Section Menu

Department of English

Considering Graduate School in English?

Learn more about the types of graduate degrees in English, researching graduate programs, preparing your application, and a typical timeline for the application process.

Thinking About Your Future

  • What are your goals in life?
  • What kind of lifestyle do you envision having?
  • Are you interested in teaching, writing, organizing, researching, grading, and mentoring?
  • What kind of career are you thinking about? So you want to be an English Professor or a Professional Writer? Do you want to complete an MA in English and see what opportunities that training opens up? Are you still deciding and wonder what the whole grad school thing is about?

Types of English Graduate Programs

MA (Master of Arts)

  • 1-2 years +
  • Course work or course work and thesis (70-150 pages)

MFA (Master of Fine Arts)

  • 2-3 years +
  • Course work and creative project/portfolio/thesis
  • Typically the terminal degree (the highest degree expected) in creative writing

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

  • 5-7 years +
  • Course work 1-2 years, depending on if you enter with an MA
  • Foreign language requirements
  • Qualifying or field exams: 1 or 2, maybe a general exam, along with one in your historical (i.e. Renaissance, 20th Century American, etc) and theoretical (feminist, post-colonial) and/or genre fields (novel, poetry, drama)
    • usually earn an MA after you complete these first stage exams; ABD ("all but dissertation"/Doctoral Candidate after these exams or a second qualifying exam on a dissertation proposal)
  • Dissertation: book-length study (200-300 pages) on topic that you usually defend before a committee

Researching Schools

  • Consult with professors, especially those who teach the topics you are interested in
  • Rollins Alumni
  • Rollins Career Services
  • Peterson's Guide
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education
  • US News & World Report: America's Best Graduate Schools
  • Check out international programs too, but be aware of different due dates, requirements, funding opportunities, and immigration visas. Office of International Student and Scholar Services
  • Look for:
    • Funding (for PhD--full tuition, plus $15,000-20,000+/year for at least 4 years --cash or in the form of teaching/research stipends, summer funding, money to travel to conferences and research centers/important library collections, dissertation fellowships)
    • Teaching opportunities, training in pedagogy, chances to design your own course, teach the survey, or a course in your primary field
    • Faculty, who are the professors in your field and what do they research, diversity of department and university’s intellectual community, reputation of school
    • Certificates in other sub-fields like Women’s Studies or Film Studies
    • Placement of graduates, time to completion, class size in residence
    • Location, community, campus facilities, housing, support/jobs for partners/family
  • Pick 5-10 schools to apply to, including some "safety schools," but also apply to one or two dream schools


  • Application forms
  • Letter of Application/Statement of Purpose
    • 1.5-2 pages, single spaced
    • Addresses your specific plans for graduate school, including potential thesis or dissertation topic and fields of study, and how your previous academic work and related experience has prepared you for the demands of working with faculty, teaching, and conducting research as you develop professionally
  • CV (Curriculum Vitae)
    • 2-4 pages
    • Including education, awards, internships or research experience in the field, relevant non-academic employment, any conferences, publications, editorial work, languages, technical skills, references
  • Transcripts
  • GRE (Graduate Record Exam)
    • General Test--Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing
      • Required for most MAs and PhDs
      • Tests administered on a computer year-round
    • Subject Test--Literature in English
      • Required for many PhDs
      • Tests administered on paper only three times a year--October, November, April (Note: November test results are often too late to submit for PhD applications due before January)
    • Educational Testing Service
  • Reference Letters
    • 2-3 for MA, 3-4 for PhD
    • Ask tenured/tenure-track professors that you have a long-term relationship with, taken several courses with, and gotten A-level grades, have done research for, etc.
    • Clearly indicate due dates--contact as early as possible--2-3 months before letter is due and remind them about a month before the due date. Give them envelopes, evaluation forms they may need to fill out, copies of your letter, application, CV, writing sample, a note reminding them of any really good papers or presentations you gave in class (or copies of those papers) or volunteer/employment research work that is related to the field, or other info that you would like them to mention in their letters
  • Writing Sample
    • 20-25 pages, double spaced, clean copy revised from an upper level course, e.g chapter from an honors thesis in your targeted field of study
  • Application fees
    • $30-100 per school


  • 18-12 months before attending
  • 12-10 months before attending
    • Make a short list of 5-10 schools and contact each for application materials (set up a file folder for each and make note of all deadlines)
    • Make a short list of any fellowships, scholarships, or federal aid you are applying for
    • Request letters of reference from your professors
    • Draft/Edit/Revise (repeat) letters, writing sample, CV, and any other requested materials. Have 2-3 people, including all your referees read over your materials to get comments and suggestions.
    • Complete Subject GRE by October test date
  • 10-8 months before attending (November-January)
    • Order transcripts and GRE scores to be sent to schools in time for deadlines
    • Send off all applications to schools, fellowships, etc--double-check to make sure everything is complete--most PhD applications are due November to January, though some might have rolling deadlines
  • 7-5 months before attending (February-April)
    • Celebrate admission offers, sigh over rejections, follow-up on any wait-lists
    • Compare any offers, negotiate if possible for better funding, teaching, and research
    • First-round decisions are required by mid-April
  • 5-1 months before attending (April-August)
    • Look for funding alternatives if necessary
    • Start planning your move and the beginning of the next phase of your professional academic career!
Prepared by Dr. Jennifer Ailles