Princeton’s Sociology Department offers graduate training across a range of specialty areas to students seeking the Ph.D. Students are encouraged to work with the full range of department faculty and to tailor programs of study that will suit their individual needs and aspirations. The program offers a structured set of experiences that help students become independent scholars as early as possible in their graduate careers. Students take a series of required courses in theory and methods, participate in a second-year research workshop in which they produce a publishable piece of empirical research, and usually engage in several teaching and research apprenticeships with members of the faculty.
"The program is primarily designed for students interested in pursuing academic careers, but it also provides research skills that may be used in government and the private sector."
The program is designed to encourage completion of the doctorate in a time that is consistent with rigorous scholarly preparation. The program reflects an educational philosophy that from the first views the student as a potential contributor to the discipline rather than as a passive repository of knowledge. It rests on the conviction that scarce time is better utilized in preparing manuscripts of a type suitable for publication than in writing conventional term papers. The Graduate School does not operate on the credit system. The formal requirements for the doctorate specified by the Graduate School are at least one year in residence, completion of an approved dissertation, and successful performance on the general and final oral examinations.
The department’s philosophy is that learning at the graduate level takes place best in a semi-structured environment that combines individual freedom with a supportive intellectual community. Individual freedom is encouraged by keeping the program sufficiently small (about 30 students are in residence each year) to ensure flexibility and by providing students with a wide variety of options with which to pursue their scholarly interests. Students meet regularly with members of the faculty to consult about their plans and progress, and, rather than receiving letter grades, are given qualitative written evaluations. A supportive intellectual community is encouraged by the fact that students generally remain in residence during much of their time in the program, by an atmosphere of informality and collegiality between faculty and students, and through formal activities such as on-going workshops, symposia, colloquia, and gatherings in the department lounge.
"...learning at the graduate level takes place best in a semi-structured environment that combines individual freedom with a supportive intellectual community."
The university and the wider community also contribute significantly to the department’s emphasis on semi-structured learning. Princeton University is a world-class research institution, and yet it is relatively small, because it includes only a few professional schools, focusing instead on liberal arts training at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Students and faculty are thus able to become acquainted and to work together, not only within departments, but across departments as well. In a real sense, the university is the unit of instruction at Princeton, and the sociology department seeks to capitalize on this fact by providing interdepartmental learning experiences. For example, students are encouraged to take courses outside the department, as well as inside the department, and dissertation committees often include faculty from other departments. Some possibilities for learning outside the university are also available through cooperative arrangements with Columbia University and Rutgers University, and through a formal exchange program with more than a dozen universities throughout the country.
"Princeton University is a world-class research institution, and yet it is relatively small, because it includes only a few professional schools, focusing instead on liberal arts training at the graduate and undergraduate levels."
The community, located midway between New York and Philadelphia, also provides an ideal learning environment. The town of Princeton is a community of approximately 50,000 residents. It, in turn, is part of the rapidly growing central New Jersey metroplex with a current population of more than one million. The immediate area includes a rich variety of cultural activities, including one of the nation’s best repertory theaters, a number of vocal and instrumental musical companies, bookstores, movie theaters, and restaurants of all kinds. Princeton has one of the oldest and largest concentrations of survey research firms, many of which employ advanced graduate students in sociology. It is the location of the internationally known Institute for Advanced Study, which brings a number of visiting social scientists to the area each year. The area is notable for diversity of many kinds: Princeton is still surrounded by working farms (not to mention expansive suburbs); and rich urban environments are just miles away in Trenton (a small city and the capital of New Jersey, just eight miles southwest) and New Brunswick (about fifteen miles to the north). The town of Princeton itself is racially and ethnically diverse, and the immigration of the 1980s and 1990s has produced vibrant ethnic communities of many kinds in the surrounding cities and suburban communities. Moreover, New York and Philadelphia are only an hour away by commuter train or bus.
Admission to the program is sought by completing the application forms that are supplied by the Office of Graduate Admissions. These require a transcript of all graduate and undergraduate courses taken elsewhere, one or more papers, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement indicating why the applicant is interested in pursuing doctoral work in sociology at Princeton. Submitting a GRE score is not required.
An undergraduate major in sociology is not required. The writing sample and personal statement are especially important. The department looks for applicants’ research experience and interests, creativity, quality of previous work, and potential match with the department’s strengths.