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My 2019 PhD in English Application

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Greetings, all.

I just started my account today here. I've had some friends from grad school swear by this site, so I figured I'd give it a go.

I graduated with a BA in English in 2012, and I got my MA in English from NYU. I graduated back in 2014. For the last four years, I've been teaching high school English. My original plan is to go into academia, but I took a break to save up some money and defeat my debt.

I know for sure that I want to study gender politics in twentieth century modernism. That's what my thesis was on. My NYU professor taught that class, and when we spoke recently, he told me to go for it. He will also write me a letter of recommendation.

I do have some concerns though. I'd appreciate the advice.


I know it's a bit late in the summer, but I think I have to retake my GRE. The last time I took it (2 years ago, I think), I scored a 5.5 on analytical writing, 153 in verbal, and 145 in quantitative. I know I'll be busy with my job in two weeks, but I'm planning to take this intensive GRE course to help me boost that score. I was away this summer, so I didn't get a chance to study.


Letters of Recommendation

I do have another professor from NYU whose class I took on American Modernism 1900-1945. She has been really difficult to reach by email since she was traveling a lot on sabbatical. When she comes back next week, I will stop by during office hours to ask her. For my third letter, I have a professor from undergrad who supervised my honors thesis in 2011. I may try to get a fourth one just to be on the safe side, right? I have another professor from undergrad (my core literary seminar course) whom I would like to ask.



I'm not yet published, so I wonder if this will be a roadblock. A few of my colleagues in New York have mentioned that publications are essential to getting an acceptance. Thoughts? 



My GPA for grad school was a 4.0, and I have four years of teaching experience. I'm actually starting an adjunct teaching position in January 2019. I don't think I should include it in my CV just yet, but perhaps I can mention it in my personal statement? 


This is a very long first post, but I would really appreciate some feedback and thoughts. Thank you! 



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Your friends were both right and wrong to send you here.  Depending on the day and your state of mind it can be a fount of good advice, comaraderie, and helpful data; or an anxiety inducing hell-hole where you feel sentenced to an eternity of comparing yourself to imaginary others and feeling irredeemably second rate!  

I just had my coffee and I'm disposed toward being helpful!

GRE:  No, it's not too late. I think I retook the GRE in October, that said, you may be cutting in close on the few schools with November deadlines (at least back when I took the GRE in ye olde 2011, it took a few weeks to get official scores). While GRE scores don't matter much, my impression is that 153 is a pretty low verbal score for an English applicant. Buy the Princeton Review study book. Unfortunately, the GRE - like so much of the application process - is a crapshoot (my four weeks of studying alone can't account for the fact that my second quant score was an order of magnitude better than my first [though still not very good!]).

Letters of rec: this is really the only area where your gap time will be a disadvantage, because the less your profs remember you, the less able they will be to write you a standout letter. I'd say emphasize your MA professors if you can get ahold of them.

Publications: No one expects students to have a publication before they've begun their PhD program. I don't know a single person in my program that had a peer reviewed publication before they started, even those that came from their MA (though I know a couple who had an article in process when they started).

GPA: Can't do much better than a 4.0, eh?

Teaching: My impression is that programs don't really care much whether or not you have prior teaching experience. My cohort had students who had as much as 4 years of community college teaching experience and they were still required to take the program teaching workshops and pedagogy (much to their chagrin). Every school wants you to do it their way, and they think their way is special and unique. That said, I think you can absolutely put an adjunct position on your CV that you've been hired for but haven't started yet.  Hell, people put articles they've submitted but that haven't even been accepted or rejected on their C.V. with [submitted] in brackets.


One notable thing I don't see in your post is a mention of your writing sample, which is arguably the most important aspect of your application.  Do you have a (relatively) recent seminar paper from your desired field of study that you can easily shorten to 15 pages or lengthen to 25-30 depending on the requirements of the schools you're applying for? I generally found this to be the range of pages asked for, I actually think it was more than one school that asked for 'no more than 15 pages.'  It may also be that recommenders will want to see the sample in order to refresh your memory, since you're several years removed from school. In fact, you should offer this to them.

Edited by jrockford27

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I agree with a lot of @jrockford27's advice. 

You should be OK to take the GRE again in time - ETS was pretty speedy with getting my scores officially reported and sent out last year. I wouldn't stress about the Quant - I've seen a few schools that require 140 or higher and have heard from faculty that it's not really considered on its own. I've heard that 90% percentile or higher (165 or higher, I think) is recommended for the Verbal. That being said, I know people who have scored lower and who have been fine. I think the biggest thing is making sure that both scores combined meet any possible requirements - for example, a few of the schools I considered required a 313 score combined. This was a regulation set by the graduate school, not the department, so look at both the English page and the Graduate School page to see what if you can glean some hard data about any GRE requirements. 

There's no reason for you to have published - I've heard that is sometimes looked down upon, actually, as it isn't likely that a PhD applicant wouldn't be accepted to major journals in the field (IDK if that's true, I'm just passing it along.) And your teaching experience, while good, won't help your application - I don't think programs care at all if you've taught before. That sounds super harsh and I don't mean to say that your experience is of no value. It is. Teaching just doesn't seem to be a required, preferred, or even considered component of Ph.D. applications. 

The most important pieces of your app are recs, the WS, and the SOP. I would second the suggestion that you offer and/or outright send a decent version of the SOP and the WS to your potential recommenders - I took a year off and all of my LWs requested those documents so that they could write up-to-date & in-depth LORs.

Hope this helps! 


Edited by a_sort_of_fractious_angel

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