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Prospective Students - Tip Sheet

A great statement of purpose:

Articulates a particular topic area in which you propose to do research.

Positions your proposed project within an ongoing scholarly conversation (i.e. that you want to connect your work to existing work in the field, but build on it and add something new).

Argues for your project as urgent within the field of English and within academic studies.

Connects your scholarly passions to your personal motivations for taking on the work (this can take many forms).

Shows an awareness of your field, but can also be understood by people outside your field.

Shows how your academic background has prepared you to do this work.

Speaks to why you want to study in the GC's doctoral program in English specifically--not just in terms of the resources of the GC but also why you want to study and teach at an urban university serving a diverse body of students in NYC.

Is beautifully written, not just free of mistakes or errors, but possessing real style and verve (to achieve this, read it out loud as often as possible and share it with a wide variety of readers).

Is the length needed to convey well all of the above. We do not have a minimum page requirement, but ask applicants to limit their Statement of Purpose to 1,000 words.

Purpose and Strategies of the Statement of Purpose

Recounts applicant’s educational background that has led to the Ph.D. program or describes a professional position that has inspired further academic study.

Includes an appropriate amount of citational references (literary or rhetorical) that demonstrates the applicant’s knowledge-base, interest, and investment in further research.

Explains a research agenda and how this program suits that academic goal or indicates how Ph.D. coursework will help focus some already existing (yet still evolving) interests.

Offers a rationale of how a Ph.D. program will enrich and fulfill the applicant’s intellectual goals in English studies.

Explains how the resources of the GC fulfill the applicant’s initiatives as well as how the applicant hopes to contribute to this intellectual and pedagogical community.

Composes in plain English that articulates complex ideas; writing demonstrates the applicant’s ability to formulate critical/analytical ideas in well-articulated (not over-inflated) prose.

1. Should I mention particular faculty at the GC that I want to work with?

Yes, absolutely. But you might consider mentioning several people of interest, and making sure that you are indicating WHY they are of interest to you given your particular work or interests.

2. If I am admitted to your program, do I have to carry out the project that I propose in my statement?

You certainly can stay on the same topic, but several of our students shift their field and develop new interests as they complete their coursework and exams--all part of the process of discovery. What we're looking for in the statement is the ability to propose work that seems significant and well-defined; it is not, however, a binding contract. And even though you will be recruited within a particular field, you might end up working in a very different area of interest or approach as your studies progress. At the same time, it is critical that you propose a viable project in your writing sample, because that will indicate that you are capable of grad level work.

3. What is the relationship between the statement of purpose and the writing sample?

The writing sample should be in the same field as the interests you specify in the statement of purpose. If you talk in your statement about wanting to be a medievalist, don’t submit a writing sample in ultra- contemporary science fiction, unless there is an extremely strong theoretical or thematic link between the sample and the statement (which you should then explicitly address in the statement). Your best bet is to submit a statement and sample in the same period.