Application for admission to the graduate program in the Department of English and Comparative Literature is completed through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The online PhD application deadline for the 2024-2025 academic year is December 12, 2023.Apply Now
The following is a set of basic guidelines for the admissions process in the Department of English and Comparative Literature. While our admissions committee weighs the writing sample heavily in admissions decisions, each piece of the application matters. Members of the committee will carefully consider the overall profile of each applicant.
The writing sample is a highly significant part of your application. Applicants should submit a double-spaced, 15-20 page paper of no more than 5,500 words, in 12-point font and with 1-inch margins. Writing samples must be examples of analytical writing (rather than creative writing) directly related to literature. Applicants should not send longer papers with instructions on which sections to read, but should edit the writing sample to fit the page limit. Readers on our admissions committee will look for lucidity of thought and expression, an ability to analyze texts closely and in a sophisticated manner, evidence of engagement with previous critical work, and a demonstration of research skills.
Statement of Purpose:
The Statement of Purpose should be intellectual rather than autobiographical, aimed at giving the admissions committee a strong account of the applicant’s scholarly interests. It should be no longer than 1,000 words, in 12-point font and leaving 1-inch margins. Rather than providing personal anecdotes, focus instead on conveying what interests you most about literary studies. Applicants need not indicate a field of specialization, if they have not decided, but committee members want to know something of the candidate’s intellectual goals and why it makes sense to pursue those in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Those who have a research topic in mind should provide some account of it in the Statement of Purpose; those who do not should try to articulate the questions they anticipate will drive their intellectual inquiry for the next several years. Applicants may list particular faculty members with whom they might like to work, but they are not required to do so.
Three Letters of Recommendation:
Applicants will be asked to provide the email addresses of three referees. It is important to have strong letters of recommendation from professors who are familiar with a candidate’s academic work. Applicants who have been out of school for several years should try to reestablish contact with former professors. While letters from employers will be accepted, applicants should bear in mind that academic references tend to give the committee more relevant information. Recommenders should address not only the applicant’s scholarly achievements but also the applicant’s originality as a thinker and potential as scholar and teacher.
Our department will not be accepting GRE scores this application cycle, and they will not be factored into our decisions.
While an applicant’s overall GPA will be considered by our admissions committee, the average in English classes matters more. An A- average in English courses is typical for students admitted to the program. Please note that an unofficial transcript from each university attended must be uploaded within the application. Please do not mail transcripts. (If admitted, you will be asked to submit official transcripts to the Graduate School before arriving.)
Foreign Language mp3 (Comparative Literature applicants only):
Applicants in Comparative Literature should also submit an mp3 of themselves speaking in the foreign language in which they are most proficient. The purpose of the recording is to assess the applicant’s conversational and grammatical proficiency in the language in question, so applicants should not read from a prepared script. Please submit the mp3 to the firstname.lastname@example.org.
The majority of our graduate students are fully funded. (International students please reach out to the Director of Graduate Admissions for more information.) First-year doctoral students are funded in one of several ways: by merit fellowships from the Graduate School, departmental research assistantships, internships in our DLC lab for instructional technology, or (for those entering with prior college composition experience) teaching fellowships. After the first year in the program, all doctoral candidates are funded through teaching fellowships (more information on teaching in the PhD program can be found here.) Advanced doctoral students are eligible to apply for dissertation fellowships, which allow for a one- or two-semester release from teaching responsibilities at the research and writing phases of the dissertation. All funding packages offer a living stipend and include tuition remission and health insurance.
Applicants with an interest in African American literature and whose work supports the development of gender equality, diversity and inclusiveness within the Department of English and Comparative Literature may be considered for the Dr. Lovalerie King graduate student excellence fellowship to help support their first year of study.
The Department of English and Comparative Literature (ECL) is committed to diversity. Our graduate program encourages applications from students from all undergraduate institutions and backgrounds, including students of color and underrepresented minorities, queer and transgender students, first-generation students, foreign nationals, and veterans. For a list of services at UNC aimed at fostering and supporting diversity, see The University Office for Diversity and Inclusion and the ECL’s Departmental site on diversity and inclusion.
- Statement of Purpose
- Critical Writing Sample
- Three Letters of Recommendation
- Applicants in Comparative Literature only should also submit an mp3 of themselves speaking in the foreign language in which they are most proficient.
Graduate Admissions FAQ
Q: How many people apply to the program, and how many are admitted?
A: Our graduate program receives between 250 and 450 applications each year, of which 13-16 students are admitted.
Q: Does the Department of English offer an MA or MFA?
A: No; the Department of English and Comparative Literature only offers a PhD. Students already enrolled may apply for an MA if they decide to leave the program, but no terminal Master’s program in English and Comparative Literature exists. However, the Department does house an MA in Literature, Medicine, and Culture.
Q: Does the Department of English and Comparative Literature offer financial aid?
A: All of our graduate students are fully funded. First-year doctoral students are funded in one of several ways: by merit fellowships from the Graduate School, departmental research assistantships, internships in our SITES lab for instructional technology, or (for those entering with prior college composition experience) teaching fellowships. After the first year in the program, all doctoral candidates are funded through teaching fellowships. Advanced doctoral students are eligible to apply for dissertation fellowships, which allow for a one- or two-semester release from teaching responsibilities at the research and writing phases of the dissertation. All funding packages offer a living stipend and include tuition remission and health insurance.
What if my application is missing any of the required components?
A: Incomplete applications will be considered, but they will not be as competitive as those with all required components.
Q: What if I already have a Master’s Degree in English? Will I have advanced standing?
A: If you already have the MA, you may transfer credits from 3 courses towards your coursework at UNC, at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies. Please note that an MA is not required for admission into our PhD program, nor does the MA in and of itself increase your chances. Many of our students are admitted without an MA.
Q: Can I meet with the Director of Graduate Studies or a professor before applying?
A: As a rule, the Director of Graduate Studies meets with students after they have applied and been accepted into the graduate program. Professors may be contacted directly to inquire about meetings before admission.
Q: Can I speak with a current graduate student about the program?
A: Yes—prospective students may contact anyone on the list of Contacts for Prospective Students.
Q: When will I hear back about application decisions?
A: The Director of Graduate Admissions endeavors to contact applicants with decisions by late March, but in some cases the decisions take a bit longer.