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Students intending to enter graduate programs in history should carefully plan their undergraduate programs. All master's and doctoral programs in history require evidence of strong critical thinking skills, research experience, and writing aptitude. Furthermore, graduate programs in history customarily require the ability to read and translate at least one foreign language for American fields and at least two foreign languages for non-American fields.
Undergraduate majors with their sights set on a history PhD should devote an appropriate number of credits to upper-division classes and colloquia, with the objective of enhancing their research and writing abilities. For instance, instead of taking the single colloquium that is required for the major, such students might make room in their schedules for two; and they might apportion a certain number of credit hours toward advanced lecture courses that will deepen their familiarity with their proposed field of study. Students intending to go to graduate school in history should seek out courses with historiographical content, in order to gain an appreciation of theory and methods. Clearly, they also should consider the advantages to be gained from writing an honors thesis, especially in the historical field they intend to pursue.
Applications to graduate school in history are filed in the fall and winter of a student's senior year, with most deadlines falling between November and January. Applicants customarily take the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, in the fall of their senior year, so that results can be submitted to the graduate programs. Graduate schools usually require three letters of recommendation, as well as a personal statement; applicants are best served by recommenders who have instructed them in more than one class and who have a strong sense of their work, abilities, and ambitions. Students are advised to consult the literature and web pages of the individual graduate programs in which they are interested, as application requirements and deadlines can vary. In terms of where to apply, majors should seek counsel from their advisors and other faculty who share their research interests.
For a useful essay on the ins and outs of graduate study and the application process, read "Inscribing Your Future: The Trials and Tribulations of Applying to Graduate School." A copy is available from the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The Director of Undergraduate Studies can also provide you with sample application essays.