Admissions and Aid

Welcome to our Prospective Student’s page, where you can find more information about our Admissions Process, and some tips for crafting a successful application (below). We are proud of our program’s innovative scholarship, and our lively community.  We’d like to invite you to our English Program events if you live nearby or are visiting NYC. You are also welcome to visit one or more of our program seminars. Wherever you are based, we hope you will Like” us on Facebook and Follow Us on Twitter

Every year, we receive about 300 applications. Admission is extremely competitive; we admit an incoming cohort of 20 students each year. Every admitted applicant receives full funding for five years, and other fellowship funding is available. The Admissions Committee is made up of fifteen professors and five doctoral students. The Committee meets regularly from January until mid-April to review completed applications.  Each application file is read in its entirety. We admit applicants in every field of literary and cultural study, representing the full range of methodologies and interests within our discipline.

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Admissions Overview

Application Deadline:

January 1 for fall enrollment
(No spring enrollment)

Because in any application process there is always an element of the arbitrary involved, it can sometimes be difficult to determine why one application succeeds where another fails. But there are many strategies you can use to make the most persuasive case you can, and thereby increase your chances of success.

The most important rule is to follow the application instructions. For instance, we ask for a writing sample of no longer than 5,000 words. Sending a writing sample of 5 pages or 25 pages makes it more difficult for the Admissions Committee to evaluate your application on the same basis as other applications. Moreover, not following the instructions risks making a bad impression on your reader and might be taken as a sign of future problems. Remember that Admissions Committees are trying to assess both your past accomplishments and your potential performance as a student should you be accepted.

A corollary to following instructions is to ensure that your application makes a positive impression by avoiding careless mistakes and typos. If it looks like you didn’t take your application seriously, it’s hard for an Admissions Committee to take it seriously. So always edit and proofread carefully. It is a good idea to share your personal statement and writing sample with friends and professors to get feedback about possible improvements and to help you detect any errors.

Our Admissions Committee looks for three main qualities in an applicant:

  1. a good fit with our program;
  2. a record of past accomplishment; and
  3. qualities that indicate potential for success as a Ph.D. student.

At the Ph.D. level a good fit between the applicant and the program is essential, because you will be specializing in a particular area of research. Developing an expertise in that area means that there must be courses available for you to take and faculty to work with, particularly at the dissertation-writing stage. So, for instance, if you plan to write on dissertation on 20th-century African American women novelists, our Program would be a good fit, because we have several faculty members who have expertise in the fields covered by that subject (e.g., women writers, gender and sexuality studies, African American literature, the history of the novel, etc.). We also offer many courses in related areas that will provide both foundational and specialized knowledge as you move towards the dissertation. Before you apply, you should also familiarize yourself with the basic curricular structure of the program, such as number and kind of courses regularly offered, required courses, language exams, and so on.

In evaluating your record of past accomplishment, the Admissions Committee considers each element of your application. Your transcript provides the most informative overview of your past academic experience. If there are any anomalies on your transcript—for instance, a semester in which your grades significantly dropped—you might choose to provide a brief explanation in your personal statement.

To determine your potential for success as a graduate student, the Admissions Committee puts considerable weight on your personal statement, writing sample, and recommendation letters. For guidance on writing the personal statement, see below.

Often the writing sample will be an essay (or a selection from an essay) that you wrote for a college or MA-level course. Since that essay will be read by a diverse group of readers who know nothing of its original purposes or contexts, be sure that your introduction clearly presents the essay’s methods and aims. Remember that your readers will be faculty and students with expertise in various fields, so if you submit a writing sample on Bleak House, for instance, you cannot assume that your readers are experts on that text, although most of them will have some familiarity with Dickens’ novels and with Victorian literature. Particularly if you are engaging any highly specialized topics or obscure texts, you should be sure to provide the necessary background information to aid your readers’ comprehension. As in any analytic essay, you should present an original, specific thesis; provide compelling, detailed evidence to support that thesis; and ensure that your writing is fluid and error free. Ideally, the writing sample should correspond with interests declared in the personal statement. For more advice on preparing the writing sample, we recommend “The Application Guessing Game” by Gerald Graff and Andrew Hoberek, in Clueless in Academe (Yale University Press, 2004): 190-210.

You can take a few steps to ensure that your letters of recommendation make a strong contribution to your application. First, it is always best to seek letters from professors who know you personally. A letter from a professor who came to know you well as a student in a small seminar is likely to be more detailed and compelling than a letter from a professor who only read your papers in a large lecture course. When reading your letters, the Admissions Committee seeks not only deeper understanding of your intellectual abilities and accomplishments, but also insight into your confidence, collegiality, eloquence, maturity, and other qualities that are important to success in a Ph.D. Program. At least one letter should represent the specialty you plan to pursue as a Ph.D. student. If you hope to concentrate on eroticism in Shakespeare, for example, you should have a letter from an early modern scholar or a sexuality scholar. In addition to expert testimony about your projected area of specialization, it can also be a good idea to show a range of accomplishments and interests, so as not to seem too narrowly focused in one area or methodology. If you have done relevant work in other fields within English studies or in other disciplines (e.g., Classics, Women’s Studies, Digital Humanities), you might consider including one letter that can explain how your innovative or interdisciplinary scholarship might enhance your more specialized or traditional work within English.

The GREs are no longer required.                  

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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.


  • Statement of purpose (1,000-word maximum).
  • Writing sample (5,000-word maximum).
  • 3 Letters of reference.
  • Academic transcripts for all undergraduate and graduate degrees.
  • CV.

Please note that we no longer require either the GRE General or the GRE Subject Test.

Additional Information:

  • A statement of purpose (see below) that eloquently outlines a particular area of research, arguing for your project’s urgency within literary and cultural studies.
  •  A skillful, sophisticated Writing Sample that demonstrates critical and analytical acumen.
  • An academic background that has given you the skills and background to succeed in a Ph.D. Program and carry out your proposed work, as evidenced in transcripts, letters of reference, and the personal statement.
  • A strong sense of why you are specifically interested in joining us at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Tuition and Fees

Tuition rates for doctoral programs at The Graduate Center are based on a student's “level,” which is determined by a combination of the number of graduate credits completed (including, in the case of transfer students, credits accepted by the student's degree program and the Registrar) and specific academic accomplishments. 

The fee structure is also affected by a student’s resident status.

See current doctoral tuition rates »

Each student will be billed for a Graduate School student activities fee, a University student senate fee, a University consolidated services fee and a technology fee. These fees are not refundable.

Fellowships and Financial Aid

Every applicant to The Graduate Center’s doctoral programs will automatically be considered for five-year institutional funding packages. The aid we offer — including fellowships, tuition awards, and assistantships — is based on merit. 

Learn more about institutional aid for doctoral students »

Federal aid for doctoral students includes:

New York State also provides the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for eligible graduate students who are New York State residents.

Additional funding may be available to incoming students from underrepresented populations through offerings from the Office of Educational Opportunity and Diversity, including several fellowships and the CUNY Pipeline Program for undergraduate CUNY students.

Learn more about funding opportunities from OEOD »