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Graduate School and Professional Programs

Prepare for Graduate School
The Application Process
Graduate School
Professional Degrees
Selecting a Graduate School
Prepare for Graduate School
The Application Process
Graduate School
Professional Degrees
Selecting a Graduate School
Prepare for Graduate School
The Application Process
Graduate School
Professional Degrees
Selecting a Graduate School

Prepare for Graduate School

Ryan Chase in the gardens prior to graduation.

A degree in English provides you a great foundation for graduate school and professional degrees such as law or medical school. Why? Because it teaches the close reading, analysis, and writing required by most graduate programs.

Check out the advising website for class recommendations that prepare you for these programs. But in addition to taking classes, there's more to do to get ready for grad school.

As you get ready for graduate school, consider the following information about

  • Application process
  • Graduate schools
  • Professional degrees

Also check out the BYU-Idaho Guide to Graduate School.

The Application Process

Applying to graduate school or a professional program takes time and money. Be wise with both. Here are some recommendations as you begin this process.

Selecting Schools

Most school counselors will recommend a three-tiered system for selecting schools. Apply to your dream school, a credible second-tiered school, and a sure thing.

Be realistic about the entry requirements. Can you go to Harvard with a degree from BYU-Idaho? Yes. And our graduates have been very successful there. But these applicants had excellent GPAs, as well as impressive internships, activities, and other experiences. Remember that the degree you earn is the bare minimum. If you want to go to a top-tier graduate school, you will need much more to stand out than just a GPA. Check out Student Opportunities for ways to build your application portfolio.

Here are some other considerations when selecting a graduate program.

Time Management

Applying to graduate school takes time. Start pulling together your application materials at least a semester before the application deadline.

Letters of Recommendation

Graduate programs require letters of recommendation, and your professors will be your best resource. They can talk about your current academic abilities and your potential in graduate school.

If you are planning to go to grad school, don't sit in the back of the classroom and never make comments. Your professors will write more effective letters if they know you. Take more than one class from the instructor. Visit them during their office hours. A strong letter might help out a weak GPA or poor GRE/LSAT score.

You can ensure a better letter of recommendation by doing the following.

  • Give the instructor plenty of time to write your letter.
  • Provide a sample of the work you completed in class, and remind the instructor of the projects that you completed in the class.
  • Explain your career goals and how you've prepared to meet them.
  • Describe your activities and experiences outside of the classroom.

Personal Statements

Most graduate programs require a personal statement. This short essay will be one of the most significant components of the application portfolio.

First, the personal statement is your writing sample. Like all good writing, have a claim that your essay will support. Typically, your implied claim will be "You want me in your graduate program because . . ." Provide evidence through concrete details that support your claim. Revise, revise, revise. Then proofread. Make sure there are no grammatical or mechanical errors.

Show your personality. Many graduate programs want to feel confident that you are a fit for their program. Choose experiences and examples that are unique to you. Check out BYU Law School's checklist for writing personal statements. Its suggestions apply to most graduate programs.

Graduate School

With a degree in English, you may consider a Master's degree in a liberal arts program such as English, Creative Writing, Art History, or many other areas of study. Here are some considerations for graduate school.


In graduate school, you may choose to specialize, selecting to focus on a general MA (Master of Arts) in literature, rhetoric and composition, or technical writing. Creative writers typically choose between an MA in literature and an MFA, which is a terminal degree for creative writing.

Undergrad Courses

As you plan your undergraduate degree, find out if the graduate program you want requires a foreign language. Then you can use your elective credits to meet this requirement.


Some graduate schools require the GRE, or Graduate Record Examinations. Some programs require the general exam, which focuses on reasoning, basic math, and analytical writing.

Other programs may require a subject-specific exam such as the Literature in English test. If you need to take the subject-specific exam, take careful notes in your survey and literature classes. These will be invaluable as you review for this test.

Considering the graduate school's application deadlines, determine the best time to take the GRE. Take a few practice tests (you can find free tests online). Typically, you'll take the exam at least one semester before the application deadlines. This will give you plenty of time to retake the exam, if necessary.

ISU/BYU-Idaho MA Partnership

BYU-Idaho has partnered with ISU to help you earn your MA while finishing your undergraduate degree.

Professional Degrees

Professional degrees are advanced degrees that focus on professional practice rather than specific subject matter. Most common professional degrees are medical, law, pharmacy, business, and social work.

A degree in English provides an excellent foundation for professional degrees because you will be trained in analysis, close reading, logic, and writing. These skills will help you succeed in both your program and your profession.

Even if you choose a major other than English, consider how English electives can improve your chances for success in your professional degree. Check out the advising website for recommendations of specific classes that will prepare you for your career.

Selecting a Graduate School

Finding a Graduate School that Fits Your Needs

Look for a school that aligns with your career goals and research interests. Also, look at the faculty teaching at the school. Do their research interests match yours? Graduate programs look for students who align with their faculty's expertise.

Here are just a few areas to consider as you apply to graduate schools.

Areas of Study

Find the program that best suits your career goals. Some MA programs are primarily literature and creative writing based. Others specialize in rhetoric/composition or technical writing. Other programs are more diverse. Consider emerging fields such as Digital Humanities and Culture or Communication in Digital Media.


Believe it or not, graduate programs will help you pay for school. The magic word is funding. Ask what type of funding the program will provide through scholarships or by providing graduate students teaching and research job opportunities. Some programs will waive out-of-state tuition.

So, ask about funding and teaching opportunities. These will build your résumé and reduce your overall debt.


In graduate school, your relationship with specific faculty is a key part of the graduate experience. What's the school's reputation for faculty/student relationships? Larger graduate programs might give you less time with faculty but more research opportunities. Talk to graduates from the program to find out about their experiences with their faculty.

Here are just a few comments from alumni about how their experience working with faculty shaped their graduate experience:

  • Perhaps because the master's program is their terminal degree, [the faculty] focus their attention on that level of graduate study.
  • [I] still meet with a favorite faculty member for lunch when [I] make an occasional visit to Boise.
  • My professors fanned my fire about academics, and when I graduated, I received compliments about my thesis work. It was a breakthrough experience for me.

Job Placement

Consider how the program gives you opportunities outside the classroom. Any more, the degree is the bare minimum for employers. What did you do beyond your coursework? Look for programs that extend beyond the classroom. Will you have a chance to teach your own classes? Will they all be first year composition course or will you get a chance to teach a variety of classes? Does the program give you opportunities in areas such as writing programs and ESL program? These programs, if you take advantage of them, go a long way toward making you more attractive on the job market.


Remember that you'll be living there for 2-5 years. Find a place that appeals to your lifestyle.

And don't forget online programs. More and more you'll find programs that offer all or some of their degree online. When looking at online programs, look for accredited, not-for-profit programs. These are more widely accepted, particularly if you are planning on an academic career.

School Rankings

Talking to graduates who have experienced the program offers key insights into the school. But also check out the school's overall reputation.

The U.S. News and World Report annual ranks graduate schools and programs. Here's their ranking of English programs for 2017.

You can also find some key rankings for MFA and Creative Writing Programs:

Here are the top 5 PhD programs in creative writing:

  • Florida State University
  • University of Houston
  • University of Nevada at Las Vegas
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Utah