Grad school forum for English majors

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Hi everyone,

So here’s a little bit about me:

I’m a senior majoring in English with Creative Writing Emphasis. I’ve almost got my minor in Classical Studies (I love Greek mythology!) but I won’t be able to finish it as I’m graduating at the end of this summer. I love cooking, fashion, makeup, youtube-ing, some outdoorsy things like hiking and sunbathing, shopping, reading and writing poetry and short stories. I won’t be able to go to grad school in-state, because I wasn’t accepted to the one program that exists within Washington in the area of study I’m interested in. So, let’s get into the point of this post!

Yesterday my school hosted a forum/panel for English majors interested in going to graduate school. As I’m in the process of applying right now, I decided to give it a go and attend to see if there was any information that would be helpful for me. Just as I expected, the discussion was mainly focused on getting into MA or MFA programs, and there was also some talk about teaching. My mother is a teacher and has been for over 20 years, and I never had any desire to go in that direction even though the moment someone learns that I’m majoring in English, they generally ask, “Oh, are you going to be a teacher?” Although this wasn’t the ideal panel for me, I do think I learned some things I can pass on as general grad school application information:

Personal statement: On most applications you will be required to submit a personal statement. The main points to consider in this statement are as follows-

1. Don’t make it TOO personal, always keep in mind your audience and what they want to know about you. Do you have a special reason for your interest in the subject matter? Explore/explain something you are personally drawn to in the program’s area of study. Answer these questions expansively, with examples, but don’t ramble.

2. Divulge your future plans. Don’t be so specific that they will determine the program isn’t right for you personally, but have a clear direction. Always remember that this isn’t the direction you NEED to take if accepted, but it’s nice to know that the candidate’s personal statement is a statement and not a rambling, needy plea of acceptance.

3. Demonstrate your ideas and show what makes you unique, but don’t take risks. Write clearly and succinctly so that they can get the gist of what you are saying, and understand you better, but not outlandishly as to impress them with how “different” you can be.

4. Write specifically for the department to which you are applying. They like to know that you’ve done your research, you care about their programs aims and goals, and you haven’t picked one generic personal statement to target at several schools (though that may be tempting.) Show how you can contribute to the department, and specific post-school career goals that they can help you achieve. Make them feel valued. Theorize about your own work and where it would fit in a professional environment. Show that you are dedicated in many ways.

5. Have someone, or multiple people, that you trust look over your personal statement. If you’re still in undergraduate school or if you still have good contacts with faculty in your department, most of them will be glad to look over your statement. It never hurts to ask (politely.)

6. BE SPECIFIC. They want to know that you know what you’re talking about.

Letters of recommendation: Most programs also require letters of recommendation. Depending on the program it generally varies from 2-3. Here are some tips-

1. Figure out who you want to write your letters and contact them early. Five months is not too soon in advance. (Neither is eight, the longer the better.) Determine which of your professors or work contacts know you the best/would write about you in the most knowledgeable/positive way and also consider what contacts they may have in other schools/departments/fields. Use this to your advantage.

2. Prepare a packet for each recommender that includes sample work that you did in their class (if you were in class with them, in order to remind them), specific details to include in the letter, the description of the type of letter the school wants to receive, and how the letter should be delivered to the school. You want this letter to emphasize your professionalism, dedication to academic work, and dependability. No one wants a lazy grad student, no matter how brilliant they are.

Other general tips/information:

1. Have a plan B. Not everyone will get into grad school, no matter how many you apply to. It may be a good idea to take some time off, get real world working experience, and consider applying elsewhere as a last resort. Get some professional involvement outside of school which can strengthen your personal statement if you decide to re-apply.

2. In choosing a school, research professors or faculty members that you admire, and see where they went to school. Speak to them about their recommendations and suggestions. You may even be able to work with someone you admire if you end up at their institution, making the process even more rewarding.

3. Look at program lengths and requirements. If there are drastic differences in the amount of time you will have to put in, tuition prices, or the amount of freedom you will have in customizing your program/classes at the school, this may be a deciding factor in where to apply. Always remember this: Just because you don’t think you’ll get in doesn’t mean that you won’t! Go for it! (Though the opposite is also true.)

Whew! That was a long post. Well, those are the main points that came up in the panel/discussion. If you have questions or comments/your own advice, feel free to leave it below. Good luck!



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