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Possible for an international student to get into a US English literature program?


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I am a senior student majoring in English at Soochow University, China. I am really interested in getting into a literature program in the US, but I am really not sure if I can do it. The admission criteria seem extremely high to me. It is extremely hard to enter PhD programs; quite a few universities even do not offer MA programs.

 

I've taken the GRE. My verbal is 160(83%) and writing 4(48%). TOEFL:111

Are the scores good enough for grad schools such as Northwestern, U of Washington, and U of Maryland?  

 

And I guess the greatest obstacle to me is my academic experience. Soochow University is not a particularly prestigious university even in China. 

 

Can anyone who's had a similar experience offer me some suggestions? (I really want to study in the US but now I'm a little bit freaking out)

Edited by Alex0266
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Have you considered applying to US comparative literature programs? As a native Chinese speaker, you could work on both English and Chinese literature, and your language skills would be a big plus. Also, comp lit programs tend to get less applicants than English departments, so the odds might seem a little less daunting.

 

In terms of scores: I honestly don't think it matters very much. As many people here have commented, scores don't really get you in; you need to have decent scores to be considered (which you do) but beyond that the really important pieces are your statement of purpose, letters of recommendation and your writing sample--*especially* your writing sample. I think admission will be based less on the GRE or the prestige of your home institution than on a sense that you are a strong scholar and a good "fit" for the department, and that will come through in your writing sample more than anywhere else. 

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Have you considered applying to US comparative literature programs? As a native Chinese speaker, you could work on both English and Chinese literature, and your language skills would be a big plus. Also, comp lit programs tend to get less applicants than English departments, so the odds might seem a little less daunting.

 

In terms of scores: I honestly don't think it matters very much. As many people here have commented, scores don't really get you in; you need to have decent scores to be considered (which you do) but beyond that the really important pieces are your statement of purpose, letters of recommendation and your writing sample--*especially* your writing sample. I think admission will be based less on the GRE or the prestige of your home institution than on a sense that you are a strong scholar and a good "fit" for the department, and that will come through in your writing sample more than anywhere else. 

 

I think Bennett's advice is very sensible!

 

FWIW, I'm Chinese and was born in Hong Kong (but am now a Canadian citizen) and just received acceptances to two graduate programs (MA) as an international student. I know it's not the exact same situation as yours as I received my undergraduate degree from a somewhat prestigious school in Canada but I think with a little gumption and the proper pieces of your application (as detailed above), "anything is possible". Good luck!

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Have you considered applying to US comparative literature programs? As a native Chinese speaker, you could work on both English and Chinese literature, and your language skills would be a big plus. Also, comp lit programs tend to get less applicants than English departments, so the odds might seem a little less daunting.

 

In terms of scores: I honestly don't think it matters very much. As many people here have commented, scores don't really get you in; you need to have decent scores to be considered (which you do) but beyond that the really important pieces are your statement of purpose, letters of recommendation and your writing sample--*especially* your writing sample. I think admission will be based less on the GRE or the prestige of your home institution than on a sense that you are a strong scholar and a good "fit" for the department, and that will come through in your writing sample more than anywhere else. 

Thanks for your advice! It appears that I need to work really hard on my writing sample. I wrote only 3 or 4 pieces of "critical writing" during the past four years, including my BA thesis. Anyway I gotta work harder!

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I think Bennett's advice is very sensible!

 

FWIW, I'm Chinese and was born in Hong Kong (but am now a Canadian citizen) and just received acceptances to two graduate programs (MA) as an international student. I know it's not the exact same situation as yours as I received my undergraduate degree from a somewhat prestigious school in Canada but I think with a little gumption and the proper pieces of your application (as detailed above), "anything is possible". Good luck!

Thanks for your encouragement! Yeah I definitely need more gumption and less indecision~

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Alex--

 

    I have known quite a few international students who have received PhDs in literature at U.S. Schools or who have been accepted into graduate programs in U.S. institutions.  Many institutions want to admit students from non-U.S. backgrounds since it makes their classes more diverse.  You should definitely apply if you think that you can get some good application materials together.

 

    As far as your GRE scores go, I do not think that your scores would keep you from being accepted to many good programs.  However, if you want to go into the very top schools or be more competitive for fellowships and other funding, it would probably help to improve your Analytical Writing score a bit (48% is a bit low for an English program).  Since your English skills are very good, I think that you can do this.  The GRE scorers want a very specific kind of essay, and if you learn more about what they want, you may well be able to pull up your score.  Even if you do not want to apply for fellowships or apply for the most prestigious schools, it might be worth retaking the GRE since a better score might help you stand out among other candidates.

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Alex--

 

    I have known quite a few international students who have received PhDs in literature at U.S. Schools or who have been accepted into graduate programs in U.S. institutions.  Many institutions want to admit students from non-U.S. backgrounds since it makes their classes more diverse.  You should definitely apply if you think that you can get some good application materials together.

 

    As far as your GRE scores go, I do not think that your scores would keep you from being accepted to many good programs.  However, if you want to go into the very top schools or be more competitive for fellowships and other funding, it would probably help to improve your Analytical Writing score a bit (48% is a bit low for an English program).  Since your English skills are very good, I think that you can do this.  The GRE scorers want a very specific kind of essay, and if you learn more about what they want, you may well be able to pull up your score.  Even if you do not want to apply for fellowships or apply for the most prestigious schools, it might be worth retaking the GRE since a better score might help you stand out among other candidates.

 

blakeblake, thanks! I am considering retaking the GRE because I, too, think my writing score is not competitive enough for an English program. I'll be applying for the 2014 fall term so I guess I've still got enough time to do this.

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I've got one more question. 

 

Are MA programs easier to enter than PhD programs? (I guess the answer is yes since most Phd programs provide funding.) I don't  think I am academically prepared for a PhD program.

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I've got one more question. 

 

Are MA programs easier to enter than PhD programs? (I guess the answer is yes since most Phd programs provide funding.) I don't  think I am academically prepared for a PhD program.

 

Generally yes. There are some funded MA programs, though! See this thread:

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To the OP: I am sort of in your shoes right now, but I feel my situation is worse, because I will already have a PhD in Linguistics by the time I apply to the MA, and that could really work against me. But I know at least 2 international students that are on a fully funded PhD program in the US.

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Portia

 

Wow. You are already a PhD candidate! I guess it's because you really like literature that you plan to apply for a lit MA. What worries me is my academic background. The English program offered by my university (Soochow University) is a very "comprehensive" one. I was required to take courses in linguistics, translation, and literature. And most literature classes were brief introductory courses; what makes it worse is that no courses of literary theory was offered. So I have to enter a MA program before pursuing a PhD.  

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To quote myself:

 

 

Briefly, my academic past is rather twisted. After the BA, I wanted to go for a MA in English lit, unfortunately, that degree is not offered in my home country from any top university (I know, baffling, they have stuff like British/American Cultural Studies, but not lit). So I did go for a Comp. Lit, masters instead. After that, I went for a Comp. Lit. PhD, but my professor died and the faculty number was so small that there was no one who could guide me afterwards (now that I write that, sound a bit SF, unfortunately, it is true). So I switched to a PhD in Linguistics, which I have almost finished (2014, final year).

 

I actually have a minor in English and a major in Romanian, and mine was half language/half linguistics as well, there really is no "pure literature" degree in any university back home.

Edited by Portia
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Hi Alex0266, I am an international student from Beijing, and I am applying to Comp Lit programs in US. I've been accepted by a few programs already, so feel free to PM me if you are interested in Comp Lit too. And if you really want to do English (instead of Comp Lit, I mean), I may be able to recommend some sources too.

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Hi elizabethj, thanks! Comp lit is great, but personally I still tend to apply for English lit programs. Surely I'll PM you. I've got a bunch of questions lol.

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Alex0266! I am also an international student from South Korea! I have applied to schools with lower gre verbal score and writing score and I did not have too much problem getting into schools! I have been accepted to three good schools and two wait-listed. I still have not heard from three other schools but yea i think your chance should be higher than mine. take gre subject, it will broaden your choice for schools. i forgot to register for it so i was not able to apply to a lot of schools that i wanted to, especially ones in california. PM me if you want to know more! 

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Alex0266! I am also an international student from South Korea! I have applied to schools with lower gre verbal score and writing score and I did not have too much problem getting into schools! I have been accepted to three good schools and two wait-listed. I still have not heard from three other schools but yea i think your chance should be higher than mine. take gre subject, it will broaden your choice for schools. i forgot to register for it so i was not able to apply to a lot of schools that i wanted to, especially ones in california. PM me if you want to know more! 

 

smy917

 

Yeah I wanna know more. PM you soon. Thanks!

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