This section will address how to select which program you should attend.
MOTIVATIONS FOR DEGREE
“Are you an avid reader and researcher? Do you have an insatiable interest in books and information? Are you highly curious and academic-minded? Do you [enjoy] exploring texts and developing ideas beyond what is required in class? Are you a strong writer? Do other students frequently come to you for writing help? Do you persevere? Can you take on large writing projects and see them through to completion?” (Seattle Pacific University).
If the answer to most of the questions above is yes, a graduate degree in English may be suitable for you. So what really is English graduate school?
A Master’s degree in English Literature is specifically for those students who are interested in analyzing and studying Literature. If you are hoping to do a PhD in English eventually, you can consider applying for a MA first to make sure you are adequately equipped to take on a doctoral degree. T
So how should you decide if you have the grit and determination to pursue a degree in English?
An important thing to consider is whether you have the passion and self-motivation to pursue this field. You should be independently motivated, and should be disciplined enough to work with little or no supervision, while also being able to seek out help when you need it. Another important characteristic is a professional commitment to the field -- this means that you should be motivated to pursue a career in the field of English. Graduate school may not be the best place for those students who are applying because they “love books, love school, or want to put off applying for jobs” (Seattle Pacific University). You need to think about what it is that you are hoping to gain through a Master’s degree: is it preparing you for a certain career? is it a stepping stone for you to pursue a PhD eventually? or is it helping you meet other goals? It is also recommended that you connect with your undergraduate professors and ask them about their graduate school experiences (especially those who went to the US) -- learning about people’s personal experiences can help you get a more holistic idea of what a graduate degree in this field will entail.
According to US sources, a Master’s degree in English prepares you to take on a number of different career opportunities including (but not limited to): education, academic administration, working in non-profit organization, technical writing and editing. You may also be able to teach in some community colleges within the US, or as an adjunct professor. In addition to that, you can even choose to go into other professional programs/vocational degrees (common choices for US English graduates are law school and library school). Many students also choose to pursue a PhD after their degree.
Note: all this information has been extracted from US sources; academic/professional opportunities in Pakistan may vary. If you are hoping to return to Pakistan after completing your degree and wish to find out more about the opportunities available here, please try to connect with your undergraduate English professors and/or other alumni of English programs from the US who are based in Pakistan. They may be able to provide some insights on the sort of career opportunities you can benefit from here.
English programs at different universities will vary significantly in terms of structure and exact requirements. It is recommended that you explore your program of choice online to get the most accurate information. But some things that are generally true of most programs are written below.
Students usually take 2-4 courses per semester (the exact number will vary by university). The degree is very reading-intensive and you can expect to have to read roughly one or more books and multiple academic articles prior to each class. The class size is usually not very large, so class participation will typically be expected. A number of courses will require you to submit a short research paper (20-30 pages) at the end of the course.
TYPES OF DEGREE
he MA is typically a 1-2 year long program - and will require intensive writing, extensive reading, research essays, and final projects.
If you are interested in Engish, you may also like:
- PhD in English
- MFA in Creative Writing
- MAT (Master of Art in Teaching)
How to select the best option for yourself (among allied fields)
- A Ph.D. program will usually be 5-7 years long and will include many researched essays, oral and written examinations and a scholarly dissertation. A doctoral program will require you to develop expertise in a particular historical period, genre or theory. If you are interested in both creative writing and literature, a Ph.D. in Creative Writing might be suitable. Your dissertation will consist of a book-length creative piece and an analytical essay. (you can choose to a PhD directly after your undergraduate degree, or you can apply it after finishing your Master’s degree).
- If you are interested in teaching English in high schools (particularly in the US), you can consider applying for the MAT.
- If you are an aspiring writer/poet (interested in creative writing, networking with other writers, publishing books in the future), a degree in MFA Creative Writing may be most suitable for you.
No. of Universities to apply to: 10 schools is a good number. Make sure you choose a combination of “most desirable”, “second-tier” and “safety schools”. If you wish to become a professor after finishing your study, work towards gaining admission into a top-tier program so that you can compete well in the job market. If application cost is too high and you cannot apply to 10 schools, apply to fewer programs but make sure your selection includes universities from each tier.
This link (pg 4-5) will help you understand how to select the most suitable program.
What is the right time to apply?
Some students do decide to take some time off after completing their undergraduate degree, meaning they do not apply for graduate study immediately. Doing this can give you a chance to explore career options and job opportunities before you commit to further education. A year off can also help you decide whether or not English is what you want to pursue in your Master’s. On the other hand, if you are absolutely sure that you want to go to graduate school and are very well-aware of what your academic goals and interests are, then you can apply immediately. Taking time off can also make it slightly difficult for you to get back into an academic routine.
Make sure you want to do a Master’s in English Literature. It is time-consuming; financially-straining and does not always promise high-paying employment after graduation. But if you have the passion, determination, self-motivation, and the resources to fund your study, you should definitely apply.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on program selection (under the tab of ‘selection’).
A lot of our tips talk about how you can strengthen your application, but you can build a stronger application when you’ve done the things this program values in the years prior to the application. The application itself is the communication part (in which you communicate what you've done to the admission committee); but this section gives guidance on the substance part (what you can actually do before you apply). In this section we talk about what you can do in the years leading up to applying that can make you an ideal candidate. Supplement the following tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘Pre-Application’) to become a competitive applicant.
Most universities will require a B.A. in English. Some universities may accept an undergraduate degree in a related field (anything that falls under Humanities); it is advisable that you go through the specific entry requirements for the universities you are interested in applying to, and check if you meet the admission criteria.
- Make sure you let your counselor or advisor know that you are considering graduate school for this field. They will help you plan a suitable course of study.
- Your courses should cover as many literary periods as possible—the more extensive the coverage, the better suited you will be for graduate school. Try to take at least one course on each kind of literature (i.e. British, American, African etc.).
- A course in Literary Theory is basically a must (it will be key in graduate school).
- It is preferable for you to take upper level courses (in your Junior or Senior year). High level or seminar courses will enable you to have appropriate writing samples to send to graduate school.
- It is advisable that you have some background in history, philosophy, music, theatre—arts in general. While you do not need a double major, a minor or a few interdisciplinary courses to consolidate your literary knowledge will be super helpful.
- Sometimes there is a language requirement for the M.A. degree (but this is becoming less common). In such cases, a good grade in a second language is beneficial.
It depends on the university you have selected. For top-tier programs, a CGPA of 3.5 is required (along with high grades in English courses). Other universities require a minimum CGPA of 3.0 so a lower CGPA should not discourage you from applying.
If you have a lower CGPA and are applying to a top-tier program, you may justify it in your personal statement. A high GRE score can compensate for a GPA that falls below the program’s cutoff (but some admission committees may not even consider your writing sample/personal statement if your GPA does not meet their requirements -- so it is safer to have good grades!).
- Make sure you research extensively during your undergraduate degree: browse through graduate program webpages, discuss your aspirations with TAs and professors of the field.
- You will need to send a high-quality writing sample (usually 10-20 pages; check your prospective program’s criteria) alongside your application. Make sure you have ample time to revise the piece and convert it into a sample before submission.
Teaching, peer tutoring, working as a research assistant are all valuable experiences. Although not highly significant toward your admission, they will give you a fair idea of what the profession is like and that can help you pen down a good personal statement.
Prospective faculty may also be more willing to hire you as a research assistant, if they see relevant experience on your resume, and thereby help you fund your education (applicable to PhD in English too).
It will be helpful if you do an independent research project/study or a senior project during your final/third year of university. Most programs require a fairly lengthy writing sample/research essay to be submitted alongside the application.
A Teaching Assistantship or Research Assistantship with an English or Humanities instructor could be helpful.
VOLUNTARY/ SOCIAL WORK
If there are any competitions (local/national) related to English/literature/writing that you can participate in, you should go for it. It is beneficial to have prestigious awards or other honours mentioned in your curriculum vitae. Successful applications are those which mention recognition received by individual teachers and departments and institutions.
This section provides an overview of general guidelines pertaining to the application process. It also delineates the key components of the application process.
Your statement of purpose, letters of recommendation and your writing sample will usually be the most important components in your application. Transcripts, resume, test scores will usually have lesser weightage (unless you are applying to top-tier schools, then they may have more importance).
Refer to the Program Selection Section for further information.
Is this component required?
How important is this component (in the overall review of the application for admission)?
Standardized tests or entry exams
Transcripts (past academic records)
Important (may be extremely important for top-tier schools)
Letters of recommendation
Resume or CV
May be required
Important when required
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on overview (under the tab of ‘overview’).
Pakistani applicants suffer most because of inadequate information -- or wrong information -- about essays and personal statements. This section will address those inadequacies specifically in relation to applying for this program. Supplement the following field-specific tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘essay’) to craft a stellar personal statement.
Many students may give more importance to GRE scores, their CGPAS, recommendation letters and other aspects of the application, but for an admissions committee selecting students for an English graduate program, it is your writing that will ultimately make the difference -- because that is the part of your application you have the most control over, so it is important that your statement and writing sample both set you apart. You will have to submit a sophisticated piece of work in which you can demonstrate your aptitude for the subject, why you wish to apply for this degree along with other things.
Give yourself at least one whole summer to draft and finalize your personal statement. It is safe to assume that your statement will go through multiple drafts. A high-quality personal statement for literature will require a series of editing and redrafting.
Which resources should I make use of?
- Read the following links before start planning your personal statement:
- Go through page 6 of this article (note: some of this information is more relevant to PhD programs, so you should read this carefully).
TIPS ON GOOD AND BAD STATEMENTS
What is essential in the statement:
- Give the prospective department an indication of what you intend to pursue at the graduate level.
- Create an intellectual focus for yourself. What have been your most important conceptual discoveries and understandings? Do the disciplines you have explored inform one another? Which fields interest you the most and why?
- If you are not completely sure about what kind of literature you want to specialize in, it is okay. But you still need to show the committee that you have developed a concrete interest in a particular genre or literary period/theory. Select one or two of these interests, flesh them out and present them as your primary focus. (It is perfectly fine if your focus changes later.)
- Your personal statement should also tackle the question: why the XYZ English Department? What resources does this specific department offer that will help you develop and hone your skills? While it is important to avoid “shameless pandering”, most admission committees will value a statement which shows that you know the strengths of the department (and faculty) that you are applying to.
- Important: Do not exceed the length required. Admission committees do not “want to read more than they asked for” and “lengthy statement makes you look undisciplined”.
- You will have to draft your statement according to the program, which means you could have multiple versions of the same essay. So start drafting as early as possible.
What are some elements of exceptional statements:
- Concentrate on your unique qualities: what do you bring to this program that no other candidate does, in terms of experience and perspective? How does your upbringing, social trajectory and background affect your specific literary interests? What is it about the way you approach literature that makes your application stand out from others?
- Ask several professors to proofread your essay. Do this at least a month before the deadline to ensure you have ample time to revise your essay based on feedback.
- Use the active voice.
- Sound confident - but not overconfident. If there were circumstances that affected your GPA negatively, you can briefly mention them. But there should be a greater emphasis on the positives.
What are bad statements/ what things to avoid:
- Do not draft a generic personal statement that is predicated on your endless love for literature and creative writing. It is safe to assume that almost anyone who wishes to do their Master’s in English is passionate about writing. So avoid such cliches.
- Avoid writing exclusively about your background, or upbringing—it is, however, alright to convey how that informs and/or contributes to your intellectual aspirations.
- Avoid using overly-complex words and unnecessary humor.
- A basic grammatical error could be fatal for an English Master’s application. Proofread your writing samples and other submissions several times. It would be helpful if you ask your friends/instructors to do so as well.
This section will cover the basics about recommendation letters, which are one of the most important parts of the application process. Supplement the following field-specific tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘recommendations’) to ensure you have strong letters of recommendation.
You should be finalizing your recommenders by early summer (i.e. the summer before you wish to send your application). Ideally, these should be 2-3 English professors with whom you have taken two or more classes each (or 1 small one) and received an A. When asking a professor for a letter of recommendation, it would be helpful if you can provide them with a folder containing copies of your work. This will aid them in writing a more comprehensive, useful and accurate recommendation. If you plan on taking some time off between your graduation and Master’s, it might be beneficial to get recommendations before graduation.
Give each faculty member 4 weeks of lead time for a letter of recommendation. Ask in person if they will be willing to write a favourable letter of recommendation for you.
TIPS ON GOOD AND BAD LETTERS
What is essential in the LoRs:
- Your recommender should know you extremely well as a student within their classroom and outside of it. Make sure you have taken several courses with this instructor, visited them frequently during office hours, have participated actively in their class and scored high grades (As/A minuses essentially).
- If you do a senior project or independent study under the supervision of this instructor, it will allow them to write a more accurate and personalized LOR.
- If your recommender personally knows faculty in the program you are applying to, it will definitely help your application.
What are some elements of exceptional LoRs:
- Exceptional LoRs come from those instructors that have taught you in a number of courses, know you since your freshman/sophomore year, supervised your senior project and know you extremely well.
What are bad LoRs/ what things to avoid
- Don’t ask faculty for a letter of recommendation if you have only taken one large class with them and/or have received a B+ or below. Make sure you are perceptive enough to realize which professors will give you a stellar letter and which ones may not. For instance, if a professor says something along the lines, “I wish I knew you better” or asks “What grade did you get in my course?” chances are you were probably not a memorable enough student for that professor to pen you a strong letter. It would be helpful if you drop the request and try to find another recommender.
- It helps if your recommender is a “known quantity”, i.e. a famous professor. Do some research on your professors (find out where they studied, which colleges they taught at earlier in their careers). (NOTE: if another professor who has worked more closely with you and is likely to write a better letter of recommendation for you despite not being a known quantity, get them to write your letter)
- Make sure you have informed your recommenders about the submission process—whether it is electronic or via-post.
- Two weeks before the earliest deadline, send a polite reminder to your professors to send your recommendation letter.
- Most importantly, remember to write your recommenders a thank you note, irrespective of the result of your application.
- Do not send more than the required number of LORs. Chances are it will not help your case, and will be counterproductive.
- if you are not applying immediately after your undergraduate, you should try to maintain good relations with your potential recommenders so that they may be able to write you strong recommendation letters when you do apply.
This section will cover everything else related to the application process; including writing samples, interviews resumes, and standardized tests.
For many colleges, the writing sample can be one of the most integral parts of your application. It demonstrates your ability to articulate, your writing aptitude and intellectual insight, research skills, and how well-acquainted you are with the field of literature.
- Choose one of your strongest papers (it will help if you consult your advisor/instructor to select the best one)
- Try to select an essay which pertains to your likely field of interest. The most successful applications are those which usually present a ‘united front’, i.e. if your interest lies in postmodernism, it is ideal for you to submit an essay on postmodernism. However, make sure that you are ultimately submitting your best essay.
- If you are unable to present a unified front, then try to structure your personal statement around two potential interests. Some people suggest sending in two writing samples (one on your interest, and one that is your best sample) and an explanation. You should only opt for this if you have no other option -- it is not too advisable to send extra samples to an overburdened admissions committee that is already sifting through hundreds of writing samples.
- Do not exceed the specified word limit.
- Request your advisor/instructors to read your revised drafts (at least two months before the application deadline, so that you have ample time to edit)
- Try to convert one of your recent papers (ideal if it is from a seminar course or a high-level course, i.e. a course you have taken in your third or fourth year of college) in which you have received a high mark into a sample
- Edit it by responding to criticism—and then take it back to your instructor
- Proofread it obsessively. A single grammatical error could be a huge disadvantage for your application.
- Use a micro-font (Times New Roman pt. 12 is always safe), proper MLA citations (there should be zero plagiarism) and continuously revise your sample for clarity and elegance.
Some schools may have interviews. Some will not. For more information on whether or not your prospective university requires interviews (and if so, what the process is and how applicants should prepare), please visit your prospective university website.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on preparing for interviews (under the tab of ‘interview’).
You may be required to submit a resume alongside your application. It is beneficial to have prestigious awards or other honours mentioned in your curriculum vitae. For more information (relating to content, structure and layout of the resume), please visit your prospective university website.
- It should state your academic qualifications, any research work and professional experience (if applicable)
- GRE General Test (may be required for some Master’s programs)
- English Fluency Test (TOEFL) - usually required for all international students, unless you can waive it off (visit your prospective university website to find out how it can be waived off).
- GRE Subject Test (usually not required by Master’s programs, but may be listed as optional -- and could help your application)
GRE SUBJECT TEST
- Some universities may ask you to submit scores for the subject test but it is unlikely. However, if you take it and score well, it will help your application (it is usually recommended for the PhD, and not so much for the Master’s degree).
- If you are planning on taking the subject test, you will need to do so in November or December, before submitting your application.
- It is important that you go through all your course material, especially the historical/biographical material, review works you have read in your classes.
- Reading is imperative.
- The test is based on the following (as excerpted from Linda Troot’s “Advice for Those Interested in English Graduate School):
- The test has the following historical spread:
- Continental, Classical, and Comparative Literature through 1925: 5-10%
- British Literature to 1660 (including Milton): 25-30%
- British Literature 1660-1925: 20-35%
- American Literature through 1925: 15-25%
- American, British, and World Literatures after 1925: 20-30%
- The test also has the following distribution of skills:
- Literary analysis (40-55%) Interpretation of passages of prose and poetry. Such questions may involve recognition of conventions and genres, allusions and references, meaning and tone, grammatical structures and rhetorical strategies, and literary techniques.
- Identification (15-20%) Recognition of date, author or work by style and/or content (for literary theory identifications see below).
- Cultural and Historical Contexts (20-25%) Knowledge of literary, cultural and intellectual history as well as identification of author or work through a critical statement or biographical information. Also identification of details of character, plot or setting of a work.
- History and theory of literary criticism(5-10%) Identification and analysis of the characteristics and methods of various critical and theoretical approaches.
This section will cover approximate costs of the program and provide information of resources that may help with funding. Complement the following field-specific tips with general tips on finances (under the tab of ‘finances’).
TIPS ON COSTS
- Some MA programs in English do offer Teaching Assistantships and Merit-based scholarships. Of course, this varies from program to program -- so be sure to check your prospective university’s webpage.
- Master’s programs are expensive; if you need to take loans to fund your education in English Literature/Creative Writing, it will be a bit difficult to return the investment. It is safer to go if you have independent resources or some kind of fellowship or stipend that helps you fund your study.
These tips were compiled with the valuable help of SHAHEEN volunteers.
We thank our volunteers for their contribution and hope their tips and advice help you in your application.
In addition, the following sources were consulted in developing this tip-sheet and we encourage you to consult these sources for additional information and guidance on your application.
Furthermore, the following sources were also consulted in developing this tip-sheet: Loyola University, Hiding It from the Kids by Gerald Graff and Andrew Hoberek