Advice on Applying to Graduate Schools

Professors are often asked for advice about whether, where, and how to attend graduate school. Such advice is tricky to give in these times, as many of the graduate degrees most highly sought after by American Studies students are in fields with shrinking academic job markets. The high cost of graduate school and likelihood of success are factors that all students should consider before jumping into graduate study.

Resources: Thomas H. Benton (aka William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College) has famously–and repeatedly–advised graduates in the Humanities to “Just Don’t Go” while others, like Karen Kelsky of “The Professor Is In” fame, advise doing your homework and going in “With your Eyes Wide Open” (see also The American Historical Association’s position paper on the topic). Some may find Lingua Franca’s Real Guide to Graduate School a helpful source of advice on a variety of matters from early in the process to the point of acceptance.

I’d say, if you have both the passion and the aptitude, you can find a fulfilling career as a graduate of a Masters or PhD program in the Liberal Arts and Sciences; it just may not be the career you had in mind when you started. You may end up teaching in a University, but you may also find yourself bringing your knowledge and passion to the people in other ways (see Slate’s recent story on “Alt-Ac Careers and those who love them“). Today’s “information economy” needs people with the skills to translate mere information into meaningful knowledge and practical action. If you don’t know it yet, that’s YOU, humanities and social science geeks! If you want to go to grad school, then, I say (with begrudging credit to Nike) JUST DO IT!

Toward that end, we in American Studies have put together a handy reference page for those thinking of applying to graduate school. You can find it under the “Resources” tab of the AMST website (or click here). It includes advice on how to identify and evaluate your future school, how to prepare your application materials, and how to solicit letters of recommendation. You will find a list of graduate schools in American Studies, American History, Public History, and Gender and Women’s Studies, among others, plus a list of graduate degrees available at OSU and OU. If you have additional suggestions, please put them in the comments, and I’ll consider adding them to the list. Cheers and good luck to all of our future knowledge warriors. Go forth and conquer!

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