So what's next?
If you are looking at this page, you are probably in your junior or senior year, and you’re contemplating the big question, “What next?” Various kinds of graduate studies are available to graduates with a BA in English: journalism, literature, creative writing, etc. This page is designed to offer advice about how to go about choosing, applying, and being accepted into a post-graduate program.
If the links below do not answer your questions, or if you are just interested in some one on one time with someone who can provide you answers specific to your situation, please contact the department graduate school advisor, Lori Askeland, and/or the staff at Wittenberg Career Services.
- official advice given by the University of Washington's English Program. The page offers an excellent step-by-step guide through the process of deciding whether graduate school is right for you, how to apply, how to write your statement of purpose, etc.
- The US News and World Report provides an annual list of rankings of English graduate programs, (including by area of specialization) just as they do for undergraduate institutions. Another commercial group, PhDs.org, however, tries to tailor their program rankings (including specifically for Journalism graduate programs) based on things that you, personally, value, by having you rank different qualities of a program—e.g., how important is the average time to completion to you? How important is the school’s reputation amongst other scholars? This process can also just help you think through what’s really important to you.
- Poets & Writers Magazine’s Annual Rankings of the top 50 Creative Writing Programs
- “Collected Wisdom and Shared Knowledge for English Students” is a page of advice written by graduate students in English for those considering graduate school. This page has lots of advice on whether to apply to graduate school, the process of applying to graduate school, and on what to do once you get there.
- Interested in the MAT? This site offers a plug for getting a Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) instead of a traditional MA/ PhD in English literature, written by William C. Dowling, professor of English at Rutgers University.
- Although this link is to a commercial site, “Accepted.com” (i.e., they want you to pay them as consultants), they have some good dos and don'ts for the process, etc. available for free.
GRE SCORES, GRADES, and RECOMMENDATIONS
GRADES AND RECOMMENDATIONS: If you are considering going to graduate school in a traditional humanities discipline, it’s almost always imperative that you have a very high GPA (3.8 or higher, particularly if applying to a PhD program, and as close to a 4.0 as possible within your major), and excellent recommendations from professors in the discipline you are hoping to pursue. You really MUST be sure that the professors writing recommendations for you are scholars in the same discipline for which you are applying.
THE GRE: Just as a reminder, and/or in case some of you are in your early stages of looking into graduate schools, and not yet aware, the current GRE is divided into three sections:
1. Quantitative (Math), scored 200-800.
2. Verbal, scored 200-800
3. Analytical, scored 0-6. This is the writing section of the exam.
Recent work by an organization that Wittenberg is a part of, the Lilly Fellows Program in the Humanities and Arts, suggests that there are increasingly stiff GRE requirements for entrance into Humanities PhD programs. Graduates of many of similar institutions--with a few notable exceptions--must have stellar GRE scores to have a shot even second-tier programs. A 3.9 GPA, stellar recommendations (one of 5 best students in 30 years of teaching at institution x), and a year at Oxford are not enough with GRE scores in the 650s for the verbal/analytical fields, for most PhD programs of any rank.
1. The Analytical Score: Many graduate programs in the humanities and the arts do not pay much attention to this score, but, not surprisingly, English departments, for PhD programs especially, tend to value this score, and typically want to see a 5 or higher. (I am not sure how closely MFA programs look at this or other scores; in creative writing programs, your portfolio is probably still the most critical element of your application package, so this score may not hold as much weight for Creative Writing program applicants.)
2. Top schools (Ivy league schools, and Chicago/Stanford/Duke types, along with top top "flagship" institutions—i.e., all those schools ranked above about 25 on lists like this one) typically want 700+ on both Verbal and Math. There are very few exceptions here, though a 680 on the quantitative might be ok matched with a 780 on Verbal.
3. Second-tier schools (good research institutions, ranked below, say, the top 25 on lists like this one) like 700 on Verbal. These schools seem to pay less attention to quantitative--but a quantitative below 650 could be a problem. 650-700 on Verbal is not out of the question if stellar recs and GPA or a terminal MA accompany the application. The exception is philosophy, which seems to value a high quantitative scores (and obviously the social sciences, too, value the quantitative score).
4. Verbals below 650 are typically out of the question even at third-tier schools (ranked below, say, 75 on the standard lists), but there are exceptions. In one case, we know of a student at a similar school to Wittenberg who scored a 590 Verbal (the Fellow reported that he/she had practiced only on paper and that the computer version he/she took threw him/her off). This student was resigned to enter a terminal MA, but at the 11th hour was accepted into a MA/Ph.D. program at a top flagship in the field after being wait-listed. Fellow had a 4.0 undergrad from one of the more recognizable LFP institutions and off-the-charts recommendations.
CONCERNS ABOUT YOUR RANKING, GRADES, GREs? Professors at schools like Wittenberg increasingly find that the best path for students who have excellent potential but are not now at the level suggested by the numbers above recommend: 1) apply to several second-tier and even third-tier schools or 2) consider doing a terminal MA to get recommendations from notable scholars, and to take some time to raise your GRE scores. There does not seem to be a bias against 'religious' institutions, but there may be a bias at work against small, lesser-known institutions that requires extremely strong scores to overcome.
If you are early enough in your career, and you're dreaming of attending a top-flight PhD program, you should seriously work on your math skills while in college, and consider doing some serious prep work for the exam. Students can become better test-takers simply by working with the exam materials or taking a test-prep course.