How do you apply?
Calendar for Applying to Graduate School
Applications are due from December 1 through February 15 (depending upon the school) for the subsequent fall semester. The application process typically includes: letters of recommendation; results of the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE's); a personal statement; a writing sample; college transcripts; a financial statement; and a fee.
1. Letters of recommendation: typically three, mainly from college English professors, sometimes sent separately and sometimes with the rest of the application, and optimally requested at least two months before the application deadline (or earlier: especially if you plan to wait a few years before applying to graduate schools, you might want to request letters while your professors still remember you well). When you request letters of recommendation, you should provide your recommenders with as much information as you possibly can, e.g. copies of your application essays, writing sample, and other application materials; copies of past assignments (with the instructor's comments); a list of deadlines; and whatever else you think will help the writer produce an effective letter tailored to your specific interests and goals. How to get a good letter of recommendation.
2. Graduate Records Examinations (GRE's): two exams, the "general" test (like the SAT, but augmented), and the "subject" test, which focuses specifically on English and American literature. Tests are offered three times yearly (the general test is typically offered in March, June, and October; the subject test, April, November, and December). Keep in mind that the registration deadline is typically six weeks before the exam. If, for example, you need to take the general exam in time for a December application, you will need to register for the exam by September 21, (2007). For more information on the GRE's see the ETS website at http://www.ets.org. Be sure to take practice exams beforehand, and familiarize yourself with the names, periods, literary groups (metaphysical poets, Harlem Renaissance, etc) in the recent Norton Anthologies of English.
3. The personal statement: a description of your potential area of interest, course of study, and research work. The personal statement differs strongly from the college application essay: it is a professional statement of purpose, and should focus on specific plans and interests (rather than your general reasons for wanting to study literature). In addition to pointing out the highlights from your transcript as well as mentioning all the things the transcript does not reveal (awards won, activities or projects taken on, etc), your letter should construct a meaningful and compelling narrative about your life, your intellectual growth, and your scholarly ambitions.
Successful personal statements often say how a proposed plan of study builds upon work already done. And they are always the result of consultation with professors or other people who might help you refine your plan and its description. Be sure to research each institution you are applying to and tailor each statement to each program, mentioning specific professors, their interests, and the resources you want to work with. Imagine yourself as part of that scholarly community and consider the contributions you will make to it. Be honest about what your particular strengths are, and think about how your undergraduate experience at a small liberal arts school might make you stand out in unique ways from candidates applying from other institutions. However, in the end what you really want to show them is that you have a brilliant, creative mind, that you have some critical sophistication, and that you write well.
4. The writing sample: a sample of your best work, typically no more than 20 pages, perhaps from an honors thesis (if you wrote one) or your senior exercise. You might want to revise the sample for the purposes of submission (again, in consultation with a professor). Keep in mind that graduate admissions committees typically focus a great deal of attention on the writing sample (in many cases, more than the attention they give to grades and test scores).
5. College transcripts: your grades, sent directly from the college (and requested early enough to allow time for processing and mailing).
6. Financial Statement: not always required, and self-explanatory, except for the peculiarities of your financial relationship to your parents at this point (be prepared for the fact that their financial situation is still relevant). But the "aid package" you receive in graduate school tends not to be figured according to need
7. The fee: can be expensive (typically around $50 - $75) and may therefore limit the number of schools to which you apply.