Timeline for Preparing for and Applying to
Programs in English
Applying to graduate school means
building up the academic experiences that will lead to a strong
In your first two years of college:
- Learn to be a good student
- Get involved in the school and
- Establish good academic relationships with your
- Complete English courses that give you a wide base of
background knowledge. You are strongly encouraged to complete
ENGL 300: Introduction to the Study of Literature; ENGL 301: Mythical, Classical and Biblical Backgrounds and the 200-level British or American survey courses
(ENGL 279/280 or ENGL 289/290) by the end of your sophomore year.
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 both American and British courses in a variety of time periods throughout
your junior year. If possible, complete ENGL 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 literary clubs. Contribute to
or edit a student
literary publication. Work with tutoring programs in the Writing
Center or elsewhere. Or, coordinate a presenting in literary
readings or events. Get involved in the field to help you determine whether or
not this career is right for you.
research helps to prepare you for graduate work and can help make
your application stand out. 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
- Establish good academic relationships with your
professors. Discuss 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
In the summer after your junior year or the summer
before you plan to apply for graduate school:
- Research the GRE, Take the GRE sample tests available
online, and enroll in GRE preparation workshops if you are concerned about your
performance. The general GRE is necessary to apply to most graduate schools.
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 were Verbal 566, Quantitative 551, and Writing 4.9 for English
Language and Literature and Verbal 571, Quantitative 566, Writing 4.9 for
American Language and Literature.
- 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.
- 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 will serve you
- Take the practice GRE Subject Test (available online) twice and
study with friends to fill in knowledge in the areas you missed.
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
In the Fall of your senior year or one year before you
plan to attend graduate school:
- 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 and 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
- 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
- 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. 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. Graduate faculty expect to receive
questions about their interests from potential applicants.
- 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.
- Many schools have
application deadlines in December. Do not wait until winter
break to fill out applications.
In spring of your senior year or
the spring before you plan to attend graduate school:
- Wait for
- 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
- 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
***Note: Many graduate schools
are happy to consider applications from students who take off a year or more to
work, travel or to gain additional experience after receiving a bachelor's
degree. The steps above may be completed after graduation, but you may wish to
ask your advisors for letters and assistance with the personal statement prior