Graduate English Programs

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 materials typically required by those programs. Scroll down the page to learn more!


Choosing a Graduate Program in English

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 and/or teaching assistant (TA) positions 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?

Types of Graduate Programs

One of the first major decisions that will need to be made in regards to graduate school is the type of program being sought. 

A master's degree can take one of two forms:

  • A Master of Arts (M.A.) is given for all areas of literature, though some schools do offer an M.A. in creative writing as well.
  • A Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) is most often given for work in creative writing. 

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).

How to Locate a Graduate School

•Talk to your English teacher to learn more about his/her graduate school experience and which schools may be best if you are interested in exploring a specific interest area

•Visit, an online graduate school directory that can help you narrow down your list of potential graduate schools

•For those interested in writing, especially creative writing programs, check out the Association of Writers and Writing Programs searchable directory

•Look in the two-drawer filing cabinet in JRC 356, which contains brochures and tear-away information cards for various graduate schools and programs across the country 

•Talk to Dr. Catherine Craft-Fairchild, current director of the St. Thomas Master of Arts in English program, or Dr. Andrew Scheiber, English department chair

Typical Master's Program Application Requirements

In order to be admitted into a master's program in English, a student must usually have done the following*:

  1. Completed a bachelor's degree (either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science) and majored in English. It is sometimes possible for non-majors to be admitted into a graduate English program, but only if the student is willing to take a certain number of undergraduate courses as a prerequisite. An official transcript from an accredited college or university is required as proof of graduation. Most programs also require a minimum grade point average for all undergraduate English courses.
  2. Taken the General Record Examination (GRE) general test, and in some cases, taken the GRE Literature in English subject test. See the next drop-down box below for more about both tests.
  3. Presented anywhere from two to four confidential "letters of recommendation from individuals with knowledge of your relevant abilities and achievements. Letters from college professors are preferred" (University of St. Thomas). 
  4. Submitted a writing sample of undergraduate work.
  5. Completed a "personal statement" or a "statement of purpose." 
  6. Proven proficiency in a foreign language.
    * Note: The above are general admissions requirements only, and do not necessarily apply to all schools. Please ask the particular school you are looking at for their specific requirements.

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test & the GRE Literature in English Subject Test

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.

Graduate Creative Writing Programs

Graduate programs in creative writing (M.F.A. or M.A.) 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.