Frequently Asked Questions About Admissions

1.  When should I apply to the program?

Your application should be submitted roughly one year before you wish to begin the graduate program.  Our application period runs from September 1 through December 15 every year.  Thus if you would like to start the program in Fall 2021, you may begin submitting application materials as early as September 1, 2020.  The application deadline is always December 15.  This date is the departments’ deadline for receiving all application materials: the Graduate School’s electronic (online) application, official copies of all transcripts, GRE scores, an international applicant’s TOEFL or IELTS score, the statement of purpose, the writing sample, a resume or CV, and three letters of recommendation.  Documents arriving after the December 15 deadline will likely not be reviewed.

2. What additional documents should I submit in order to be considered for a fellowship or assistantship, and when are they due?

No additional documents are necessary.  Simply send the required application materials by the December 15 deadline.  These materials include: the Graduate School’s electronic (online) application, official copies of all transcripts, GRE scores, an international applicant’s TOEFL or IELTS score, the statement of purpose, the writing sample, a resume or CV, and three letters of recommendation.  The Sociology graduate program guarantees five continuous years of funding to all admitted students.  Thus a decision to admit a student means that the student will be funded, either by a fellowship, a teaching assistantship, a research assistantship, or a project assistantship.

3. Your graduate program is associated with two departments: Sociology and Community & Environmental Sociology.  Should I list both departments on my application?

You must list one department or the other (not both) because of the structure of the graduate admissions database.  We offer a combined program, and the degree requirements are the same, whether a student focuses on, e.g., political sociology or environmental sociology.  All students apply to the Ph.D. program and earn a Master of Science degree along the way.  Most students apply to Sociology, although some apply to Community & Environmental Sociology so their Master’s degree can be titled “Community & Environmental Sociology.”  The doctoral degree is always titled “Sociology,” however.

4. What GRE tests should I take, and when?

We require scores from the GRE General Test—which focuses on verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing—from all applicants.  For testing information, see the GRE website.  Please request that the Educational Testing Service (ETS) send your scores to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Institution Code 1846.  You must take the GRE test within 5 years of the start of the semester in which you submit your application; scores older than 5 years are not acceptable.  When selecting a test date, make sure your scores will be reported in time for the December 15 application deadline.  For computer-delivered tests, score reports are sent approximately 10–15 days after the test date.  Test dates are listed here.  To find out whether your scores have arrived, check your Graduate School electronic application; the Test Scores section is at the bottom of the page.  Your application will not be considered by the admissions committee until your scores have been received.

5. Does the GRE allow accommodations for students with disabilities?

Yes, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) serves test takers with disabilities and health-related needs by providing reasonable accommodations (e.g., extended time, ergonomic keyboards, JAWS computer screen readers, scribes, alternate test formats); see a complete list here.  All test takers requesting accommodations must submit requests and receive approval from ETS Disability Services before their test can be scheduled.  It is important to submit your request as early as possible, especially if you’re requesting an alternate test format, as documentation review takes roughly six weeks once your request and all your paperwork have been received.  If additional documentation is necessary, it can be another six weeks from the time the new documents are received until the review is complete.

6. What if I cannot afford to take the GRE?  

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) has a fee reduction program for people demonstrating financial need.  This program offers a limited number of GRE Fee Reduction Vouchers on a first-come, first-served basis to college seniors attending an institution in the U.S., American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Puerto Rico and to college graduates not currently enrolled in any classes.  Applicants must be U.S. citizens or resident aliens and must meet income eligibility requirements.  If you are a college senior, in order to be eligible, you must be receiving financial aid through your school, and either be a dependent who has an Institutional Student Information Report (ISIR) showing a parental contribution of no more than $2500 for the senior year or be self-supporting and have an ISIR showing a personal contribution of no more than $3000 for the senior year.  If you are an unenrolled college graduate, in order to be eligible, you must have applied for financial aid as an undergrad and have an ISIR indicating that you were self-supporting and made a contribution of no more than $3000.  Contact the financial aid office of your current school or alma mater to make sure you meet the eligibility requirements.  If so, the financial aid office will issue a Fee Reduction Certificate and a copy of the ISIR.  Then you will need to complete the GRE Fee Reduction Request form (PDF) and submit it to ETS along with a copy of your FAFSA student aid report.  Voucher numbers are sent to recipients via e-mail within two weeks of ETS approval of the request.  Vouchers may be used for one GRE test and will cover 50% of the regular test fee.  More information is available here.  Note that ETS does not offer a fee reduction program for non-U.S. citizens and permanent residents and/or for people taking the GRE outside the U.S.

7As an international applicant, what test(s) should I take and when?

GRE scores are required of all applicants—both domestic and international.  (For information about the GRE, please see the response to FAQ #4 above.)  In addition, all international applicants whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English must provide an English proficiency test score, from either the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).  TOEFL scores must be submitted electronically via the Educational Testing Service (ETS).  IELTS scores can be submitted either electronically or on paper.  Your score will not be accepted if it is more than two years old from the start of your admission term.  The Graduate School’s required minimum proficiency scores are: TOEFL internet-based test (iBT): 92; TOEFL paper-based test (PBT): 580; IELTS: 7.0.  However, the Graduate Program in Sociology and Community & Environmental Sociology rarely admits students with a TOEFL internet-based score below 105 or a TOEFL paper-based score below 620.  TOEFL score reports are sent electronically or mailed to the institutions you have selected approximately 13 days after the test date.  Likewise, IELTS scores are available approximately 13 days from the test date.  All scores must be received by the December 15 application deadline, so please keep this deadline in mind when choosing your test date(s).  To find out whether your scores have arrived, check your Graduate School electronic application; the Test Scores section is at the bottom of the page.  Your application will not be considered by the admissions committee until your scores have been received.

8. What test scores and GPA are the minimums for admission?

The Graduate School’s minimum requirements are described here.  However, the Grad School notes that individual programs often have requirements that are more rigorous, and this is true of our program.  Although the faculty on our admissions committee conduct a holistic assessment of application materials and do not automatically eliminate from consideration any applicants solely on the basis of grades or test scores, they usually admit only students whose transcripts and tests scores are strong.  Students whom we admit typically have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.3, but we prefer to see a GPA of 3.6 or higher.  (We know that some schools have resisted the grade inflation trend and take this into account.)  While we have no strict cutoff, we consider a GRE score below the 50th percentile to be weak and a GRE score above the 75th percentile to be good.  We rarely admit students with a TOEFL paper-based test (PBT) score below 620 or an internet-based test score (iBT) below 105.  If both your grades and your test scores are weak, your chances of admission are low.  Nonetheless, there are always exceptions.  Students have been admitted with lower scores when they have provided other evidence of their academic ability and aptitude for research.

9.  Is an undergraduate major in Sociology required?

No.  Although many of our students studied sociology as undergraduates, others completed  majors in an array of disciplines—e.g., anthropology, economics, French, history, international relations, philosophy, political science, psychology, women’s studies.  However, regardless of the field you pursued as an undergraduate, it is important that you have familiarity with sociology and its ways of knowing—i.e., the questions sociologists tend to ask, the methods they use to gather data, and the tools they use to analyze what they find.

10. What should I know about choosing a writing sample?

Please provide a sample that you believe represents your best work and demonstrates how you think and write, keeping in mind that it will be read by sociologists. We are flexible about what you submit, but it must be in English and authored by you alone.  If you believe it would be advantageous to do so, you may submit two papers.  There is no requirement for length, either minimum or maximum.  If your best work is in a language other than English, please send it accompanied by a summary of at least two pages written by you in English, and also submit a second paper that you did write in English.  If your best work is co-authored and you played a major role in the thinking and writing of it, please send it, ask your co-author(s) to send a statement describing your role in the work, and submit a second paper that is sole-authored.  Please upload your writing sample to the Supplemental Application, Sociology, in the Graduate School electronic application.  We will not accept writing samples submitted via e-mail or on paper.  For more guidance about the writing sample, go to the tips for applying section of this website, and see especially items #9 and #10.

11. How do I submit my Statement of Reasons for Graduate Study, how long should it be, and what should it include?

Copy/paste your Statement to the electronic Graduate School application, in the Statements section.  We will not accept statements submitted via e-mail or on paper.  The maximum length is 2-&-1/2 single-spaced pages.  We would like to know the kinds of topics and approaches that interest you and why a doctoral degree is essential for pursuing your goals.  The statement should persuade us that you are truly interested in a career as a sociologist and that UW-Madison an ideal place to receive training.  Here are some items to think about as you compose your Statement of Reasons for Graduate Study: Why sociology?  Why Wisconsin?  Are there particular faculty or program areas at UW that are of special interest to you?  Do you see your research interests as well defined or somewhat open at this point?  Based on your knowledge, experience, and current thinking, what research problem(s) would you hope to pursue while here?  See more guidance about crafting your statement here.

12. Why do you ask for a resume or curriculum vita?

A resume or curriculum vita (CV), though not required, is useful for providing a broad overview of your background, especially when we are considering you for a particular type of funding (e.g., research assistantship, teaching assistantship).  Please summarize all relevant work, volunteer, and educational experiences, including skills you have developed and research or writing you have been involved with that may demonstrate interests and abilities not obvious in your statement of purpose or other materials.  You may also list the names and contact information for additional referees who can provide information about you as a teacher, researcher, or employee.  Please upload a copy of your resume or curriculum vita to the electronic Graduate School application in the section, Supplemental Application, Sociology.  We will not accept documents submitted via e-mail or on paper.

13. Should I come to Madison to interview with the Admissions Committee?

Prospective students from all over the globe apply to the program, and only a handful of them might be able to travel to Madison for an interview.  Thus the Admissions Committee does not conduct interviews with any applicants, believing that making admissions decisions solely on the basis of submitted application materials is the fairest procedure.  However, you may wish to make e-mail contact with faculty who share your research interests and let them know that you plan to apply, or have applied, to the program.  The ideal time to visit is after you have been admitted, preferably on our official “Visit Day” (which usually takes place in early March), when you will have an opportunity to meet with several faculty members and current students.

14. How and when does the department make admissions decisions, and what weight do you put on the various items I have submitted?

A committee composed of Sociology and Community & Environmental Sociology faculty evaluates application files in December and January.  Decisions are announced early in February.  Because the committee considers applications holistically, grades, statements of purpose, test scores, writing samples, and letters of recommendation all play key roles.  Applicants who are weak in one area should demonstrate strength in another.  In general, committee members look for students with the ability (or potential) to define a research question succinctly and to use empirical evidence to address sociological issues.  The committee attempts to assess applicants’ potential to develop strong analytical skills and to formulate compelling research programs and address them scientifically.  Beyond that, they make efforts to identify individuals who demonstrate the potential for a creative approach to investigating empirical and conceptual social science issues.  This is challenging and is one of the reasons the committee pays special attention to applicants’ writing—i.e., the statement of purpose and the writing sample.  The members also pay attention to an applicant’s intellectual fit in our departments.  Every year we get many more qualified applicants than we can admit; thus the admissions committee takes care to ensure that the faculty are well situated to train and mentor each applicant accepted to the program.  Because we limit projected cohort size in order to maintain a quality program, the committee often must make tough decisions among several qualified applicants.

15. What are my chances of getting funded, and when will I know about funding?

If you are admitted, you will be funded, as the program guarantees five continuous years of funding to all admitted students.  Graduate students are funded in various ways:  fellowships, traineeships, project assistantships, research assistantships, and teaching assistantships.  Funding for all these positions covers tuition, subsidized health insurance, and a stipend for living expenses.  However, the stipend varies slightly depending on the type of position and the length of the appointment (whether it is for 9 months or 12).  The minimum guarantee is a half-time academic-year (9-month) appointment as a project assistant or teaching assistant.  Several factors come into play when determining the type of funding an incoming student will receive—student research interests, faculty needs, department teaching commitments, funds available, number of students who decide to join the program—and we don’t have all this information in February when admission decisions are sent.  Thus although a letter offering admission states that you will be funded for five years, details about your appointment will likely not be available until later in the spring, after we have put all the funding puzzle pieces together.

16.  I am an international applicant.  If I’m admitted and will be funded for five years, why must I demonstrate proof of financial resources?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)—which is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security program that administers the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)—requires all students entering the U.S. on an F-1 visa to provide evidence that they have the financial resources to live and study in the U.S.  Thus before the Graduate School staff may issue a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status—a Form I-20—to you, you must demonstrate that you have sufficient funds to support yourself for your first year in the program.  Evidence of financial support typically includes such items as family bank statements, documentation from a sponsor, and scholarship or financial aid letters.  The Graduate School’s designated school official, who acts as a liaison between UW-Madison and the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, captures this proof of financial support for SEVIS in order to generate the Form I-20, which is then sent to you from UW’s Office of International Student Services.  You need to take the Form I-20 and your evidence of financial resources with you when you go to the U.S. embassy or consulate for your visa interview.  In short, even though the departments guarantee five years’ funding to all admitted students, international students are required to provide additional financial support documentation to demonstrate that they can cover all expenses and thereby bridge the gap between what we offer and what the Department of Homeland Security requires.  More information is here.

17.  If I join your program, may I transfer credits that I have earned in another graduate program?

Perhaps.  With program approval, students may count up to 14 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions toward the minimum 30-credit Master’s degree requirement.  However, the coursework must have been completed within four years prior to admission to the program.  Likewise, with program approval, students may count up to 19 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions toward the minimum 51-credit Ph.D. degree requirement.  Coursework must have been completed within nine years prior to admission to the doctoral program.  If you would like to transfer graduate credits from a prior academic program, the course you completed needs to be substantially equivalent to a course that UW-Madison offers.  You will need to contact the UW-Madison professor who teaches a course similar to the one you have already completed, show him/her your transcript, the syllabus for the course, and any papers you wrote, and ask whether the course is comparable to the course offered here and whether the work you submitted is similar to what he/she expects of UW graduate students.  That instructor will make a determination and send a recommendation to the Sociology Graduate Program Advisor.  If the instructor approves the request, our Graduate Program Advisor will authorize the credit transfer.

18.  If I have already earned a Master’s degree elsewhere, would I need to complete another one in your program?

If you enter our graduate program having already earned a Master’s degree that included a thesis—i.e., an MA or MS degree in sociology or a related field—you may petition to move into the doctoral program without completing a Master’s degree in our department.  Once you begin the program and start getting to know the faculty, you should seek out those whose research and teaching interests coincide with the topic of your thesis and ask whether they’d be willing to read and evaluate the paper.  They’ll read, confer, reach a decision, and let you know.  If the faculty committee determines that your prior preparation and Master’s thesis meet our standards for advancement into the Ph.D. program in content and quality—in other words, if the committee reads the thesis and decides that it is substantially equivalent to a thesis completed in this program—they’ll grant a “primary Master’s waiver.”  If the committee concludes that your prior work isn’t comparable to what they expect of Master’s students here, they’ll deny your request but, in many cases, offer you the option of pursuing a “secondary Master’s waiver.”  This involves revising and resubmitting the thesis to the committee and passing a comprehensive oral exam.

19.  What if I am admitted but want to defer admission to the spring or following fall?

Our program does not allow deferrals.  If you decide not to enter the program during the fall term for which you were admitted, you will need to reapply to begin in a subsequent fall.  (Note that we do not have a spring admission cycle, as our program is structured to begin in the fall.)  Although admission in one year makes it likely that you would be considered admissible in a subsequent year, admission is competitive so it is possible that you would not be admitted later.  However, declining admission and reapplying would not lower your chances of admission in the following year.

20.  When do you need to know whether I will attend?

We must have your response by April 15, which is the deadline that all U.S. graduate schools have agreed to.  If you have chosen another program or school before that date, we will be grateful for your letting us know as soon as you decide.

21.  How long does it take to get a Ph.D. in your program?

On average, it takes about six years to complete the doctoral degree.  However, if you start our program having earned a Master’s degree and you receive a primary Master’s waiver (see FAQ #18), it is likely that you will finish about two years earlier.  Similarly, if you are able to transfer credits that you earned in another program (see FAQ #16), you will probably finish sooner.

22.  Is there a separate program for people who want only a Master’s degree?

No.  The Departments of Sociology and Community & Environmental Sociology have one graduate program, and we admit only those students who intend to complete a Ph.D.  Students either complete a Master’s degree on the way to the Ph.D. or receive a waiver of the Master’s requirements based on their having already earned a Master’s degree that included a thesis before entering the program.  Some students choose to leave the program after completing the Master’s degree, however.

23.  What kinds of jobs do people get if they earn a Ph.D. from this program?  What kinds of jobs can people get with a Master’s in Sociology?

Most students who complete a Ph.D. degree from our graduate program obtain positions teaching and/or doing research at academic institutions, conducting research for the government or private organizations, or providing consulting services.  Those who leave the program after earning a Master of Science degree often get government or private agency research or administrative positions, or they obtain teaching positions at colleges that do not require a Ph.D. degree.

If you have further questions, please e-mail our Graduate Admissions Coordinator, Alice Justice, at gradinfo@ssc.wisc.edu.