More advice about graduate school
Most of the specifics of “how to proceed” will depend on which particular disciplinary track you wish to follow: classical versus Egyptian versus Near Eastern archaeology, and so on. Each track has different requirements and expectations, and every individual who applies possesses different strengths and weaknesses. As a result, there is no straightforward, “cookie cutter” model for the process of identifying good schools and applying to them. Students are strongly encouraged to talk to their concentration advisor or other mentors early and often about their graduate school ambitions. In addition, careful research (for example, using the web resources listed below) will help you make intelligent, and efficient, decisions.
What are your degree possibilities?
- Ph.D. programs (average at least 5-6 years) — the full qualification, usually leading to positions at universities, elite secondary schools, or museum curatorial positions
- MA programs (average 1-2 years) — both a way to begin to explore the field, or a terminal point for those unsure if they want to invest in a Ph.D. program. Secondary school and some museum jobs can follow from MA degrees.
- Post-baccalaureate programs (average 1-2 years) — programs that normally target students wishing to improve specific skills (e.g. languages)
- Think strategically about moving from one degree to another (e.g., doing a post-baccalaureate to improve language skills, before proceeding onwards)
- Start thinking about, and preparing for, graduate school as early as possible. Starting later, which sometimes of course is unavoidable, may mean you will have to do additional coursework (or degrees such as an MA or Post-baccalaureate degree) in order to be a competitive applicant for high-quality programs.
- Gather information: ask advice of your undergraduate advisor and talk to other faculty as well: this is one good way to make contact with people who can then write informed letters of recommendation for you. Use all sources of data! Consult with graduate students, and check out Internet resources. Think about faculty, resources, financial aid structure, and geographical location of various recommended programs. Remember: the “best schools” vary from field to field.
- Ensure you meet entrance requirements: do research on a variety of programs that interest you; gain a sense of what they require for admission and success.
- Choose a range of programs to apply to. Decide on your top choices, and your “back up” schools.
- Research fellowship opportunities. For some starting points for opportunities such as the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships, visit the Fellowships Office of the Dean of the College and check out their List of Fellowships.
- Keep a strict eye of the “time line” of the application process! Applications are usually due in December/January for the following fall semester. Get EVERYTHING in on time!
- The usual things needed to support your application are:
- GREs (Graduate Record Examination): take the test in good time for the scores to reach the schools. Important: allow ample time for re-takes if it doesn’t go well on your first try
- Official academic transcript: get requests in to the University in good time for these to be sent
- Curriculum vitae or resume: this must be very tidy, as well as (normally) no longer than 2 pages, maximum. Be informative without being exhaustive; stress relevant experiences inside and outside the classroom
- Letters of recommendation: usually three are requested. It is essential that you get to know faculty and to share your interests with them as soon as possible; for example, visit them in office hours, catch them after class. Don’t be shy: the better they know you, the stronger the letter they can write on your behalf. As for letters from a range of people (with a range of perceptions of you); in general, it is better to go with professors than with Teaching Assistants or high school teachers. A brief thank you note is always appreciated, and let them know your final decision. Above all: be courteous and be timely in your requests.
- Personal statement: usually 2-3 pages on why you want to attend a specific program, and why you think you are ready for it. Advice: start drafting these early; this is a difficult document to craft, for it is very easy to sound naïve, goofy, or dull. Good advice: show the statement to your undergraduate advisor and others for comment.
- Writing sample (if requested): should be no longer than 30 pages. These usually spring most appropriately from a course term paper, so be sure to take classes which require such papers, and which provide some critique of your writing style. Above all, make sure it is immaculate, spell checked, etc.
- Get EVERYTHING in on time!