Thinking of Applying to Graduate School in History?
Here are some tips!
Applying for a Ph.D. program in History is different than applying for a Master’s degree. See the comments below for advice about Master’s Programs.
Applying to a Ph.D. Program in History
Applying for a Ph.D. is not simply a way of extending you education. Admission is very competitive and typically you spend five to seven years doing course work, research, and thesis writing before you can apply for a position in a college or university. Obtaining such a position is also competitive. The graduate program in history in New Brunswick, for example, gets between 300 and 500 applications and admits between a dozen and twenty students. Most of those students complete the program, but it often takes a student two years to find a permanent job. On the good news side, most programs have financial aid available for graduate studies–tuition remission and fellowships or teaching assistantships. Most programs train you both as research scholars and as teachers.
Detailed advice follows below, but here are three things to do once you become a major if you are thinking of applying to graduate school:
- Take at least two years of a foreign language (consider study abroad as well).
- Take the history seminar in your junior year.
- Plan to do an honors thesis in your senior year.
Also, see this link:
More generally, second semester juniors and seniors should do the following:
- If you are considering applying to a Ph.D. program, the first step is to talk with one or more professors with whom you have done course work (preferably in a field in which you would like to attend graduate school). Thus, for example, if you have had Prof. Chambers’ course on War, Peace, and the Military, and have though of doing graduate work in that field, talk with him. Discuss your interests and ask them whether they think it would be a good idea for you to apply (an honest answer to this question is worth a great deal). Ask what schools you might consider. Keep in mind that schools without outstanding reputations for liberal arts education are not necessarily the best places to do graduate work in a particular field. Again, for example, if you were thinking of applying in American colonial/Revolutionary era history, you might be advised to apply to William & Mary, Penn, Connecticut, Delaware, Yale, and several other schools – the point being that different fields are strongest at different universities.
- You will need to submit written work with most graduate applications. This will generally mean your history seminar paper (which you should revise before using it) or chapters from a senior-year thesis. (Other students, applying after they have a Master’s, will be using their Master’s thesis when they apply.) In most cases, if you are qualified to apply for a Ph.D. program, you are or have done a senior year honors thesis.
- You will also need letters of recommendation. These should come from professors who know your work well, and in at least one case, have directed you in a research and writing project (the history seminar or a senior thesis). Supply everyone whom you ask to write for you with a copy of your transcript, your resume (if you have one), and a copy of your personal statement. If you are applying to multiple schools, you can either sent up a credentials file and have letters sent to it, or ask professors to write to schools directly (In many cases, these letters can now be submitted electronically, as you’ll find when you go to the web pages of individual schools). You will have to draft a personal statement that explains your interest in studying history at a particular institution – a somewhat different letter for each application. You need to check the programs at each school you are considering, and discuss these programs with member of our faculty before applying. Our undergraduate program, keeps sample application letters on file that you might like to review before writing your own.
- You will be asked by most programs to submit Graduate Record Examination results. These are best taken in the fall of your senior year (or over the summer). Check each program you are considering to see if they require more than the general examination. You should also make sure ahead of time that you can get your transcript sent out in a timely fashion as most programs will require an official copy.
The following links will take you to some typical, quite competitive programs, and give you some idea of the type of requirement you’ll be asked to meet if you apply:
- Duke University Graduate History Program
- University of Michigan Graduate History Program
- New York University Graduate History Program
- University of Pennsylvania Graduate History Program
Applying to a Master’s Program in History
People apply for an M.A. in history for many different reasons: (1) to enrich their understanding of the field; (2) as high school teachers who want to keep up-to-date in their teaching field; (3) to gain specialized career skills in such areas as public history, museum work, and archives management; (4) to improve their credentials for and evaluate their interest in going on for a Ph.D. Many New Jersey universities offer History MA programs. Rutgers MA program in History is taught on the Newark campus, and is a truly outstanding program. In applying, be sure to distinguish between programs that offer a stand-alone MA and those in which the MA is either not a separate degree (only obtained when you complete a Ph.D.) or in a completely separate track.
The information about Ph.D. programs given above generally applies to the admissions process for a Master’s. These programs are generally not as competitive (although they may still be quite competitive), they usually offer an option of part-time studies, and they may not require language skills to obtain a degree or written work with the application. Specialized programs, such as the Winterthur-Delaware program, are among the most competitive in the country.
Some sample area programs:
- Federated Department of History Rutgers-Newark/NJIT Graduate History Program
- William Paterson Graduate History Program
- New York University Archival Management Program
- Winterthur Program in Early American Culture (in conjunction with the University of Delaware)