Applying to Grad School

Way to go! You have now targeted schools where you'd like to complete your graduate study, and you've done your "homework" by reading as much as you can about the graduate programs. So what's the next step?

  • Find out when the application deadline is for the schools to which you plan to apply. Applications are often accepted in late December or early January for the following autumn, though some schools do have a "rolling admission" process. Request information and application instructions from each school.
  • Prepare all documents that are required by your target schools. Most schools will require these admission materials, but you should check with each prospective graduate program before proceeding:

MA / PhD
 Application Official undergrad transcripts Statement of purpose Critical writing sample GRE General Test scores GRE Eng Lit. Test scores
3 letters of recommen-dationApplication fee 

 Application Official undergrad transcripts Statement of purpose  GRE General Test scores 3 letters of recommen-dationApplication fee

 Application Official undergrad transcripts Statement of purpose Creative writing sample GRE General Test scores 3 letters of recommen-dationApplication fee

  • Consider writing to appropriate faculty members at your target schools. Tell them about your academic interests (or interests in creative writing), find out where their published work is available. Without being overbearing or a pest, try to maintain some dialogue with prospective faculty mentors. This way, you become more than just another name on a list of applicants.
  • Work hard at perfecting your statement of purpose. Your statement of purpose is an extremely important component of your graduate admission packet. Ask peers, faculty, or advisers to review what you've written, and plan to make multiple drafts.
  • Polish your writing sample. Your critical writing sample should represent your best work in an area related to the academic interest(s) you want to pursue in your graduate study. Continue to revise and refine it. Work with faculty whenever possible on your revisions. Prepare to turn in a clean copy (don't turn in a sample that has been graded or commented upon) that has been edited thoroughly. Your creative writing sample should consist of your best work in either poetry or fiction.

  • Take the appropriate GRE tests. For MA/PhD, often both the General Aptitude Test and the Literature in English Subject Test are required.

  • The GRE (Graduate Records Exam) General Test has sections that test your verbal, analytical, and quantitative ability. (Your verbal and analytical scores will be most important for graduate study in English.)

    The GRE Literature in English Subject Test consists of approximately 230 questions on poetry, drama, biography, the essay, the short story, the novel, criticism, literary theory, and the history of the language. For information about the tests, sample questions, and registration, visit
    • Request letters of recommendation from faculty members who know you well enough to discuss your work and your potential in detail. Graduate admission committees need to see letters that speak specifically to your accomplishments as an undergraduate, your potential as a graduate student, and your potential for fitting into and contributing to a community of scholars in English language and literature. Good letters of recommendation are an important component in admission decisions.

    ***To assist faculty whom you've asked to write recommendations for you, consider providing them with a draft of your statement of purpose or a brief summary of your recent work and accomplishments and your plans.
    • Fill out all of the application paperwork completely and submit all requested information (personal statement, GRE scores, recommendations, etc.) on time. Most schools have an application checklist. Make sure that there's nothing missing. If you have questions about any of the materials, contact the graduate program adviser for the targeted program(s).
    • Apply for teaching assistantships and other available fellowship programs. There is usually a separate application for these funding opportunities. Most schools can direct you to other funding opportunities outside their own departments as well.