Social Sciences Programs: Tips and Stats

What's new in the GRE test.

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Smart Choices

In this economy, job prospects look brightest in fields not tied primarily to academia—in subjects such as physical and biological sciences, economics, and criminal justice, says Scott Jaschik, editor of InsideHigherEd. Determined to teach? Jaschik says not to overlook community colleges.

Insider Tip

If the prospect of lengthy qualifying exams makes you squirm, take heart: A small but growing number of graduate departments in history, American studies, computer science, and other disciplines are opting instead for portfolios that document mastery of predissertation coursework with research papers, literature reviews, etc. "It models the kind of professional exercises that these students will be engaged in beyond their graduate training," says Joseph Heathcott, who helped launch the system in the American studies doctoral program at St. Louis University. Some portfolios can do double duty, reducing the time it takes to finish a Ph.D. That's "pragmatic and practical," says Heathcott, now associate professor of urban studies at the New School.

Getting In

GRE Update. Starting in July, aspiring grad students will be able to take advantage of an optional new component of the Graduate Record Exam: the Personal Potential Index, designed to measure personal skills as opposed to sheer test-taking ability. You'll need to get up to five professors or supervisors to fill it out—it should take just 15 minutes—and you'll be evaluated in six areas: knowledge and creativity, communication skills, teamwork, resilience, planning and organization, and ethics and integrity. The GRE general test currently costs $140 (subject tests are extra); if you're taking it for the first time, there's no extra charge for sending off as many as four copies. If you've already taken the GRE and want to add the PPI anyway, the cost is $20 per report.

Size Matters. Ask hard questions before applying to a department with very small numbers of students. Ohio State University recently axed three small grad programs identified as "candidates for disinvestment or elimination."

Reality Check

Interested in teaching college? Faculty pay rose, on average, 3.8% last year, but that lagged inflation for the third time in four years. (On the bright side, at least they had jobs).

  • Average salary, full professor, Pac-10 school: $109,654
  • ACC school: $125,044
  • Lecturer, two-year college: $48,338
  • Number of doctoral degrees awarded, 2006-2007: 55,439
  • Reality Check Sources: American Association of University Professors; Council of Graduate Schools