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Frequently Asked Questions

Applications are due January 15.  Applications are considered for Fall admission only. CLICK HERE to apply.

Thinking about Sociology at UT?

We take graduate student recruitment very seriously and we assume you take applying to graduate school equally seriously.

Here are a few questions you might be asking:

Our key strengths at the University of Tennessee include the following:

  • a unique combination of 4 specialty areas – criminology, critical race & ethnic studies, political economy & globalization, and environmental sociology.  Three of these areas (critical race & ethnic studies, political economy & globalization and environmental sociology) are only offered at a limited number of Sociology departments in the US, and the combination is not found in any other department.  In addition, our criminology area emphasizes critical issues and perspectives.
  • Social Justice umbrella – our sociological research and teaching is inspired by our understanding of social justice.
  • Small seminars and individualized attention to graduate students – given the size of our graduate program with 15 faculty and about 40-45 graduate students, we are able to offer small seminars of 5 to 15 students and careful attention to our students as they progress through the master's and PhD program

The MA degree in Sociology with a thesis requires students to complete a minimum of 30 credit hours past the bachelor's degree. At least 6 of those hours must be in Soc 500 Thesis Hours.

Typically, students take 9 credit hours per semester and 6 credit hours in the summer while completing a thesis.

The MA degree in Sociology requires a minimum of 30 credit hours past the bachelor's degree. At least 20 total credit hours must be completed in 500- and 600-level courses. MA students may take 9 credit hours in 400-level courses in departments with graduate programs, and they may take 12 credit hours outside the home Department, with the advisor's consent. Students must complete all requirements within 6 calendar years of enrollment.

A minimum of 51 credit hours beyond the master's degree is required for the PhD degree: 27 credit hours in coursework (9 courses) that includes advanced courses in sociological theory, research methods, and Statistics; and 24 credit hours in doctoral research. At least 12 credit hours (4 courses) must be completed at the 600 level. Six credit hours are permitted outside the Sociology Department. At the completion of coursework and prior to dissertation work, students must complete one Major Area Paper in their interest areas. All requirements for the Ph.D. degree must be completed within a period of 8 years from first entry into the doctoral program.

In May 2012, the faculty approved the changes to the requirements for graduate students. Beginning in Fall 2013, we will require the following:

  • ALL graduate students must complete
    • Soc 506 Sociology and Social Justice for 2 credits
    • Soc 511 Pedagogy and Graduate Instruction for 1 credit
  • MA students must complete
    • Soc 521 Sociological Theory
    • Soc 531 Research Methods
    • 1 Foundations course +1 additional course in one of our 3 specialty areas
  • PhD students must complete
    • Soc 621 (was Soc 622) Sociological Theory II
    • Soc 631 Advanced Quantitative Methods
    • 1st area: 1 Foundations course + 2 additional course in one of our 3 specialty areas (if you begin at UT at MA level you might complete prior to the MA degree)
    • 2nd area (3-course minimum): another concentration in Sociology, a foreign language, interdisciplinary graduate social theory certificate, statistics minor, or an additional area proposed by the student in consultation with their advisor and approved by the graduate committee

Required classes in theory, methods, social justice, and pedagogy are offered every year. Many other classes are offered every other year.

At the MA level, students are expected to complete a thesis. (The non-thesis option, while officially available, is generally frowned upon by the faculty.)

  • The proposal for the thesis must be approved by a thesis committee
  • The thesis committee must be composed of a chair and 2 additional faculty (1 can be outside the department)
  • The thesis defense is the last hurdle to graduate

At the PhD level, students are expected to:

  • complete a Major Area Paper in one of the 4 specialty areas
  • complete a doctoral dissertation research project under faculty supervision, the steps of which are:
    • selecting a dissertation committee (chair, 2 other Sociology faculty members and 1 other faculty member)
    • holding a dissertation proposal hearing
    • completing the dissertation project
    • admission to doctoral candidacy, and
    • the oral defense of the dissertation

There are several ways to initiate contact and get information about our program.

  • For general information about the program, email the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). Currently the DGS is Dr. Lois Presser at
  • For administrative matters, please email the Graduate Program Assistant, Ms. Nicole Stephens at
  • If you find particular faculty on our website whose work is of interest to you, feel free to contact them directly.

Please note that admissions decisions are made by a committee, not by individual faculty. General emails to multiple faculty tend to be forwarded to the DGS.


In the last three years, we have received between 50 and 75 applications per year. Of those we have accepted 12 to 20. Our enrolled cohorts have been 7 to 12 students each fall.

No.  A master's degree (or its equivalent)  is a pre-requisite for our PhD program.

Yes and no.  Non-thesis (terminal) master's programs are usually not designed to prepare students for doctoral work; thus, we typically expect applicants with a master's degree to have completed a thesis. However, some master's programs (especially foreign programs) do not have a thesis option, and we will sometimes admit these students conditionally, but they must complete a master's practicum (i.e., thesis equivalent) before earning a PhD.

As the UT Graduate School states: The minimum GPA is 2.7 out of a possible 4.0 on undergraduate coursework or a 3.0 on a 4-point scale for any graduate work. We are looking for a GPA that is considerably higher than this minimum, especially in sociology major (and classes).

No, we do not require GRE scores.

By January 15.

The UT Graduate School continues to accept applications after that, but we cannot guarantee full consideration of your application after January 15.

We are usually able to notify applicants of admission by the end of March, but wait-listed applicants may not be informed of admission until the end of April. Offers of financial support to new students occasionally take more time due to multiple factors, including but not limited to current students obtaining other funding.

April 15, although we would appreciate hearing from you sooner if you have made your decision.

Electronically. You will need to complete application forms both for the Graduate School and for the Department of Sociology. When you complete the generic graduate school application, you will be directed to submit materials for the Department of Sociology, too.

Please go to this website to apply:

  • Completed application form, including Supplemental Questions on career goals and graduate study in sociology (i.e. Statement of Purpose) and on research and teaching experience
  • 3 letters of recommendation (including UT's rating form)
    • Even if you have been out of school for some time, we strongly recommend that you include letters from academic references along with your professional ones.
  • Writing samples
    • applicants at MA level should submit 1 representative sample of writing
    • applicants at PhD level should submit their thesis or, if not finished, their thesis proposal AND 1 representative paper (at least 25 pages in length)
  • CV (resume) is optional

The most important element is a strong statement about WHY you want to go to graduate school in sociology. What interests you and what are your career goals?

  • For master's (only) level applicants we would like a brief statement of a maximum of 500 words.
  • For Ph.D. level applicants we expect a stronger, more developed statement of a minimum of 500 words.

Currently about two-thirds of our students are funded, and the majority of our funded students are working as Graduate Teaching Associates (GTAs) with full responsibility for teaching 1 section of introductory level undergraduate sociology classes. Others are working as research assistants (RAs). Some experienced GTAs are teaching other undergraduate classes. First year MA students are only eligible to be TAs for other instructors.

Yes, there are limited number of very competitive fellowships available from UT's Graduate School. See for details.

In addition, there are competitive fellowships that you can apply for with NSF, NIH, etc. The Graduate lists some of these external fellowships here: . In addition, the Center for the Study of Social Justice lists opportunities here:

The UT Graduate School does allow non-degree students to take up to 15 credits in Sociology as follows:

"A maximum of 15 graduate hours may be taken in graduate non-degree status. If admitted into a degree program, no more than 15 graduate hours may be applied toward a graduate degree, if approved by the student's committee." (Source: )

There may be advantages to this path, particularly if you live in the area and are unsure about returning to graduate school. Please note, however, that non-degree students are not guaranteed admission nor even an easier path to admission. If a non-degree student decides to apply for admission, his/her application will be considered for admission side-by-side with that year's pool of applicants.

Acceptance and Arrival

In addition to the FAQs answered here, you can refer to the UT Graduate School FAQs page.

You should confirm with the Director of Graduate Studies or DGS (Lois Presser, and the Administrative Specialist (Nicole Stephens, whether or not you will accept our admission offer. The deadline for accepting an offer of admission with funding is April 15, although we would appreciate hearing from you sooner if you have made your decision. If you have not received funding, you should accept or decline an offer of admission before August 1.

Plan on arriving at least one week before classes start, to settle in and attend orientations.

  • All new graduate students are required to attend a University orientation August 9, 2021. You will be sent specific information as it becomes available.
  • In addition, new graduate assistants and associates (GTAs) are required to attend an orientation August 10, 2021. You will be sent specific information as it becomes available.
  • If you are on an assistantship you need to arrive before August 9 to complete payroll forms. While some paperwork can be completed in advance (contact Jill Baker for assistance). You are required to provide identification in person for the last step. If your paperwork is not complete by August 9, your first paycheck will arrive at end of September instead of end of August.
  • First day of classes begins on August 18, 2021.
  • International students must go to the International Student and Scholar Services to "check in."
  • International students who are instructors must take the OPIc test. See for details.

Other graduate students are your best resource for this kind of information. Please contact the Sociology Graduate Student Association, or SGSA, representatives (Alex Pellegrino, and Zaina Shams,

Right away (e.g. in May). In fact, it helps us to secure our classrooms if we have students registered for classes.

You should already have a nine-digit UT identification number (beginning 000) from the application process.

You may need to activate your UT email username (NetID) here:

Then go into the MyUTK website, and register for classes.

ALL new graduate students should register for the following classes:

  • Soc 506 Sociology and Social Justice - 2 credit hours
  • Soc 511 Pedagogy and Graduate Instruction - 1 credit hour (Note: Soc 506 and Soc 511 run concurrently. If you receive an error message when registering e-mail Nicole Stephens.)
  • Soc 521 Sociological Theory - 3 credit hours

If you are an entering PhD level student, you should also register for:

  • Soc 631 Advanced Quantitative Methods - 3 credits

Additional courses are up to you.

A full-time graduate student course load is 9 credits (three 3-credit classes). That is the number we recommend.

The DGS will coordinate assignment of a Faculty Advisor and a Graduate Student Mentor for all incoming students. If you have questions about what to take, you can contact either of these individuals or the DGS.

You may also contact either the specific course professor or the concentration area professors in criminology; critical race and ethnic studies; environmental sociology; or globalization & political economy for advice. Many professors are willing to share reading lists/syllabi in advance of the fall.

Finally, past course syllabi are kept on a Google Drive which Nicole Stephens will make available to you upon request.

This website of the UT Graduate School offers an online orientation to UT, information on Orientation for new GTAs, etc.

Yes: we are tentatively planning a full-day Department orientation on August 12, 2021. Details to follow.

Information is available at Call 865 974-2337 or 865 974-6147 for questions not covered in the online material.

Life in the Department


There are multiple electronic means of communication that are your primary way to keep up:

  • departmental website – — events will be posted on the Calendar there
  • email list – make sure that you are on this for many graduate student related emails

Jill Baker is responsible for financial affairs, including GTA compensation, as well as class scheduling. Nicole Stephens is responsible for tenure and promotion, assisting the Graduate Director, supply management, and she is the point of contact for graduate students.

Politely. At least if you like to keep all your fingers and toes.

More seriously, if you receive an email from Nicole that requires an answer, please reply within 24 hours.

NO. You must complete a UT Travel Form before you go.

If you are fortunate enough to obtain funding from the Department or any other part of the university for the trip, you will also need to keep receipts and turn them in to the staff in the office upon your return.

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