School of Humanities
School of Humanities
Thank you for your interest in the graduate program in English at The University of Southern Mississippi.
Please review our application deadlines, standards for admission, and an application checklist which will explain the materials you will need to submit along with your online application.
For questions about the graduate program in literature, please contact Dr.%20Joshua%20Bernstein, Director of Graduate Studies.
For questions about our creative writing program, please contact Dr.%20Adam%20Clay, Director of the Center for Writers.
If you want to be considered for funding (in other words, for a graduate assistantship), you should apply by the priority deadline. Please note that we no longer require the GRE for applications to the English graduate program. The English program offers competitive assistantships of $17,000 at the PhD level and $13,000 at the MA level.
February 10th for Fall admission
October 15th for Spring admission
May 1st for Fall admission
November 30th for Spring admission
A limited number of assistantships are available for entering graduate students. As well as a full tuition waiver for the fall and spring semesters, assistantships also carry a stipend for the academic year. Teaching assistant assignments are twenty hours per week, and may include teaching freshman composition, tutoring in the Writing Center, assisting professors with their research, grading for World Literature classes or providing administrative support in the school office. Duties are assigned by the director of the school and are non-negotiable. Assistantships are awarded for one year, and are renewable (pending successful performance of duties both academic and assignment-related).
To apply for an assistantship please indicate on graduate school application. Funding decisions are made separately from admissions decisions, so you may well receive a letter of acceptance before you receive notification about funding. Additionally, the English program makes every effort to fund as many incoming graduate students as possible, and if alternate sources of funding become available after the initial round of funding offers has been made, we will contact students on the waiting list with revised offers. If you are not offered funding your first year, and are in good academic standing, you are welcome to apply for second-year funding.
Only complete applications will be reviewed by the admissions committee. Please ensure that all of the following materials are uploaded to the Graduate School application server.
Your official application must be submitted electronically. (Please note that applicants to the combined MA/PhD program in literature should apply to the doctoral program.) All applications must be accompanied by a non-refundable application fee, which can be paid electronically by credit card when you submit your application, or which you can mail directly to the Office of Graduate admissions at the address below.
Have transcripts sent to:
Office of Graduate Admissions
The University of Southern Mississippi
118 College Drive #5024
Hattiesburg, MS 39406-0001
Please note that all transcripts from all colleges or universities you have attended are required, not just the most recent transcripts. Please also inform the Graduate School if you have changed your name since you attended college, as transcripts which arrive under a maiden or other name may not be filed correctly and may significantly delay processing of your application. If you have further questions, please contact Graduate Admissions at 601-266-5137.
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 program?
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 cycle?
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 coursework.
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.
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.
If you are an international student, please apply through International Student and Scholar Services.
If you are a secondary school teacher interested in taking a graduate course without joining our program, please view this information on Non-Degree Graduate Enrollment.
If you are interested in taking a graduate course in English but have not been admitted into the graduate program, you may take up to six hours (2 classes) as a non-degree seeking student. All non-degree classes require prior approval from the graduate coordinator, must be at the 500- or 600- level, and are subject to availability.
PROCEDURE FOR NON-DEGREE SEEKING STUDENTS
1. Meet with the English Coordinator of Graduate Studies to discuss your request and to review approved course options. (E-mail Dr. Joshua Bernstein or call 601-266-6524 for an appointment).
2. Submit proof of undergraduate degree and a $60 application fee to the Office of Graduate Studies, McCain Library 211. The Graduate School will register you for the approved course when registration opens for the next semester.
*Note that you must apply for re-admission if you return to the University after one
or more semesters’ absence.
*We do not offer any graduate courses online at this time.