of Program Evaluation
  • CRIM 7316 Advanced Topics: Qualitative Methods
  • CRIM 7715 Multivariate Analysis 1
  • PHTH 6320 Qualitative Methods in Health and Illness
  • PPUA 6215 GIS for Urban Policy

*Other courses (e.g. from Criminal Justice, Political Science, Public Policy) may satisfy this requirement with the approval of COGS (Committee on Graduate Studies.)

Finally, doctoral students must take a course in the area of Social Inequality, choosing from a list of approved courses maintained by the department. These are:

  • SOCL 7263 Social Psychology of Stratification
  • SOCL 7227 Race and Ethnic Relations
  • SOCL 7252 Social Stratification-Class Structure and Social Inequality

A minimum of 24 semester hours of graduate work beyond the master’s degree is required.

Once students complete doctoral coursework, they will register for the following courses in the following sequence.

  • SOCL 8960 (Exam Preparation)
    The semester following completion of coursework, students will register for Exam Preparation. During this semester, students should complete their first comprehensive exam.Students only register for Exam Preparation once. Even if a student is unable to complete their first comprehensive exam during this timeframe, they will not register for Exam Preparation again.
  • SOCL 9986 (Research) The next semester, students will register for Research during which their second comprehensive examination should be completed.Upon completion of both comprehensive examinations, students will have achieved PhD degree candidacy, be certified by the Graduate School and will have 5 years to complete the dissertation.
  • SOCL 9990 (Dissertation) Upon achieving PhD degree candidacy, students will register for two consecutive semesters of Dissertation during which they should complete and defend their dissertation proposal.
  • SOCL 9996 (Dissertation Continuation) Following the successful defense of their dissertation proposal, students will register for Dissertation Continuation for their remaining semesters until the dissertation is approved by the Graduate School and submitted electronically to Proquest.

Students do not have to register for Dissertation Continuation during the summer unless that is when their dissertation defense occurs.

Candidacy Exam

Formal Ph.D. degree candidacy is established after completing departmental requirements (listed earlier). The candidacy exam requires the completion of two separate written comprehensive exams plus two oral examinations in areas of specialization chosen by the student. Each written and oral examination is administered by a committee of three faculty members. The purpose of the exams is to ensure that the student has mastery in two substantive areas of sociology. Although guidelines are provided by the department, the format of the examination is agreed upon between the student and the graduate committee. Each comprehensive examination in the substantive area of specialization must include the submission of written work prepared exclusively for this examination and an oral defense of the written material. The candidacy examination is evaluated on a pass, conditional pass, no pass basis. Examinations given a conditional pass must be rewritten or redone within two months to address the graduate committee’s concerns and must be resubmitted for a final evaluation of pass/no pass.

The entire candidacy exam (both comprehensive exams) must be completed with one year of completing all required course work. Students may apply to the graduate committee for a one-year extension if circumstances warrant. The candidacy examination requirement must be completed at least nine months before the commencement at which the Ph.D. is to be awarded. Since the student-committee relationship is an important one, students are encouraged to establish their graduate committee as early as possible in their residency.

Dissertation Proposal Defense

A dissertation proposal must be submitted and defended within six months of completing the candidacy examination. Students may apply to the graduate committee for a six-month extension if circumstances warrant. The student must submit a dissertation proposal describing the topic of the doctoral dissertation, the theoretical relevance of the research problem, and the methods of research. The proposal is to be discussed and approved by the student’s graduate committee and a reader from outside the department. All dissertation proposals must also be reviewed by the Office of Institutional Compliance for human subjects research issues.

External Reader

The external reader for the Ph.D. dissertation must be from outside NU’s sociology department. He/she can be from another department at NU, or from another university. The expectation is that the external reader holds a regular faculty appointment and a Ph.D. In certain circumstances, the Ph.D. requirement may be waived in consultation with COGS.

Deadline for Considering a Doctoral Dissertation

The chair of the dissertation committee should be fully satisfied that a dissertation is substantially complete on or before April 1 of the year in which the candidate expects to defend the dissertation. A defense that might enable the student to receive a September degree can be arranged only if all members of the student’s committee are available and agree to arrange a defense during the summer term.

Dissertation Defense

The dissertation may be defended only after completion of all other requirements for the doctoral degree. This oral defense is held approximately four weeks after the dissertation has been accepted by the dissertation committee, and at least four weeks before the commencement at which the degree is to be awarded. Please note that candidates for the doctoral degree must be registered during the term in which the dissertation is defended at the final oral examination.


All exams (qualifying and candidacy), the defense of dissertation proposal, and the dissertation defense must be scheduled with COGS at least two weeks before the event is to take place. The student is responsible for the filing of this petition. COGS will review the petition to ensure that departmental and graduate school requirements have been met.

All examinations by committee (including the candidacy examination, the dissertation proposal defense, and the dissertation defense) are departmental public events that faculty and graduate students are welcome to attend.