Pursuing Graduate School in Cultural Studies or Film Studies
LLC / English Degree / Careers for English Majors
Finding Programs / Timeline for Preparing / The Application Portfolio / Some Graduate Programs
What is Cultural Studies?
Cultural Studies is an emerging discipline that attempts to study the elements that come together to make a culture: gender, sexuality, race, history, religion, various forms of media, beliefs, etc. Scholars in this field study nontraditional texts, including television, media, popular culture, film, advertising, and the Internet. Much like English, Cultural and Film Studies are interdisciplinary fields that allow and encourage the use of methodologies or approaches from history, sociology, psychology, anthropology, communications, philosophy, and many other fields. Those who seek a degree in this field generally believe that the analysis and evaluation of culture is a liberatory process that can and will result in political and social change. Due to the political nature of the field, its definition is constantly evolving.
What is Film Studies?
Film Studies is the study of film through theory, criticism, and individual interpretation. Film Studies is merely a specified branch of Cultural Studies, and has the same goals and methods.
Goals of Cultural Studies/Film Studies Graduate Programs
- In Cultural Studies and Film Studies graduate programs students learn to undertake academic, scholarly research and publication at advanced levels.
- Students who do not love the readings and workloads in SFLM 482, SEGL 483, and SEGL 490 will not love the readings and workloads in graduate programs.
- 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% of Ph.D. graduates have definite employment plans at time of graduation.
- See Phil Agre's "Advice for Undergraduates Considering Graduate School"
Finding the Right Cultural Studies/Film Studies Graduate Program for You
There are Cultural and Film Studies programs across the country that offer Masters of Arts/Sciences and Doctoral degrees. 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 particular needs:
- Consider job placement rates to see which programs successfully prepare their students for college-level teaching and careers in other fields. Individual programs will also track their placement rates, and you may want to ask program directors about placement rates as you research potential programs.
- With whom will you study? Which authors within the field of Cultural Studies or Film Studies do you admire? Research the faculty in Cultural Studies and Film Studies graduate programs, and select only those programs where you can find faculty who will serve as your mentors as well as instructors.
- Where would you like to study? Although you may pursue a Cultural Studies or Film Studies focus in English graduate programs throughout the country, only 30 schools offer dedicated Cultural Studies or Film Studies graduate programs. If you limit yourself geographically, you may also limit your ability to gain acceptance into the program that is right for you.
- How will you pay for graduate school? In 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%. Students accepted into the most competitive students 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.
Applying for Cultural Studies/Film Studies Graduate Programs
- In your first two years of college...
- Learn to be a good student
- Get involved in the school and community
- Establish good academic relationships with your professors.
- Complete SEGL and SFLM courses that give you a wide base of background knowledge. You are strongly encouraged to complete SEGL 300 Introduction to the Study of Literature, SEGL 301 Mythical, Classical, and Biblical Backgrounds, the 200-level British or American survey courses (SEGL 279/280 or SEGL 289/290), and SFLM 240 Introduction to Film by the end of your sophomore year.
- In your junior year of college...
- Begin to identify your area of interest and your goals.
- Talk with your advisors about selecting courses that will prepare you for the graduate programs you wish to pursue. Take American and British literature courses to supplement film courses throughout your junior year. Literary narrative strategies often form the foundations for film. If possible, complete SFLM 482 Film Theory and Criticism or SEGL 483 Theories of Literary Criticism in the spring of your junior year or fall semester of senior year.
- Participate in on-campus or community-based film clubs, tutoring programs, film screenings, or events. Get involved in the field to help you determine whether or not this career is right for you.
- Internships are encouraged by graduate schools, because they show that you are committed to learning about your field through first-hand experience.
- Consider submitting your academic work to an undergraduate journal or presenting that work at an undergraduate conference where you can get a taste of professional academic life. The JUMP (Journal of Undergraduate Multimedia Projects) at the University of Texas at Austin is a good place to submit multimedia cultural studies work. See their Call for Projects for topics for special issues.
- Establish good academic relationships with your professors, discussing how to improve your academic performance and to achieve your academic goals. These relationships will be necessary when you request letters of recommendation for your applications.
- Begin to research graduate admission tests, such as the GRE, scholarships, and financial aid.
- In the summer after your junior year...
- Research the GRE, Take the GRE sample tests available online, and enroll in GRE preparation workshops if you are concerned about your performance. The standard GRE is necessary to apply to graduate school. You may wish to take the GRE general test over the summer if you have taken all of your general education courses, particularly in math. The mean GRE scores from 2003-2006 for English Language and Literature--Other were Verbal 553, Quantitative 544, and Writing 4.8.
- If you are considering a Ph.D. program, or if the Master's programs you are considering require it, prepare for the GRE Subject Test of Literature in English. The GRE Subject Test of Literature in English can be an indication of your analytical understanding of texts, periods, and ideas, but is not a requirement of most institutions.
- You should have taken courses in a range of historical periods from different national perspectives by this point in your college career. Identify any gaps in your coursework, and spend extra time reading important texts in those areas.
- Students are encouraged to review all areas of literature and literary theory in preparation for the GRE Subject Test. Reviewing the Norton Anthology or Heath Anthology collections of British and American literature would serve you well.
- Take the practice GRE Subject Test (available online) twice and study with friends to fill in knowledge in the areas you missed.
- Plan and register to take the test in late summer or early fall.
- Research graduate programs (See the Peterson's Guide, Graduate School Guide, and PhDs.org to identify M.A. and/or Ph.D. programs), obtain applications materials, and start organizing application deadlines and requirements.
- Prepare a draft of your statement of purpose or application essay. See the University of California-Berkeley tips for preparing graduate school statements and the Washington University guide to "Writing the Statement of Purpose" for graduate school in English. Drew and Karen Appleby list several tips for avoiding application mistakes in "Kisses of Death in the Graduate School Application Process," published in Teaching of Psychology 33.1 (2006): 19-24. Several online communities also offer advice and serve as a sounding board for students applying to graduate school.
- Select and edit your writing sample. Include enough work to meet requirements for 5-page and 10-page samples, depending on school requirements.
- In fall of your senior year...
- Request letters of recommendation from your advisor and professors. Most schools require three letters. Plan to discuss your goals and accomplishments with your professors when you make these requests. Bring a resume/vita, the recommendation form, a stamped, addressed envelope, a copy of your statement of purpose, and copies of excellent work you produced in their courses (if not recent). Make these requests early to give your professors time to review your academic performance and write thoughtful letters. If your applications are due in December, try to make your requests in October.
- Take the GRE general test and subject test (if needed) by mid-October to ensure your scores will be available by application deadlines.
- Review and revise your graduate school application essays with the aid of your advisor, professors, and/or the Career Center.
- Review and revise your writing sample(s) with the aid of your advisor and/or professors.
- Contact graduate programs with questions about application or program details. Many universities allow, but do not require, an applicant to interview with faculty members within the Film Studies field. Interviewing often makes an impact on the faculty, and can be one method of showing your interest, knowledge, and ability to intelligently communicate with others. Some colleges encourage you to sit in on classes so that you can get the feel of the campus, teaching styles, and the level of academic proficiency necessary to excel in classes. Though this does not actually make you "stand out," it is helpful for both the applicant and admission committee. Some universities, like the University of California -- Davis, encourage students to contact faculty members directly to find out more about programs or areas of interest.
- Order your transcripts from the University.
- Complete and submit applications for graduate programs by the deadlines. Also submit any relevant financial aid forms by the deadlines. See the UC Davis "10 Tips on Successfully Applying to a Ph.D. Program, and 10 Definite Don'ts" for more advice.
- In spring of your senior year...
- Wait for offers.
- Consider a back-up plan for additional financial support.
- If you have multiple acceptances, discuss your options with your advisor/professors and consider visiting campuses to help you make your decision.
- Notify schools of your decisions BY THE DECISION DEADLINE (often April 15).
- Start to build a good relationship with your program's department assistant to get connected with graduate student email lists, contact lists for apartments and other housing, and orientation/registration deadlines.
What should be in my portfolio?
- Applications for your selected schools.
- Approximately 3 letters of recommendation from professors in related fields
- 1-2 writing samples that demonstrate an ability to communicate in an organized, effective, and analytical manner within your chosen field (or a related field, if necessary)
- A statement of purpose that describes why you want a graduate degree and what you plan to study
- A copy of your transcripts from every institution you have previously attended
Some Cultural Studies Graduate Programs
According to the 2007 edition of Peterson's Graduate Schools in the U.S., there are 18 universities that offer degrees in Cultural Studies. They are listed here along with the degrees offered and the tuition of the college:
- Biola University, CA -- M.A., Ph.D. ($4,538)
- Claremont Graduate University, CA -- M.A., Ph.D. ($26,236)
- Cornell University, NY -- M.A., Ph.D. ($30,000)
- Cornerstone University, MI -- P,M $7,698
- George Mason University, VA -- Ph.D. ($279/credit Resident, $705/credit NR)
- Simmons College, MA -- M.A ($850/credit)
- Southern Illinois University Carbondale-- M.A. ($192/credit Resident, $480/credit NR)
- Stony Brook University, NY -- M.A. ($6,900 Resident/$10,920 NR)
- Union University, TN -- M.A. ($5,400)
- University of Alaska Fairbanks -- M.A. ($3,996 Resident, $8,154 NR)
- University of California, Davis -- M.A., Ph.D. ($8,407 Resident, $14,694 NR)
- University of Chicago, IL -- M.A., Ph.D. ($31,680)
- University of Houston - Clear Lake, TX -- M.A. ($1,962 Resident, $4,617 NR)
- University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus -- Ph.D. ($4,087 Resident, $7,637 NR)
- University of Pittsburgh, PA -- M.A., Ph.D. ($29,386)
- The University of Texas at San Antonio -- M.A., Ph.D. ($172/credit Resident, $422/credit NR)
- University of the Sacred Heart, PR -- M.A. ($3,150)
- Valparaiso University, IN -- M.A. ($355/credit)
The closest college to Spartanburg, SC that has a Cultural Studies program is George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. The university offers a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies that requires 48 hours of courses in theory, methods, topic, and a specialization culminating in a dissertation. Although they do not offer a Master's in Cultural Studies, they suggest enrolling in an affiliated field (English, History, Sociology, or Interdisciplinary Studies) simultaneous to enrolling in their Ph.D. program. They require a full portfolio (listed above) as well as GRE scores to be considered for admission. Foreign language competency is required for completion of the program. They have over 65 faculty members, and offer fellowships and assistantships to eligible students.
The college that is the furthest away from Spartanburg, SC is the University of California, Davis. UC-Davis offers a M.A. and Ph.D. in Cultural Studies, but generally accepts students who clearly state they are interested in both programs. They require a full portfolio (listed above), GRE scores, a Resume/CV, and a Personal History Statement that explains how your background reflects your desire to pursue an education at their university. They enroll only 10 students from 150 applications into the Cultural Studies program per year. The Ph.D. program requires 64 hours of graduate coursework, a foreign language requirement, a dissertation, and a minimum GPA of 3.0.
Some Film Studies (Theory/Criticism) Graduate Programs
According to the 2007 edition of Peterson's Graduate Schools in the U.S., there are 12 universities that offer degrees in Film Studies:
- Boston University, MA -- M.A. ($29,988)
- Claremont Graduate University, CA -- M.A., Ph.D. ($26,236)
- College of Staten Island of the City University of New York -- M.A ($5,440 Resident, $10,200 NR)
- Emory University, GA -- M.A., Ph.D. ($30,246)
- New York University -- M.A., Ph.D. ($22,020)
- Ohio University -- M.A. ($7,162 Resident, $7,992 NR)
- San Francisco State University, CA -- M.A. ($1,707 Resident, $1,707 plus $339/hour NR)
- University of Chicago, IL -- M.A., Ph.D. ($31,680)
- The University of Iowa -- M.A., Ph.D. ($5,488 Resident, $15,972 NR)
- University of Kansas -- M.A., Ph.D. ($4,291 Resident, $11,018 NR)
- University of Miami, FL -- M.A., Ph.D. ($1,140/credit)
- University of Southern California -- M.A., Ph.D. ($30,472)
The closest college to Spartanburg, SC that has a Film Studies program is Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Emory University offers a M.A. and Ph.D. certificate in Film Studies. That M.A. has 2 options for completion: 1) Take 8 courses, a comprehensive take home exam, and an oral defense of your exam answers; 2) Take 7 courses as well as a Thesis Research project to be approved by the student's advisor. The Ph.D. certificate program requires that a student major in a separate, but related, field (English, Women's Studies, Art History, etc) with a concentration in Film Studies. The subsequent dissertation utilizes both fields of study a chosen topic. They require a full portfolio (see above) and GRE scores for consideration.
The college that is the furthest away from Spartanburg, SC is San Francisco State University in California. The university offers a M.A. in Cinema Studies, and requires previous coursework in film theory and criticism for applicants to be considered for the program. They require a full portfolio as listed above, Resume, and thesis proposal; no GRE score is required. A total of 30 hours are necessary to complete the program. A M.F.A. in Cinema is also offered, but this is aimed at students who are interested in pursuing a career in film production or direction.
Compiled by Rachel McAllister and Dr. Celena E. Kusch, Fall 2007