Getting a PhD in Sociology: Everything You Need to Know About PhD Scholarships

Pursuing a PhD in sociology can be extremely rewarding, both intellectually and professionally. However, it also requires a major long-term commitment of time and resources. For many students, obtaining funding for their doctoral studies is a key consideration when deciding whether to embark on this path.

What is a PhD Scholarship?

A PhD scholarship refers to any source of funding that helps pay for tuition fees and/or living expenses while a student is enrolled in a doctoral sociology program. There are a few different types of PhD scholarships:

  • Institutional scholarships: Many universities and colleges offer merit-based scholarships directly to incoming PhD students in sociology. These awards may cover partial or full tuition remission plus a stipend for living expenses. The amount and duration of support can vary significantly between institutions.
  • External scholarships: Numerous governmental and private agencies provide funding for graduate studies through competitive, nationally awarded scholarships. Examples include scholarships from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Fulbright Program, and various philanthropic organizations.
  • Research assistantships: Many sociology PhD programs hire graduate students as research assistants, usually to work with specific faculty members on their research projects. These positions often come with a tuition waiver and monthly allowance in exchange for 20 hours of work per week.
  • Teaching assistantships: Similar to research assistantships, teaching assistant (TA) positions allow sociology PhD students to gain valuable experience helping to teach undergraduate courses. TAships usually involve grading, holding office hours, preparing materials, and sometimes co-leading discussion sections or labs. The commitments are typically 10-20 hours per week.
  • Fellowships: Selective, highly competitive fellowships like those from the National Science Foundation and Ford Foundation provide generous funding packages that allow recipients to fully focus on their graduate studies and research without holding an additional job.

The financial support from PhD scholarships is crucial, as it allows students to focus primarily on their coursework, research, and dissertation without also having to work multiple part-time jobs or take out substantial loans. In this post, we’ll explore different funding sources and strategies for obtaining scholarships.

How to Find PhD Scholarship Opportunities

There are a few main avenues for learning about PhD scholarship opportunities in sociology:

University Websites: The graduate studies pages of sociology department websites will list all internal funding sources available to incoming and current PhD students, including deadlines and application requirements. Be sure to check websites for any specialty programs or field-specific awards as well.

External Databases: Websites like FastWeb,, and the Council of Graduate Schools’ database aggregate scholarship listings from a wide range of public and private sponsors. Use them to perform targeted searches.

Professional Associations: The American Sociological Association, regional sociological associations, and associations focused on specialty fields all publicize relevant scholarships on their websites. Pay attention to mailing lists too.

Federal Sources: Federal agencies like the NSF, Department of Education, and National Institutes of Health offer grants for graduate research. Search and individual agency pages for opportunities.

Foundation Directories: Sites like Candid (formerly Foundation Center) and the Taft Research Center database catalog scholarships from philanthropic organizations. Search by keywords or location.

Discipline-Specific Resources: Databases like SocJobs provide centralized information on fellowship programs unique to sociology and related social sciences.

Set aside time regularly to thoroughly explore funding opportunities using these varied information sources. The earlier you start your search, the better prepared you’ll be to meet deadlines and put together a strong application.

When to Apply for PhD Funding

While scholarship deadlines may exist year-round, the standard timeline for pursuing and securing PhD funding in sociology is:

  • 9-12 months before the program start date: Begin your search and identify priority funding sources based on your research interests and qualifications. Mark all important deadlines on your calendar.
  • 6-9 months before start date: Request information and speak to current students and faculty about university and departmental scholarships at programs where you plan to apply.
  • 3-6 months before start date: Apply for externally awarded scholarships with fall/winter deadlines like the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Submit all required application materials well in advance of deadlines.
  • 1-3 months before start date: Submit your applications for spring/summer external scholarships as well as any assistantships linked to admission at specific universities. Notify schools of any external awards received.
  • Program start date: Graduate programs will notify admitted students of any funding awarded like TA/RA positions during the admission process or shortly after. Have backup plans in place if necessary.

Following this timeline ensures you have sufficient time for any extra steps involved in the process like requests for recommendation letters from references. Always check requirements for your top choice funding sources as early as possible.

Strengthening Your PhD Scholarship Applications

Now that you’re familiar with the funding landscape and application deadlines, it’s crucial to maximize your chances by putting together the strongest possible package. Here are some tips for standing out from the pool of qualified applicants:

Research Experience: Seek out research assistant positions, volunteer opportunities, or independent study credit to gain hands-on experience that demonstrates your ability to conduct sociological research.

Academic Performance: Maintaining a high graduate GPA is table stakes—aim higher by also seeking out honors or publishing conference papers/articles if possible.

Statement of Purpose: Craft a compelling personal statement that clearly aligns your research interests with the priorities of the funding source. Have it reviewed by mentors.

Recommendations: Request letters from faculty who can personally attest to your academic strengths, work ethic, and fit for doctoral study in sociology.

Standardized Tests: Strong GRE scores, though not required everywhere, can boost an application’s competitiveness. Prepare adequately.

Resume/CV: Highlight any relevant achievements, publications, presentations, honors/awards, and demonstrated leadership roles.

Diversity Statements: Some scholarships value diversity—discuss your background and potential to contribute different perspectives.

Interviews: Ask programs you’ve interviewed with about possible on-campus funding opportunities as well.

Following best practices in all application elements and meeting early internal and coordinator-approved deadlines demonstrates dedication that reviewer panels will appreciate.

PhD Funding from University Departments

While external scholarships expand your options, securing departmental aid from one of your top choice graduate programs should also be a top priority. Here’s a closer look at the types of internal funding sociology PhD hopefuls commonly encounter:

Teaching Assistantships: As described earlier, these roles provide tuition assistance and a stipend in exchange for classroom and instructional support duties. Highly competitive but renewable.

Research Assistantships: Similar non-teaching roles working directly with faculty supervisors on grants, projects, and labs. Renewable based on performance and availability.

Fellowships: Prestigious awards offered at the university-level (e.g. Presidential Fellows) or by individual sociology departments to their top incoming students. Often package full funding.

Special Awards: Programs provide funding specifically for studying specialty areas, conducting dissertations on priority topics, or participating in coordinated specialty programs.

Diversity Fellowships: Targeted funding for members of underrepresented groups to build equity and inclusion in higher education and research.

Work-Study Jobs: Some federal or institutional aid packages include a work-study allocation to help cover expenses through approved on-campus employment.

Communicate funding interests clearly in your application materials and follow up respectfully after being admitted to express continued high level of commitment despite any unfunded offer. Negotiation may occasionally help.

Maximizing Internal Departmental Funding

While success depends partially on acceptance and availability each year, you can help stack the odds in your favor for internal university sociology funding with preparation:

  • Target programs with strong funding track records, including history of multi-year support to continuing students
  • Research faculty funding sources and align PhD interests where possible
  • Inquire about program matches during on-campus interviews and follow up afterwards
  • Request coordinator recommendations when asking current students about funding likelihood
  • Express willingness to work additional hours if an RA/TA expands, showing dedication
  • Negotiate multi-year commitments when acceptance comes with only single-year funding offers
  • Highlight merit through grades, experience, publication plans tied to the school’s priorities

Staying organized and genuinely engaging with programs you want to fund your PhD can yield dividends through persistence and relationship-building with decision-makers.

Applying for External Competitive Scholarships

While your top choices should be national fellowship programs sponsoring sociologists, don’t underestigate additional sources that could fund some of your studies even if not designed specifically for sociology. Here are a few of the most prestigious external PhD scholarship opportunities in the field:

National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program

The NSF GRFP is arguably the most competitive and well-funded fellowship for STEM graduate students. While it considers applications from sociologists, the selection criteria emphasize research potential over GPA/exams. Candidates must propose an innovative dissertation project within the priorities of an NSF directorate. The prestigious 3-year award includes a $34,000 annual stipend plus tuition/fees.

Ford Foundation Fellowship Program

This highly selective program aims to increase diversity within academia and research. Applicants must demonstrate a commitment to diversifying higher education. The generous 4-year award includes a $24,000 stipend, tuition assistance, and includes supplemental grant funding for research. Top programs include Sociology.

Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship

This 9-month fellowship of up to $20,000 helps sociology PhD students strengthen their dissertation proposals through research and writing. It focuses on scholars interested in international and cross-disciplinary approaches to social research questions and theory.

American Sociological Association Funding

The ASA offers several grants for dissertation research, proposal development, and various specialty competitions related to social inequality, childhood and family, aging, etc. Amounts range from $500-$5,000.

Additional Options

Don’t overlook awards from private foundations focused on particular topics like poverty, health, education policy and more. Also inquire about international opportunities through Fulbright, Rhodes, Marshall, Gates Cambridge and more.

Securing even one prestigious external award can help define your research trajectory and demonstrate promise to future employers. Commit substantial time to competitive applications.

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