Monday, August 29, 2011

Essays for Grad School

This post is for professors who teach at departments with grad programs (Jonathan*, I'm thinking of you). I had a student (she graduated last Spring) who is the first one I've encountered that decided to do a PhD in Spanish. I've blogged about the the advice I gave her on how to choose a PhD in Spanish here. She took a year off, doing other things, but she will be applying to grad programs this Fall. She is really smart, was an excellent student and, as I said in the previous post, I think she will be a good fit. Also, despite the horrendous market, Spanish continues to be one of the few fields in the Humanities where it is reasonably possible to get a tenure track job. Last week, she sent me the essay she intends to submit as a writing manuscript when applying for grad school, and asked me for feedback (it is a re-formulation of a research paper she did for one of my classes).

I am reading the paper, and it is certainly a very good one. It would get an A and I would be impressed in my upper level Lit class. What I have a hard time calibrating, though, is what is expected from a first year Master research paper. I know a lot of my American classmates in grad school struggled with it (undergraduate "licenciaturas" in Argentina are roughly the equivalent of an MA as far as demand goes, so I didn't have that problem). So my question for those of you who have knowledge of graduate students applications is: what is expected from a writing sample from somebody applying with her BA to a PhD program? The paper is in Spanish, just to clarify, but language and grammar is not the problem.

*By the way, Jonathan, she is not applying to KU, so there wouldn't be a conflict of interest if you answer.


  1. It should be ok if it is a good undergraduate paper that has been worked over a bit with the advice of a professor. It should be free from obvious undergraduatisms, though. If it reminds the admissions committee too much of the papers they read for their undergraduate courses, that might be a problem. Like the paper that begins with a grand generality about the history of mankind. A senior honors thesis would be ideal, but if it's not, it should stand out in some way.

  2. Thanks, Jonathan. It helps a lot.