Guidelines for Admission
Application for admission to the Harvard English Graduate Program is completed through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The online application deadline for the 2018-19 academic year is January 2nd. For a full list of application requirements and instructions for the application process, please see the GSAS Admissions Instructions and GSAS Application Checklist.
The following is a set of general guidelines for the English Department’s admissions process. It should be noted that while several areas are emphasized here, the Admissions Committee carefully examines the overall profile of each applicant, taking these and other aspects of the application into consideration:
Writing Sample: The writing samples (one primary and one secondary) are highly significant parts of the application. Candidates should submit two double-spaced, 15-page papers of no more than 5,000 words each, in 12-point type, and with 1-inch margins. The writing samples must be examples of critical writing (rather than creative writing) on subjects directly related to English. Applicants should not send longer papers with instructions to read an excerpt or excerpts, but should edit the samples themselves so that they submit only fifteen pages for each paper. Candidates who know the field in which they expect to specialize should, when possible, submit a primary writing sample related to that field.
Grades: While candidates’ overall GPA is important, it is more important to have an average of no lower than A- in literature courses (and related courses). In addition, while we encourage applications from candidates in programs other than English, they must have both the requisite critical skills and a foundation in English literature for graduate work in English. Most of our successful candidates have some knowledge of all the major fields of English literary study and advanced knowledge of the field in which they intend to study.
Three Letters of Recommendation: It is important to have strong letters of recommendation from professors who are familiar with candidates’ academic work. Applicants who have been out of school for several years should try to reestablish contact with former professors. Additional letters from employers may also be included. Recommenders should comment not only on the applicant’s academic readiness for our PhD program but also on the applicant’s future potential as teachers and scholars.Can I use Interfolio to send my letters of recommendation?
Statement of Purpose: The Statement of Purpose is not a personal statement and should not be heavily weighted down with autobiographical anecdotes. It should be no longer than 1,000 words. It should focus on giving the admissions committee a clear sense of applicants’ individual interests and strengths. Applicants need not indicate a precise field of specialization, if they do not know, but it is helpful to know something about a candidate’s professional aspirations and sense of their own skills, as well as how the Harvard English department might help in attaining their goals. Those who already have a research topic in mind should outline it in detail, giving a sense of how they plan their progress through the program. Those who do not should at least attempt to define the questions and interests they foresee driving their work over the next few years.
Languages: While there are no specific prerequisites for admission, a strong language background helps to strengthen the application, and students who lack it should be aware that they will need to address these gaps during their first two years of graduate study. For more details, please see the “Language Requirements” section of the Program Description.
GREs: Prospective candidates must submit scores for both the GRE Revised General Test and the GRE Subject Test: Literature in English. Applicants should be sure to know the schedule of GRE testing in time to have scores sent to Harvard by the end of December. Scores received after the beginning of January may be too late to be considered. The Subject Test in English Literature is a paper-based test, only administered three times per year (April, September, and October), so please plan your applications accordingly. Exam scores must be from within the past five years. The GRE code for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is 3451. High scores in the Verbal section of the General Test and the Subject Tests are welcome additions to the application, but lower scores will not disqualify one’s candidacy.
Please Note: Applicants should make every effort to ensure that all supporting materials (e.g., recommendations, transcripts, etc.) have been submitted by the application deadline set by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. No applications will be accepted after the deadline.
Accommodations for Applicants Affected by Recent Natural Disasters:
We realize that those applicants who live in areas impacted by recent natural disasters or who need to obtain required application materials from individuals or institutions in these areas may have difficulty gathering the materials necessary to complete their applications on time. If this pertains to you, we encourage you to complete the application to the best of your ability and to include a supplemental statement that explains your circumstances. GSAS will provide this information to the appropriate admissions committee and your admissions decision will be based on the materials available at the time of review.
Please note that even though the online application system will indicate that your application is incomplete, it will still be reviewed by the appropriate admissions committee.
Under normal circumstances, an individual may only submit up to three applications during the course of his or her academic career. If your application is incomplete and you are denied admission, GSAS will not count your application toward the total number of submissions allowed.
If you are able to gather missing materials after the admissions deadline, contact Director of Admissions Christine Sumner directly, as you will not be able to attach new material to your application once it is submitted. If the materials are submitted after the deadline, and before the admissions committee has finished deliberating, the office of admissions will forward those materials to the committee for their consideration. If you have additional questions, contact Christine Sumner.
The Harvard English Department is committed to admitting and supporting a diverse community of graduate students. The Department encourages applications from students from all undergraduate institutions and backgrounds, including students of color and underrepresented minorities, queer and transgender students, first-generation students, foreign nationals, and veterans. The Department also encourages applications from students across a range of sub-fields, critical perspectives, and methodological orientations. You can browse current student research interests by going to “Graduate Students” under the “People” tab at the top of this page and sorting by field. For more information about issues of diversity at the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, please review the resources and informations below:
Sheila Thomas, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Minority Affairs: firstname.lastname@example.org or (617)495.5315
Graduate Admissions FAQHow many people apply to the program, and how many are admitted?
Many international students inquire about non-degree granting programs. Information on Special Student, Visiting Fellow, and other programs can be found here.
All students (including international students) who are admitted to the PhD program receive full and equal funding, through tuition waivers and modest living stipends. Teaching fellowships are made available to graduate students starting in their third year. You may want to review the “Financing Graduate Study” section of GSAS’s website for details about other fees and the approximate costs of living in Cambridge.
- Two writing samples (one primary and one secondary) 15-pages in length each, double-spaced (bibliographies do not count toward the page limit).
- A statement of purpose of 1000 words, which gives a clear sense of your strengths and interests and which details what you wish to pursue in a doctoral program.
- Transcripts from each college/university you attended. The Graduate School requires that you upload your transcript(s) with your online application. Please do not send paper transcripts.
- Three recommendations from faculty members who can speak to your academic capabilities. All recommendations should be uploaded via the GSAS online application system. Please do not send paper recommendations. We do not recommend the use of Interfolio.
- GRE scores (Verbal, Analytical Writing, and Quantitative), and the Subject Test in English Literature.
- A minimum score of 80 on the TOEFL iBT (internet-based test) is required for all non-native English speakers who have not received a degree from a university or college in which English is the language of instruction.