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...where do I even start?



I suspect I'm far from the first to ask this, but now I'm seriously wanting to pursue grad school. At first I was very wishy-washy about it, but now it's almost a main priority.

So background: I graduated from undergrad almost a year ago. Been in and out of different jobs and unable to find any satisfaction with the way things are going. Grad school is always something I told myself I would do, and now I'm feeling like the time is becoming right to finally pursue it. I'm wanting to do some version of American History, despite my undergrad being in the arts. I have a 3.89/4.00 GPA.

My question is: where the heck do I start? I've begun compiling a list of universities I want to attend and studying vocab words for the GRE exam, but I feel like I could perfect those things and still not know where the heck to go next.

Does anyone have any advice in that regard? I'm a little overwhelmed with everything and I'm looking for just a bit more clarity before proceeding.

Thanks guys!

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Hi there! 

Because I was in a similar position to you (background in the arts, going into history for grad school) I thought I'd offer some advice. 

While the GRE is an important step, you'll want to focus most of your attention on your Statement of Purpose and your writing sample. These are the meat of your application, so to speak, and are definitely what gets the most attention! Also, you'll want to consider which of your former professors might be willing/able to write you letters of recommendation! I got professors from varying depts to write mine, rather than just going with the history professors I had worked with. 

When I was writing my SOP, I focused a lot on the type of research I wanted to do, and what I planned on doing after grad school, as well as which professors I might like to work with. I also got about ten different people to read over it for me. 

I hope this helps! Feel free to PM me if you'd like. 

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On 3/9/2017 at 1:01 PM, RDG1836 said:

. I'm wanting to do some version of American History, 

My question is: where the heck do I start?

Thanks guys!

You should start by defining what version(s) of American history you want to study. Americanists tend to be very (some would say overly) specialized. Which century? Which period? Which fields?

If you really have no idea, then perhaps start with the list of Bancroft prize winners http://library.columbia.edu/about/awards/bancroft/previous_awards.html

As you have a job, you may able to afford membership to the Organization of American Historians and/or the American Historical Association. You can use your membership to start reading from each body's respective periodical. And an AHA membership provides a 50% discount for a subscription to Jstor, where you will find tens of thousands of articles. (If you don't have a job, use your food money, and eat on five dollars a day until your budget is back on track.)

If you want to get a sense of the pace of graduate school, work through/read one book a day,* read all of the significant book reviews of that work available through Jstor, and read one or two historiographical articles on the same topic over the past thirty years or so. Do this every day for at least six days a week.

After reading for two weeks, identify three journals that are most important to your emerging areas of interest. Spend time with each issue of each journal that has been published over the past ten years. Write a six to ten page essay on how the journals have changed and why.

After reading for four weeks, pick two or three books that interest you and give yourself a little less than a month to write a five to seven page essay on each book. Use essays in Reviews in American History for a basic template. Give yourself deadlines so that, as often as not, the essays need to be finished within one or two days of each other. If you're prone to procrastination, don't start writing until the night before the essay is due. (While you're writing the essays, you are still on the hook for the book a day pace.)

Throughout this exercise, keep a list of the historians (dead and living) who appeal to you, that challenge you, and that frustrate you. In two to three months, pick a historian on the list. Within four months, produce a twenty to thirty page essay on that historian's life and contributions to the craft. (While you're preparing this essay, you're still on the hook for the book a day pace as well as the shorter essays. And no double dipping on the books.)

After completing an essay, put it aside for about one week. Then, circle back to it and reread it from the most critical perspective you can imagine. Then rewrite the essay to incorporate the comments you've made.  If you think anything along the lines of "I can't phrase this any better," you are doing it wrong. Give yourself one day to review and one day to rewrite each essay. While you're doing your reviews and rewrites, you're still on the hook for a book a day pace and all other written tasks.

If you blow an essay deadline, donate $100 to the political cause most antithetical to your political sensibilities. (You still have to write the essay. There are no indulgences in graduate school.)

The project sketched above emulates the reading and writing component of one class of three that you'd take during your first semester of graduate school with full funding. (It does not include the discussions in seminar with a professor who may find everything you say boring and poorly thought out.) To executive it properly, you will need to give up two or three activities that bring you the most comfort and satisfaction and peace of mind.



* If you end up reading every page in every book, you are doing it wrong. 


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The other thing no one has mentioned is LOR's.  You want to find at least 3 people who can speak to your academic abilities and work effort. I had two professors and my internship supervisor. This might pose an issue for you since you werent a history major and so your professors might not be able to speak to your ability in that area. If you had a history professor you got on well with who knows you, I might look ask him/her. Ask them way in advance of deadlines in case they don't want to write a letter for you, so that way you can find someone else. 

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