Graduate Program

Graduate Student Handbook


This handbook is a summary of the major policies affecting graduate students in the Department of Sociology at Northern Illinois University. Although care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the Handbook, it is important for students to know that they are also bound by the policies of the Graduate School and the Graduate Catalogue. If there is any inconsistency between this Handbook and the Graduate Catalogue, the policies in the Catalogue take precedence.

The Sociology Department at Northern Illinois University offers graduate work relevant to theoretical, and applied and research interests. The plans of study for the Master of Arts degree have been designed to offer coherent and significant learning experiences that provide a basis for any potential careers or pursuit of doctoral degrees.

All Master of Arts students receive training in theory, methods, and statistics. Consistent with its commitment to theoretical and methodological diversity, the department supports a broad range of substantive and paradigmatic interests. It is possible for a student to focus on a variety of areas, depending on faculty specialization (see Formal specializations are available in criminology and general sociology. These specially designed sets of courses should be approved in advance by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Every effort is made to maintain a personal atmosphere for graduate students and faculty. The Chair, the Director of Graduate Studies, and most other faculty are easily accessible. Close working relationships with faculty members are encouraged through courses, thesis supervision, pro-seminars, conference participation, and graduate assistant activities. Some graduate students conduct original research in collaboration with faculty members. The products of such studies include scholarly papers and presentations at professional conferences.

As a department within a state university, tuition and fees are quite reasonable. In addition, department-based teaching and research assistantships are available on a competitive basis. An assistantship provides a monthly stipend and a tuition waiver scholarship, covering in-state or out-of-state tuition, both for the academic year and the preceding for following summer (an assistantship does not provide payment of the student's fees, however, which remains the responsibility of the students). A number of other assistantships and fellowships are also available through the Graduate School and other units.


General Admission Requirements

Sociology majors and persons with other academic backgrounds are eligible for admission to the sociology graduate program. Before entering the program, an applicant must have attained a bachelor’s degree from a four-year accredited college or university. If the degree work does not include at least one course each in sociological theory, social science research methods, and introductory statistics, these will be identified as deficiencies. Such deficiencies must be remedied either before beginning the graduate program or during the student’s first term. Course credits taken for purposes of remedying deficiencies will not count toward the master’s degree.

The Director of Graduate Studies, in consultation with the Graduate Committee, examines each applicant’s file. Admission to the graduate program is based on the applicant’s undergraduate grade point average, performance on the Graduate Record Examination, letters of recommendation, and other evidence of ability to succeed in the program. Ordinarily, the department requires an undergraduate grade point average consistent with the Graduate School requirements. The department prefers applicants with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and must provide special justification to the Graduate School if recommending admission to a student whose undergraduate GPA is below 2.75. The applicant must also take the Graduate Record Examination. Generally, the department requires a minimum score of 1000 total - 450 (150 on the new system) on the verbal and 600 (148) on the new system) on the quantitative sections of the GRE. Applicants are also strongly encouraged to submit a sample of their written course work, such as a term paper or substantive essay.

Application for admission to the Graduate School is available on the Graduate School website ( Graduate Record Examination testing dates and locations are available through Educational Testing Service, PO Box 6000, Princeton, NJ 08541-6000, or visit their website,


A student with a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university who has not been accepted by the Graduate School may, with departmental approval, take graduate courses for credit as a student-at-large. No more than nine semester hours of such courses will be applied to the master’s program in sociology. The prospective student should be aware of the regulations regarding student-at-large status, as detailed in the Graduate Catalogue. The Department of Sociology is not obligated to accept a student-at-large for the master’s program, even if he or she has successfully completed graduate courses in sociology. All students-at-large who intend to take sociology courses must obtain approval from the Director of Graduate Studies and the instructor.

International Students

International students should examine the special instructions for admission in the Graduate Catalogue. Those whose native language is not English should note in particular the requirements concerning the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

English Proficiency

Graduate students whose native language is not English are required to take an examination of their English language skills by the end of the second semester. Those whose skills are deficient or marginal will be required to take and pass the two-course sequences, ENGL 451 and ENGL 452, or the single course, ENGL 453, depending on the results of the proficiency test. These courses do not carry graduate credit, and are not applied toward the master’s degree. Students should contact the Department of English or the International Student and Faculty Office for the testing schedule.


Each entering graduate student must consult with the department’s Director of Graduate Studies. The Director will work with the student to plan his or her graduate program and check that the requirements are being met. The Director is available throughout the student’s graduate career at NIU and should be consulted about any question or issue relating to the program.


Application Procedure

The department awards a number of assistantships to qualified graduate students for helping faculty members in their teaching and research. Students who wish to receive an assistantship should complete an “Application for Graduate Assistantship” form and submit it to the department at the time they apply for admission to the program. Decisions on most graduate assistantships for the next academic year are made in late March or early April, so students are encouraged to ensure that their application files are complete prior to that time.

Students requesting assistantships are also required to apply for Work-Study funding. Such funds supplement general-revenue support for assistantships, enabling the department to increase the number of assistantships and/or the amount of the stipends.

First-year graduate assistants in good standing (i.e., those with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher and satisfactory evaluations fro their assigned faculty members) may be reappointed as graduate assistants for a second year. However, a student who is not in good standing on the start date of appointment will not be approved for an assistantship. At the end of each semester, the Director of Graduate Studies will ask faculty supervisors to evaluate their assistants’ performance. These evaluations will be used to continue or terminate the assistantship.

Rights and Responsibilities of Graduate Assistants and Faculty

The graduate-assistant/faculty relationship is a professional, collegial one. Its purpose is to further the education of graduate students, and the advancement of knowledge through scholarship. Thus, graduate assistants assist faculty members in performing their duties. In turn, the work of the graduate assistants is “on-the-job training” in preparation for their own careers. Assignments given to assistants by faculty must be related to a faculty member’s professional work. Assistants should not be asked to undertake chores of a personal nature.

Substitute Lecturing

Graduate assistants should not be asked to serve routinely as substitute lecturers without the presence of an instructor. However, occasional voluntary teaching assignments that are designed to provide opportunity for acquiring teaching skills and for which sufficient notice has been given to assistants are welcomed.

Hours of Work

Generally, graduate assistants should not be expected to show up for work before and after the regular hours—i.e., 7:45 am and 9:00 pm. Unusual requests should be made far enough in advance so that compliance will not require unreasonable adjustments in the assistant’s schedule.

Outside Employment

Graduate assistants are not allowed to be employed on campus for more than 20 hours per week, although minor exceptions are sometimes made in temporary and unusual circumstances. In addition, in order to allow enough time for their studies and the duties of their graduate assistantships as well as their studies, full-time graduate assistants (20 hours/week) are discouraged from outside employment while they are employed as GAs.

Unutilized hours of an assistant’s work-load in a given week should not carry over to her/his work-load for the following week, especially for those who have split assignments with different faculty. However, from time to time, because of the uneven flow of academic work, extra time, to a maximum of 25 hours per week, may be required.

Toward the end of a semester, the work schedule of graduate assistants should be adjusted to help them take care of their examinations and other assignments as students. It is strongly urged that the faculty member and graduate assistant discuss such adjustments far enough in advance so that the mutual needs of both may be fulfilled. As most GAs split their 20 hours with multiple faculty, these discussions are especially necessary in order to avoid an unreasonable burden being placed on the graduate assistant.

Assistants’ Files

Graduate assistants have the right to see the evaluations of their performance by faculty supervisors and to respond in writing to the evaluations. Such responses will be attached to all copies of the graduate students’ evaluations. Any further correspondence, either by the faculty supervisor or the graduate assistant, should be directed to the Director of Graduate Studies.

Notification of Reappointment

“Continuing” graduate assistants should be notified in writing as soon as possible, and should notify the Director of Graduate Studies of acceptance or rejection within a reasonable time period.

Period of Employment

The period of employment, typically August 16 through May 15, is specified in the letter of appointment. Graduate assistants are expected to notify the department as to where they can be reached during the first week of the employment period and to be present at the initial meeting of the faculty and graduate assistants prior to the beginning of fall classes. Graduate assistants are expected to be available for assignments no later than the week prior to the beginning of classes. The graduate assistants’ employment terminates at the end of the contract period, although normally little or no work is required after the end of examinations. However, the graduate assistant and the faculty member will determine what work, if any, is required after the examination period.


Students complete their graduate requirements through course work, passing a comprehensive examination, and performing an acceptable thesis.

Course Work

A minimum of 33 semester hours of credit is necessary (including 6 semester hours for the thesis itself). Students must maintain an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher. They must earn a grade of A or B in the core courses: SOCI 675 (Sociological Statistics), SOCI 676 (Advanced Research Methodology), SOCI 677 (Qualitative Research Methods), SOCI 670 (Classical Sociological Theory), and SOCI 671 (Contemporary Sociological Theory).

If a student’s cumulative GPA drops below 3.00, the student will be placed on academic probation for up to 9 hours, until the GPA is raised to 3.00 or above (see the section on “Academic Standing” in the Graduate Catalogue for details). If the student fails to return the GPA to 3.00 or better within this time, s/he will be academically dismissed. The accumulation of 6 hours of D, F, U, or WF will also result in dismissal from the Graduate School, regardless of the overall GPA. Only courses in which a C (or an S) is earned carry graduate credit and can be applied toward the degree. Thus, required courses in which a D or F is earned must be repeated.

When special circumstances prevent a student’s completing the requirements of a course, the instructor may, at her or his discretion, assign a grade of “incomplete” (I). However, the students should diligently strive to avoid such grades by completing all of the required work in their courses by the end of the semester. An incomplete, if the work is not completed prior to the beginning of the next semester, adds to the student’s workload, and is likely to have a negative cumulative effect on the student’s progress. If the work is not completed by the date specified by the university each semester (see for a calendar of dates), the grade is changed to an “F”.

The department recommends that graduate students ordinarily take no more than 9 hours per semester in the fall and spring, and no more than 6 hours in the summer. It is advised that individuals who are employed outside the university full time should not enroll for more than 6 hours per semester. Similarly, full-time graduate students (9 credit hours in fall or spring, 6 in summer) should not be employed for more than 20 hours per week.

A graduate assistant is required to take 9 semester hours during fall and spring, and 6 hours in the summer if receiving a summer stipend. A graduate assistant may request permission from the department to take an underload, enrolling for only 6 semester hours in the fall or spring, or three hours in the summer. Such requests will normally be approved only for a student’s final semester, and only if the underload will not delay the student’s graduation. The approval of an underload is at the discretion of the chair, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies.

International students on F-1 or J-1 visas are required by the Graduate School to register for a minimum of 9 hours during the fall and spring semesters.

Dating from the first course applied toward the requirements of the master’s program, a student has a maximum of 6 consecutive years in which to complete all requirements for the master’s degree. This includes all work taken as a student-at-large, as well as any transfer credit accepted toward the degree.

A “Program of Courses” form must be completed, usually by the beginning of second year, specifying the courses to be used to satisfy degree requirements. The form (officially called “Courses for a Graduate Program Other than a Doctoral Program”) is available from the sociology department office or the Director of Graduate Studies. The program of courses is developed in consultation with, and must be approved by, the Director of Graduate Studies. Students’ degree progress is maintained by the graduate school in the MyNIU system.

Transfer of Credit

With the approval of the department and the Dean of the Graduate School, a student may transfer a maximum of 15 semester hours of graduate courses taken from other accredited colleges and universities. Credits earned through correspondence at other institutions cannot be transferred.

Core Requirements

The department considers sociological theory and sociological research methods as the core components of the M.A. program. All students must be knowledgeable in these areas. To satisfy the theory requirement, the student must take Classical Sociological Theory (SOCI 670) and Contemporary Sociological Theory (SOCI 671). To satisfy the methods requirement, the student must take Sociological Statistics (SOCI 675) and Advanced Research Methodology (SOCI 676), and Qualitative Research Methods (SOCI 677). It is highly desirable that the core courses be taken as early in the student’s graduate career as possible, for they provide the essential foundation for subsequent course work and thesis research. They also form the content of the comprehensive exams.

Additional Course Work

In addition to the 15 hours in core courses, each candidate for the master’s degree must complete additional courses. Courses should be selected to focus on one or two fields represented by faculty specializations. The Graduate Director will help each student to design a cohesive plan of course work.

Independent Study

A student who acquires an intense interest in a specific topic may request to enroll in Independent Study in Sociology (SOCI 690) for one, two, or three semester hours of credit. The student will work under the close supervision of a faculty member whose expertise covers the area in which the student’s interest lies.  With faculty input, the student should produce an independent study course proposal that is not unlike a syllabus.  This proposal should clearly state the substantive purpose of the independent study, assigned reading material, meeting schedule, work to be produced and assessment. Both the consent of the instructor, the Director of Graduate Studies and approval by the Department Chair, along with a completed Independent Study form, must be obtained before registering for SOCI 690. No more than 6 hours of credit may be earned in this course.

Evidence of Mastery

In order to earn the master’s degree, students must evidence mastery in both the core and a chosen substantive area of sociology. Mastery is measured in different ways.

Comprehensive Examination

All students are required to take a comprehensive examination. This exam will cover the core areas of sociological theory and sociological research methodologies. In order to measure mastery of the core, students will be tested on course material, as well as relevant material above and beyond routine course work. Students are encouraged to obtain a recommended reading list from core faculty and to become well versed in these readings before taking the exam.

The comprehensive examination should be taken the semester after students have completed core course work. The exam is offered twice a year on pre-selected days, generally a Saturday (dates may be obtained from the Graduate Director): once in fall and once in spring. Students planning to take the comprehensive examination must notify the Graduate Director one month ahead of the scheduled exam date and must be enrolled in the semester in which they plan to take comps.

All students will take the exam in the same place at the same time. Exams will be proctored by a member of the graduate committee. The exam requires students to answer essay questions, half on theories and half on research methods. They should, therefore, come into the exam fully prepared to apply their knowledge in written form. Students are allowed three hours per section and are permitted to bring up to five pages of typed notes with them into the exam. The notes will be collected at the end of the exam.

A committee of graduate faculty grades the comprehensive examinations. Each question will be evaluated as either “Pass” or “Fail.” If a student passes both examination questions, they are free to move forward with their thesis project. If a student fails one or both sections, they may retake the exam at the next offering. In the meantime, that student is free to take courses and to begin work on thesis project. However, if a student fails an examination section(s) for the second time, that student is dismissed from the master’s program.


While the comprehensive examination is designed to measure mastery in the core of the sociology master’s program, evidence mastery in the student’s area of substantive specialization comes from their thesis, with close faculty supervision. A thesis is intended to provide the student with the opportunity to grapple with a significant sociological problem. The student attempts to pose meaningful questions and systematically marshal a body of evidence to address these questions. Students are advised to explore topics for the thesis in consultation with faculty members who have substantive knowledge in the particular field. The student should then choose one faculty member to serve as chair of the thesis committee and two other faculty members to serve as members of the committee. There is a form for this purpose, which must be filed with the department. The chair (thesis adviser) must be a member of the graduate faculty in the Department of Sociology. All three members of the committee must complete and sign the “Thesis Adviser Appointment” form and return it to the Director of Graduate Studies for approval.

Once a committee is formed, the student then writes a research proposal, detailing the problem to be researched, literature grounding that problem, and the proposed method for addressing the problem. This proposal must be evaluated by the thesis committee, who provide feedback and parameters of the project. Each student will formally defend this proposal in a thesis committee meeting before commencing the thesis project.

A student is not to begin work on a thesis or enroll for thesis credit until a thesis committee has been constituted and the committee has approved a formal thesis proposal. This should normally be done no later than the third semester of full-time study. If a student has completed 6 credit hours of SOCI 699 but has not completed the Master’s degree, continuing enrollment in at least one hour of SOCI 699 per term (including summer) as an audit is required until the degree is completed.

If the thesis research involves human subjects, IRB approval is required prior to the collection of any data. In many cases, this approval can be certified by the Department Chair. In other cases, formal review by the Graduate School’s Office of Research Compliance (ORC) is required. In any event, if this approval is not obtained, the Graduate School will not approve the thesis. Prior to commencing the research, students should consult the ORC website ( and the department’s chair for assistance.

Members of the thesis committee must read the thesis carefully when it is completed. Because their approval is required before submission to the Graduate School, a meeting (thesis defense) with the student should be held. It is likely that multiple drafts of the thesis will be written. The student should allow sufficient time for revision of the thesis between the time that rough drafts are submitted and the time the final copy is due to the Graduate School. The student must defend the completed thesis in a public forum prior to its submission to the Graduate School.

An approved thesis is submitted to the Graduate School, along with a signed thesis-approval form. The procedures and requirements for submitting the thesis to the Graduate School are available on the Graduate School website.


Internships provide an opportunity for a student to obtain work experience, involving at least 120 clock hours of work for each three semester hours of credit. A student embarking on an internship must have the site of the internship approved by the supervising faculty member, who must be a member of the graduate faculty. The student is required to obtain and evaluation of their work by a supervisor at the work site, or to provide the faculty member with contact information so that the faculty member may solicit such an evaluation. A student is then required to write a scholarly paper based on the work experience, the design of which is to be negotiated with the faculty supervisor. Graduate internships are graded on a letter-grade basis.


The Department of Sociology and the University take academic integrity seriously. NIU's Graduate Catalog states that "students are considered to have cheated, for example, if they copy the work of another or use unauthorized notes or other aids during an examination or turn in as their own a paper or an assignment written, in whole or in part, by someone else.  Students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging those sources or if they paraphrase ideas from such sources without acknowledging them."

All forms of cheating or plagiarism will be handled strictly. If a student is found to have cheated or plagiarized, they will be brought before NIU’s judicial board. See the NIU Graduate Catalog's statement on ACademic Integrity, which explains that graduate students found to have violated academic integrity can expect to be suspended or expelled. If said student has a graduate assistantship, they can expect that funding to be rescinded once the judicial process has run its course.


Graduate students are responsible for ascertaining and meeting all of the deadlines imposed by the department or the Graduate School. These dates may be obtained by the Director of Graduate Studies, the Graduate Secretary, or the Graduate School.

Deadlines for submission of the following items are particularly important:

  • Application for graduation, including Director of Graduate Studies’ signature and Bursar’s Office receipt for fee payment
  • Post-defense version of thesis
  • Department’s report of the thesis defense
  • Department’s report of the results of the comprehensive exam
  • Three final corrected copies of the thesis, after receiving Graduate School approval to produce these copies


Additional information, forms, and other materials may be obtained from:

Director of Graduate Studies 
Department of Sociology
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115
Phone: (815) 753-6420


The Graduate School
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115
Phone: (815) 753-0395