A Note from the Director of Graduate Studies
Welcome to the virtual home of the graduate programs in English at the University of Michigan. On these pages, you’ll find a wealth of information about the aims and activities of our PhD programs, the kinds of intellectual opportunities available at Michigan, funding packages and teaching opportunities, and the placement of our recent graduates.
In addition to the FAQs answered here, many of you browsing these pages will have urgent questions about less quantifiable matters: how can I strengthen my application? What do faculty readers of applications judge most important? How should I think about the application process?
In general, faculty evaluators read applications holistically. In other words, they look for strong evidence of intellectual promise, achievement, and readiness for rigorous, independent work, in the form of your academic experience and writing, grades and GRE scores, strong letters of support from teachers familiar with your academic career, and your statement of interests. I’m often asked which of these elements of the application is “most important.” Although no single document or data point takes decisive precedence over the others, your own writing, in your statement of interest as well as your writing sample, will be the basis by which admissions readers get a critical sense of the kind of work you might go on to do. Relative weakness in other areas (for example, your undergraduate GPA) may not be decisive if you are able to provide a clear, compelling picture of your intellectual development and your aims for graduate study. Likewise, if you have significant experience related to those aims—an intensive writing project beyond a course framework, for example, or teaching experience in a relevant context—admissions evaluators usually find it helpful, and persuasive, to know something about that experience. More generally, you’re likely to strengthen your application by asking for letters of reference from teachers or instructors who know your work well, and can speak in attentive detail to it. It’s also useful to remember that our admissions readers are drawn from the full range of historical fields and interest areas comprising English studies, which means that your application will be read by non-specialists in any given area.
Overall, it will be helpful for you to think about the application process as your opportunity to tell a story about your experiences as a critical reader and writer, and about the kind of work you imagine doing at the graduate level. Our PhD programs welcome applicants with a diverse array of intellectual experiences and interests; the more clearly you can convey them, the more readily admissions readers will be able to understand the fit between them and what our programs offer.
Please do browse these pages for more information, and feel free to be in touch with us if you have questions or concerns. For further information, please see our contact page.