English Department

Timeline to Prepare for Graduate School 

Sophomore & Junior Years: Choosing the right courses

  • Round out your program: fill gaps in your study of literature; take appropriate courses in history, religion, philosophy, psychology, and other fields that might relate to advanced study in literature at the graduate level.

  • Consider taking a second foreign language: many grad schools require reading competency in two languages beyond English.

  • If possible, take Literary Criticism & Theory 1st semester of Junior year.  This will help you immensely in taking the GREs and in writing your application essays.

  • If you do take Literary Criticism & Theory in the fall of your Junior year, consider also doing an Honors project 2nd semester of Junior year; this will provide you with an extended academic paper and the experience of graduate level research (including oral defense of your paper).


Summer before Senior Year

  • Research grad schools and grad programs in English. Check the rankings of graduate schools in English (cf. sheets in the metal racks in English office suite). Research various schools via the Internet.

  • Write to several (5-10) grad schools for catalogs and applications.

    • Choose 1-3 from each of the three tiers of graduate schools (see ranking sheet in the metal rack in the English office suite)

    • Application forms for many schools are available on the Internet

  • Prepare for GREs

    • Review the Norton Anthologies of English and American lit! Review Lit Crit. Set up a calendar for a thorough and systematic review of major authors and periods.

    • Study vocabulary lists (easiest way to improve GRE verbal score).

    • Take sample GRE tests; review “Preparing for the GRE” books.

  • Prepare your application essay: your statement of purpose/philosophy

    • Statement of why you want to study English at the graduate level;

    • Include area(s) of special interest, with clear statements of how and why these have become special to you;

    • Show evidence of being abreast of the current issues in literary criticism;

    • Consult the sheet, “How to Put Together a Strong Graduate School Application,” in the metal rack in the English office suite;

    • Type a compelling, clearly developed statement of 2-2½ pages.

  • Revise to perfection your best academic paper to use as a writing sample (some schools require one); be sure it shows awareness of contemporary schools of critical theory.

Fall of Senior Year

  • Register early in fall semester to take the GRE by November at the latest.  You will need this amount of lead time to insure your scores are available for the typical January 15 deadline for applications (note: some may be earlier!).

  • Meet with faculty to review application letter and writing sample.

  • Submit applications to at least 4-5 schools

    • Have realistic expectations (see list of top Ph.D. programs in English). You must have top grades and GRE scores and a striking application to get into a top Ph.D. program. But you can advance from a good Master’s program to an even better Ph.D. program. We advise you to apply for a Master’s program in English, and then to move up to a more prestigious Ph.D. program.

    • Choose 1-3 schools from each of three tiers of schools: 1) top 40; 2) next 40; 3) all others. Remember that you may be able to get a teaching assistantship (full tuition scholarship for teaching Freshman Composition, plus a cost-of-living stipend) from a 2nd- or 3rd-tier school for your M.A. program, and that you can often move up a tier between the MA and Ph.D. programs.

    • Schools to which our grads have been accepted in recent years: University of California/Berkeley, Univ. of Virginia, SUNY/Buffalo, Boston Univ., Case-Western Reserve, Univ. of California/Davis, Penn State, Oxford (England), Univ. of Chicago, Univ. of Georgia, Univ. of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, Kent State, Duquesne Univ., Univ. of North Carolina/Chapel Hill, Univ. of Wisconsin at Madison, Univ. of Michigan, Notre Dame.

  • Letters of Recommendation

    • Ask faculty at least by Thanksgiving; provide them with:

      • Resume
      • Courses taken with that prof (and grades)
      • Your best paper written for that prof (with prof’s comments)
    • Remind faculty! It is your responsibility to follow up to insure that the letters have been sent out on time. Check with us at least a week before the deadline. Don’t be shy about this! In all of our paper grading, it is possible that we will forget or mislay your letter. I assure you: we will appreciate your follow-up and will not be offended.

Spring of Senior Year

  • Please inform us of acceptances and rejections as you receive them.

  • Consult with us in making your final choice.

  • If you get rejections from all of your choices, work with us regarding Plan B! Many 2nd- and most 3rd-tier schools accept applications through early summer. Remember: you can more easily get an assistantship (full tuition plus cost-of-living stipend) at one of these schools and move up a tier for your Ph.D. work.