Preparing Yourself for Graduate School in English
Choosing M.A. or Ph.D. / Finding the Right Program / Timeline
for Preparing to Apply / The
Application Portfolio / Some Grad Programs / Top Ranked Programs / Alumni / Careers for
Goals of Graduate
Programs in English Literature
- Students in English literature graduate programs learn to undertake
academic, scholarly research and publications at advanced levels while
developing experience teaching composition and literature at the college
- Students who do not love the
readings and workloads in SEGL 483: Theories of Literary Criticism and SEGL
490: Senior Seminar will not love the readings and workloads in graduate
- See Phil Agre's "Advice for Undergraduates Considering Graduate
- Graduate school should not be seen as a
guarantee of career placement.
- There is a much
larger supply of job searchers than of job openings. The MLA report of "Placement
Outcomes for Modern Language Ph.D.s: Findings from the MLA's 2003-2004 Survey of
PhD Placement" notes that in 2004, there were 933 Ph.D. recipients in
English and 406 tenure-track placements (80). According to the "Report
on the MLA's 2004 Survey of Hiring Departments," there were 452 job
openings for tenure-track assistant professors at four-year colleges. Of these openings, 87.2
percent were filled. Counting non-tenure-track positions,
618 positions were advertised at four-year colleges overall. There were 823
new Ph.D.s in American and English literature, according to the 2005
Survey of Earned Doctorates.
- The MLA's
"Placement Outcomes for Modern Language Ph.D.s" further reports that 44.6 percent of
Ph.D. graduates in American, British and Commonwealth Literature placed into a
tenure-track position at a two-year, four-year or research university in their
first job (85). Many graduate programs are attempting to more closely match the
number of new Ph.D.s with the number of new job openings, and they have been
decreasing the size of their entering classes. Pursue a Ph.D. in English
literature because you love it, not because you are looking for a quick way to
Choosing between an M.A. (Master's of Arts) and a Ph.D.
- Master's programs
generally take two years to complete and focus on research-based seminar work,
culminating in a master's thesis and/or comprehensive written and oral
examination of knowledge.
- For Ph.D.
programs, the 2005 Survey of Earned Doctorates lists 9.7 years as the
median time in graduate school from start to completion of the Ph.D. in
literary fields. For English Language and Literature, 55.9 percent of Ph.D.
graduates have definite employment plans at time of graduation.
- See the Washington & Jefferson College's Guide to Graduate Degrees in English for a
discussion of the difference between a M.A. and a Ph.D.
Finding the Right Graduate Program for
Graduate programs are much more
personalized and specialized than undergraduate degrees. Students must
consider several factors in selecting a graduate program that will fit your
- Consider job
placement rates to see which programs successfully prepare their
students for college-level teaching and careers in other fields. Individual
programs also track their placement rates. You may want to ask program
directors about placement rates as you research potential programs.
- With whom will you study? What genre, region or period
of literature will you study? Which scholars within the field of English
literature do you admire? Graduate programs tend to specialize in certain areas
of literary studies. A school that ranks highly in medieval literature may rank
poorly in American literature. Check rankings for your individual field.
Research the faculty in graduate programs and select only those programs where
you can find faculty who will serve as your mentors as well as
- Where would you like to study?
There are hundreds of M.A. and Ph.D. programs throughout the United States. If
you limit yourself geographically, you may also limit your ability to gain
acceptance into the program that is right for you.
will you pay for graduate school? The cost of tuition is not the main factor
in determining the cost of attending graduate school, and attempting to remain
"in-state" is not necessarily the most cost effective choice. Research the
available funding for graduate students as you research other qualities about
the programs. Many programs offer teaching assistantships, research
assistantships or editorial assistantships that provide a stipend and/or
tuition waiver. In other programs, students may receive fellowships, grants or
other financial support. An out-of-state program with guaranteed financial
support may be less of a financial burden than an in-state program with fewer
funding sources for students.
- Will you be
accepted? Most graduate programs accept fewer than 20 students each year.
Acceptance rates are often less than 10 percent. Students accepted into the
most competitive programs have often been published in academic undergraduate
journals, have presented at undergraduate conferences and/or have won national
grants or fellowships even before they applied to graduate school. Consider
the acceptance rates of graduate programs and ask questions of program
directors to find programs that fit your level of experience and preparation.
Acceptance rates for many programs are available at the
U.S. News and World Report guide to "America's Best Graduate Schools."
Click for a Timeline
for Preparing for and Applying to English Literature Graduate
- The application form for your chosen
- Three letters of recommendation from professors
who can discuss your potential for academic excellence.
- Writing samples that demonstrate an ability to communicate
effectively and analyze texts with insight.
- A statement of purpose that describes why you want a graduate
degree and what you plan to study. See Tips for writing the personal essayin the Timeline for Preparing and Applying.
- A copy of transcripts from every undergraduate institution you
Details of Some M.A.
and Ph.D. English Programs
- Clemson University offers an M.A. in English
- Students must have at least a 3.0 undergraduate
- Students must earn a minimum score of
500 on the GRE verbal and quantitative sections and minimum of 4.5 on the
- Students must also submit
two letters of recommendation, transcripts and a statement of purpose along
with the application materials.
- The University of South Carolina at Columbia offers an M.A. and
- Students must have completed at
least 24 credits in upper-division undergraduate literature courses with a GPA
of at least 3.0 for the M.A. and at least 3.5 for the Ph.D.
- Students must earn "satisfactory scores" on the GRE
general test and Subject Test of Literature in English. Students must earn
verbal scores at or above the 75th percentile.
must also submit at least two letters of recommendation, transcripts, an 8-10
page writing sample and a statement of purpose along with the online
University of Georgia at Athens
must have at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA with 3.65 or better in the
- Students must earn strong GRE
scores, with a verbal score in the 90th percentile and at least 1200 in verbal
and quantitative combined
- Students must
also submit three letters of recommendation, transcripts, a 10-15 page
writing sample, a statement of purpose and a curriculum vitae, along with the
- The College of Charleston and The Citadel offer an M.A. program,
particularly suited to K-12 teachers who would like to advance their knowledge
- Students must have a minimum
GPA of 2.5 overall and 3.0 in the major.
- Students must earn a minimum score of 500 on the GRE verbal and
quantitative sections and minimum of 4 on the writing section.
- Students must also submit two letters of
recommendation, transcripts, a writing sample and a statement of purpose, along
with the application materials.
- Western Michigan University offers an M.A. in literature,
an M.A. with an emphasis on teaching and a Ph.D. in literature.
- Students must have 20 credits in undergraduate
literature courses with a minimum GPA of 3.0.
must take the GRE general test for the Master's program and both the GRE
general and subject tests for the Ph.D. program.
must also submit a 10 page writing sample, transcripts, statement of purpose
and three letters of recommendation.
Top Ranked English Ph.D. Programs Overall from the 2009
U.S. News and World Report (Rankings in specializations
Ranking order is in parenthesis following the
name of the University
- University of
- Stanford University
University (Connecticut) (2)
- Columbia University (New York)
- Harvard University (Massachusetts)
- University of Pennsylvania (4)
- Cornell University (New York) (7)
University (New Jersey) (7)
- University of
Chicago (Illinois) (7)
- Duke University (North Carolina) (10)
- University of California-Los
- University of Virginia (10)
- Brown University (Rhode Island) (13)
- Johns Hopkins University (Maryland)
- University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (13)
- University of
North Carolina-Chapel Hill (16)
- Rutgers State University-New Brunswick (New Jersey)
of Texas-Austin (17)
of Wisconsin-Madison (17)
- New York University (20)
- Northwestern University (Illinois) (20)
- CUNY Graduate School and University Center (New York)
- University of
by Dr. Celena E. Kusch with contributions by Nicole Manigo, Rachel McAllister
and Candice McCuen