Course Requirements

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

There is no specific number of course credits of instruction and research beyond the master's level required for the Ph.D. Rather, award of the degree is made at such time as minimal course requirements are met and the student demonstrates to his or her committee and to the Department that he or she is a well-trained, competent, and professional sociologist. Thus, it is impossible to specify that exact amount of time necessary to complete the degree. However, it is expected that a student on a half-time assistantship will finish the doctoral program in 10 semesters (3 1/4 years) beyond a master's degree. A minor is NOT required.

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. Four courses are needed to meet the core course requirement.

Take the following course or an equivalent theory course:

  • R SOC 502 Use of Theory in Rural Sociology

Take one of the following two courses:

  • R SOC 516 Change in Rural Society
  • R SOC 517 International Rural Social Change

Take any two of the following courses (the list includes R SOC 516 and 517 if not taken above):

  • R SOC 508 Sociology of Agriculture
  • R SOC 525 Population and Development
  • R SOC 530 Demography & Sociology of Poverty in the United States
  • R SOC 552 Rural Community Theory
  • R SOC 555 Human Dimensions of Natural Resources
  • R SOC 597 [Special topics courses]

Methods and Statistics Course Requirements

Ph.D. students in Rural Sociology need to become equipped with a minimum level of research skills within the first year of training.  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 four-course 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. To ensure that all Ph.D. candidates attain a high level of English ability, the following strategy for the assessment and remediation of English deficiencies is followed.


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.

Written and Oral Evaluation

Beginning in the Fall 1992 semester, the Graduate Program Committee in Rural Sociology will be responsible for assessing the English ability of all entering Ph.D. students during the first month of their enrollment. This preliminary assessment will consist primarily of a one-day examination that will have three phases.

First, students will be given an hour to read a sociological research article. The article will be chosen by the Graduate Program Committee and will:

  • Be easily readable in an hour
  • Be written at about the advanced undergraduate level
  • Have a mixture of theoretical discussion and empirical analysis
  • Focus on a topic of general appeal

Second, students will be given four hours to write an essay about the article, guided by questions suggested by the Graduate Program Committee. This essay will be limited to four pages in length.

Third, after reading these essays the Committee will meet with each student to appraise their verbal abilities in English. The student will be asked to present a brief synopsis of their essay and be expected to answer questions about it. We stress that the intent is not to evaluate the student's command of Rural Sociology, but merely to assess their ability to read, write and speak English.

This evaluation will be complemented by other evidence of English ability. The latter might include TOEFL scores, assessments by recommendation letter writers and other outside sources, or by examples of written work by the student. Together, this information will be reviewed by the Graduate Program Committee who will then decide whether remediation is warranted, and if so, suggest an appropriate course of action.

Waiver of Written and Oral Evaluation

If there is compelling evidence that matriculants already meet or exceed acceptable standards of English ability, the Graduate Program Committee will have the option of waiving the written and oral evaluation.

Candidacy Examination

A candidacy examination must be taken by all students intending to earn the Ph.D. The examination is administered by the candidate's doctoral committee within three semesters of entry into the doctoral program (summer sessions do not count) but not before the students has completed 18 credits of graduate courses beyond the baccalaureate. A plan of study is developed by the student with the help of his/her committee in advance of the candidacy meeting, and is generally approved, perhaps with revision, during the meeting. Students whose native language is not English must also meet the TOEFL and English language competency requirements to be admitted.

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.