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Career Paths

Advisers in the English Advising Office in 102 Colson Hall can assist you in thinking about career choices. WVU Career Services can assist you in all aspects of career planning, from initial decisions and career counseling to resume writing and the job search process.

Some career paths require further study in addition to the BA in English

Teaching in Secondary Schools

Teaching in the public schools requires certification. At WVU, the Benedum Collaborative Five Year program offered through the College of Human Resources and Education enables students to attain certification while simultaneously pursuing a BA in English (or other certification area) and an MA in Secondary Education.

For those who already have a BA, the College of Human Resources and Education offers MA in Secondary Education and certification programs.

Many other universities offer similar programs.

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Law School

Admission to law school does not depend on a student’s major, but rather on his/her grade-point average, letters of recommendation, and score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). An English major is great preparation for law school because it teaches the skills necessary to succeed on the LSAT and in a law school curriculum, skills of textual analysis, reasoning, and argument. The LSAT also has an essay question component.

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Graduate School in Business or Public Administration

In order to pursue an MBA or MPA, a student needs an acceptable undergraduate grade-point average and an acceptable score on the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). Businesses are looking for prospective employees who have business knowledge and a well-rounded education and who are literate enough to hold managerial positions or to absorb the requisite training. If a student is interested in the world of commerce, he or she can combine the English major with the necessary business courses on the undergraduate level and then study business further on the graduate level.

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Medical and Dental School

Although medical and dental schools require applicants to have a strong background in basic science and math courses, many programs are looking for well-rounded individuals. They are looking for mature applicants who will understand the complex social, cultural, and ethical issues involved in the medical professions. Provided that you meet the application requirements in science and math, majoring in English can give you a boost over students who focused only on the sciences. Medical school admission is based on the student’s overall academic record, score on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), a written personal statement, letters of recommendation, volunteer work in the field, and an interview. Majoring in English can help you prepare for the MCAT, which covers four areas (verbal, math, general knowledge of arts and social sciences, and science) as well as developing skills useful for writing the personal statement and conducting the interview.

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Graduate School in English, Linguistics, or Cultural Studies

Graduate School in English, Linguistics, or Cultural Studies MA and PhD programs in English, linguistics, or cultural studies (e.g., film) prepare students for scholarly pursuits and college-level teaching. An MA typically takes two years to complete. A PhD usually takes an additional three to five years to complete.

Most schools have specific course requirements along with a range of exam, essay, thesis or dissertation requirements. Most graduate programs also have foreign language requirements. Students at the MA level follow a relatively broad course of study in literature and theory. Graduate study at the PhD level is built on mentorship; graduate students locate faculty mentors with compatible scholarly interests (usually in a committee format) and work under their supervision.

Professional Options

If your goal is to teach English at the college level, you should be aware that the job market is competitive, and that many recent PhDs are finding it difficult to secure tenure-track positions at both the community college and college/university levels. Those with a PhD obviously have an advantage over those with an MA only. There has been an increase in recent years in full-time, non-tenure-track academic positions offering benefits such as health insurance. The Association of Departments of English provides useful placement information on its website: If you decide to apply to graduate school, you might also check the job placement records for programs you are considering.

Many recent graduates with MA and PhD degrees who have found teaching jobs are working in a part-time or temporary capacity teaching composition or beginning literature classes at one or more college. In these kinds of adjunct positions, there is very little long-term job security. As a result, a number of MA/PhD graduates in the humanities seeking employment outside academia. A graduate program in English requires a great deal of time, commitment, and passion. Make sure that your career goals require this degree. In many fields, such as writing, editing, or advertising, your skills, abilities, talents, and portfolio are more important to employers than an advanced degree. It may be more appropriate for you to focus on acquiring professional experience (through work, volunteer work, or an internship) or specialized training (technical or skills-based courses or programs) than to pursue an advanced degree.

How can you decide if graduate study is the right choice for you?

1. Talk with faculty and academic advisors.

2. Talk with directors of the graduate programs in English here at WVU.

3. Talk with graduate students. The English Department graduate secretary or directors of our graduate programs can put you in touch with current WVU graduate students. The graduate secretary is located in 101 Colson Hall.

4. Attend faculty lectures and seminars on campus. The English Department regularly hosts lectures and events and posts information concerning these outside the Department office.

Preparing to apply to graduate programs

1. Seek faculty mentors. Your professors are your best resource. They can assist you in discovering and developing your academic interests, and make suggestions about schools and programs. Most graduate programs will require at least three good letters of recommendation. The best letters come from professors who know you, who can speak confidently about your work and are prepared BY YOU to write the best possible letter. This means speaking with them ahead of time about your goals, providing them with copies of your application materials (in draft, if necessary), and perhaps including a resume or a list of accomplishments they might draw from in writing the letter. Make it easy for them to write a stunning letter. Be sure to provide your recommenders with a clear list of the schools to which you’re applying, the application due dates for each, and the addresses to which the letters must be sent. You should also, on the application form, waive your right to see the recommendation. If possible, give your recommenders pre-addressed (by you) envelopes to make the task easier for them.

2. Take a course in literary theory and as many upper-division courses beyond the requirements as you can fit into your schedule.

3. Investigate schools and programs: Consider what area of literary study you want to focus on; what geographic area you would prefer; and how selective a program you want to aim for. Ask faculty for recommendations based on these criteria. Examine English Department websites, paying particular attention to faculty members’ areas of specialization, course offerings, degree requirements, and financial aid and teaching opportunities. You can usually request or download admissions packets from the websites. Plan to apply to at least six to seven programs, including at least one “don’t think I’ll get in, but boy, I’d love it!” school and at least one “safety” school.

4. Begin to develop your critical writing sample: Most graduate programs have a January deadline for students seeking admission for the following autumn, so you’ll need to have your critical writing sample ready early. The critical writing sample is usually 12-20 pages of your best writing. This can be a revised paper from an undergraduate course such as a 300-level “W” course or the ENGL 496 Senior Thesis capstone course. If you’ve written a paper for an English course that you’re thinking of developing into your writing sample, tell your instructor. He or she may have suggestions for you on how to improve it, or may be willing to work with you on further revisions.

5. Begin to write your statement of purpose: Most schools require a statement of purpose and/or statement of interest in teaching. In a statement of purpose for graduate study, you need to demonstrate that you have focused interests and that you can succeed in graduate school. Present a professional self with the skills, resources, and focus to succeed in academia. If you have an interest in a particular area of literary study, discuss that. In addition, you might discuss papers you wrote or courses you took that have shaped your academic interests. Consider how you would develop these interests in graduate school and what skills or experiences would help you do this. You need not commit yourself to one particular area of study, but if you know that you hope to study colonial American literature, for example, let the committee know this, and explain why their program makes sense for your goals. It is not a good idea to be too narrow about your intended field of study; announcing that you intend to write a dissertation on Virginia Woolf and environmentalism can indicate that you have no intention of learning from the faculty with whom you would work. On the other hand, asserting an interest in a certain approach to literature is fine, though it often makes more sense to indicate the kinds of questions you wish to pursue rather than the kinds of argument you expect to make. Be careful about stating that you intend to work with Professor X, the renowned scholar in the department; it might sound like you’re discounting the rest of the faculty -or the professor may have moved on to another school! Keep your statement to one page, typed, regular font.

6. Compose a teaching statement. This is a challenge because it requires you to reflect on why you want to teach and why you believe you’d be good at it before you’ve actually had a chance to try it out. Highlight positive classroom experiences and any tutoring you’ve done. Consider volunteer work in order to gain tutoring experience, which is always a plus on a graduate application. Demonstrate that you’ve thought about your role as a future teacher, and convey that in the most direct way possible. Committees are looking for you to be intelligent, committed to a future career in the field, and able to define ‘good teaching.’

7. Prepare to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE): Most schools will require only the General Test and not the Subject Test in Literature. Check with each school for their admission requirements. Check out for more information on exam dates and sample tests. A high score on the Subject Test is always a plus, regardless of whether or not the school has requested that you take the exam. Most programs in English will not consider your math score. To prepare for the exam, some students choose to take GRE preparation courses; others use books or software programs.

8. Mail your application ON TIME: If you are serious about graduate school and hope to receive funding, apply on time. Send the application overnight mail if you must, but get it there on time. Many schools are moving toward electronic applications. Double check to be sure that all parts of your application have arrived by confirming with a follow-up email. If mailing your application, pay the extra money to have the package tracked and/or pay for delivery confirmation. Use the forms provided by the school when possible, or the best quality stationery you can afford. Take the time to workshop your materials with your faculty mentors and/or your peers in order to catch any typos or infelicitous phrasings.

9. Fill out your FAFSA and make financial preparations. Generally, there is very little money for the M.A., since many departments make money on their M.A. programs. Go after every penny, every scholarship, every grant you can find to finance your education, with loans as a last resort. Be prepared to teach upon arrival, but also expect that many financial aid decisions within departments regarding funding and TA positions are made during the late spring and summer.

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Graduate School in Creative Writing

Before you apply, consider . . .

MA vs. MFA: The first is more “academic.” The second is more “creative.” Usually. Know that the MFA is considered a “terminal degree” (though some people do go on to get a PhD and this can be a useful thing to do), while an MA is much more a stepping stone kind of degree. Think about what you’ll want down the road (writing for pleasure? writing as a 9-5 job: editing, magazine writing? teaching writing?) and know that the MFA and/or PhD are the path to higher education teaching jobs (though MAs can get community college teaching jobs).

Faculty: Who teaches in the program, how do you feel about their work, and will they really be there? Try to balance several factors: working with writers whose work you admire vs. working with writers who actually like to teach vs. working with writers who will be in residence. These factors are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they can be. Do some research. Know the writers’ work, but also how they’re regarded as teachers (email current students in the program, ask your instructors what they know about particular writers as teachers). Who have they taught? Have their students gone on to publish well? Know that the more famous the writer, the more likely it is that he or she will have opportunities to go elsewhere, take semesters off, get extended residencies away from campus, etc. This is a both a good thing (certainly for the writer, but also for you: it’s good to study with writers who are in demand) and a bad thing (you don’t want the writer so in demand that your “demands” become a low priority). Of course not all writers choose to take semesters off/go away, etc. In fact, some really don’t enjoy such things, but it’s good to investigate just how frequently “star” faculty really do teach. Also, consider the faculty’s interests, because if their work is “language-oriented,” and you’re writing traditional narrative poems or sonnet sequences, you’re not going to be very happy. Also, if they aren’t interested in what interests you, why even bother applying?

Length of the program: MA programs can be as short as one year. MFAs are usually 2-3 years. Know what you’re getting into in terms of number/kind of classes. Also, low-residency programs (Bennington, Warren Wilson, Vermont College, Goddard, Queen’s College, Spaulding, etc.) can be a good option – if you’re very self-directed, have some other kind of employment, and are prepared to work both via correspondence and at twice yearly intensive residencies. Style of program: [bold] scholarly, research, studio: The Associated Writing Programs (AWP), the professional organization for creative writers, publishes a book of all the graduate programs and categorizes them as scholarly, research, and/or studio. These distinctions are important because they indicate the kind of work that will be expected of you and the kinds of skills/experiences you’ll gain. Check out this book to determine which type of program would be best for you.

“Culture” of the program: Some programs are notoriously competitive (Iowa, for instance). This can be good – if you thrive in that sort of environment. There’s no surefire way to know how any given program will be when you’re there (since a lot of that depends on the other students), but, again, your current instructors can be a good source of information regarding a program’s reputation as “friendly,” “competitive,” etc.

Financial support: Getting into debt for an MA/MFA is generally not a good thing. These are not money-making degrees; it’s best not to let them turn into money-losing degrees in the process. Most programs do offer financial support, usually in exchange for teaching freshman composition. This is a good thing. Teaching composition is a life skill if you want to make a living as a writer in academia.

Teaching opportunities: Some programs only allow teaching in the composition program. Some include opportunities for teaching creative writing, but be sure to determine who gets to teach what, how these assignments are given, and how much teaching will be required (one class/semester? two classes/semester? is the school on the quarter system? etc.)

Location: Where do you want to be? If you choose a program in a big city, will you be able to afford to live there? Will a big city keep too busy/preoccupied to do what you’re supposed to do, namely, write? If you’re in a small town, will you lose your mind?

Post-degree help with teaching/job placement, etc.: Some programs are quite good at helping their students get jobs/books/fellowships. Some even offer more teaching after the degree is over. Cornell is like this. More and more, programs are realizing that two or three years is not enough and that developing writers really aren’t viable job candidates until they get a book. So some programs are offering more time to write via preferential adjunct hiring.

Putting together a creative writing application. . .

First things first, apply to a good number of programs: This seems obvious, but it isn’t. The competition for creative writing programs is pretty daunting. A school like Virginia, which has big name faculty, good resources, a well-established program, and small classes, gets 200 applications each year for five poetry spots and 300 applications for seven fiction spots. NYU, Columbia, Brown, etc. are the same. Iowa will get even more applications, but they also take more people. This is not to freak you out -only to suggest that you apply to a range of schools, and especially that you consider some “smaller” schools – like Bowling Green, which has a very distinguished history, or like Georgia College and State University, which has a relatively new MFA. These aren’t just “back-up” schools; they’re good programs where you might have a better shot at getting in and a greater likelihood of getting attention once you’re there. So consider a variety of programs and don’t always go for the flashiest locations. Bowling Green, Ohio, isn’t amazing – it’s not the East Village – but it’s a very well respected program that has produced a lot of accomplished writers (including our own Mark Brazaitis!).

Whether the application asks for it or not, write a statement of purpose: This brief prose document (a few pages at most) is your chance to distinguish yourself from the pack. You can talk about your writing, your goals, how you came to be interested in pursuing graduate study, etc. An engaging statement may catch the reader’s attention and stop to consider your creative work from another angle. Also, there’s sometimes a misconception that creative writers don’t know how to write elegant prose. Disprove this.

Letters of recommendation: It’s just courteous to ask for these sooner rather than later. And while you’re at it, why not seek the advice of your instructors, particularly those in creative writing, as you determine which programs to apply to and why. The best way to insure a “good” letter – that is, a letter that not only says good things about you but is also interesting and specific – is to give the person writing on your behalf a small sample of your work. This reminds them of who you are and what your writing is like, which is especially crucial if you’re not currently in a lot of contact with this person. Also, a resumÃÃ?© and/or list of your other activities/honors/jobs can also be really helpful to the person writing the letter.

Just take the GRE, including the subject test: It seems silly to limit your choice of grad schools based on whether or not they require the GRE, especially the subject test. Just take the test! Most creative writing programs are following the “spirit of the law” on this; that is, their universities require the test, so they, in turn, require it, but it’s not a huge deciding factor. Not having taken the test will keep you out of a program, but having done not so well won’t necessarily ruin your chances of admission. With creative writing, it usually comes down to your work: either it’s good/has potential and the faculty at a given program think they can help you go further, or it’s not so good and/or they just don’t think they’re the right people to help you move ahead.

Writing sample: Of course, send your best work. And ask your instructors to help you determine what that is. Make sure your writing sample is polished and of the appropriate length. Don’t send 50 pages if they ask for 10.

Don’t try to figure it out all by yourself! Again, this seems to make sense, but in case you need reminding: applying to grad school can be confusing, so why not ask for help? Faculty not only are supposed to help you, most of them want to, and that’s nice, isn’t it?

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Graduate School in Professional Writing and Editing (PWE)

At other universities, Professional Writing and Editing programs often have alternate titles such as technical and professional writing, technical and scientific communication, or rhetoric, communication, and new media studies. Regardless of the exact title, most programs owe their origin to a larger area of study known as Rhetoric and Composition. Rhetoric and Composition initiatives or, more commonly, “Rhet/Comp,” are housed typically within English departments alongside traditional English literature and creative writing programs. A few programs across the U.S., however, have separated from English departments to form autonomous departments dedicated specifically to writing and rhetoric studies (see University of Minnesota’s “Department of Writing Studies”). How a program is situated will determine the types of courses available to students as well as the number of faculty members teaching and researching within the field of professional writing and editing.

Study the Program and Its Faculty, Courses, and Learning Objectives

It is recommended then that applicants examine how individual programs are situated within a larger department, the number of faculty in the program that are dedicated to rhetoric and composition or more specifically professional writing and editing, and what, exactly, the program prepares students to do once they graduate. While an MA in PWE is not understood generally as a “terminal degree” the way MFAs or PhDs are, an MA in PWE from WVU (as with most major programs) should enable graduates to teach at the community college level or enter the professional and technical writing profession with a job in industry or government. Graduates from MA in PWE programs like WVU’s are also well-equipped to go on to do advanced graduate work at the PhD level.

Applicants should also determine the minimum number of credit hours required to complete the degree, whether or not the program culminates only with a thesis or whether or not there is the option for a professional internship, what courses are part of the required or core curriculum, and whether or not the MA is a concentration.

For example, WVU’s MA in PWE requires a minimum of 30 credit hours and students have the option of researching and writing a thesis (6 credit hours) or completing a professional internship (3 credit hours). At the program’s core are courses such as Theories of Rhetoric and Writing, Professional Writing Theory and Research, Humanities Computing, Graduate Editing, and College Composition Pedagogy. WVU’s MA in PWE is offered as a concentration within the English department. As such, the degree offers a great deal of flexibility for students who wish to complete elective credit hours with other courses from within the department.


To varying degrees, MA in PWE programs like the one offered here at WVU emphasize the theory and practice of rhetoric, editing, document design and planning, and writing pedagogy. However, whether an applicant wishes to complete their MA in order to go on to work in industry or to continue with graduate work at the PhD level, a program should also expose students to the latest writing and communication technologies. Students should understand how those technologies intersect with their studies and ambitions. It is becoming more frequent, for example, that job descriptions for professional and technical writers require knowledge of content management systems (CMS), XML (or more specifically DITA or DocBook), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and HTML. Applicants should examine course selections to ensure that their program offers technology instruction and that their coursework will prepare them to not only think critically and rhetorically about technology but also to use it like a professional.

Financial Support

When MA in PWE programs offer financial support, that support is usually in exchange for teaching freshman composition or working in a writing center. Support is usually in the form of a Graduate Teaching Assistantship or Graduate Assistantship, [comma] which includes tuition credits for coursework and a small but liveable stipend. If an applicant is about to complete her or his undergraduate degree or has recently graduated, then applying for an assistantship of some kind may be the best option. If an applicant is already working in some capacity as a professional writer or editor, then returning to graduate school can open up new employment opportunities or translate into a promotion. Graduate courses are often scheduled during evening hours and working professionals therefore may continue to work while completing their graduate degrees. Working professionals should check with their company to see if employees are eligible for tuition reimbursement for continuing education.

Teaching Opportunities

Graduate Teaching Assistants gain valuable experience when they are provided the opportunity to serve as the instructor of record for their own courses. While a majority of teaching opportunities will come in the form of First-year Composition (typically courses titled English 101 and 102), a few programs do offer graduate students the chance to teach writing courses at the 200 (sophomore) and 300 (junior and senior) levels.


Given a choice, applicants should consider where they would like to be and, if possible, what opportunities their new surroundings may provide for their professional development. If an applicant wishes to complete an internship as part of their program, they should research what the university’s city or town has to offer. WVU, for example, places MA in PWE students in a variety of internships ranging from government offices, law firms, medical clinics, pharmaceutical companies, book presses, and magazines. Students at WVU also have the option of completing their internship outside of the greater Morgantown area. Charleston, WV, and Pittsburgh, PA, provide many additional options for our students. If applicants opt for a program in a big city, they should consider cost of living expenses in a bigger city and whether or not that city is affordable on, say, an assistantship stipend.

Job Placement or Applying to PhD Programs

Some Professional Writing and Editing programs are quite good at helping their graduates locate jobs. If students know that they want to complete their degree and go directly into industry as opposed to graduate school, then they quite often select an internship that will better prepare them for the type of work they wish to do. At the very least, applicants should inquire about a program’s placement rates. They should find out what percentage of graduates get jobs and where, exactly, they get them. If a program’s graduates go on for PhD work, then an applicant will want to know what percentage get into PhD programs and what specific programs they get into. So far, WVU’s MA in PWE program has placed 100% of its graduates into jobs related to the field of professional writing. The department also offers workshops and mentoring for applying to graduate school.

The Application Process

If applicants are not already working or otherwise tied to a particular geographic area, then they should consider applying to a number of programs. Universities like Purdue, Carnegie Mellon, and Virginia Tech have well-known and established programs. This means that they receive many applications and are quite competitive. This is not to suggest that applicants should not bother applying but instead to recommend that applicants apply to a range of schools. Students should consider not just smaller schools but smaller or newer programs that are able to offer a competitive education with the added bonus of individual attention.

The Personal Statement

Perhaps one of the more frustrating genres associated with the graduate school application process, the personal statement is one of the strongest indicators of disciplinary socialization. Professional writing, like any field, has recognized norms and values that govern not only its practice but its discourse. Demonstrating an awareness and an understanding of those norms/values show an educational foundation that has prepared applicants for graduate-level work. How an applicant describes themselves, their past work, and their future interests can have enormous sway in proving their ability to acclimate and contribute to the writing field. Applicants should spend time on this document and have many others read it prior to submitting.

Writing Samples

Professional writing and editing programs typically like to see a variety of work. Different genres help display a range of knowledge and ability. If an applicant has, for example, several short pieces including perhaps press releases, instruction sets, and business memos, it is also recommended that the applicant include a longer piece. Applicants will want to show their ability to sustain a longer thesis or research-driven paper as part of their entry to graduate school. If a university does not specify either the number of pages or specific genres then it may be a good idea contact the program administrator for clarification. If a program does specify genres and length then an applicant should be certain to meet the program’s criteria exactly.

Letters of Recommendation

Most programs will require three letters of recommendation. Applicants should contact their reviewers to request that they write on their behalf as soon as possible. Asking for a letter a week before a deadline is generally considered bad practice. Once a reviewer agrees to serve as a reference and letter writer, the applicant should offer to send the reviewer any additional materials he or she may need. Quite often, an updated resume is very helpful. If the letters of recommendation are to be submitted electronically, then the applicant should make certain to test and then send the appropriate links to their reviewers. If the letters are to be mailed, the applicant should provide the reviewers with the necessary forms, addresses, envelopes, and postage.


Many professional writing programs do not require the GRE English subject test but do require the standard GRE. Applicants should be sure to check what their prospective programs require and then schedule to take the GRE with enough time for the scores to be reported by the program’s deadline. Applicants should not shy away from individual programs because they require these tests.

Mentors, Proofreaders, and other Assistance

Applying to graduate school can be a daunting task. Applicants are encouraged to seek advice and guidance from their professors about the application process, suggested strategies, specific programs, and the field of professional writing in general. It is also a good idea for all of an applicant’s materials to be read and/or analyzed by several readers. Do not hesitate to contact program coordinators and administrators for clarification with questions.

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December 6: English 418 Capstone Reading, 5:30 p.m.,130 Colson Hall

March 20: Mary Moore Reading, 7:30 p.m., Robinson Reading Room WVU Downtown Library

April 10: Clare Beams Reading, 7:30 p.m., Robinson Reading Room WVU Downtown Library

April 20: Calliope Reading, 7:30 p.m., 130 Colson Hall

April 27: MFA Reading, 7:30 p.m., Gold Ballroom, WVU Mountainlair