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Graduate Studies

Boise State University Graduating Students

The department does not yet offer a graduate degree, but our faculty contribute to the Interdisciplinary Studies Masters Program, and serve on graduate committees for students pursuing degrees in other departments. If you intend to earn a graduate degree at Boise State, we can help.

If  you choose to continue on to graduate programs after graduation a variety of options exist, at Boise State or another institution. Pursuing a graduate degree is a significant step: it is not for everyone. Part of your decision will be weighing short-term costs of graduate studies against the long-term benefits.

Students choose graduate school for a variety of reasons. Some want to pursue a Ph.D in a particular field—sociology, gender studies, or communication, for example). Others choose graduate work in other fields such as social work, education, public health, business administration, and urban planning, not to mention law, medicine, and divinity school.

Students are finding that graduate degrees in applied fields give them an edge in the job market.

Graduate Programs in Sociology

Programs in sociology provide systematic study of human social institutions and social relationships. Includes instruction in social theory, sociological research methods, social organization and structure, social stratification and hierarchies, dynamics of social change, family structures, social deviance and control, and applications to the study of specific social groups, social institutions, and social problems.

M.A. vs. Ph.D. Degrees

The Doctorate in Philosophy (PhD) is typically the highest degree awarded in sociology. The Master’s degree may be either an MA (Master of Arts) or an MS (Master of Science). The master’s degree, which takes from one to three years, can either be a step toward the PhD or an end in itself. It generally signifies sophisticated knowledge of the field’s perspectives and methods, but does not necessarily indicate that any original research has been conducted. In some cases a thesis is not required or may be replaced by a practicum or other applied experience. For those seeking to enter the applied world of research and program management, a master’s degree in sociology may be excellent preparation. The PhD requires at least four or five years of study beyond the BA and signifies competence for original research and scholarship as evidenced by the completion of a significant research study called a “dissertation.” This degree prepares individuals for careers in academic and applied settings.

For many positions within public agencies and the private sector, a master’s degree suffices. For community college teaching, a master’s degree may be acceptable, but a doctorate opens more doors. Teaching and research at the university level and high-level employment with good promotion prospects in non-academic research institutes, think tanks, private industry, and government agencies usually require a PhD.

Most graduate schools that offer the PhD also offer a master’s degree as part of the program. However, some universities offer the master’s only, and a few are exclusively devoted to the PhD. While many PhD students receive fellowships or use private means to study full-time, some must work part-time to support themselves. Fortunately, teaching or research assistantships often form part of the learning experience in exchange for a stipend or a tuition waiver.

New graduate students usually begin with courses quite similar in content to their undergraduate courses, although the work is more demanding and sophisticated.

Courses and Dissertations

Graduate courses typically focus on basic theoretical issues, a wide range of research methods, and statistics. Many entering PhD students who did not major in sociology as undergraduates will find this work new to them. A year or so of courses usually culminates in an examination or major paper, and perhaps the awarding of an MA or MS. Training then shifts to doing sociology and more interactive learning. Lecture courses give way to seminars as advanced students begin to conduct individual research in developing areas of specialization. At this point, the student is typically ready for some type of qualifying examination for the doctorate.

The final PhD requirement, the dissertation, must be an original piece of scholarship. It can take many forms and be relatively brief or very long. The dissertation should make a substantial contribution to existing scientific knowledge. Most departments require a formal proposal that must be approved by a faculty committee. This same committee often presides over the student’s oral defense of the dissertation once it is completed, a ritual that marks the end of the student’s training and the beginning of a career as an autonomous scholar.

Choosing a Graduate School

Over 250 universities in the U.S. offer PhDs and/or master’s degrees. Universities differ greatly in their strengths and weaknesses, the nature and structure of their curriculum, costs, faculty specializations, and special programs and opportunities for students.

Some graduate programs specialize in preparing students for applied careers in business, government, or social service. They may feature student internships in agency offices rather than traditional teaching or research assistantships. Others emphasize preparation for the professorial life. Departments continue to differ on requirements regarding language proficiency and statistical skills; whether they require a Master’s degree en route to the PhD; and, if so, whether a Master’s thesis is required or course work alone is sufficient. Some departments will be strong in your particular area of interest, and others will be weak.

Fortunately, you have a key resource for making your choice. ASA publishes the Guide to Graduate Departments of Sociology, which contains critical information on degrees awarded, rosters of individual faculty and their interests, special programs, tuition and fees, the availability of fellowships and assistantships, deadlines for applications, and the names, addresses, and telephone numbers to contact for further information and application forms. The Sociology Department has a copy of this guide that you may come and look at.

Consult with others as you develop a list of schools to which you want to apply. Undergraduate sociology faculty who know your strengths, weaknesses, and special interests may be able to guide you through this complex process toward a realistic choice. Also, make sure that you are exploring several options. Many departments have homepages which allow you to get a snapshot of departments, their faculty, their curriculum, and their specialty areas.

Financial Aid

Graduate students are not normally eligible for assistance based on financial need. They may continue to rely on student loans although doing so for many years is to be avoided if possible. The best way to finance graduate school is to receive support from the university itself which takes several forms:

  • Fellowships from federal agencies and foundations: These are often channeled through the university which selects the recipients from among their most promising students.
  • Teaching assistantships: Teaching assistants receive a stipend and usually a tuition waiver or reduction as well. They are normally responsible for moderating discussions when large lecture classes are divided into smaller discussion classes. Advanced graduate students may teach their own classes.
  • Research assistantships: The financial arrangements are similar to teaching assistantships but the work involves assisting faculty with research projects.
  • Tuition waivers: Graduate students without other forms of assistance are sometimes granted tuition waivers.

Some universities have far more financial aid to distribute than others especially because they have large research grants. It is helpful to know what percentage of graduate students are receiving assistance.

Common Master’s Degrees In Other Disciplines

Sociology students at Boise State have tended to pursue the following master’s programs in the following disciplines:

Master’s in Gender or Women’s Studies

Such degrees can further your scholarly background in issues of gender, from U.S. to global perspectives. Most programs emphasize the gendered nature of political, economic, social, and cultural processes. Some programs have an applied emphasis: they will give you skills in working in NGOS or doing community organizing. Others will develop your theoretical and methodological tools, helping you to develop your research skills.

For more information, go to:

Masters in Social Work

A master’s degree in social work can train you for practice and policy work. The

School of Social Work at Boise State is a good place to start in exploring this option

Master’s Degree in Communication

Communication as a discipline examines the process of interpersonal and mass media communication. A master’s degree can give you academic preparation for a Ph.D. program, or can serve as an end in itself—for careers in video production, journalism, and public relations. The Communication Program at Boise State offers a graduate degree.

Master’s Degree in History

Instructional programs in this field focus on the study and interpretation of past events, institutions, issues, and cultures. Such a degree can prepare you for archival work as well as give you critical thinking and writing skills. You can find information on Boise State’s History program here.

Master’s in Public Administration

Various titles for this degree exist: Master of Public Administration, Masters of Public Affairs, Masters of Public Administration, Masters of Public Policy, and Masters of Public Management program. All of them provide excellent training for service in government, nonprofit organizations and associations, the international arena, and the private sector. Boise State has a strong MPA program that you can explore on the Public Policy and Administration website.

Once You’ve Decided Graduate School is For You:

  • Keep your grades up
  • Get to know your professors
  • Participate in research
  • Do your legwork: compare programs online

Applying to Graduate Programs: What To Expect

Application Materials

  • GPA: Graduate schools usually expect an overall grade point average of at least 3.0. They may also consider your GPA in sociology courses specifically
  • Tests: Many schools require one or both parts of the Graduate Record Exam. There is an “aptitude test” measuring general academic ability and an “advanced test” in sociology. For more information, go to the official GRE website. PREPARE! Get Kaplan’s GRE guide, or the Princeton Review (
  • Transcripts: Contact the Registrar’s office to arrange to have your transcript sent.
  • Letters of reference: Request these from faculty or from others who are in a position to evaluate your work. It is most helpful if your referees know something about you in addition to your grade in a course something that makes your qualifications stand out from those of other students.
  • Personal statement: This is your opportunity to call attention to any personal qualities or accomplishments that might otherwise go unnoticed. The graduate faculty will be looking for signs of maturity, thoughtfulness and dedication to sociology.


A video, “Getting Into Graduate School” is available for viewing at the Career Center. Contact the Career Center for more information 426-1747.