College of Arts and Sciences

Preparing Your Application

The best materials provide clear evidence of:

  • excellent communication skills;
  • ability to conduct sustained inquiry into a single academic subject;
  • research skills, including academic citation and documentation;
  • established ability to teach, and desire to improve one’s teaching;
  • earnest desire to engage in the academic community;
  • ability to work collaboratively with others.

We strongly suggest that you work with professionals in English studies as you prepare your application--current or former professors or advisors. Don't underestimate the difficulty of writing materials which meet all of these criteria! Start early, write multiple drafts, and revise them carefully.

Statement of purpose

The statement of purpose (or “personal statement”) describes your reasons for seeking an MA in English. Ideally, it will provide a brief intellectual history, your academic interests, and your anticipated field of study. Perhaps you are looking to improve your writing and communication skills so you can better perform at your current job. You might see the MA as a step toward a doctorate. Maybe you are a high school teacher seeking credentials for promotion or retention. Or you might only have general ideas about your future goals. No matter what category you fit into, there’s no need to hide the truth. Speak honestly and frankly about your reasons for wanting to study in English and your reasons for considering the program at Western.

Please keep the statement of purpose under 2 pages if double-spaced.

Further reading: Graduate School - Statement, from the UC-Berkeley Career Center.

Scholarly writing sample

The scholarly writing sample is very important. It provides the most direct evidence of your ability to perform the work of English studies. To that end, your sample should be your best work. Ideally, you will submit an academic essay such as a literary analysis, a theoretical argument, or work in cultural studies. If you don’t have a recent sample of scholarly writing, consider writing one, or submit writing which shows the skills and abilities noted above.

If you wrote an honors thesis or completed a senior project at your undergraduate institution, consider using that work as your writing sample.

We suggest writing samples no longer than 15 double-spaced pages. You may submit several shorter texts in lieu of one large document.

Three letters of recommendation

The best letters of recommendation connect specific things you’ve done with the general skills and abilities the Program is seeking. Ideally, these letters will come from professors or instructors who have worked with you and can speak with authority regarding your potential for graduate study. If you cannot contact former professors, find co-workers, supervisors, or others who can do the same. Letters which do not address this potential will not strengthen your application and may in fact weaken it.

Make sure to ask prospective references if they can write strong, positive letters. If any prospective recommender seems tentative, best to find another. Provide your recommenders with the background they need to write a good letter. For example, remind them what courses you took and when, provide a copy of your resume and/or statement of purpose if possible, and share the criteria we've provided you.


If you have questions about your application, please contact the Graduate Program office.