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Fall 2013 English Lit Applicants

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My advice, which should be obvious from my last post, is to spend little time on the Lit GRE and more time on your writing sample and SOP.

I promise you, you will fare better with strong SOPs and writing samples than you will with high GREs.

I would be willing to bet that my GREs, particularly my subject test scores, were among the lowest of the students admitted, and I would also be willing to bet that the majority of students who applied and were not accepted also scored higher than I did. I admit that most of it was just luck, and that's just how the cards were dealt this round, but I also believe that it was because I spent several months (like, eleven) working on my writing sample and five months working on my SOP. By contrast, I spent about a month studying for the general test.

I'll second this. I scored incredibly high on the GRE, and i've yet to be accepted to a program. I wish I could go back and spend the time on my writing sample.

Studying for the GRE is easy; you just follow what a book tells you to do. Write a statement of purpose and and editing a writing sample is much, much scarier and much harder to do, so studying for the GRE becomes, I think, a distraction that we convince ourselves is "productive." It's not, spend the time on your SOP and WS.

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Guess I'm joining this thread now: just found out the last school I was waitlisted at has a waitlist a mile long and I'm dead in the middle. Hopefully applying for 2013 bears a little more fruit than 2012 did.

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I'll second this. I scored incredibly high on the GRE, and i've yet to be accepted to a program. I wish I could go back and spend the time on my writing sample.

Studying for the GRE is easy; you just follow what a book tells you to do. Write a statement of purpose and and editing a writing sample is much, much scarier and much harder to do, so studying for the GRE becomes, I think, a distraction that we convince ourselves is "productive." It's not, spend the time on your SOP and WS.

I agree with all of this. I would just caution against confusing the importance of the SOP and writing sample with the impression that they can guarantee you acceptance. The mantra "it's all about fit" means, in part, that you can do your absolute best on the SOP and writing sample and still not be accepted. Not trying to be a discouraging; just trying to point out that the emphasis on fit takes a lot of this process out of your control.

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Hello I will also be applying for 2013, and this will be my first time. I am currently a TA at a state university, completing an MA in English.

My areas of research: late 19th/early 20th century American Literature, Utopian Studies, and the Digital Humanities.

It should be a crazy year ahead. If we're lucky.

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I think we've discussed the merits of SOPs tailored to different schools, but what about writing samples tailored to different schools? My diverse interests make it almost impossible for me to write on a topic that includes all of them, and while I wouldn't change my ideology to match a school's (as that kind of defeats the purpose of grad school), I'm really considering playing to my strengths at different places if it comes to round 2. Has anyone else really thought of what they're going to do with writing samples yet?

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Has anyone else really thought of what they're going to do with writing samples yet?

I will be starting from scratch, as none of my current writing samples meet the required page length. One of my professors for an upcoming summer course and one from a previous course will be assisting me with the revisions. I doubt I'll be able to tailor my writing sample to different schools as I'm starting from scratch. If I don't get accepted anywhere for fall 2013, then I will try to tailor writing samples to different schools in a round 2 situation.This summer will certainly be a crazy one!!

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I will be starting from scratch, as none of my current writing samples meet the required page length. One of my professors for an upcoming summer course and one from a previous course will be assisting me with the revisions. I doubt I'll be able to tailor my writing sample to different schools as I'm starting from scratch. If I don't get accepted anywhere for fall 2013, then I will try to tailor writing samples to different schools in a round 2 situation.This summer will certainly be a crazy one!!

I had a professor help me with mine over the summer--it was very helpful! But take the length requirement with a grain of salt. One of our GFers got into (I think) Duke and Chicago with a shorter paper that kicked ass. I know for me my best papers all end up in the 12-15 range, and I kind of think I should've stuck with that.

Editing groups over the summer anyone? ;) Whether or not I make it this round, I like editing stuff!

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I had a professor help me with mine over the summer--it was very helpful! But take the length requirement with a grain of salt. One of our GFers got into (I think) Duke and Chicago with a shorter paper that kicked ass. I know for me my best papers all end up in the 12-15 range, and I kind of think I should've stuck with that.

Editing groups over the summer anyone? ;) Whether or not I make it this round, I like editing stuff!

My Grad Center writing sample had to conform to a 15 page limit, so I had to cut 5 pages off of my regular writing sample that I sent to all the other places. It was one of my acceptances, so maybe that's a lesson that, when in doubt, you should compress.

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Most of the schools I plan on applying to require a 12-15 page writing sample and two require a 20-25 page writing sample. One explicitly states a 20 page writing sample and the other states a max 25 page writing sample. Would it be wise (or foolish) to simply stick to a 15 page writing sample and submit that sample to all schools? So far, my best writing sample is a 10 page paper and I was planning on using that as the base of my writing sample.

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Most of the schools I plan on applying to require a 12-15 page writing sample and two require a 20-25 page writing sample. One explicitly states a 20 page writing sample and the other states a max 25 page writing sample. Would it be wise (or foolish) to simply stick to a 15 page writing sample and submit that sample to all schools? So far, my best writing sample is a 10 page paper and I was planning on using that as the base of my writing sample.

I think I'm going to try cutting down to a 15 page sample this year. If I can drop 10 pages from a sample while maintaining majority of the argument then those 10 pages probably weren't too important.

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Most of the schools I plan on applying to require a 12-15 page writing sample and two require a 20-25 page writing sample. One explicitly states a 20 page writing sample and the other states a max 25 page writing sample. Would it be wise (or foolish) to simply stick to a 15 page writing sample and submit that sample to all schools? So far, my best writing sample is a 10 page paper and I was planning on using that as the base of my writing sample.

I think having fewer pages makes it easier to focus on making each page the best it can possibly be. I pulled my 15 page* writing sample from a 30 page English/History paper I wrote, so I cut out the parts that were more saturated in history, leaving those parts more focused on literature (of course, I blended those parts together so it wasn't blantantly obvious that chunks of my paper were missing). I also gave my paper a firmer grounding in recent scholarship. And then I submitted the 15 page sample to all of my programs (except for two where I used a different sample entirely because my area of focus for those programs was different). I was waitlisted (with encouragement that I would probably be accepted) at a school that explicitly asked for a 20 page sample. I think schools are more worried about samples being too long than a little shorter than is asked for.

*my 15 pages isn't counting the title page and bibliography, so the whole thing came to 18 pages

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Most of the schools I plan on applying to require a 12-15 page writing sample and two require a 20-25 page writing sample. One explicitly states a 20 page writing sample and the other states a max 25 page writing sample. Would it be wise (or foolish) to simply stick to a 15 page writing sample and submit that sample to all schools? So far, my best writing sample is a 10 page paper and I was planning on using that as the base of my writing sample.

I emailed a program asking if I could send in a longer sample because there was no way I could cut it down to the limit and not have it be butchered, and they said it was fine. I think as long as you ask a head of time most programs won't mind. If/when I apply again, I think I'm just going to work on making a truly exceptional paper without worrying about the limits and see how it goes. Last summer, knowing I was working on my writing sample made the whole process much more difficult and made me question my own skills. I think things would have been easier for me if i was able to worm my way out of the 'oh no, it's my writing sample!' mindset.

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I agree with all of this. I would just caution against confusing the importance of the SOP and writing sample with the impression that they can guarantee you acceptance. The mantra "it's all about fit" means, in part, that you can do your absolute best on the SOP and writing sample and still not be accepted. Not trying to be a discouraging; just trying to point out that the emphasis on fit takes a lot of this process out of your control.

Ditto to all of this. I had a perfect score on both verbal and writing and I heard plenty of rejections--although that could have been due to my unimpressive subject test scores. I also discussed my app thoroughly with my admitting schools and my scores did not come up ONCE. But, everything else did. And, further, they had vetted me based on the personality they read into my SOP and writing sample--they had actually put thought into what kind of person I am-- not based on how smart my numbers made me seem. In fact, one DGS broke it down into pretty simple categories that would almost all have been evident in the SOP and WS, perhaps in the letters too. I'm with ComeBackZinc--the elusive "fit" actually does mean something. If I had to do it over again, I would research schools, but not just in the conventional way I was told ("read the work of the professors"--although you should do this, too). I would email the schools directly and ask if they think you'd fit. I would ask people for as many impressions of departments as possible. Sometimes the description on the faculty website is so not what that person is all about. I was shocked, as I got further into this thing, how much departments know about each other, and how much they're willing to share. In retrospect, I understand exactly why I got into the programs I did and why I got rejected from those who didn't need/want me. That's kind of got the ring of closure.

On the page number thing--I wittled it down so it could fit on 18 pages if it had to, without looking like I was crunching words in, and kept it somewhere around 21 for the schools that weren't so strict. Usually I just submitted the 18 pager and had done with it. I can't imagine the right schools minded.

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I think we've discussed the merits of SOPs tailored to different schools, but what about writing samples tailored to different schools? My diverse interests make it almost impossible for me to write on a topic that includes all of them, and while I wouldn't change my ideology to match a school's (as that kind of defeats the purpose of grad school), I'm really considering playing to my strengths at different places if it comes to round 2. Has anyone else really thought of what they're going to do with writing samples yet?

I think I'm planning to use an excerpt from my thesis, since it will definitely fall into my "area of focus," whereas other, shorter papers that I've written have been tailored to the topics dictated by the class. This is either a really good idea or a really terrible one. Any suggestions?

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Ditto to all of this. I had a perfect score on both verbal and writing and I heard plenty of rejections--although that could have been due to my unimpressive subject test scores.

As far as the subject test is concerned: I met with a trusted professor to discuss the GRE (general and subject) earlier this week. I'm taking the General GRE in three weeks, which will only give me around a week to study. My professor said that probably would be OK, as she said that the math portion is rather easy and that extensive studying probably wouldn't help me score any higher on the verbal portion. Plus I hate standardized exams. I didn't study for the SAT and did fine, and I don't plan on studying much for the GRE.

Also, my professor vehemently dismissed the subject test, saying that it was just "a fucking trivia test" that is "indicative of nothing." She told me basically not to take it unless one of my prospective schools required it. Some of my current schools might at this point, but I have no qualms with eliding them out of my list. ^_^

Has anyone else really thought of what they're going to do with writing samples yet?

I'm going to either use the seminar paper I'm currently writing, which will be in the vicinity of 15-20 pages, or a paper that will arise in an independent study I'm going to take this fall, which will also be in the vicinity of 15-20 pages. I'm still going to heavily edit the papers, of course, but I do have the basic paper(s) selected.

I plan on submitting the same sample to all of my schools if I can. Admissions committees obviously don't want to read a paper that exceeds the maximum length, but I think they'd appreciate a slightly shorter paper, as long as it's of high quality, hence why I'm aiming for 15-ish pages (most programs that I've seen look for a paper between 15-25 pages; I've seen some as high as 30 pages and some as low as 8-10, but 15 is the relative norm, so I'm sticking with that).

Edited by Two Espressos

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Yep: got a long-term relationship/live-in SO. ...

Wow saecla vincere, your first two paragraphs mirror my own experience! ...

I have a similar concern, but being married for almost fifteen years puts a different spin on it. My wife and I relocated to the Milwaukee area once, and while she was initially supportive, the year we were there did not go over well. Nothing wrong with Milwaukee, it was just tough being away from friends and family, and while I had a promising job, she had a tougher time forging connections. Distance from friends and family is therefore a key consideration as I finalize my list of schools where I intend to apply.

It may sound hokey, but once you're accepted somewhere (and maybe even beforehand), it might be a good idea to actively research potential social outlets for your partners. Discussing some of these opportunities in advance might help ease the loneliness that can accompany a relocation like this. Then again, if your significant others are social butterflies, maybe this won't be a problem.

Also, I should be in full on SOP and writing sample mode here in a few weeks, so I'm definitely interested in editing partners. Feel free to contact me if interested.

Edited by Matt Kernicky

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It may sound hokey, but once you're accepted somewhere (and maybe even beforehand), it might be a good idea to actively research potential social outlets for your partners. Discussing some of these opportunities in advance might help ease the loneliness that can accompany a relocation like this. Then again, if your significant others are social butterflies, maybe this won't be a problem.

Matt: Thanks for sharing your experience! Your suggestion doesn't sound hokey at all. My partner is not a social butterfly, and his work is very important to him, so I'll have to consider all of those things when the time comes. I'm glad I'm not the only one who's thinking about these things! (Oh yes, and congrats on the fifteen years!)

I'm anxious about my writing sample as well. I know what I'm going to submit, but I wrote it three years ago; it's hard to get back into that frame of mind and revise. Also, I'm not sure who to ask for feedback; I'd feel bad asking anyone to read over a twenty-two page (yes, I'll need to shorten it!) paper. So, yes, I'm definitely down for some editing groups! I have a draft of my SoP done as well. I'm getting married this summer, so I'm trying to get as much done before the whirlwind of wedding insanity takes over my life...

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Most of the schools I plan on applying to require a 12-15 page writing sample and two require a 20-25 page writing sample. One explicitly states a 20 page writing sample and the other states a max 25 page writing sample. Would it be wise (or foolish) to simply stick to a 15 page writing sample and submit that sample to all schools? So far, my best writing sample is a 10 page paper and I was planning on using that as the base of my writing sample.

This applies to all the queries about writing sample size (etc.):

I would submit the tightest piece of writing you have. I wouldn't worry about length; if you absolutely need to bring it up, do it, but I would sooner submit a paper that is below the page limit than one that meets the limit but is weak. They want to see your ability to spread an argument over several pages, and they can glean that from a 12-15 page sample, even if they "formally" request 20-25. If they want 20 pages but are impressed with your 14, I can almost guarantee you won't be denied simply because your sample was a few pages "short." I would focus on producing the tightest paper you can, rather than on meeting length standards.

Just my 2ยข B)

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I submitted two writing samples of 10 pages each that I edited down and worked on quite a bit so that they were strong. I think it worked in my favour.

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Honestly, the study is more important to me than the test itself. As I mentioned, my coursework is deficient in post-1600 literature and theory.

I'm with you. I am a medievalist, and I walked out of the test pretty frustrated that the medieval questions were SUPER easy. Then I realized that the questions I missed on Victorian essayists were probably no problem for a Victorianist. I mean, there was a question about Seamus Heaney's Beowulf, an Old English line to 'translate', and a question from Margery Kempe -- I was especially pleased about the latter because she was the subject of my MA paper.

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For those preparing to take the GRE, I took the general test today just as a bellweather to see how I did, with no studying. I got a 159 Verbal (84th percentile), 156 Quant (74th percentile) and feel good about my Writing. It's definitely a very different test than when I took it three years ago to get into my Masters' program, but I can say that the Verbal test is really not that bad at all - reading comprehension and synonyms carry the day, so as long as you're not hungover or suffering from some kind of plague, you should do fine.

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For those preparing to take the GRE, I took the general test today just as a bellweather to see how I did, with no studying. I got a 159 Verbal (84th percentile), 156 Quant (74th percentile) and feel good about my Writing. It's definitely a very different test than when I took it three years ago to get into my Masters' program, but I can say that the Verbal test is really not that bad at all - reading comprehension and synonyms carry the day, so as long as you're not hungover or suffering from some kind of plague, you should do fine.

I appreciate the insight -- especially in comparison to the old test. It's been almost 5 years for me, and I'd been wondering how different my experience would be this time. Thanks again.

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I am officially a member of this thread, now. Next time I plan to get into ALL THE SCHOOLS.

That'll be me in 2014. Good luck Rainy!

Keep your heads up! I know you'll get it!

Remember that, because the process is so competitive, not being accepted doesn't mean you weren't good enough, it doesn't mean others were better, and it doesn't mean that you can't do it. Seriously, the deciding factor is luck. Most schools probably have 50 students they would take if they could, and they probably have 25 they really, really want. At that point, there is really nothing that is in our control; maybe they already have a few girls (or guys), maybe they already have someone who's undergrad was at a small liberal arts school, maybe they recently had a few current students switch to your subfield so they aren't taking more applicants... Stuff like this, that is completely arbitrary, holds back many, many qualified students.

Positive energy for the upcoming application year!

+++ B) (<--- sunglasses to prevent positive-energy-blindness)

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