If you are interested in applying to graduate school in English, be sure that you are significantly committed not only to reading literature, but also to learning about how the academic community analyzes and teaches literary texts. In entering graduate school, you are making a commitment to enter a community of scholars and thinkers who have chosen to work towards uncovering new and exciting ways to read and understand written texts, social movements and cultural events. Once you enter graduate school, you will make the transition from being a student to being a contributing member of a professional community. Graduate school is not just a continuation of your undergraduate studies: it is professional training.
English Ph.D. Employment
Before you decide to apply to graduate school, you should spend some time researching employment outcomes for recent English PhDs. Although many English PhDs find very fulfilling careers outside of academia, the majority of students who enter English PhD programs want to become professors. However, the academic job market is extremely competitive, and many with PhDs in English do not find tenure-track academic employment. Before you decide to pursue a PhD in English, you should educate yourself as much as possible on the current academic job market. Seriously consider the possibility that you may spend several years of your life in graduate school and not secure academic employment upon graduating.
Here are a few resources about graduate school and PhD employment to get you started:
- “Our Ph.D. Employment Problem, Part I,” The Trend: The Blog of the MLA Office of Research
- “Should You Go To Graduate School?”, The Professor Is In
- “The Cost of a Ph.D.: Students Report Hefty Debt Across Many Fields,” The Chronicle of Higher Education
- The Adjunct Project, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Preparing for Graduate School: General Advice
If you think you would like to apply to graduate school, you should get started as early as possible. Begin by building a high-profile student image. How good do you look on paper? Strongly consider writing an Honors Thesis and participating in the Arnhold Program. Additionally, select an area of specialization within the English major. The English Department at UCSB offers several choices for major specializations. If your area of interest does not fall into one of these categories, you may also design your own specialization and seek approval of this course of study from the Department.
You should also get to know your professors. By the beginning of your senior year, you should have built a relationship with at least 3 of your professors. You are going to need them to write letters of recommendation – and the better they know you, the better their recommendation.
Finally, you should also learn as much as you can about what graduate school is really like before you decide to apply. Sit in on a graduate seminar here at UCSB (just ask an instructor); learn what you can about different graduate program requirements from their websites; and, most importantly, talk to your TAs and other graduate students.
Researching Graduate Programs
Talk to your faculty advisors about your interest in graduate school, which areas of literary study you are interested in, and which graduate programs have strong reputations in these areas of interest. Go to the websites of graduate programs in which you are interested and look at the courses they offer. If these course don’t fulfill your areas of interest, cross these programs off your list no matter how prestigious the reputation. Research the faculty with whom you might be interested in working. Read what they have written. Does their work seem to fit your interests? Make sure they are around, teaching classes, and advising students – not on leave, working in other departments, etc. Also use these websites to find out about admissions requirements, determine application fees, and compare program requirements. Do not apply to programs where you do not meet the GPA or GRE admissions standards.
Find out about funding options for the programs in which you are interested. How many years of guaranteed funding do most incoming students get? What about fellowships for continuing students? Will you be expected to teach? Are research assistantships available? You should not go to graduate school if you are not fully funded in some way. Also find out about the town or city where the university is located. How expensive is it to live there? Would you be able to live there on a graduate student stipend?
Find out about the job placement record of recent graduates from these programs. How many students were seeking academic jobs in a given year, and how many found positions? Many departments now list this information on their websites, but some do not. You can also contact the program for more detailed information.
Most importantly, you should talk to a trusted faculty advisor about applying to graduate school in English as early as possible. They will give you important information about requesting letters of recommendation; taking the GRE; preparing your statement of purpose, personal statement, and writing sample; and the graduate application calendar.