Graduate School: The What, When, Where, and How

By: Sarah Bonney

For anyone thinking about a career in academics, graduate school is a must, and even if you’re not, an English MA or PhD can be a valuable addition to your English BA and your ability as a reader, writer, and critic. Although graduate school isn’t for everyone and a graduate degree isn’t necessary for every career, deciding if, when, and where to go to graduate school can be an overwhelming decision. If you’re wondering if graduate school just might be for you, here’s a little information to give you a taste of what graduate school means and how to get your application started.


Master’s Degree- An English MA takes 1-2 years depending on the school. You have the chance to hone your analysis and writing skills as you take classes based on a specialty you select early in your program. While an English BA gives you an overview of English literature and the various genres of English literature, an MA allows you to specialize in a subject of your choice; some example of specialities include Medieval Studies, Creative Writing, 20th Century American Literature, and so on.

PhD- An English PhD takes 4-6 years depending on the school. If you aim to teach at the university level, you will need a PhD. Similarly to an MA, you will specialize, but your research and education will be at a deeper level than that of an MA. In the past, prospective PhD students were required to have completed an MA before applying, but in recent years, many schools have begun allowing students without an MA to enroll in PhD programs. This is dependent on university policy.


While many choose graduate school years after they graduate with their BA as a career changer or a promotion catalyst, going to graduate school right after undergraduate is arguably the easiest transition. However, graduate school can be a beneficial choice at any stage in life, and the decision of when is based on personal circumstances.


After deciding you’d like to attend graduate school, your next big decision is where to apply. There are many factors you’ll want to consider when looking at schools, and it does require some research. Here are some questions to be thinking about when considering a school’s location:

* Geographically, is it somewhere I’d like to live? If you’re considering a PhD, you will be living there for 4-6 years.

* How expensive would it be to live in this area? Living in New York City is a lot more expensive than living in Provo.

* If you’re single and ready to mingle: How big is the YSA ward in the area? You can check this on

* Does this school have faculty members I would be interested in working with? On your application, you need to select faculty members you would like to work with. This is also something you’ll want to address in your statement of purpose. (See “How?”)

Visiting schools is highly recommended before applying. A quick day trip to the campus will give you a better feel for the school than hundreds of hours on their university website.


In order to attend any graduate school, you need to apply and be accepted. Application deadlines range from early December through April during the academic year preceding the year you plan to enroll in a graduate program. Most English graduate school programs require:

1. An online application accessible on their university website

2. A writing sample. Requirements can range from 6-20 pages.

3. A GRE test score. You may also need to take the GRE English Literature subject test, although not all graduate school applications require it.

4. Three letters of recommendation.

5. Statement of purpose. This is your application essay.

6. Transcript(s) from all previously attended universities.

7. Curriculum Vitae/Resume.

8. Application fee. This varies depending on the school.

Some Final Words

Deciding if, when, and where to go to graduate school are intimidating decisions, but if you have questions about whether it could be right for you, there are people on campus reading and willing to help. Make an appointment with an advisor or, even better, stop by one of your professor’s office hours. Any one of them will have an MA, a PhD, or both and will most likely be happy to talk to you about their experiences and your concerns.

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