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Admissions FAQ

What fields of study do you accept students for the graduate program?

We currently are accepting applications for the following fields only:

United States (19th & 20th centuries)
Latin America
Early Modern Global (~15th-18th centuries; transnational or trans-regional)
China (Qing and 20th Century) and South Asia

When is the application deadline?

January 5th.

How many get accepted to your program?

We receive approximately 100 applications and accept 6-8 students per year (spread across all fields).

Do you accept terminal MA students?

No. Although we accept students whose highest earned degree is a BA (and who thus will receive an MA as part of their doctoral studies at Penn State), we only admit those students whose ultimate goal is getting their PhD at Penn State.

My recommenders haven't received a form to submit their letter of recommendation?

An email does not get sent out from the application system until you complete and submit your application. Only at that point will your recommenders receive their instructions for uploading their letters of recommendation.

Can I have a fourth person submit a letter of recommendation?

The application allows only three letters of recommendations to be uploaded and we advise you to stay within this limit.

How do I apply for an assistantship?

The department only admits those students we can fund so there is no need to apply for an assistantship. If you receive an offer of admission, a funding package will be included.

How do I apply for a dual-title degree with History and another program?

There is no need for a special application if you are interested in applying for a dual-title degree (African American Studies, Asian Studies, and WGSS), and you may apply for these programs during your first year of study. If you would like to be considered for admission to a dual-title program at the time you apply to the history program, indicate your interest at the appropriate place on the application. Only after you are accepted by the Department of History for admission will your application be forwarded (internally) to the dual-title degree partner department. A representative from that department will contact you in due course.

Is the GRE required for admission?

No. We do not require the GRE for admission, nor will we consider the scores during the admission process. Please do not submit your GRE scores with your application.

Must I list which faculty member's research is of interest to me?

Yes. We admit new students into the history program and not into the direct sponsorship of individual faculty. Nevertheless, we ask that applicants indicate on the application the faculty with whom they anticipate collaborating. Typically by the end of the first year, students will make the decision about whom they should select as their advisor.

Do I have to introduce myself to faculty before my file is reviewed?

No, you are not required to contact faculty before the review. However, e-mailing, calling, and otherwise contacting the professor(s) you hope to work with is encouraged.

How does the admissions process work?

The faculty members in each of our four primary fields form committees to evaluate applications and select those indicating a likelihood for success in graduate study and a good fit with our program. Next, members of these committees, along with the Director of Graduate Studies, conduct remote interviews. We invite students to whom we extend offers of admission to visit our department at our expense.

How important is my Statement of Intent?

It is crucially important. Your statement of intent should address your academic background, your preparation for a History PhD, and any relevant skills you possess (such as archival research, study abroad, or language training). In addition, the statement should substantially discuss the proposed area of research focus, mentioning the faculty with whom you intend to work and the ways that the Penn State History program and its coursework would be a good fit for you and your research focus.

What is the purpose of the writing sample?

The writing sample should not only offer the admissions committee a sense of your writing, but also your level of sophistication and familiarity with historiographical trends in your area of interest.

What does the committee look for?

The committee takes recommendations and GPA into account (as well as TOEFL scores for international applicants). In recent years, most successful applicants had an undergraduate GPA of 3.5 or higher. But outstanding numbers do not necessarily guarantee admission, and lower ones do not inevitably mean rejection.

The committee scrutinizes the Statement of Intent and the writing sample with special care. We are looking for evidence of intellectual engagement, openness to new ideas and methods, capacity for originality, and the ability to think critically and to write clearly. Moreover, fit with department faculty strength is an important consideration.

Where relevant, applicants must demonstrate foreign language preparation.

Is the study of a previous foreign language necessary?

Language preparation sufficient to enable passing a language proficiency exam relevant to one’s primary field of study by the fourth semester is required. Additional languages or language training depend upon the requirements of one’s research topic. Foreign language training is especially important for students of Latin American, European and Asian history.