Course work requirements for a Ph.D. in Rural Sociology.

The principal aim of the doctoral program in Rural Sociology is to develop the advanced sociological research and analytical capacities necessary for understanding and addressing the problems, structures, and processes affecting the well-being of rural people and places and the sustainability of communities and landscapes in domestic and international contexts. To this end, the student selects relevant Rural Sociology courses as well as courses in complementary academic fields, with guidance from the advisor and other members of their Ph.D. advisory committee.

For students entering the program with a MS/MA (or its equivalent) from a different educational institution, a minimum of 36 graduate-level credits (400- and 500-level courses; not including 600-level course credits) are required, of which at least 27 credits must be in Rural Sociology. Students who complete the MS in Rural Sociology at Penn State must complete at least 48 graduate level credits (400- and 500-level courses; not including 600-level course credits), of which at least 27 credits must be in Rural Sociology. Courses completed during their MS program at Penn State count toward the Ph.D. course requirements. Additional graduate-level courses may be taken in complementary academic fields to supplement the core areas of concentration, chosen in consultation with the student's advisor and committee. All Ph.D. graduate students are required to have a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 for graduation.

Ph.D. students are expected to be prepared in four areas:

  • Rural Sociology
  • Methods and Statistics
  • two areas of concentration of their choice.
    • Our four main areas include: sociology of food and agriculture; natural resources / environmental sociology; community and international development; and rural social demography.
    • A student may also design his/her own concentration, in consultation with the adviser.
    • If a student is pursuing a dual-title program, one of the areas of concentration should correspond with the dual-title program of choice (e.g., Demography; Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and the Environment (HDNRE); International Agriculture and Development (INTAD); Women's Studies).

Core Course Requirements

Core courses provide a broad overview of rural sociology, rural sociological theory, and the issues facing rural people both domestically and internationally.

Take the following courses or their equivalents:

  • R SOC 502 Use of Theory in Rural Sociology
  • R SOC 516 Change in Rural Society
  • R SOC 517 International Rural Social Change

Methods and Statistics Course Requirements

The Methods and Statistics area requirements are designed to provide a basic understanding of social research methods and statistics. Ph.D. students must meet the following minimum requirements, recognizing that thorough competency often requires additional coursework:

  • R SOC 513 "Research Methods in the Rural Social Sciences"
  • R SOC 514 "Qualitative Methods"
  • Two graduate-level (500 and above) statistics courses

Language Requirement

There is no language or communications requirement for the Ph.D. in Rural Sociology beyond the Graduate School's requirement of competency in English.

English Language Competency

The ability to effectively and competently read, write, and speak the English language is critical for success in Rural Sociology at The Pennsylvania State University. Course work in our program involves extensive reading on topics that span the range from the philosophic to the technical, and the ever present need to use English to express information and ideas in both verbal discussions and written assignments. English language competency will be formally assessed during the qualifying examination, and must meet the following standards.


Students must be capable of reading and comprehending sociological material written for advanced undergraduate audiences.


On their own, students must be able to compose clear and understandable English, with a minimum of blatant grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors.


Students must be able to speak English clearly and correctly, both extemporaneously and in formal presentations.

Qualifying Examination

A written qualifying examination must be taken by all students intending to earn the Ph.D. The examination is administered by the Rural Sociology Graduate Program Committee in the summer after the first year in the program, but not before the student has completed 18 credits of graduate courses beyond the baccalaureate.

Comprehensive Examination

Each Ph.D. candidate must pass a comprehensive (combined written and oral) examination in rural sociology, research methods and statistics, and two chosen areas of specialization. The comprehensive exam is normally taken after the candidate's course work has been substantially completed and is administered in response to the student's petition.

Final Oral Examination

Upon completion of the student's doctoral thesis, a final oral examination is scheduled. The exam is administered by the student's doctoral committee and focuses on the student's dissertation research.