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Hi All,

I would like some feedback on the biggest hurdles I think I'll face in the upcoming application cycle (December 2018 for admission Fall 2019) and ask for some much needed advice about how to prepare myself for the inevitable weaknesses present in my career.

Here are my biggest concerns:

  1. I was unfortunately unable to write an Honor's Thesis for my school. The course was offered by application, and it still deeply pains me that I was not accepted into the program for my senior year. However, I chose to do multiple research seminars offered to make up for this lack. Each research seminar culminated in a 20ish page paper that presented my thesis from the course. Not as grand as the 60-80 pages I could've written on a single topic, but that's what I have. I am seriously concerned about the quality of my writing sample because I fear those papers that I wrote will simply not hold the same weight as a thesis.
  2. I have no extracurricular research experience to offer. The most I have is tutoring in writing that I did for my school's writing center (as well as co-teaching a summer course). I am seriously concerned that with only paltry research seminar papers to offer, most schools for the PhD program will not take my application seriously.
  3. I scored a 162 on my Verbal GRE score. The first two concerns take up some serious mental space, and I'm not sure if my time would be better spent on some solution to the anxieties presented by #1 and #2 than trying to up my verbal score and retaking the GRE.
  4. Without an honor's thesis, I'm nervous that potential LOR writers won't have as much to say about my research capacities. I want to reach out to professors I worked with during those seminars, but I fear that I might just be not the most qualified candidate.
  5. Also, my overall GPA is slightly lower than what most schools look for (3.74). I attribute that to being a double major in Economics and English. My English GPA is fairly strong (3.9), but I'm not sure if it's enough
  6. Finally, because of #1, 2, 4, I'm nervous that what I want to do research in has no merit in the academic field. I love modernist literature, and I particularly enjoy studying temporality within these works. I am fascinated by how each author posits a holistic sense of time that is entirely predicated on what they bring to the table. I also am deeply interested in studying James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Virginia Woolf for the rest of my life, because they represent divergent countries, politics, and of course, writing, yet they all take so much from each other that I think they act as an incredible modernist trifecta. And it's no secret that each author's contemplation of time is paramount to their written work. So I want to follow this thread to refining my studies further in a PhD program, but all my previous concerns make me seriously question the import or weight of my own academic interests. 

Those are my main concerns. I've gone back and forth on whether or not I should fully commit to the PhD undertaking, but I think my deep respect, interest, and passion for academia, my love of teaching and working with students, and the wealth of passion I have for English literature convinces me that this is a path completely worth pursuing.

It would really help me a lot if I could hear on whether my concerns are valid, what I should put the most focus into for the 2019 cycle, and whether my reasoning/interests make sense for this program, or if I should instead consider a master's program (that would be a totally separate discussion).

Thanks for taking the time!

 

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Welcome to the English board! 

Please don't be offended when I write this because it's not intended that way, but you need to do some research. This board is a gold mine of facts and information from past cycles and many people in your situation have asked similar questions, so I think you'd be well-served going back through the board's history and reading threads about each of your questions. In addition to reading this board, you should talk to professors in your English department ASAP. They've all been through this before and they know you better than people here do, so chances are they'll have plenty of helpful advice from a more informed perspective.  

With that being said, I can weigh in on a few of your questions: 

1. Doesn't matter that much. If you do some reading you'll notice that most PhD/MA programs require a writing sample that's a maximum of 20-25 pages. While I'm sure it's a helpful, rewarding experience to work on a capstone/thesis, it's by no means a necessary step at this point in your academic career. Dig into the requirements of the programs you're going to be applying to and I think you'll see the same thing.

2. Again, don't worry too much. Getting into a graduate program isn't like applying as an undergrad, so banish any concerns about honors societies, etc. 

I think researching this process on this board and other places will be much more helpful than any other answers that will be offered here. Once you've got an idea of exactly what this process entails you'll be able to ask the best questions for you (and I bet a thorough understanding of the process will allay your concerns about most of these questions).

I'm a Modernist, btw, so feel free to PM me if you have specific questions.   

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Hi @parksandrec,

I wouldn't worry too much about those scores. A 90th percentile or higher should be enough to have you considered at the majority of schools. I think Columbia is the only school that specifically mentions that "successful applicants trained in the U.S. will almost always have a GRE verbal score in the 95th percentile or better". But that does mean that there are applicants who are accepted and have a verbal score below the 95th percentile. From my conversations with multiple schools, a 3.7 GPA (overall) or higher will put you in good shape to go pass the first 'cut' of applicants. There are schools who might place more or less emphasis on grades than they do on other elements, but all you need to do is get passed their primary screening if they have one. There are some schools who screen and there are some who do read every application. I don't think it's possible to determine which school does which but I do think schools consider the Writing Sample and Statement of Purpose to be the most important as it allows them to see how well your interests fit in with theirs.

I think it also might be worthwhile to note that the majority of schools do not have their students write a 60-80 page paper. The fact that you'll have several 20 page papers written should put you in good shape for application season because you won't be submitting an excerpt or trying to figure out which 60 pages to cut from the entire document.

Most undergrads in English don't have research experience. Research experience or teaching experience is expected more if one has an MA. Schools often have higher expectations (such as a more polished WS, clearer interests, and higher verbal/subject scores)  if one has earned an MA because they've been exposed more to research. Often, BA applicants are only compared to BA applicants.

Finding how you fit into a program is the most important aspect of the application. And your idea of fit could differ from the university's. They might decide to move more towards Creative Writing. They might decide to move towards Environmental Studies. They might to decide to make a cohort that has a heavier focus pre-19th century. Somebody could retire or get a job offer elsewhere which means that your main POI that you focused on is no longer a match at that university. The only thing you can do is write well, compare interests and hope that it resonates with the committee. The same writing sample that could be rejected this year may very well be accepted the next year at the same school and vice-versa.

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1. I don't think most places are expecting an honor's thesis from you (or really care tbh)

2. That you have writing center experience is a plus as an undergrad, so no worries about not having research experience yet

3. If I'm not mistaken, that score puts you above the 90% percentile. You good.

4. As long as you did researched writing of some length (i.e. 6-20 pages), I'm sure your LOR writers will have plenty to discuss.

5. I don't think GPA really matters, so long as you got over a 3.5 in English related courses

6. If you are unsure if what you want to research has merit, dig through online and physical library resources (i.e. JSTOR) and see where the scholarship is at the moment. Likewise, doing your due diligence in researching what faculty you want to work with will likely tell you if you are going in the right direction. For me personally, when I started thoroughly doing this step I realized that there really weren't many folks I could work with on the PhD level for what I originally was planning and had started working at in smaller projects. I ultimately switched course (slightly) to something more relevant to the current conversation in scholarship in my area.

 

I agree with some of the folks commenting here. It sounds like you have some research to do on how grad applications work and what programs value. Honestly, getting at all that info that makes a great SOP and making sure you've got it down on lock sounds like the main (and only significant) thing you need to work on. You can of course also start trying to get papers into conferences and relevant journals.

You might also consider MA if you don't feel that you are prepared for research yet. Not sure if this is still the case, but someone on here did recently indicate that Bucknell still has fully-funded slots open for the upcoming fall. Likewise, there are a few state schools that are still accepting applicants (though funding is harder to get by this point). There are also some MAs that accept in the Spring, but these often don't offer funding for Spring applicants. If these options don't work for you, you might also consider applying to both PhDs and MAs for Fall 2019. Better to be in an MA and develop as a researcher (and get funding to go to conferences) with easy access to profs than being shut-out and not being on/near university.

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Please note that our experience of course differs from everyone else's, but here are my responses based on my husband's application process!

  1. Husband didn't write an undergrad thesis and got into his top choice, so I wouldn't sweat this! He used a paper he wrote on Charles Olson for an American poetry seminar, and another paper he wrote on John Donne for a high-level / non-seminar transatlantic poetry class (he's not studying poetry tho lol).
  2. Husband's research experience was in the history department rather than English, and he had no writing center experience, so again I wouldn't worry about this.
  3. Husband's was a 163 so I don't think that will be a problem for many schools.
  4. Husband had a couple fantastic and helpful letter writers that only had him for one English course. Only one of his letter writers was someone he worked with in multiple courses, and that was actually a Russian professor rather than English! One of his other letter writers was his history research advisor and I think he may have only had her for one course. Again, he had no thesis, so I don't think that matters much as long as you find some reliable professors that have good things to say about your capabilities!
  5. I can't speak to this one as well, but I'm sure your writing sample(s), statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation mean more than your GPA. They want to see that you fit in their program and a GPA doesn't tell them much.
  6. You can't know for sure whether any school is looking for someone with your interests. The best thing you can do is research schools that are a good fit for you based on the factors you deem important, like location, resources, faculty in your field, etc. We had no clue that Harvard was moving more toward creative writing, public-facing writing, and theory but that they currently have a strong focus on close-reading. Amazingly, my husband's two writing samples were close readings, he's published a couple book reviews and a short story recently, and his SOP touched on some apparently 'hot' theory. So he was a match for this particular cycle. There are so many factors that go into the process, and you can't predict what will happen.

Feel free to message me if you need any help with the process!

 

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@punctilious hah, i'm in the same boat with recommendation writers- i've had a russian professor for two semesters in a row and he's kind of my go-to for a lor. if it's okay, can i pm you at some point too with questions?

@parksandrec do you have some longer papers from other classes? i won't be writing a senior thesis until spring of 2019 so i'm using a paper from my film seminar. 

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Hi - wanted to drop a line. All of the above is excellent advice and I'll just add (again) that the WS & SOP (in relation to fit) are the most important parts of this application - the other parts matter, yes, but they will never outweigh a "fitted" SOP & WS. 

I'm happy to read or look at the SOP and/or the WS for any of the 2019ers. Granted, I am an internet stranger, but I had some wonderful people here on GC look at my materials during my application season and I found their perspectives very helpful precisely because they were strangers and could point out things that peers and faculty perhaps didn't see. 

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8 hours ago, a_sort_of_fractious_angel said:

Hi - wanted to drop a line. All of the above is excellent advice and I'll just add (again) that the WS & SOP (in relation to fit) are the most important parts of this application - the other parts matter, yes, but they will never outweigh a "fitted" SOP & WS. 

I'm happy to read or look at the SOP and/or the WS for any of the 2019ers. Granted, I am an internet stranger, but I had some wonderful people here on GC look at my materials during my application season and I found their perspectives very helpful precisely because they were strangers and could point out things that peers and faculty perhaps didn't see. 

Not the OP, but I would be so thankful if I could take you up on that! 

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11 hours ago, jadeisokay said:

@punctilious hah, i'm in the same boat with recommendation writers- i've had a russian professor for two semesters in a row and he's kind of my go-to for a lor. if it's okay, can i pm you at some point too with questions?

Absolutely! I'm always happy to help. :)

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@parksandrec Everyone here has offered wonderful advice. A master's program first would be a good idea if you're unsure about your research skills/abilities. I did a master's first, and it was one of the best choices I made for graduate school because I didn't have much experience writing longer papers other than my thesis. It also taught me what I need to be prepared for when starting a Ph.D. program--workload, mentorship, how to research, etc.

1. I wasn't in the honor's college, so I asked a professor to be my advisor for an independent thesis. That gave me a glimpse into self-paced research. However, as I've previously stated, I think the M.A. will also do that. 
2. Programs want well-rounded students to show that you can handle everything that's thrown at you. However, the writing center is in itself a great way to show them how you're doing things beyond coursework; it and co-teaching look really good. You have literally nothing to stress about. To echo the previous posts, don't concern yourself with only have written 20 pages. I mean, most programs only want to see 15-20 pages of your writing sample--and *spoiler* even then, they often don't read all of it, especially if they can't find the argument up front, because each committee will sometimes have hundreds of apps to read.
3. DON'T RETAKE THE GRE. Put your energy and money elsewhere. Let's just say that I didn't score well at all on the GRE, and I was still accepted into several programs. 
4. LORs are very important. I'm not sure why you don't think you'd be a qualified candidate, but remind them of the papers you wrote for their classes, and then in the fall offer them what you have for your writing sample so they have an idea how you have improved and where you're going from there. They may even help you edit the writing sample. Ask your LOR soon so that they have the heads up. Provide them with the deadlines (I often told mine a day or two before the actual deadline in case they were late). Don't give them gifts until they have already written all of your recs. 
5. Also, again, my GPA was a 3.54 (because I was at first a biochemistry major) and my major GPA was a 3.76. Your GPA doesn't really matter, but even if it did,  yours is good. 
6. You don't have to know what you want to do right now for the rest of your life. I'd focus on composing/editing a paper and add/refine some theory in it. Also, the SOP is really important, too. 

Basically, my advice for you is to take a deep breath and not panic, especially over things that you cannot change. You have this summer to work on your application.

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On 4/29/2018 at 12:54 PM, parksandrec said:

I was unfortunately unable to write an Honor's Thesis for my school. The course was offered by application, and it still deeply pains me that I was not accepted into the program for my senior year. 

You seem to have received some great advice so far, but I just want to point out that, while most of your concerns are shared by many successful candidates, this one part of your message raised some red flags.  I agree with all the others that not writing a thesis should not matter, but I wonder what the application process was for being allowed to write one.  For example, if this required proposing a project, then this is the exact same skill required in a SoP, so you will want to work with your professors and anyone else who offers to help to develop this skill and/or make sure that your proposed research interests are original and viable.  Also, if that application required LoR, then I would follow up with those letter writers and figure out why your application was unsuccessful--especially if you will be using any of the same letter writers for your future applications.  A luke warm recommendation could hurt your PhD application.  Again, I have no idea what the process was for your application to the Honor's Thesis course, and could have simply come down to the same considerations that keep qualified applicants out of PhD programs one application season, but not the next (field diversity, committee members' interests, etc.).  However, if components of that application resemble a PhD application, then I would figure out why that application was unsuccessful so you can improve and apply successfully to MA and/or PhD programs.

Best of luck!

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  • 1 month later...
On 5/2/2018 at 9:56 PM, a_sort_of_fractious_angel said:

Hi - wanted to drop a line. All of the above is excellent advice and I'll just add (again) that the WS & SOP (in relation to fit) are the most important parts of this application - the other parts matter, yes, but they will never outweigh a "fitted" SOP & WS. 

I'm happy to read or look at the SOP and/or the WS for any of the 2019ers. Granted, I am an internet stranger, but I had some wonderful people here on GC look at my materials during my application season and I found their perspectives very helpful precisely because they were strangers and could point out things that peers and faculty perhaps didn't see. 

Hi, could I take you up on this as well? I have a History background and applied to schools for PhDs in Literature this past fall and am trying to assess my application before I go in to another round and would really appreciate it if you had time to look at my SoP. Thanks! 

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18 hours ago, starrystarry said:

Hi, could I take you up on this as well? I have a History background and applied to schools for PhDs in Literature this past fall and am trying to assess my application before I go in to another round and would really appreciate it if you had time to look at my SoP. Thanks! 

For sure! Just shoot me a PM and we can swap emails or whatever you'd like. 

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I know this is has probably been asked before (with varying results), but how many applications do you think a PhD applicant should submit? I originally planned on sending out 10, especially since I'm only applying to schools within the top 30 rank (I know rank is somewhat arbitrary in some cases, but I have my reasons). But at $100+ a pop, I'm thinking maybe 8? Am I shooting myself in the foot? How many are y'all sending? 

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1 hour ago, Scarlet A+ said:

I know this is has probably been asked before (with varying results), but how many applications do you think a PhD applicant should submit? I originally planned on sending out 10, especially since I'm only applying to schools within the top 30 rank (I know rank is somewhat arbitrary in some cases, but I have my reasons). But at $100+ a pop, I'm thinking maybe 8? Am I shooting myself in the foot? How many are y'all sending? 

I think that answer really depends on how much time you have to devote to each application and how many applications you can afford. There are several schools that do offer fee waivers. (Note to everyone: I'd be more than happy to point you in the direction of fee waiver policies if I'm aware of any at schools you're interested in.) Some schools will also accept GRE reports after acceptance if you ask even if their official page states otherwise. I think the majority of departments do want to ensure that they get the people that can contribute to their department the most and would be happy in their environment. Last cycle, I taught 5 classes at the undergrad level, took 2 classes for my MA, had a 8 hour graduate student research appointment, and applied to more than 15 colleges. My total cost was under $800. I ended up rejecting an offer from a top 10 school in rhet comp to attend a literature program in the top 35. I attended both open houses and was impressed by the city, faculty, and atmosphere that the literature program had. I had to get permission to miss classes during the second semester but I think the visits allowed me to gain a better understanding of all the colleges I did visit.

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On 6/23/2018 at 7:59 PM, Scarlet A+ said:

I know this is has probably been asked before (with varying results), but how many applications do you think a PhD applicant should submit? I originally planned on sending out 10, especially since I'm only applying to schools within the top 30 rank (I know rank is somewhat arbitrary in some cases, but I have my reasons). But at $100+ a pop, I'm thinking maybe 8? Am I shooting myself in the foot? How many are y'all sending? 

I was going to send out 6 for sure, 8 at the most. My department chair/letter writer/honorary grandma berated me until I agreed to go at  least 8-10. I don't know where this number comes from, but it's oft repeated.

 

And I would like to emphasize what @Warelin said about familiarizing yourself with fee waiver policies so you can let fit limit your apps rather than cost.

 

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