Ranking Programs in Sociology

If you like quantitative rankings of sociology departments, today is like some sort of holiday.*

Over at Scatterplot, Neal Caren has an analysis of top 20 placements within Sociology. As he’s careful to note, but as ought to be stated many times over, this is only an analysis how well departments do at placing their students in top 20 sociology programs, which is not an especially great measure of the success of a program.. although it’s better than nothing, especially if you want such a job. For a program like, Michigan, for example, this would miss how well (or poorly) we do at placing students in professional schools (Business, Social Work, Policy, etc.), which might be more relevant for an individual student. Neal’s results are very much in line with Burris 2004: 88% of top 20 assistant profs come from top 20 programs, as ranked by the current USNWR. Neal goes on to do some back of the envelop calculations to show:

So when you start graduate school in one of these [top 20] departments, the odds of getting an early career job in a similar department is about one in twenty. In March Madness speak, think of yourself as a 4 seed trying to win the national championship.

[A]ssuming schools ranked 20 to 50 average 10 incoming students a year, that is about 300 folks a year competing for one slot [in a top 20 program]. Those are roughly the odds that an eight seed has of winning the tournament, which has happened once so far (Villanova in 1985).

Over at OrgTheory, Kieran Healy has released the results of the All Our Ideas survey of “best” sociology department. Head over there for methodological details and results. Kieran also presents some nice graphs of vote-similarity, which interestingly places Michigan most closely with Stanford (maybe Woody Powell and Jason Owen-Smith were on OrgTheory voters’ minds?).

Neal, Kieran – there’s a (potentially) interesting merging of data that could be done here. Specifically, do top 20 placements match better with the AOI rankings or the USNWR rankings? If we assume that such rankings are somehow measuring within-discipline prestige, then it seems like this would be one way to test which measure is “better.”

*Maybe Passover? Smarch Christmas? I’m not sure.



  1. Good point about the limited nature of my dependent variable. I write the word top 25 times, but sociology only four times, and there’s lots of top jobs outside of sociology that people get.

    • UM is particularly keenly aware of this because a big chunk of our program is in formal joint programs (about 3-4 in social work, and 1-2 in policy, which is between half and a third of our cohort sizes, plus an occasional business, public health, or law). For somewhat obvious reasons involving job market competitiveness and salaries and whatnot, as well as prestige of those programs in their subfields, we tend to place better in the professional schools (plus there’s an interaction with subfields and marketability, but that’s messier and small N-ish). Add to that the “just” sociology students who still get jobs outside the field (e.g. economic sociologists going on the B-school job market), and it ends up being quite significant… but only inconsistently counted towards our placements, as in your post, but also in the internal reviews of our program (all joint students are counted as part of the other program, for some arcane historical/political reason).

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