harvard university sociology phd

Last Updated on July 31, 2023 by Oluwajuwon Alvina

You are eligible for admission to graduate programs at Harvard if you have either 1) completed a bachelor’s degree from a U.S. college or university accredited by a regional accrediting association; or 2) completed an international degree that is equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree from a college or university of recognized standing. Students who are unsure of the U.S. equivalency of their degree(s) should consult a reputable credential evaluation service.

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 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.


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