Should I go to graduate school?
Since graduate school demands several years of commitment to a particular course of study this is a decision that should not be made lightly or quickly. Spend some time talking to people and doing a little bit of research. Some of the questions you may want to ask are: whether you have the coursework necessary to begin graduate study in your field of choice, how to finance graduate school, what the real prospects are for post-graduate school employment in your discipline, whether you are ready to apply now or want to wait, and what the culture of graduate school might be like in your field.
What can I do as an undergraduate to prepare?
Although a few individuals know relatively early that they want to go on to graduate school, most only begin considering it rather late in their undergraduate careers and many decide only after leaving college, sometimes several years later. If you are considering graduate school, some early strategies are listed below–but they are by no means necessary, so do not worry if you haven't followed them.
Inform yourself as much as you can about the possibilities and limitations that a graduate degree provides and the demands of graduate school, in order to determine whether it is the best option for you.
If you already have specific areas of interest, take classes in that field; if you are unsure where your specific interests lie, take a range of classes; if you want to provide a good foundation for a test like the GRE Subject Test in Literature, take some survey courses to cover any gaps in your coverage.
- Take a literary theory course.
- Take a few courses that ask you to write longer research papers that might serve as future writing samples.
- Identify a few professors who might write good letters of recommendation for you and keep in touch with them.
Where should I apply?
Once you've decided to apply, begin some more focused research on institutions and programs in order to find those best suited to your interests and approach. The two best resources with which to begin this research are discussions with professors you trust, and the web sites of English departments (see resources below for access information). In deciding where to apply, some questions you might want to consider are: areas of faculty expertise (especially in your areas of interest); competitiveness of the program (both to get into and once you are in it); structure and size of program (i.e., relationship between the MA and PhD programs, number of students and faculty); availability of teaching assistantships or financial aid; kinds of classes offered; job placement record of recent graduates.
What does the application process involve?
The application typically involves written evidence of your abilities and interests (a writing sample and/or personal statement, and letters of recommendation) and numerical evidence (your GPA and standardized test scores). Recognize that once you've completed your coursework and taken the necessary standardized test to your satisfaction, those numerical results are unchangeable. Do not spend time worrying uselessly over your GPA or GRE scores; instead, work hard on preparing excellent essays and on choosing your recommenders carefully and wisely.
How do I finance graduate study?
If you are pursuing a PhD in English, you should be able to qualify for a teaching assistantship which typically includes a small stipend and a tuition waiver in exchange for teaching a writing course each term. Because the terms of these vary, you should consult department websites for more information. You should not expect to pay for a PhD program.
How do I decide where to go?
If you receive several acceptances (in which case, congratulations!), you should consider carefully which school will best meet your needs and desires. Only you can make that determination, but it will help to discuss your options with others whom you trust. In some cases, you might be invited to visit the campus and meet with students and faculty–an excellent opportunity to get a "feel" for the program. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the department.