Applying to Graduate Programs


You apply the year before you want to begin (e.g,, submit an application in Fall 2024 in order to start in Fall 2025).

History graduate programs have applications deadlines ranging from late fall to early winter.  Check the departmental websites of programs you are interested in.

The more prestigious a program the earlier the deadline, in general.

Our deadline is February 15th if you want to be considered for funding.

prints of dollar signs by Andy Warhol, colors of bright orange, red, and blue
Andy Warhol, Screenprints, 1982


Many programs offer graduate assistantships and/or fellowships.  While details vary by institution, an assistantship usually requires service as a teaching assistant (usually in large survey classes).   In exchange, graduate assistants often receive tuition waivers (at Kent State all of a GA’s tuition is waived) and a living stipend (amounts vary by institution).  Currently our stipend is a little over $15,000 for MA students and a little over $16,000 for PhD students.

Fellowships may require work of some sort but can also include scholarships given to promising students without a work requirement.

In general, the more prominent the program is, the more lucrative the fellowship and assistantships offered.

How to Get Started

1).  Throughout your undergraduate career: Get to know some History faculty well—take their classes, visit them in office hours to discuss course materials and your future plans, impress them with your ability.

2).  No later than the spring before you apply: Let these faculty know several months before you apply that you’re interested in graduate school.  When you broach the subject, they are likely to provide some invaluable advice (e.g., programs to consider given your interests, faculty whose work aligns with yours, and so on).

3).  Spring/Summer before you apply: Research faculty and programs  whose strengths and interests match yours.  Examine programs and faculty located throughout the nation.  Compile a list of contenders.

4).  Feel free to email faculty who seem like promising advisors at other institutions to introduce yourself and to ask whether they are taking graduate students.


old painting of man writing in a book and another man with long hair looking towards the left
Raphael, ‘The School of Athens’


Writing Sample

The best writing samples are longer papers that integrate primary and secondary source research/analysis.

Your Senior Seminar paper is a natural fit for a writing sample but you may be able to use a shorter paper (e.g., 10-15 pags) as a writing sample.  Programs sometimes spell out their preferred length for a writing sample.

Don’t send a graded copy!  They’ll want to see a clean copy. Additionally, feel free to revise a version that you submitted for a class—that can mean anything from eliminating small typos to tweaking the argument/evidence in response to instructor comments.


painting by Norman Rockwell, man at desk, writing, with messy office layout
Norman Rockwell
Personal Statement

Here you want to make the claim that you’re a good candidate for this particular program.

Avoid “I’ve always loved History” introductions; that’s assumed at this level.

Focus on the periods, themes, and questions that drive your passion for History—for example, “I’m interested in exploring the interplay of class and gender in industrializing European societies” or “I’d like to examine American foreign policy vis a vis Russia in the 1930s.”   Explain how your undergraduate training has prepared you to tackle this line of research.

Explain how your interests match both the strengths of the program to which you are applying and the research interests of specific faculty members.

A personal statement should not be a long document: 2-3 full pages tops.

Letters of Recommendation

Ask faculty who know you well and can speak at length regarding your abilities and interests.

Only ask academic faculty—your supervisor at the bank may know you well but is not in a place to discuss your academic qualifications.

old art painting, Raphael's School of Athens detail, old man on left and younger man on right in old style greek robes
Raphael, ‘The School of Athens’


It’s okay to include a letter from a non-historian—many good applicants have double majors and minors and faculty in those programs may be able to speak about your abilities better than a random History professor with whom you have taken one class.  

Give faculty at least a month’s lead time to write that letter.  You do NOT want to be that student who requests a letter in 72 hours.  Faculty are not likely to be effusive in their praise for a student who is disrespectful of their time in that way. 

Jacob Lawrence painting of three girls writing numbers on a chalk board, the painting is done with dramatic shapes and colors
Jacob Lawrence, 1940-1941


Some programs require formal transcripts, which means you’ll be spending money to send them to another school.

More and more programs are accepting unofficial transcripts.

If you are unclear on which kind a school will accept, email the graduate coordinator of the program to which you are applying.


If you want to work on the history of a country other than the United States, you’ll need to possess language competence before you apply to graduate school because you’ll need to read primary sources in that language and (eventually) travel to it for research.

Some programs require non-Americanists to know two languages.

Use your undergraduate years to build your language capacity.  Students whose transcripts show that they are fluent (or nearly so) check an important box for an admissions committee.

Study abroad in a foreign country is another way to demonstrate language ability/interest.

Application Fees

These can be expensive BUT many programs can waive those fees if you ask.

Don’t hesitate to ask—the worst someone can say is no and programs often regard application fees as a barrier.  Keep in mind that programs don’t set those fees—another element of the university bureaucracy does.


Jacob Lawrence, the library painting, dramatic figures with prominent colors of yellow, blue, green and red in the painting. a handful of people reading and lounging in dramatic positions around the composition.
Jacob Lawrence, The Library, 1960

There is considerable debate about whether programs should require the GRE, which can be prohibitively expensive for some applicants and may not say very much about an applicant’s abilities.

Do your research on whether the GRE is or is not required for admission to the programs you are most interested in.

If you take the GRE, study for it!  You want to do well on the analytical and verbal sections at least.  (Admissions committees in History programs usually ignore the math score). 


van Gogh painting of a pile of books, yellow color dominates composition
Vincent van Gogh, Piles of French Novels, 1887
The End of the Process
painting by Mary Cassatt, woman with glasses reading
Mary Cassatt, Reading “Le Figaro”, 1878


Admissions decisions are often made in late winter/early spring.

Sometimes programs will accept you initially but will take longer to decide upon a funding offer.

April 15th is a national deadline for accepting a funding offer if one comes your way.

That said, programs often make funding offers after April 15th because their top candidates have decided not to come or have accepted funding offers elsewhere.

If you’re uncertain about where you stand when it comes to a funding offer, feel free to write the graduate coordinator and ask.