This is the second in my on-going series of posts about applying to graduate programs in Classics. Today’s topic — the application process!
Graduate program applications vary from university to university, but most Ph.D. programs will require basically the same items.
Application form and essay. You will need to complete an application form (usually on-line) providing basic information about yourself. For most schools, you’ll be asked to write a “statement of purpose” or some other type of personal essay. This is your one chance to present yourself in your own words to the admissions committee (usually the graduate faculty of the department). This is an important part of your application packet — and most people find it to be the most challenging. Your statement should explain what you intend to do in graduate school and what your intellectual interests are. It is also your chance to sell yourself — you are presenting yourself, your interests and your qualifications to the faculty of the program. The trick is to strike just the right balance. You want the statement to be personal and sincere, but not too personal (if you know what I mean!). Avoid platitutes about your great love of things Greek and Roman – focus instead on the intellectual questions that excite you. Use the personal statement as an opportunity to let the committee know what you will contribute to their program. There are lots of ways to write a good personal statement / statement of purpose. There are also lots of ways to write bad ones. It would be a good idea to have a few friends and a few of your professors look over your statement before you submit it.
Transcript. You’ll need to arrange to have an official copy of your transcript sent to the university. You’ll need to contact the Registrar’s office at CofC to make arrangments to have this sent out.
GRE Scores. You’ll need to take the GRE exam and have the scores sent to the university. You should take the GRE by October of your senior year at the latest. (Do study for the GRE test — the test scores do matter, both for admissions and for funding). If you take the test in October you will have enough time to get the scores processed, and you’d even have the chance to take the test again to improve your scores if needed.
Writing Sample. Many graduate programs (and almost all Ph.D. programs) will ask for a sample of your written work. Like the personal statement, this is an opportunity to present yourself. Select your best work — the work that shows what you can do as a researcher and thinker in Classics. This should probably be a research paper and not just an essay in which you discuss a primary source. The paper from the senior research seminar (CLAS 401) would be ideal, though a strong paper from one of your 300-level classes could work well too. Be sure to spend a bit of time proofreading and making corrections/improvements to the paper.
Letters of Recommendation. Most programs will require two or three recommendations from your undergraduate professors. You will probably be asked to provide the names of the recommenders as part of your application. Be sure to check first with the professor before you submit his/her name. Professors will usually be happy to write a recommendation for you. Generally, if a professor cannot write you a strong recommendation, he/she will let you know and will decline your request for a letter. This is a professional courtesy and one that you ought to appreciate — after all, you don’t want a bad letter as part of your application!! Over the years, I’ve only ever declined a few requests for letters — generally I’m delighted to help students realize their career goals in this profession. Here is an important piece of advice — be very organized and respectful of your professors’ time. Make an appointment to speak with potential recommenders. Discuss your plans with them. Be prepared with a list of schools that you are applying to — and include on this list the deadline dates for recommendations and note if the recommendations are to be submitted electronically. Share a copy of your personal statement with the recommender. Finally, print out an unofficial copy of your transcript to share with the professor. Unless the professor is your advisor, he/she will not have access to your transcript. Your recommenders will want to know about your academic preparation for graduate work. If you are well organized when you speak with a potential recommender, your recommendation will likely be that much stronger! Be sure to give your recommenders a minimum of two weeks to complete the recommendations. Your professors likely have other responsibilities (teaching, home lives, lots of other recommendations to write). You want to be sure that they have ample time to write a strong letter of support on your behalf. Finally, a word about confidentiality of your recommendations. You will be asked on the application materials whether you “waive your rights” of access to the recommendations. My advice is that you should ALWAYS waive your rights of access to the letter. This means that the recommendation will remain confidential, between the recommender and the admissions committee. A confidential recommendation is held in much higher regard than one that is open to the applicant. Remember that your professor will probably turn down your request if he/she can’t write you a strong letter.
Money. Ah, yes, you knew that there was going to be money involved. Most graduate schools have an application fee — ranging from about $50 – $100. Be prepared to pay the fees. You shouldn’t be applying to more than six or seven graduate programs total.
This has been a very long post — I no doubt left out some information, but that’s the advantage of blogs — I’ll be able to add new information later!