The following guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who regularly writes for online universities. She welcomes your comments at her email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a current English major about to finish my junior year of college, I have already begun thinking about possibilities regarding graduate school and whether or not I would like to pursue further study. Right now I’m leaning towards applying to PhD programs in literature to study Post-War American Literature, but I’m still not sure if I’m fully ready for the experience. Ultimately, I don’t have to really start applying until next fall, so I’ve got some more time to make up my mind.
But, just in case I do choose to go through with this plan, I’ve taken the past few months to research what I’d need to do next year and how exactly the application process works. Here below are some things I’ve discovered about the process. Because I’m looking into literature, some of the requirements might be a little different than those of the other disciplines; however, if you’re interested in applying to grad school, then this should be enough to give you a satisfactory sense as to the preparation and work involved in submitting your applications. Definitely be sure to check the specific requirements for the programs you’re interested in.
After you figure out what programs you’d like to apply to, you should go through the application packets for each program and compare them to see what similar materials each application requires and whether or not there are unique materials. Most commonly required by graduate school admissions departments are the following: copies of your curriculum vitae, three letters of recommendation, copies of your academic transcript, relevant test scores, a general statement of intent regarding what you’d like to do in graduate school, and a sample of your academic work.
When I talked to some of my mentors about applying to grad school, they gave me some good tips:
First of all, they told me to ask for letters of recommendation well in advance of the application deadline. This gives your recommenders plenty of time to write the recommendation and send it in. Also, they suggested that I remind my letter writers about two weeks before the deadline; any form of checking in is helpful. Also, if applicable, it might be helpful to give your recommender some ideas about what you’d like them to say. And, you’ll want to make the entire letter writing process as easy as possible. This means providing them with a stamped and addressed envelope or helping them submit the letter electronically. Finally, pick people who know your academic work well, as they are most qualified to speak about how you might work in a graduate program.
Secondly, you’ll want to take some time to prepare your academic application portfolio. Depending on what they want, you’ll need to select some materials that best objectively represent who you are as a student in the discipline. For example, I’ll probably find one of my literary criticism papers and edit it to make sure it’s a good sample of my work. I’ll even ask one of my mentors to go over it with me, if possible.
Thirdly, my mentors explained that the statement of intent is perhaps most important because it functions as a way for you to explain your own academic work. Almost everything else in the application tells admissions committees something about you academically, but you have little control over how to present it. Your statement of intent, however, is a way to provide a context for the admissions committee. Essentially, you are telling them this is how I see myself as an academic scholar in the field.
Of course, the advice shouldn’t be limited to these three tips; these are pretty basic, which means there a good place to start as you begin to apply to graduate programs, so you should definitely talk with a mentor in your undergraduate program for more specific help.
[Interested in contacting Katheryn directly? Click here to email her.]