Stages of Study

Disciplinary Core

The Disciplinary Core introduces students to the basic concepts, methods and theories of sociological analysis. It consists of three courses: “Self & Society” which is usually taken in the first or second year; “Sociological Theory” and “Research Methods in Sociology” which are taken in sequence the first and second semesters of the junior year.

Because much of what we know about social worlds is found in social indicators and other statistical information, the department requires students to take “Analyzing Social Trends” or the “Introduction to Statistics” course offered by the mathematics department. These courses not only fulfill the college’s general education requirement for “quantitative analysis” but also count toward the major in sociology.


Connected courses help students achieve both breadth and depth in the study of sociology. Connections encourage students to pursue courses in the arts, humanities and sciences, topically connected to sociology courses. This cross-discipline study allows students to attain breadth of understanding, and the ability to apply the practice of multiple disciplines to inquiry and problem-solving.

Senior Theses

At advanced levels, students make selections from courses, topics, and learning experiences that allow them to pursue their own interests in-depth. These include at least two electives in sociology, either courses chosen from the catalog or self-designed independent study. In addition, a student may petition the department to grant credit for an appropriate course in another department.

Senior sociology majors pursue one of two types of capstone projects: SOC 402 and SOC 403. The former requires students to carry out empirical research and gather their own data. The latter requires majors to concentrate on conceptual analysis to deepen their analytical and theoretical skills. The two are equivalent and both require a written thesis and public presentation.

In SOC 402 students work on substantial research projects of their own design, under the direct supervision of a faculty advisor. The research is conducted throughout the first semester of the senior year, is refined over the January Break and is presented at a formal senior research symposium that lasts for several days. Students are assigned to topically related panels during this public forum where they present and discuss their findings with the audience. Each year this symposium is attended by many people from on and off campus.

SOC 403, the sociology pro-seminar, is designed to strengthen students’ conceptual skills.   Students learn to read and critique competing theories, methodologies and paradigms employed by various schools of social and political thought. It is offered in spring, and the proseminar is framed around enduring themes and questions, through which students analyze concepts, theories, methodologies, and paradigms of the sociological imagination. Students write a senior thesis on a conceptual topic of their interest and present an oral defense of their thesis.  The presentations are open to the public and occur in late April/early May.

These capstone requirements combine individual intellectual efforts and achievements with the cohesiveness of a shared experience. Most students describe them as the most rewarding aspects of their college experience. A number of students have gone on to advanced graduate study and pursued research and conceptual interests first explored in the senior seminars. Many alumnae and alumni report that skills they honed in the senior seminars have been invaluable in later life.