1. APPLYING Do you offer courses online or allow for part-time enrollment?
We do allow for part-time enrollment, and a number of our students attend the graduate
program part-time. We do not offer any graduate courses online. All of our courses
meet in-person, though a number of them occur in the evenings to accommodate students
who work. Please note that part-time enrollment is not available to funded students
(those who are employed as graduate assistants). What if I wish to continue my current job? Can I still enroll in your MA or PhD program?
We do have a number of graduate students who are enrolled part-time while working
elsewhere, often as teachers or administrators, for example. USM, like most universities,
does not permit students on assistantship to work elsewhere while they are under contract
during the academic year. This policy is intended to protect students’ time and ensure that they
make the most of graduate study, since performing well in studies while maintaining
an assistantship is already an extremely demanding, full-time job. Do you offer partial funding to admitted students?
We do not. Students are fully-funded or part-time. What if I’m an international student?
You are welcome and encouraged to apply. We do not discriminate against any applicant,
much less on the basis of citizenship, immigration status, or nationality. A number
of our current students are international students. Please see this page
for more information. One thing to note is that graduate assistants are required
to teach writing, for which a high degree of English proficiency is required. Do I need to have a prior degree in English to apply?
No, though one criterion for admission is the perceived ability to do well in graduate-level
courses in literary studies, for which prior, advanced coursework in literary studies often
provides the best evidence. Work in comparable subjects can sometimes suffice. The
M.A. program is more flexible than the Ph.D. program in this regard. To be admitted
to the Ph.D. program, one must normally have completed an M.A. in literature. If you
are unsure, you may contact the Director of Graduate Admissions, Dr. Josh Bernstein,
to inquire. Do I need to have taught previously to be considered for funding?
Not at all. Most of our graduate assistants are new to college teaching. That said,
when evaluating applicants for funding, we look carefully at things like grades, letters
of reference, and writing quality (as evinced through both the sample and statement)
to assess how likely the applicant is to perform well as an instructor. We also work
very carefully with every funded student to help ease him or her into the classroom
and ensure sufficient preparation. What if I have been out of school for a long time? Can I still apply to your graduate
We have many nontraditional and relatively older students in our program; that's never
been a problem, nor will it be. The one issue is that if you've been away from an
academic setting for some time, it can sometimes be harder to find reference letters
attesting to your ability to do graduate-level work in English. It’s also sometimes hard
to supply a writing sample demonstrating that ability. Those two components, along
with the grades, are tremendously important to the Admissions Committee. Each application
is treated holistically, however, and we understand that each applicant is different;
that many applicants face personal or economic obstacles in returning to graduate
study; and that some aspects of an application may need to compensate for others.
In short, you should do the best job you can in assembling your materials--especially
the writing sample--and apply in full confidence. What if my letters do not come from academics?
This won’t prevent your application from being considered, and certainly there are
good reasons that some applicants may not have letters of reference from academics.
That said, having letters from academics, especially those, such as English professors,
who can attest to your ability to do graduate-level coursework in English, is almost
always preferable. The reason for this is that our program can only admit students
if we know they are prone to succeed; the cost and duration of graduate study is too
high to do otherwise. Can I email you my documents, letters, or materials, or have them emailed to you?
No. All materials must be complete and uploaded through USM’s application portal
. Please note that an application will not be processed or reviewed by the Admissions
Committee until it is complete and all of the materials have been uploaded. Please
allow sufficient time, especially if you wish to be considered for funding. What percentage of applicants do you accept?
We don’t believe acceptance rates are an accurate or reliable measure of a program’s
performance. That said, in 2020, we received dozens of applications for a target class
size of between ten and twenty students. About half of our admitted students receive
funding. Are there average grades or test scores for admitted students?
We do not compile a list of average grades, though almost all of our admitted students
have performed well in advanced English (literary studies) courses or in comparable
subjects. The Graduate School also maintains minimum GPA requirements for admission,
which you can view here
. We no longer require the GRE for admission. In general, if you have done well in
writing-intensive courses and feel you are ready to apply, we would encourage you
to do so. Will my need for financial aid affect my changes of admission?
No. Admissions decisions and funding decisions are entirely separate. The only criterion
for admission is the strength of the application itself, and applicant need is not
considered. Can I reapply if I am not admitted?
Yes, though we would encourage you to highlight in your application statement what
has changed since your last application, since admissions decisions are unlikely to
change unless there has been an improvement in the application. Do you give feedback on rejected applications?
Per policy, we do not. Who determines my admission?
An admissions committee of about five English professors makes the initial recommendation. If I’m admitted, can I defer my application?
You may defer your admission for up to a year. Please note that if you are awarded
funding, the funding cannot be deferred, and there is no guarantee that funding will
become available in future cycles. Am I more likely to be admitted and funded during the winter or spring admissions
Your chances of admission do not depend on the admissions cycle; the same criteria
are always applied. Funding opportunities, however, are much rarer in the spring. If I am admitted, am I guaranteed funding for the duration of my study?
Renewal is not automatic, and graduate assistants need to document their yearly progress
through the submission of a short narrative and CV. Assuming they do that and remain
in good standing with their academic work and assistantship duties, however, they
can expect to be funded for the duration of their agreement, which is normally four
years for literature. We also work with students to find external sources of support. Does my writing sample need to be on literature? What if it’s outside the required
length of 15-20 pages? Could I submit two or more shorter papers, rather than one
long one? What do you look for in the writing sample?
The writing sample is the single most important component of an application. It is
read by care with every member of the admissions committee and with an eye towards
assessing the applicant’s ability to do graduate-level work in English. Writing that does
not focus on literature risks precluding that assessment, though it won’t be dismissed from
consideration, especially if the writing displays comparable rigor, close-reading,
and textual analysis, along with original thought. In terms of length, samples that
exceed or fall short of the suggested length will still be read but will likely raise
suspicions. Writing on multiple topics, or combining writing samples, isn't recommended,
since there's a risk of insufficient engagement with the topics. The length of the
writing sample reflects the minimum seminar paper expected in graduate study so that
the Admissions Committee can assess an applicant’s ability to succeed in our program
2. THE PROGRAM What are your program’s strengths?
Our literature program is globally renowned for its specialty in children’s literature
(see this page
for more info), though we also have strengths in Southern literature, modernism,
British and American literature, and other fields. Please see our faculty page
for more information. The opportunity to take seminars alongside creative writers
also distinguishes graduate study here; we believe that the juxtaposition of creative
writers and scholars in the classroom is mutually enriching insofar as it offers multiple
perspectives on how to read and interpret literature. If I receive funding, what does that include?
It includes: a full tuition waiver; the option of subsidized health insurance coverage
(please see this page
to learn more, including about a required health fee); and an annual stipend of either
$17,000 for Ph.D. students or $13,000 for M.A. students. Do you offer funding for conference travel?
Our program normally makes funds available for limited conference travel on a competitive
basis. Thanks in part to the USM Foundation, we also provide a host of awards offering
thousands of dollars in annual support, for which current graduate students may apply. Please
see this page
for more info. If I’m admitted, what classes will I teach?
Funded MA students normally work as tutors in the Writing Center or as graders for
large undergraduate seminars during their first year and teach two composition classes per semester
in their second year. Funded PhD students normally teach two composition classes per
semester from the start of their studies, though literature courses, such as ENG 203: World
Literature, are often available to advanced students who apply to teach them. Other
opportunities, such as editorships at Southern Quarterly
, are often available, as well, and provide compensation at a level commensurate with
teaching. Are the teaching assistantship duties overwhelming?
We work very carefully with students to ensure that they are not overburdened and
that they are managing their time correctly, so that that their primary focus is their
studies. In compliance with standards established by Human Resources, we guarantee
that students work no more than twenty hours a week in their assigned duties. That
said, we also encourage the teaching assistants to improve in their instruction and
make the most of their responsibilities. In general, we find that the best instructors are
also the best learners. If I’m admitted as a student in literature, may I take courses in creative writing?
Our creative writing workshops are only open to creative writing graduate students.
We do have a lot of collaborative events involving both the creative writing and literature
students, and some literature students enjoy sharing their work aloud at our bimonthly
creative writing readings, usually at T-Bones Coffeeshop
or as part of our “Salon Series” at students’ homes. Several of our literature students
also have backgrounds in creative writing and enjoy swapping work with creative writing
students. In general, we foster a close and integrated community in which creative
writing and literature students enjoy a strong rapport. May I speak with a current student or faculty member in the program?
If you have been admitted to the graduate program, we would be delighted to put you
in touch with faculty and students, and we normally host an orientation weekend for
precisely that reason. If you have not yet been admitted, we ask that you please contact
the Director of Graduate Studies, Josh Bernstein, if you have questions.
3. OUTCOMES What advice would you give someone considering graduate school in the humanities?
Anyone considering an academic career needs to be aware of the tightening job market,
especially in the humanities. For a realistic assessment, see this 2018 article
in the Chronicle by Jonathan Kramnick. The recent coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this trend.
Yet, as Kramnick and others have pointed out, certain segments of the market remain
strong, and a PhD in English provides valuable preparation for a host of careers
, not just in academia. Our graduate program in particular prides itself on training
students for a variety of career outcomes. While we’ve been fortunate to place quite
a few of our graduates in academic jobs, we’ve also had success in helping our students
find leading positions in publishing, administration, and education, among other fields.
We believe firmly in being transparent with our students about the likely outcomes
of graduate study and helping them shape their goals accordingly. We discourage taking
out large loans or going into debt to pursue a graduate degree in English—or any other
field of the humanities—since the expected outcomes, no matter where one is studying
or what one achieves, are so uncertain. You should also follow the jobs postings on
websites like the Academic Jobs Wiki (https://academicjobs.wikia.org/wiki/Academic_Jobs_Wiki
) to get a sense of what fields are hiring. What advice would you give someone applying to a graduate program in English?
The best advice would be to talk to a former professor or mentor, ideally in the field
of English, about your ambitions and goals. If that’s impossible, you might reach
out to other academics or those who have been through graduate study in the humanities to
get a sense of what’s involved. It’s also usually helpful to have someone else, ideally
someone knowledgeable in literature, reviewing your materials, especially the writing
sample, for feedback. We understand that this isn’t always possible, however, and
would encourage you to put forth your best effort and apply.