Graduate Admissions

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?
Unfortunately, Interfolio does not work well with Harvard’s online application system. We ask that your recommenders upload their letters directly to the online application, with upload tool provided.

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.

Diversity

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:

Diversity at GSAS

Perspectives: Resources for Minority Applicants 

Smooth Transitions: Minority Student Handbook 2015-2016: 

W.E.B. Du Bois Graduate Society

Sheila Thomas, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Minority Affairs:                                              minrec@fas.harvard.edu or (617)495.5315

English Department Volunteer Diversity Contacts for Prospective Students:                               David Nee, G6, dnee@fas.harvard.edu                                                                             Isabel Duarte-Gray, G3, iduartegray@fas.harvard.edu

 

Graduate Admissions FAQ

How many people apply to the program, and how many are admitted?
The PhD program in English at Harvard is extremely competitive. We receive an average of 300-350 applications per year, and we admit approximately 10-15 students (acceptance rate of about 4-5%).
Does the Department of English offer an MA or MFA? Is there a graduate program in creative writing?
No; the Department of English only offers a PhD in English Literature. Students already in the doctoral program who have met certain curricular requirements are able to apply for a non-terminal AM degree, but no terminal Master’s program exists.
Does the Department of English offer a degree in TEFL/TESOL/TESL?
No, the Department of English does not offer these programs. Our graduate program leads to a PhD in English Literature.
Are international applicants encouraged? What about for non-degree granting programs?
The department welcomes international applicants, including non-native English speakers who have a strong command of the English language, as demonstrated by the TOEFL exam and other portions of their application. A minimum score of 80 on the Internet based test (IBT) on the TOEFL is required for consideration by the Graduate School.

Many international students inquire about non-degree granting programs. Information on Special Student, Visiting Fellow, and other programs can be found here.

Can students accepted to the English Graduate Program enroll on a part-time basis?
No, our graduate program is full-time, and requires residency at Harvard. The majority of our students take five or six years to obtain their PhD. If you are interested in taking graduate courses part-time, online, and/or at night, you may want to look into the offerings of the Harvard Extension School
Can students accepted to the English Graduate Program pursue a secondary field of study?
Yes. For a list of fields and more information, please visit the secondary field of study page on the GSAS website. Students who choose to pursue courses for a secondary field remain under GSAS time limits and must meet all milestones and deadlines in the English PhD program.
Does the Department of English offer financial aid, and what does the typical package look like?
Admissions decisions are made without knowing the financial need of the applicants, so that financial status (including the availability of supplemental funding) plays no role in the assessment of one’s suitability for admission.
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.
Can you provide a list of required documents for application?
  • 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.
What if I am missing any of the required components of the application listed above?
An incomplete application will still be reviewed in its entirety, but it will not be seen as competitive as applications considered “complete”.
What if my undergraduate degree/major was in a discipline other than English Literature?
Students admitted to our program have not always been English majors as undergraduates; however, applicants must have both the requisite critical skills and a foundation in English literature for graduate work. This is generally demonstrated by substantial undergraduate coursework and recommendations from faculty in the field. A high score on the GRE Subject Test in English Literature will also bolster your application. Applicants from other disciplines will sometimes pursue a Master’s degree (or other graduate coursework) in English Literature first – before applying to the PhD program – to obtain a stronger background in the subject.
What if I already have a Master's Degree in English? Will I have advanced standing?
If you already have an MA, a maximum of four graduate-level courses may be transferred from the other institution, at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies. Transferred courses will count as 100-level courses toward your PhD requirements. Please note that an MA is not required for admission to the PhD Program – and indeed, the majority of our applicants do not have one.
Is proficiency in languages other than English required for admission?
There are no specific language prerequisites for admission, but a solid background in languages other than English, particularly those that would be useful for scholarly research, will strengthen your application. Demonstrated reading knowledge of two languages (usually Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish, and Italian) is required by the beginning of the third year in the program. You can view examples of past language exams on the Resources page.
Can I meet with a professor?
Appointments to meet with faculty members must be made by contacting them directly. You can find their contact info on the Faculty page.
Can I speak with a current graduate student about the program?
Yes – prospective students should feel free to contact anyone on the list of Volunteer Contacts for Prospective Students.
Where should I mail supplemental application materials?
The entire application system is conducted online. Please do not send any paper materials to the English Department. GSAS admissions also no longer accepts paper materials. 
I'm having a technical problem with the GSAS online application. What do I do?
The Department of English is not able to troubleshoot or provide help for technical issues with the online application tool. Please click the “Technical Support” link on the application login screen to notify tech support.
When will I hear back about application decisions?
GSAS Admissions sends out paper letters containing application decisions in early- to mid-March. Please note that the English Department is not able to answer questions about a candidate’s application status over the phone or via email.
I’m a graduate student currently enrolled in another university. Can I study as a visiting fellow at Harvard?
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences offers the option of enrolling as a Special Student or Visiting Fellow. See here for more details. Please note that the Department of English does not play a role in the administration of this program.
I have another question that hasn't been answered here.
Please email it to engphd@fas.harvard.edu