Frequently Asked Questions

I do not have an M.A.; may I still apply to your program?
In our graduate program, students earn an M.A. along the way, but our focus is on helping students earn a Ph.D. Each entering cohort of students typically includes some who have completed undergraduate degrees and others who have completed M.A. degrees at other universities. When you go to the online application program, you should see only the option to apply to the Ph.D. program. If you are truly interested in earning only a master’s degree, this is not the place for you. Everyone interested in earning a Ph.D. in sociology is welcome to apply.

How many applications do you receive in a typical year? How many students do you admit? What are your GRE score requirements?

In a typical year, we receive about 150 completed applications and we extend offers of admission to about 8 to 10 percent of them. The number of admitted applicants who accept our offer of admission varies, so that cohort size can be anywhere from 5 to 10. We do not require a minimum GRE score for admission, though we look for scores in the 60th percentile or higher on the quantitative portion of the test and in the 70th percentile or higher on the verbal portion of the test.

I am really smart, dedicated, and with a passion for sociology, but I am not a good test taker and the GRE does not truly reflect my ability. How much weight do you really put on the GRE?
Our suggestion is that you take the test again until the test more accurately reflects your ability. Or you may try what others try as well, that is, to persuade the Graduate Program Committee (see below) in your statement of purpose (see further below) that the GRE does not reflect your real ability. Count on dozens of applicants arguing exactly the same and ask yourself: are the rest of my credentials outstanding enough so as to compensate for my GRE scores and impress the committee? Or would it be a better idea to take the test again? Or to earn an M.A. elsewhere, and then apply to the Vanderbilt Ph.D. program?

How do you make admissions decisions?
The department’s Graduate Program Committee selects students to whom we will make offers. This is the result of a careful review of applications and a discussion among the members of the committee. Many factors are taken into account: GRE scores, college grades, undergraduate major and/or courses, prior graduate school performance (if applicable), quality of writing sample, research experience, whether the applicant is a good fit considering our departmental strengths, insights from letters of recommendation, and more. Different members of the committee may not agree on which factors should be more important, so there is no magic formula.

We typically make admission decisions by mid-February and quickly contact applicants to whom we make initial offers. Some applicants are placed on a waiting list, and may be offered admission and funding if other admitted applicants decide to go elsewhere. (We offer admission only to applicants for whom we have funding.) Applicants not selected for admission are notified by mail.

Admitted students have until April 15 to make their decisions. We encourage students admitted to the program to visit us, and the department reimburses students for most of their travel expenses.

What should my statement of purpose look like?
We hope that your statement of purpose will tell us why you want to be a sociologist, and why you want to earn a Ph.D. in sociology. Your statement should provide us with a clear idea of what kind of research questions motivate you, and why you think Vanderbilt is the right place for you to pursue them. Your statement should also tell us how your intellectual background and perhaps your life experiences have prepared you for graduate school at this point in your life. More effective statements do not start with something like “I think I began to be a sociologist at age 10 when I noticed that white kids and black kids were treated differently in school.” Yawn. What you thought when you were 10 will not help us decide whether you are well-prepared for graduate school now. (For the record, something like this would not kill your application; it would just be boring, and we read so many…) The point is, bring up your personal experience if it matters. We want to hear about it, if it matters.

If I am not admitted, will I receive feedback on why my application was not a winner?
No.

Is funding for graduate study available?
We are proud to fully fund all our students for up to five years, condition on good standing in the program. Please click here to see our discussion of funding opportunities.

Does the department accept international students?
We treat international applicants the same as U.S. citizens, and all applicants are considered for financial aid.

Do you accept tests other than the TOEFL to prove an international applicant’s English proficiency?
No.

May students apply to enter in the spring?
We do not accept applications for the spring semester.

May I visit campus?
Once applicants are admitted to the graduate program, we will help schedule a visit to campus, arrange various activities with faculty members and current graduate students, and reimburse them for all or part of the costs of travel and accommodations. But this is not, strictly speaking, the answer to your question. The answer to your question is of course, this is a free country and Vanderbilt has a very nice campus to visit. You are always welcome to contact individual faculty and set up individual appointments with them, but unless you are admitted, this will be your own initiative. If you are admitted, we will be happy to organize a schedule for you and will make sure that you get the maximum benefit from your visit. We cannot schedule a visit for every applicant, but we will try to do so for every admitted applicant.

Will I be able to keep my job while earning my Ph.D. at Vanderbilt?
No. Our Ph.D. program requires a full-time commitment. It will replace whatever job you currently have. Our Ph.D. program is itself an extremely demanding and exclusive job, and it will in almost all likelihood pay you less than you are currently making. It’s your choice.

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