By Debbie Mix, Graduate Programs Director

If you’ve ever been interested in applying to graduate school, we’re sure that you have plenty of questions:

  • “What’s a statement of purpose?
  • “Who should I ask for letters of recommendation?”
  • “Do I have to write an entirely new writing sample?”

Fear not! We’re here to outline some ways that you can make your application one that reviewers are excited to read. This resource should help to answer some basic questions you might have about the graduate school application process.

While this post focuses on Ball State English’s graduate programs, this advice can translate to other universities or programs.

Statement of Purpose

  • A statement of purpose details your academic and intellectual biography, along with your purpose in seeking a graduate degree. Ultimately, the statement is meant to connect your goals for graduate study to what you can offer your desired program and why that program is the right for you.
  • Your goals should include an explanation of your academic interests and the reasons behind them; if you’re applying to a creative writing program, you should be able to speak coherently about the kind of work you write and where you position yourself in terms of other writers. A sense as to what graduate school may do for you as an applicant also shows application reviewers how you are situated in your larger field of study.
  • Oftentimes, application reviewers want to see how applicants can position themselves within the specific program. How does your research or creative work fit with what the program offers and the faculty’s own areas of expertise? Which professors would you want to work with? What courses would you like to take? Those details show reviewers that you’ve done your research on their program, and indicate that you would be a good fit.
  • Take some time to review the program’s website, check out its faculty, look at course descriptions, etc., so that you can make strong connections between your interests and the program’s strengths.

Letters of Recommendation

  • Most programs will ask for three separate letters, as is the case with our graduate programs; typically, these letters will be from professors you’ve worked closely with.
  • You want your recommenders to be able to speak well of who you are as a student and writer. If you don’t think a recommender will be able to do that, consider asking someone else. If a professor doesn’t think they’re the best person to write a letter of recommendation for you, they’ll likely let you know—and this isn’t a slight to you, just that someone else would be able to better write about your strengths and why graduate school is the next step for you.
  • Give your recommenders plenty of time to craft their letters for you—at least a month at best. Ask if they’d like to review your statement of purpose and writing sample, and if there are other materials that they’d like to write to you. Nothing wrong with having the best possible letter of support!

Writing Sample

  • If you’ve selected something you wrote for class, give yourself time to revise it so that it’s your best graduate level work! If you don’t have a paper from class, then consider writing something new. Admission committees are looking for evidence that you can develop and sustain an original argument in conversation with other scholars— this will be the kind of writing you’ll do in your graduate courses.
  • Your writing sample should show your promise as an academic in the field. In English Studies, Literature, Rhetoric and Composition, and TESOL and Linguistics, that means your writing sample should:
    • have a clear thesis/argument formulated on specific evidence,
    • manage sources well and be logically organized,
    • and engage in critical analysis and engage in conversation with sources.
  • If you’re applying to a Creative Writing program, your creative sample should:
    • Show a firm understanding of the genre in which you write, but also a fresh perception (in whatever form that might take).
    • Show potential, not mastery, while still being your best, polished work.

We hope that this overview helps you consider applying to graduate school or as you’re actively applying! You can find more information about our Ball State English graduate programs down below:

For more information about the Department of English, visit our website, contact our office or follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.