Many English majors enter graduate and professional schools in preparation for such careers as law, business, management, journalism, and public service. Other English majors continue their literary studies in graduate school in preparation for teaching and research. Selecting an appropriate graduate school according to your interests and career plans requires thought. For further information and tips on applying to graduate school, see the this Going to Graduate School Guide.
6.1. Preparation: Course Selection
If you are considering graduate studies, see the Staff Undergraduate Advisor or Faculty Undergraduate Advisor for recommendations on courses and programs offered at the undergraduate level that will effectively prepare you for your desired path of graduate study.
6.2. Should You Apply to Graduate Studies in English?
How can you tell if you should apply to graduate studies in English literature specifically? Be sure that you are significantly committed not only to reading literature, but to learning about how the academic community analyzes and teaches literary texts. Indeed, in entering graduate school, you are making a commitment to enter a community of scholars and thinkers who have chosen to work towards uncovering new and exciting ways to read and understand written texts, social movements and cultural events. Once you enter graduate school, you will be asked to become a contributing member of that community. Deciding to apply to graduate school in English involves its own significant commitment in terms of time and energy. Think of the application process as another course-one that runs from about June to December. To best prepare your application, you should focus on four elements: Letters of recommendation, GRE exams, Researching Programs, and Statements of Purpose/Writing Samples. Following is a brief discussion of how to best prepare those elements.
6.3. Teaching Credential Program
If you plan to pursue a teaching career, you should discuss your plans as soon as possible with the credential adviser in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, which maintains various advising programs for your differing career plans. The Graduate School of Education offers a program of graduate studies leading to a Single Subject Teaching Credential in English or a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and a Master of Arts in Education. At the undergraduate level, they offer an Education Minor which helps further prepare interested students for the Teacher Education Program.
6.4. Letters of Recommendation
Most graduate programs require 3 letters of recommendation with your application. Letters should come from faculty, not from a TA (though a TA is sometimes asked to assist in providing a faculty member information for a letter). Letters of recommendation should ideally come from faculty who are familiar with your work and who are enthusiastic about your chances in graduate school. One way to make sure that this is the case would be to visit professors in their office hours on a regular basis, discuss with them your interest in graduate school before you ask them for letters of recommendation. Have them help you in deciding which schools would be best for you considering your interests. Provide your letter writers with lots of time to complete a letter-do not give them forms a week before the application is due. Provide your letter writers with samples of your written work from classes here, a copy of your statement of purpose, a copy of your writing sample, and a copy of your transcript. You will want to ask them if they need anything else from you well in advance. Again, meet with your letter writers early and often to ask about their suggestions for programs, to talk about your statement of purpose, and to generally establish a good rapport. Always provide a stamped, addressed envelope for your letter writers, fill in recommendation forms with your name, etc., and present materials in an organized way. It is a good idea to remind them of application due dates well in advance. Getting a good letter of recommendation is a privilege, not a right.
You will likely need to take both the GRE general and the GRE subject test. Each school is different though, so make sure you know what exams are required for each application. In some cases, schools do not require the exams at all, though that is a rarity. Check the GRE web site (www.gre.org) for information on dates and scheduling. In some cases, the exam will not be offered near you. You need to be ready to travel to take the exam. The general test is very similar to the SAT in that it has a verbal and a math section. In addition, the GRE also includes a logic section. It is very useful (but costly) to take a preparation course. If you cannot take a course, do be sure to buy one of the preparation books and practice ahead of time. The subject exam is now only given on the computer, so make sure you are comfortable with that environment. The subject test is still paper-based. It is very important that you take the exams on time —otherwise your scores will not be sent to the schools to which you are applying, and your application will be void. (Because the deadlines vary for different tests, it is important to confirm the deadlines required for both the general and subject tests far in advance at the official website of the GRE.)
Be sure you prepare yourself for any required exams as best as possible. For literature programs, the subject exam in Literature in English is a comprehensive exam, which covers British and American literature (prose and poetry), as well as a significant number of questions about literary theory. A good strategy, if you have the time, would be to take elective courses in the major that increase your breadth of knowledge. Realize as well that these exams are costly; check the official website for most current pricing. You can take each of the exams more than once. The most recent score will be reported to schools.
6.6. Researching Graduate Programs
Researching programs is one of the best and most useful things you can do to prepare a successful application. You want to make sure you end up at a program that fits your interests and strengths-one at which faculty is enthusiastic about you as a student and as a future colleague. If a program doesn’t seem interested in what you have to offer it, you should not be interested in spending your time and money there. Begin by asking faculty members here about their recommendations on programs. Visit web-sites and give yourself lots of time to look at them. Ask lots of questions! Try to talk with faculty and current graduate students in each program. Find out about program requirements (exams, language requirements, teaching duties, course work). Ask about recent graduates: What is the job placement rate? Ask schools how many new students they admit every year. This will give you a sense of what the faculty/student ratio is. The lower the ratio, the better chance you have for the sort of personal attention you will need in finishing the degree. Does the department seem friendly? Do they sound excited about you and your interests? Do they put you on hold a lot? Find out about the area. Is it a place you could imagine living? Remember that you will likely be spending a good number of years of your life there. Find out about funding options. Will you be expected to teach? How many years of guaranteed funding do most incoming students get? Find out how much applying to the program costs. Application fees range from $30-$60. Find out about admission requirements. Some schools are very clear about GPAs and GRE scores. Don’t apply if you don’t qualify. Finally, explore the research faculty with whom you might be interested in working. Read what they have written. Does their work seem to fit with your interests? Again, you want to end up at a program that will nurture you and your individual project. Be sure there is someone there who you might like to have as a mentor in that respect.
6.7. Statements of Purpose and Writing Samples
All schools will ask for both a statement of purpose-a one to two page explanation of your interest in graduate school in general and your expected specialization-and a writing sample-a 10-25 page formal essay you have written while getting your BA. Spend lots of time on both! The statement of purpose is one of the things in your application that will set you off from the other applicants. You should think hard about why you want to go to graduate school, and why a particular program seems to be a good fit. In general, you should avoid the “I love literature” statement. Be ready to outline your interests as closely as you can. Explain what you want to work on and why a particular program’s faculty is exciting to you. If possible, have current faculty members (especially those writing your letters of recommendation) read your statement. Begin working on it early so you can revise! It might be worthwhile to ask a TA you trust to read it over as well, be sure to give them plenty of time to do this. Your writing sample should be a research paper from a class you have taken here. It should usually be from 10-25 pages long (again, check the requirements of each individual program, as they all differ) and should represent your best intellectual work. If it is in the field you want to pursue, all the better, but it need not be. Revise that writing sample substantially! Again, the revision is best done with the help of those faculty members writing you letters. You may want to ask (well in advance) what sort of changes might move the paper towards graduate level and work on those revisions for your applications.
Finally, you should be extremely organized. You might want to plan a 6-12 month schedule for this process, keeping in mind the deadlines of the various schools, exams, and a timetable for compiling your application materials. Also, be aware that each program has different requirements and different due dates for applications. Be sure you are aware of the nuances and are prepared to present your best application.