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University of Massachusetts Amherst

History Department

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Contact us:

History Dept., Herter Hall Room 612
University of Massachusetts
161 Presidents Drive
Amherst, MA 01003-9312

Tel. 413.545.1330
Fax. 413.545.6137

Applying to Graduate School in History

By Brian W. Ogilvie; last revised 3/4/04

Here are some basic tips and a few resources on applying to graduate school. They're not intended to substitute for individual advice from your advisor or another professor. If you're interested in graduate study in history, talk to a prof!

When to apply: Most graduate schools require that applications be postmarked in late December, January, or early February. But you should start the process in September--and if you're thinking about graduate school in your junior year, talk to your advisor or another professor in the spring.

Where to apply: Your choice of graduate schools depends on a number of factors. Do you intend to pursue a M.A. or Ph.D.? In which area of history do you want to specialize? What are your career goals? How good are your GPA and your GRE scores? When you have an idea of your answers to the questions, talk to your advisor or another professor for suggestions on where you might apply.

What you need: Most graduate schools require the following material, though the exact requirements differ from school to school. (Be sure to check with the schools to which you apply to find out exactly what they want.)

  • Application form (printed or online)
  • Writing sample - a substantial piece of your writing, preferably a research paper
  • Personal statement - why you want to pursue graduate study in history
  • GRE scores
  • Letters of recommendations from two or three professors

The writing sample should be the best work you can do. If you are using a paper you wrote for a course, you should revise it before you send it in with your application.

The personal statement is one of the trickiest parts of the application to write. Jane Bast discusses what to do -- and what to avoid -- in "Making a Statement" on the Chronicle of Higher Education's website. Bast is applying to graduate school in English, but her advice is useful for history students too.

Letters of recommendation are crucial. Ask for recommendations from professors who know you and your academic qualifications: for example, the prof. who taught your junior writing seminar, or one with whom you did an independent study or an honors colloquium. Professors can write better letters of recommendation if they have copies of the papers you wrote for them, your writing sample, and your statement of purpose. Keep in mind that professors are busy, many are gone over the holidays, and it takes time to write a good letter of recommendation. You should ask for recommendations as early as possible.

Make arrangements early in the fall to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). For more information, visit For history, you need take only the GRE General Examination; there is no longer a subject exam in history.

The Center for History and New Media at George Mason University maintains a directory of history departments on the web. If you want to learn more about a particular history department's graduate program, it is a great place to start.

Some Additional Resources

Link >> "I Choose You, Pikachu" Timothy Burke's Advice on Graduate School - Swarthmore College
Link >> "Making a Statement" Article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Handout >> A Brief Introduction to Applying to Graduate School