Graduate Schools and Programs

Become a college professor
M.F.A. Programs & Other Advanced Degrees in Writing

Graduate Programs in Literature

Become a college professor
College teaching in literature today usually requires a Ph.D., a course of post-graduate study that can take from four to seven years to complete. Writers are expected to have completed a Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) degree or have equivalent publications.  Despite predictions that job prospects would brighten during the recent '90's, the market is still extremely competitive. The total number of teaching positions advertised in the English Edition of the MLA Job Information List has in fact fallen rather precipitously during the past few years, from a high of 1,500 in 1989 to approximately 850 in 1993, and though most of the listed jobs are open to recent graduates only about 40% are tenure-track positions. At the same time the number of doctoral degrees granted has been rising steadily, from 750 in 1987 to a current level of 1000 or so. Although a Masters program might be something you could embark upon simply in order to feel better read, a doctoral program is training for a profession. It certainly can be parlayed into training for nonacademic jobs, but you should not seek a Ph.D. if you are not deeply interested in a specific field--and while you may well be driven to study by curiosity and a love of learning, you should also bear in mind that the job market, as noted above, has expanded and tightened unpredictably during the last two decades.

Graduate study in English, particularly at the doctoral level, is quite different from undergraduate literature study. Primary works are only part of the story. It is expected that graduate students in English today are or will rapidly become conversant with literary theory and with a variety of critical approaches, not all of them currently fashionable. Graduate students must also concern themselves with the literary and cultural contexts of the works in their major period or genre, and most programs expect their graduates to become competent enough in one or more relevant foreign languages to be able to read the sources or the criticism necessary for dissertation research and subsequent scholarship. More and more, graduate students are urged to publish critical articles or their dissertations as signs of their promise as scholars.

At the Office of Career Services, you can learn ways to access current information on graduate programs through the Internet. Petersen's Guide to Graduate Study is available on-line, as are many university catalogs. Once you have learned to use Catapult, a program developed at Hartwick to make access easy to these resources, you can browse from any Internet connection.

The structure and tone of doctoral programs differ immensely from school to school. When you research programs, be sure to delve into the details before making any decisions. Some programs, for instance, admit large numbers of M.A. students (perhaps to insure that large courses will be staffed with teaching assistants), but allow only a select few to proceed to the doctoral program. Others make a commitment from the beginning to all the students they admit for doctoral study. Some programs have traditional requirements, including a uniform exam for all students at an early stage of the program, whereas others allow each student to tailor a program to meet specific interests. Financial support may or may not be available for up to seven years; it may include "tuition remission" with a teaching assistantship, or you may have to pay tuition out of your meager stipend.

Such details make the difference in the way your years of graduate education feel; though a school with a good name certainly helps your chances of landing a job once you've earned your degree, the name will not make your life as a grad student bearable. The catalogs issued by the Graduate School of a university usually will not include these key details. After exploring the online resources, look at the graduate program materials collected in the Writing Center filing cabinet, and then write to departments that interest you for further information, including a listing of professors with their scholarly interests and the courses they teach. Members of the department may be able to advise you about the reputations of professors and programs.

M.F.A. Programs & Other Advanced Degrees in Writing 
If you would like to both write creatively and teach, a degree from a Master of Fine Arts program will help you to land a college teaching position in creative writing. (Publication of your work is the most eloquent--and the most necessary--testimony of your competency for this sort of position.) For M.F.A. programs even more critically than in the scholarly graduate programs, you must have a polished manuscript to send as part of your application. Admission to some programs requires little other evidence of promise; others require, in addition, the same kind of high grades and GRE scores required by doctoral programs in literature. The M.F.A. is a degree requiring two or (in more and more programs) three years of study culminating in a book-length creative thesis. Although traditionally the subjects were limited to poetry and fiction, there are now programs in creative nonfiction, playwriting, screenwriting, travel writing, and writing for children. M.F.A. programs have been classified by the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) into three types: Studio Programs, in which the student's writing, as developed through workshops, tutorials, and a creative thesis, is paramount; Studio/Academic programs, which balance student writing with literature coursework; and Traditional Literary Study and Creative Writing programs, which train students as literature professors as well as writers. Our creative writing faculty can provide you with additional information on various programs and you may wish to consult the AWP Official Guide to Writing Programs, which also describes M.A. degrees in Professional Writing, in English/Technical and Professional Communication, in the Teaching of Writing, in Corporate and Organizational Communications, and M.S. degrees in Technical and Professional Communication.

Graduate Programs in Literature
At the very least, you will need to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) General Test. The typical "paper-and-pencil" test is being phased out in favor of a computer-based test; as the transition proceeds, expect to see fewer test dates. Plan ahead so that you can spread your test-taking out; otherwise, you may need to take the General Test and the Subject Test on the same day. The Subject Test (also called the "Achievement Test") is required for admission to most M.A. and Ph.D. programs. English departments pay particular attention to the Analytical and Verbal sections of the General Test and to the English Subject Test, often publishing median scores of successful applicants in these areas.

The GRE 1994-95 Information & Registration Bulletin catalog, a copy of which is available in the Department Chair's office, describes the "Literature in English" subject test as follows:

The test contains approximately 230 questions on literature in English from the British Isles, the United States, and other countries. It also contains a few questions on major works, including the Bible, in translation. Factual questions test a student's knowledge of writers typically studied in college courses; for example, a student may be asked to identify a writer or work described in a brief critical comment or represented in a short excerpt. Interpretive questions test a student's ability to read passages of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction prose perceptively; such questions may address meaning, use of language, form and structure, literary techniques, and various aspects of style" (19).

You may well find that a graduate school application requires one or two samples of your critical writing. Given the application schedule, you may not have written your senior thesis in time to excerpt it, so you should be sure to develop one or more of your interpretive essays during junior year into substantial pieces of writing that you can carefully revise. At some schools, this sample is the most crucial part of the application. Graduate schools are also looking for advanced preparation in at least one foreign language; that translates into a literature course at the 300-level at Hartwick.

. . . A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.                          
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. . . . Lord Bacon, Essaies