Applying to Graduate School
Provided below is general advice on applying to English MA and PhD graduate degree programs.
Deciding Where to Apply
Ask for advice from your professors, and visit various department and university websites.
Some programs only admit students with BA degrees into MA programs, but others admit them directly into PhD programs (with the possibility of earning an MA along the way). Ask for advice when deciding which route will best suit your needs.
When you’ve narrowed down your choices of programs, go back to faculty members and ask for specific guidance about applying to that program. The director of graduate studies in your department would also be a good resource.
You are likely to have questions about the departments you most favor; email the director of graduate studies for these departments. Be respectful, enthusiastic and intelligent.
Start the admissions process early, and check the deadlines for each application. They are likely to differ.
If you need to request an application for financial assistance, be sure you check to make sure that the deadlines are met.
Deadlines for fellowship applications are sometimes even earlier than applications for regular admission.
Most programs will require transcripts of all undergraduate and any graduate courses you have taken.
Request a copy of your transcript before you send it out – or check it online if your university offers that service. Make sure there are no errors in your undergraduate record.
Getting Letters of Recommendations
Programs generally require three to five academic recommendations. These should come from the professors who best know you and your work.
Approach your professors well ahead of time. Once a professor has agreed to write you a recommendation, send him or her a brief bio or CV, including your GPA and standing within the department. You might also want to remind the professor of the classes you took with him or her, particularly if some time has passed. It’s often useful to supply a copy of an essay you wrote for that professor’s class. If you’re using Interfolio or another online service, give the recommender the URL information in an email, but only after the professor has agreed to write the recommendation for you.
Taking the GRE Tests
Most programs require a score on the GRE General Test, and some (mostly PhD programs) require the Literature Subject Test as well.
Register for the GRE online; it’s given by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Be absolutely certain that the deadline you choose will allow your application to be complete by the university deadline. Keep in mind that official scores will not be available immediately after the test.
The summer is a good time to prepare for the GRE. There are helpful study guides for sale. Literary anthologies provide good help in preparing for the Subject test.
Writing the Personal Statement
The personal statement is the most difficult – and crucial – part of your application. Write it well in advance, and get editorial advice from one or more professors if you can. Make sure there are no typos or grammar errors – those will sink your application on the spot. Try to be thoughtful, sincere and mechanically correct. Do not formulate your essay around the fact that you have always loved literature ever since Aunt Bess read you your first story. Love of literature is a given: you are applying to professional school.
Completing Your Application
After you’ve applied, check with the school’s Graduate Admissions Department (this can often be done online) to make sure that all your materials have arrived and your application is complete. Tardy letters of recommendation can sometimes be a problem. If they have not arrived, and the deadline is looming, both email and call the professor(s) in question.
Schools begin notifying applicants of their acceptance in March, but most will indicate a date by which you will be notified. Don’t contact programs about your status until after this date, unless you have been given a response deadline from one university, but the university you would prefer has not responded. In this case, email the director of graduate studies and explain your situation.
You may be accepted at one program and get placed on a waiting list at another that you prefer. Immediately inform any school where you have been waitlisted that you are facing a deadline. They will do their best to let you know, although they will likely be waiting for their accepted students to reply and may not be able to accommodate you. You generally have several weeks before you have to accept an offer.
If you know you aren’t accepting one of your offers, let that school know immediately so that some other student can come off their waiting list.
Be sure to let your recommenders know where you were accepted; they can help you to compare offers and decide between programs.