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What do History Graduate Programs look for in their applicant?

How much do history grad programs weigh GPA vs Test Score vs Personal Statement? And what kind of work/internship experience do they look for/if any?
#graduate-school #history


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Angie’s Answer

Hi Emily, it all depends on the program/school you are applying to. In my experience, my history graduate program examined all applicants holistically - meaning they considered other factors besides GPA and test scores (extracurricular activities, volunteer work, etc). I would advise you to write an excellent personal statement because this gives the graduate committee a good snapshot of who you really are and why you want to do a graduate program in history. Stress in your statement what led you to decide on pursing a graduate degree in history and what you intend to do with it (e.g., research, teaching etc.). With that being said, do not neglect your test scores or GPA because they do come into play for the decision factor, but try as much possible for them to know you through your personal statement and try to seek the guidance of a writing tutor if all possible when you are about to begin writing one.

Thanks for the suggestions Angie! Emily C.

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Ricky’s Answer

As a graduate of a history masters program, I assure you that each program is a bit different. Generally, programs will want a writing sample such as an essay from a history course or an excerpt from your undergraduate thesis. They will want a personal statement, at least a 3.5 G.P.A and maybe GRE scores. Here's an example from Georgetown:

Applications for MAGIC admission must include:

unofficial transcripts from any and all college and universities attended;
test scores from the GRE General Test;
a statement (maximum 500 words) that outlines preparation, general goals, and a proposed program of study;
an analytical writing sample demonstrating engagement with a historical topic (15-25 pages);
three letters of recommendation, at least two of which should come from academic sources;
and a completed Supplemental Application (included automatically in general application).

Thanks Ricky, that's good info to know! Emily C.

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Nathaniel’s Answer

I can't speak to program requirements, but I can say something about the kind of students the programs seek—grad programs look for people who show evidence they can DO as well as learn, At the academic end that means, grad programs seek people who can: 1) communicate clearly through both writing and speech; 2) organize both their own time and activities as well as information; 3) contribute to the collective work of the subject by transforming ideas, data sources, methods of analysis. In non-academic positions that might mean transferring the ideas and methods of the field to problems in administration, organization, leadership, non-academic research, policy-making, etc., etc., etc.

Where undergraduate education is principally based on taking instruction and acquiring information, graduate programs seek self-starters, people who can generate their own ideas, figure out where they can find the data to test those ideas and employ the methods of the subject as well as of allied fields and perhaps their own innovations to analyze the data that tests the ideas. Being well-read in ones subject, abreast of the latest publications and connected to peers in the field are all desired qualities. (It’s been my experience that in graduate school you will learn more from your peers than from your professors.)

The honors thesis or senior essay that may have been the culmination of your undergraduate education is the starting point for a graduate one. If you have, or have had, the chance to conduct such a project, emphasize it in your graduate school applications. Point out your skills in problem selection, data collection, analysis, writing and basic self-organizing. Let your referees know those are the points you would like highlighted in their recommendations—they will probably know this, but some might not say it unless prompted. If you have conducted non-academic research and analysis—maybe as an intern you were asked to collect data for your supervisor to use in policy-making or task-setting—highlight this too. This last points to the kinds of internships to seek. A solid demonstration of motivation and skills will take you further than then all the best grades and test scores.

That said, programs too often have inalterable bureaucratic requirements: know what they are and be prepared to meet them. I had held my doctorate for ten years when I applied for entry into a master’s degree program. While completing a PhD was surely the better evidence of my graduate school abilities, I was nonetheless required to submit twenty-plus year old undergraduate transcripts.

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William’s Answer

Hey Emily,

I agree with what the other responders have said, so I'll just add that you could reach out to current grad students in the programs you are interested in and get their opinion on what the program wants. When I was doing my PhD, I had prospective students e-mail me somewhat frequently to ask about the program, and I was always happy to help. You can usually find a list of current grad students on the department's website. Hope this helps!

-WW

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