Graduate School

Graduate School & the Recommendation Letter Process

Stephany Blackston, Eva English, and Kevin Dillinger presenting at the Battleground States conference at BGSU.

I (Todd) hesitantly recommend grad school in English to students. The job market is flooded with smart PhDs who are unable to locate jobs (in large part because colleges increasingly depend on part-time instructors rather than tenure-track faculty). So, my mantra is as follows: if you love ideas and literature, and you will not be going into debt (i.e., you have a solid teaching assistantship), and you are aware of how bad the academic job market is, grad school may be a good option for you. Certainly, a debt-free MA degree is a wonderful short-term experience, and the degree will help you in whatever non-academic career you may choose to follow. Please note that  the rhetoric and composition option (as opposed to the straight English literature grad degree) is much more marketable.

There is much online about the application process for graduate school. Here are just a few articles worth reading:

To write a good letter of recommendation, I need the following:

  1. A lengthy relationship which is inclusive of coursework and many conversations about your career goals
  2. At least 3 weeks notice
  3. Hard copy printouts of relevant information for each program you are applying to. A program name and address should be included
  4. A clear deadline for each program
  5. GRE scores
  6. Your statement of intent and specific information from you about your career plans
  7. Relevant writing examples to quote from at strategic moments in the letter
  8. Stamped and addressed envelopes, if the institution does not allow for an electronic document
  9. A resume/CV
  10. Any blanks on documents requiring your information need to be fully filled out
  11. Polite reminders: While your professors know that writing letters is crucial for recent graduates, mistakes happen. A polite reminder a day or two before a deadline is appreciated

All of the above need to be given to me in one bundle, to eliminate confusion. Remember, your own goal is to provide me with everything I need in the most convenient manner. Professors are busy and if we are writing several letters at once, which happens often, confusion on your end means missed deadlines.

Things you need to do to be admitted into a graduate school:

  1. Read online resources about grad school and the grad school app process:
  2. Take the GRE, general and subject test
    • Take the GRE practice test offered at the end of September (contact Lisa Marsalek on campus)
    • You should intentionally read literature that does not get attended to in your classes. A good place to begin is with a Norton Anthology of literature.
  3. Locate a mixture of good and great schools. You should apply to several. Note their deadlines and requirements and plan accordingly.
  4. Prepare at least one, preferably two long writing sample, depending on the kind of program you are applying to. This should be revised and revised and revised with a professor’s assistance.
  5. Take the course offered by Lisa Marsalek on grad school.
  6. Present at conferences and symposia. Annual conferences that you may want to attend (MC and I often takes students to the below:
    • SSML: the annual conference of the Society for the Study f Midwesern Literature.
    • MWPCA: annual conference of the Midwest Pop Culture Association
    • The yearly Arts and Humanities Symposium is designed for majors; however, you may present at any stage of your time here if you have a solid conference length paper.
  7. Work on as many campus publications as possible.
  8. If accepted to a graduate school, immediately ask about funding: You should, with a teaching assistantship, be able to go to grad school without adding to your debt. Do not go to graduate school if you do not have guaranteed funding. The average undergraduate student debt is 30K after four years, and this number to say the least is daunting in a bad economy.

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