Thinking About Grad School?
Preparing for Graduate School
Here are some steps to follow if you think you would like to go to graduate school in history.
Learn a language; Complete a BA, not a BS.
- Unless you study U.S. History (and maybe even then), you will probably need to have at least reading knowledge of one or more foreign languages for graduate work. It is much easier to gain that knowledge now than when you want to begin graduate school. Since a BA requires two years of foreign language study (or placing out of the requirement through a placement exam), you will get university credit for work you need to do anyway. Get a BS only if you are truly more interested in taking science courses rather than foreign language courses or if your advisors offer some other compelling reason.
- Learn the language of the country you wish to study. Taking two years of Spanish will not help you to study Nazi Germany as much as two years of German will.
- Learn a European language to prepare for non-Western history. If you want to go to graduate school in non-Western history, you should prepare yourself by taking a major European research language like French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, or Russian depending on the area of specialization that interests you. It is worthwhile getting this step out of the way because most programs will require you to have certification or course work in one of these languages in order to qualify for Ph.D. work. Seek the advice of one of your professors before setting up your language courses. Since non-Western languages usually are not offered at most undergraduate institutions, most graduate students in these fields take these languages while in graduate school.
- Increasingly, students going into non-Western fields begin their preparation for graduate school as undergraduates. Graduate programs will be especially interested in students who have participated in study-abroad programs in the country they want to study. Such programs almost always include basic instruction in the language(s) of the country as well, and a number of exciting programs are offered by the University of Wisconsin. These programs are competitive, and there is a limited amount of funding available to pay for them, but you must begin the application process early, as the deadlines usually fall in late January and February. Again, see one of your professors for advice about these programs and about fellowship opportunities. The best time to apply for such fellowships is in your senior year, while you are applying to graduate programs: if you are accepted into a program, you become eligible for Federal Title VI funding through the FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies) program.
Choose an area of concentration.
- If you think you would like to study Latin American History in graduate school, take as many courses in Latin American History as you can. This will demonstrate to admission committees the depth of your interest and background when you apply to graduate school.
- Take related courses in other departments. Once you have chosen your area of concentration, take courses in religious studies, anthropology, literature, foreign languages, philosophy, and the like that pertain to your area. You will enjoy these courses and gain a much broader picture of your field of study. You may even want to minor in one of these areas.
- Participate in study abroad programs. Going on a study abroad program, especially one that reflects your field of concentration, will broaden your knowledge considerably. If it requires foreign language study, as noted in point 1, it will also hone your language skills and improve your application for graduate school.
Talk to professors
- Discuss your interest in graduate school with your history advisor. He or she will be able to direct you to the professor in the department who knows the most about your topic.
Apply to graduate schools
- You will want to start looking at schools in your junior year and to fill out applications in the fall of your senior year.
- Develop a research topic or project. Some schools may ask you to describe your area of interest in more depth than you expect. Think hard about what you would like to study. For instance, rather than saying that you want to study "American History," pick a narrower emphasis--social, cultural, political–within American History. An example of a topic could be “women's activism in post-war US.” Even if your chosen graduate schools do not ask for a specific research project, they will want “Modern England,” “Renaissance Italy” or “Colonial America” as a topic for further study.
Take the GRE
- Most graduate schools require the GRE; only a few will require the History GRE. Check the requirements of the schools to which you wish to apply.
Read other websites
The history department recommends that you read the following articles in order to help you understand the rigor of pursuing an M.A. or Ph.D in history.
- The American Historical Association offers some advice. [Though written in 1999, the article here raises issues that are still quite relevant to graduate study in history.]
- "Should I Go to Grad School in History?" by David Stone at Kansas State University
- More information from the AHA here.
- Rutgers history department has some solid advice and a time line.
- There is more excellent information posted by American University history department.