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Whether you’re planning on pursuing a law degree, a master’s degree in education, or a doctorate in literature, the time before graduation presents many important deadlines.
Below is a list of links, suggestions, and a rough timeline you might follow. As in most cases, it’s better to be over prepared than under, and getting an earlier start will help!
The information below caters to seniors interested in pursuing graduate study in English (MA, MFA, PhD), but can also be applied (generally) to other graduate study.
If you have no idea where to start in choosing graduate programs, begin by asking yourself some of your preferences with regard to the questions below.
More detailed questions:
*NOTE: If you have no idea which schools have strong rankings in a particular field of English study (e.g. Victorian, Queer Theory, African American Lit), the US News and World Report rankings are a great place to start. This ranked list is updated annually. You can also Google your particular interest (e.g. “Renaissance Literature Doctoral Program”) and explore. As always, your teachers are also a great free resource. UHD faculty (particularly those individuals that you’re comfortable with) are also helpful in figuring out which schools are a “good shot,” a “long shot,” or a “safety school.”
MOST significant questions once the above are answered:
There is no minimum or maximum number of schools to which you should apply. Since the application process is expensive (you’ll have to pay fees for taking GREs, applying to schools, having your GRE scores sent to schools, etc.), you’d be wise to apply to more than one school. (If you apply to only one and that school doesn't accept you, you’re out of luck for an entire year.)
Many people find the formula below helpful (This, of course, assumes you can afford it!):
How do you figure out which schools would be more likely to accept you? (Or, how do graduate programs determine who they’ll admit?)
Graduate Programs in English usually* break your application into the following categories, listed in terms of importance:
*In the often maddening, always expensive, frequently frustrating process of applying to graduate school, you’ll quickly see that many schools have their own idiosyncrasies. While the above information is all mostly true for most programs, you should always check with the individual program to which you’re applying (and verify what their requirements and deadlines are). Again, your teachers at UHD can be a wealth of information in everything from individual steps in the application process to figuring out which schools would likely accept you.
What is this GRE exam and is it really that important?
The GRE (like the LSAT for law school admissions, the MCAT for medical school admission, or the GMAT for MBA programs) is given by ETS (Educational Testing Services).
Website for ETS: http://www.ets.org
There are two types of GRE exams you should be acquainted with:
The GRE General Exam (usually referred to only as “the GRE”) is a test that most, but not all, English MA and PhD programs require their applicants to take.
The GRE Subject Exam (e.g. the GRE English Literature) is a subject-specific exam which tests only subject-specific material. A portion of English graduate programs require the GRE English Subject exam as well, but many very good, competitive institutions do not, instead requiring only the GRE General.
In the old days, the GRE (General) exam was a paper and pencil test given only a handful of times a year. This standardized test (kind of like a higher version of the SAT) is now completely computerized (except in some places outside the US) and can be taken at more flexible times and locations. (Houston alone has 7 testing centers.)
This test can seem scary, is expensive, and can have a lot of influence on a school’s decision to admit you (this is assuming a program requires you take it; not all do). Most important for you to know, this test does not necessarily reflect how intelligent you are. According to the official website, the GRE
“measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills that have been acquired over a long period of time and that are not related to any specific field of study.”
Many people (people in higher education, people who have taken the GRE) strongly believe that the GRE measures only how good a GRE test taker you are.
Regardless of where you fall on this issue, the GRE is a test that has a lot of weight in admission and sometimes scholarship decisions, and further, it is a test that one can study for. Preparation and homework can absolutely influence your score.
Prep courses are often very costly, but also often valuable. Some offer varying levels of financial assistance. Some schools offer lower-priced, shorter-term prep courses as well. The great news for UHD students: The University of Houston-Downtown offers its own prep course for the GRE general exam. Even if you can’t afford an entire course, getting your hands on practice books, old exams, or even vocabulary flashcards can make a difference. If you can’t afford any live or web-based preparation, check with libraries for old practice books, exams, and other support materials. Most will have something.
Each prep course has its own pros and cons in terms of how it compares to other courses; you should definitely figure out what option (a private course like Kaplan, UHD course, etc.) is best for you, but particularly for those who can’t afford a lengthy and expensive course offered by a private firm, the UHD prep course is an amazing opportunity and can greatly influence your score.
The UHD GRE prep is like a regular course for which you sign up at the beginning of the semester. It's a two-credit class and is offered every semester, on Fridays, from 10-11:45 a.m. The contact person is the coordinator for the class, Dr. Tyra Montgomery (email: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: 713-221-8485). The class is taught by three different people, each responsible for a main part in the GRE (math, writing, and verbal). To register, look for BIOL 4290 or CHEM 4290: GRE PREP on the UHD course schedule.
Who do I ask to write a Letter of Recommendation for me, and how do I go about asking him or her?
Asking for a letter from a teacher or employer (former or present) can feel uncomfortable, but it doesn't have to be awkward. Follow the suggestions below and you should have no issues with a letter writer, her/his reluctance to write, or a letter submitted after a missed deadline.
*If the school offers you the option of submitting a confidential versus non-confidential letter, always opt for the “confidential,” as it carries more weight. Also note that many schools will not take any non-confidential letters into consideration for an application, so read the fine print when checking the confidential/non-confidential box on the form!
“I’m applying to several graduate programs and I need some letters of recommendation. Would you feel comfortable writing something on my behalf? If you feel like your schedule/our limited contact over the last year/the fact that I’ve never had you for a full class would make this a bad idea, I would totally understand...”
Giving the person you’re asking the language to comfortably say no (e.g., “I’d love to, but you know I don’t know your work that well”) should ensure that you won’t end up getting a letter written by someone who either doesn’t want to write for you, or would have to write something negative, but in either case was caught off guard and unsure of how to say “no.”
Currently UHD does not have a centralized location or department that maintains/holds letters of recommendation and/or placement materials for graduating seniors. Instead of having all of your letters sent out individually (by the letter writers or yourself), some people have found it more efficient and professional to have an outside (internet) company hold one’s letters and send them out confidentially (similar to how ETS sends out GRE scores to the schools that the test taker indicates). One such company is Interfolio (http://www.interfolio.com).
Last updated or reviewed on 6/14/10