There is a famous aphorism which says that "All good things must come to an end." While this may hold true in a multitude of areas, thinking like this carries little weight in the realm of education, where learning is a life-long process.
English majors of junior or senior standing who find the world of literature and writing irresistible and who desire to continue their analysis of various rhetorical and theoretical methods, genres, or hone their own creative writing styles may wish to consider graduate school. For those seriously considering entering the profession of English as a university teacher, a graduate degree in the field is a must. Most two-year colleges will require their teachers to have at least a master's degree (though a doctorate is becoming more common), and all four-year schools will require a doctorate for tenure-track positions. The purpose of this page is to provide you with basic information about graduate programs in English and the application process associated with them.
One of the first major decisions that will need to be made in regards to graduate school is the type of program being sought. Some programs result just in a master's degree, while others require a student to complete both a master's degree and a doctorate (Ph.D). A master's degree can take one of two forms:
Choosing a graduate program may seem like a daunting task, but in reality, the questions that students should ask themselves do not radically vary from those asked when an undergraduate institution was being selected. Some possible questions may include the following: Do you want to be in a metropolitan area? How much are you willing to spend on tuition? Are fellowships available? Is there a school that has specialists or well-known experts in your area of interest? What is a typical course workload? How large or small is the program? Are most students full-time or part-time? What have friends or teachers heard about that particular school?
In order to be admitted into a master's program in English, a student must usually have done the following*:
Graduate programs in creative writing (MFA or MA) can vary widely. Some programs are traditional in nature, requiring that students take courses covering various literary periods and genres, have proficiency in a foreign language, and demonstrate an ability to use research and documentation skills. Other programs--frequently referred to as studio programs--are far less traditional and focus primarily on the growth of the student's writing. Additionally, some graduate writing programs offer workshops only in fiction and poetry, while others have these and other workshops in playwriting, screenwriting, creative nonfiction, travel writing, and more.
The best advice...is paradoxical: study both with writers you like and with writers you don't like. If you study only with writers you already admire, you may run the risk of becoming merely eclectic, imitative. Study with a wide range of talents will probably serve you best. You may learn, for example, to construct your own extraordinary stories of the ordinary, in the unadorned style of Barbara Pym or Ray Carver, only by first studying the redounding rhetoric of Henry James, the caustic satires of Dawn Powell, and the encyclopedic narratives of your teacher (all of whom you previously resisted); in the end, you may find yourself--master of influences--writing simply in your own voice. Or you may improve your sonnets and sestinas by studying with advocates of free verse. By doing things unlike themselves, writers grow, mature--and become artists.
--D.W. Fenza, editor, The AWP Official Guide to Writing Programs
Admissions requirements for a Ph.D. program are similar to those required for a master's program (see list above), except that an MA or MFA degree is required.
For complete information regarding test format, cost, and testing locations for both the General Test and the Literature in English subject test (the latter is only required by certain schools), please visit the official website of Educational Testing Service. A GRE General Test sample and a GRE Literature in English subject test sample are also available on that same website. GRE preparation guides are also available at most major bookstores.