Applying to Graduate School

Many students in American Studies consider pursuing some form of additional education, whether in American Studies or other fields (Public History, Education, Social Work, Business, Law, etc.). This page will provide some basic information about applying for graduate school. For a more comprehensive list of guidelines, see the American Studies Association’s pamphlet: How to Apply to Graduate School in American Studies.”

1. Before applying to graduate schools, research your options.

What field are you considering? Which schools provide degrees in that field? Are there sufficient faculty in your field of interest? What is the quality of the program? Does the program provide funding for graduate students? Geographic considerations may be important to some students (is the school nearby), but questions about the quality of the program should really be foremost in your mind. Start your research about a year before you plan to apply. 

2. Prepare your materials EARLY!

Most programs will ask for a personal statement, a writing sample, and several letters of reference in addition to a generic application.

A strong personal statement should present a description of your research interests and goals and make a case for why the particular program you are applying to best suits your needs.  Avoid personal biography, unless there is a compelling intellectual reason to cover that ground.

A strong writing sample should be a substantial research paper (10-20 pages) that has a compelling argument and shows off your ability to conduct research and analyze both primary and secondary source materials. It should be properly sourced and cited, free from typos and basic writing errors, and written in a clear voice with a clear sense of what is at stake in the argument (i.e. explain why the issue matters or ought to matter). It is highly recommend that you work with trusted faculty to revise your writing sample before submission, but make sure you leave sufficient time for this process.

Potential referees should be professors at the University where you trained (OSU or other). Ideally they will be faculty with whom you have taken classes or established a rapport. Letters from employers and personal acquaintances should be avoided unless those individuals can speak to your potential as a scholar (that is, your ability to read critically, evaluate evidence, negotiate differing opinions, and communicate an argument).

Approach potential referees early in the process and provide them with the following materials:

  • A list of schools to which you are applying, and due dates, with the earliest due date at the top
  • A draft of your personal statement and a copy of your CV or resumé (if available)
  • A transcript or notation of your GPA
  • A reminder of the grade you received in the professor’s course and a copy of the best work you performed in the class (ideally with the professor’s original comments).
  • Copies of any Recommendation Forms provided by the school, with your information and the professors’ contact information already filled in.
  • Information about how to get in touch with you in case the professor needs to reach you
  • An addressed, stamped envelope for any materials that must be mailed via snail mail (this is rare these days but may still happen on occasion)
  • And, last but not least, a thank you. Acknowledge that the letter writer’s time is valuable and that you appreciate his/her effort on your behalf.