Advice to Applicants
The writing sample and the statement of purpose are the most important parts of the application. Your statement gives us a sense of your background and goals; your writing sample shows us how well prepared you are for advanced study in English.
The statement of purpose should specify why you want to be at Loyola and what your goals are in earning an advanced degree. PhD students should specify a field, or overlapping fields, of interest. For example, you might want to do Renaissance and textual studies, or American literature and gender studies, or contemporary literature and global studies, but not Renaissance and Modernism, or Victorian novel and hip hop poetry. You should familiarize yourself with our faculty in your fields of interest and give some sense of what you hope to study here and with whom. MA students may specify a field of interest but this is less important at the MA level since the course requirements cover a range of fields.
You also want to convey a sense of professionalism in your statement of purpose, especially PhD applicants. Let us know that you know what advanced studies in literature entails and that you are prepared for the kinds of scholarship and professional activities, such as conferences, you'll engage in. For some insight into this part of the application, you might consult the MLA Introduction to Scholarship in Modern Languages and Literature, ed. by D. Nicholls, and Graduate Study for the 21st Century, by G. Semenza.
For the writing sample, MA applicants should submit their best undergraduate paper in any field, one that demonstrates their ability to handle secondary sources and to generalize from their textual readings. For PhD applicants, the writing sample, ideally, should match your area of interest, showcasing your best work in your chosen field. You would be well advised to revise your sample, with the help of your professor if possible, before submitting it, and to proofread both the sample and the statement carefully. Applicants submitting portions of an honors or MA thesis should provide a note contextualizing the excerpt you submit with your application. Samples should be approximately 10–15 pages and should have a Works Cited page.
While GPAs and GRE scores are used in the initial screening of applicants, the writing makes or breaks the application. We do not have a cutoff for GRE scores; strong writing, along with strong recommendations, can trump a mediocre score. On average, students admitted to our program have verbal and subject scores that range from 160 to 170, but we also have successful students with scores in the 150s. High scores are more important for applicants to the PhD program, which is more competitive than the MA program. If you take the GRE tests after October, your scores may not be available by the application deadline and thus you will not be among the first applicants reviewed.
In selecting faculty to write letters of recommendation, you want to ask those who know your work well because they have worked with you closely on a project or taught you, perhaps even in several classes. Letters from those who have supervised you on a job are less helpful than letters from those who are familiar with your academic work.
If your goal is to receive a PhD but you are unsure whether to apply directly to the PhD program or to the MA program first, consider the advice above and review our requirements for each program. We admit 4–6 PhD students per year, depending on the number of available assistantships, and 8–12 MA students, depending on the number and quality of the applications. You may do the MA degree part-time but not the PhD. We do accept students with a BA degree into the PhD program, and you can always indicate, in your statement of purpose, that if you are not accepted into the PhD program, you would like to be considered for the MA program.