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Program Overview

Northwestern’s Department of Sociology is a major hub of intellectual activity in the field of sociology.  It is a top-ranked program that features world-class faculty whose work sets the research agenda in the study of race, gender, sexuality, law, historical sociology, economic sociology, political sociology, urban sociology, ethnography, science and technology, and culture. Indeed, our faculty is among the most eminent in the discipline. It includes recipients of fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation and Guggenheim Foundation as well as inductees into the American Academy of Political and Social Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

As deeply rooted as our faculty members are in the field of sociology, they are also strongly interdisciplinary in their inclination. Many members of the faculty are jointly appointed in other departments and programs at Northwestern, and some have connections with extramural organizations such as the American Bar Foundation in downtown Chicago. 

The undergraduate program benefits in many ways from the quality of the faculty and breadth of their interests. Our undergraduate students are exposed to some of the most recent and influential ideas in the field, and they have the chance to take classes from some of the most esteemed members of the discipline. A favorable student-faculty ratio means that our undergraduate students have ample opportunity for close interaction with the faculty in small classroom settings. 

The mission of the undergraduate program is straightforward. At the most basic level, it shares the same broad pedagogical aims as every other liberal-arts program. It tries to teach students how to read critically, think clearly, and write persuasively. But it also has more specialized aims that are specific to sociology. Whether you are a major, minor, or taking your only sociology class, our undergraduate program is designed to help you build a foundation of sociological knowledge; learn how to assess the quality of different types of empirical evidence; and develop a capacity to reason sociologically about new and unfamiliar problems. 

We are pleased to offer thirty to forty undergraduate classes in any given year. A small number of them are large classes led by dynamic lecturers—for instance, David Schieber’s Introduction to Sociology (Sociology 110). There is a larger selection of medium-sized classes, such as Rebecca Ewert’s Environment and Society (Sociology 212), Beth Redbird’s Social Inequality: Race, Class Power (Sociology 201), and Andy Papachristos’s Guns in the United States (Sociology 276). And, of course, there is a substantial selection of smaller, upper-division courses on a very wide range of topics, including Katrina Quisumbing King's Empire (Sociology 376) and Stephen Epstein's Race, Gender, Sex & Science (Sociology 376). Whether you are interested in gaining some basic exposure to sociology or diving into a specialized topic in great detail, our department offers a plethora of interesting options. Click here to check out what we’re offering in upcoming quarters. 

Students who have a strong interest in sociology can choose to major in it. At any given moment during the school year, there are eighty to a hundred students majoring in sociology. About one-quarter to one-third of them are double majors. Sociology majors are responsible for taking a larger number of courses, but they also gain a wide exposure to sociology and can explore their interests in greater depth. A unique strength of sociology as one of the social sciences is the diversity of empirical evidence that sociologists consider, and our majors not only learn how such evidence is generated but also how to evaluate the quality of such evidence. The completion of all major requirements leads to a B.A. in Sociology. 

All majors have the option of choosing a concentration. A concentration is a departmental-level designation that indicates a student has taken an approved selection of courses in a particular area of focus. Our majors can choose from seven distinct concentrations. Click here for more information. 

Majors who wish to pursue a capstone project can elect to write a senior thesis. Students who write a senior thesis take a two-quarter sequence of courses in the Fall and Winter Quarter of their senior year, and they work closely with the honors coordinator and a faculty advisor on their project. Thesis writers learn how to formulate and motivate a well-posed question; how to work out an appropriate research design; how to collect and analyze data; and how to write up their results in a compelling way. Thesis students are strong candidates for academic-year Undergraduate Research Grants, which can help defray some of the costs associated with their research. For more information on the senior thesis, click here

If they meet the other requirements for nomination, majors who complete a thesis with distinction may be nominated for departmental honors. 

Students with a strong interest in sociology but less room in their schedule may wish to consider minoring in sociology. We usually have anywhere from forty to sixty minors in any given year. There are two options for minors. Students with general interests in sociology can choose to minor in Sociological Studies. Students with special methodological interests can choose to minor in Sociological Research. 

For more information on majoring or minoring in sociology, click here

As liberal-arts students, sociology graduates come away from their undergraduate studies with a range of strong skills that are attractive to employers. Among the most important are the ability to analyze and assess many different types of evidence; the ability to comprehend and absorb information quickly and accurately; and the ability to communicate their ideas clearly and effectively in spoken or written word. Graduates from the undergrad program have gone on from Northwestern to work for a broad spectrum of employers, ranging from non-profit groups like American Civil Liberties Union and the Art Institute of Chicago to Leo Burnett (advertising) and Merrill Lynch (finance). Many of our graduates have also gone on to graduate and professional school in law, medicine, and social work. Majoring in sociology can give you plenty of career options.

Have a look around, and please feel free to get in touch with me if you find yourself asking questions that our website cannot answer.

Thanks for your interest!

Karrie Ann Snyder
Director of Undergraduate Studies