Prospective Graduate Students

This section answers most of the questions that occur to prospective and current applicants regarding the University of Virginia's graduate program in History. Please read it carefully before contacting us, for it may provide the information you need.

Degrees and Terms of Study

Because of the number of inquiries we receive in this regard, it bears emphasizing that the History graduate program at the University of Virginia is a combined M.A.-Ph.D. sequence. The department normally does not admit applicants who seek only a terminal M.A. degree and do not intend to proceed to the Ph.D. The main exception to this rule is students applying to the Program in Legal History, which allows students to complete an M.A. in History while already pursuing a J.D. in the Law School. Other exceptions may be made for applicants who present an especially strong case that an M.A. will be of professional value to them. This includes—but is not limited to—serving military officers who need an M.A. but not a Ph.D. in order to teach at the service academies. In no case is U.Va. financial aid available to students seeking a terminal M.A.

Part-time graduate study in the department is highly unusual and normally not encouraged. Classes are offered only on-site at the university; there are no distance-learning options. Evening classes, though sometimes scheduled according to the preference of individual faculty, are not enough the norm to accommodate students who work full-time day jobs.

Before Applying

Pursuing graduate study in history normally begins with a discussion of your aspirations with history professors you already know, typically those from your undergraduate institution. You will need to request letters of recommendation (see below) from these teachers for your application. Also, if one of them has a Ph.D. in your specific field of interest, there may be a wealth of information this person can share with you regarding the programs and faculty at different universities as well as the nature and state of the field.

In addition to discussing with your advisors how to develop enough background in your field of interest to submit a strong application to do graduate work in history, pay special attention to training you may need in fields outside of history. Most typically this means developing proficiency in foreign languages. (We will not, for example, consider an application for graduate work in German history from a student who apparently knows no German.) If you are applying in a field other than British or American history, you do not necessarily need to be fully proficient in every relevant language at the time of application, but it should be clear to a specialist that you are well on your way to proficiency in at least the primary language. All graduate students in the department must take proficiency and mastery exams in one foreign language. For applicants to fields not requiring foreign languages for research, previous language study is not required for admission. But if you anticipate difficulty in fulfilling the language requirement, you are advised to begin learning or re-learning a language as early as possible.

Learn About Our Faculty

Graduate study in history is considerably specialized, and your experience in graduate school may depend largely on your rapport with your principal mentor (dissertation advisor). Although in the department's larger fields (such as U.S. history) one may have a choice of advisors, in many smaller fields the mentor may be determined more or less automatically by one's subject area. In either case it makes little sense to choose a program based solely on its general reputation; you should have a strong sense of the particular professors with whom you are most likely to be working.

Before deciding whether to apply to U.Va., therefore, it is best to familiarize yourself with the department's faculty in your intended field of study, with their interests and their published work. (You will find profiles of the faculty members here.) Feel free to contact faculty members individually to discuss your interest and the professor's expectations for graduate students and applicants. By investigating the university web site or contacting department faculty, you might also discover resources or people at U.Va. of interest to you outside of the History Department.

If you are within close proximity to Charlottesville, you might choose to visit U.Va. to talk to faculty in person and to see the university grounds. Be aware, however, that typically such visits are most useful when undertaken in the Spring after acceptance to the program, when you may be comparing offers of admission from two or more universities, and may have more specific questions and concerns. The History Department is able to help accepted candidates to organize such visits to grounds (including, in some cases, helping to pay their travel expenses). Unfortunately, we do not have sufficient staff to do the same for those who have not yet applied and been accepted. On the U.Va. website you can find the information you need to plan a visit on your own: maps, tour schedules, and information on hotels and other amenities in Charlottesville.

Submitting an Application

Applications to the graduate program should be submitted using the University of Virginia's online application system. For more information, visit the admissions page for the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. After receiving and processing applications, the Graduate Admissions office then turns them over to the History Department for review. Though admissions decisions are made primarily at the department level, the Graduate School holds ultimate authority over them.

Application Deadlines

For admission in the Fall of 2014, all application materials must be submitted on or before December 15, 2013. Admission is rarely granted for the start of the second semester, and fellowship support for students seeking to enter in the middle of the year is highly unlikely.

Application Form

The three-page application form that you submit through the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences contains important data that the History Department needs in order to consider your application. These forms are more or less self-explanatory, but please contact us if you have any questions.

Personal Statement

This is the same statement also referred to on the Graduate Admissions page as the “Personal Essay” or the “Statement of Purpose.” You should pay special attention to composing it. Though fairly short (one or two pages), it must provide us with a concise intellectual portrait of you and the kind of graduate student and historian you are likely to be. And although we do require a separate Writing Sample (see below), inevitably the Personal Statement also plays a role in demonstrating your communication skills.

Every statement is individual, so you should follow your own instincts and use your own style. But do try to address the following: your interests within History and how they have developed in the context of your overall education and life experience; your progress in getting to know existing scholarship in your field of interest, and where you would most like to make a contribution (which approaches or sub-topics appeal to you most and least?); key academic or personal experiences that distinguish you (esp. original research-based work such as a thesis; work you have published; teaching experience, etc.); explanation of any special circumstances (such as a major change in direction or career); and finally, why you feel U.Va.'s History Department is well suited to your interests and needs. Applicants in non-U.S. history should also mention progress in relevant language study, and, if applicable, living or travel experience in the region of interest.

Writing Sample

The Writing Sample is required by the History Department, not by the Office of Graduate Admissions. Ideally it will show us not only the quality of your writing in stylistic terms but also your historical thinking and (possibly) research skills. You should submit a piece of work that reflects your best effort and has passed the scrutiny of a professor. If possible, it should be from a course in History or a closely related discipline, and in your primary field of interest. If you have completed (or are currently preparing) an undergraduate thesis or other major paper in History, you are welcome to submit it in its entirety or in part (with an attached introduction or description of the whole thesis)—depending on what you feel is most suitable. Those applying with M.A. degrees or from M.A. programs see instructions below.

Please upload your writing sample to your online application with the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. You do not need to send a paper copy of the sample to the History Department.


Applicants should upload complete transcripts of their grades for all work in institutions of higher education to their online application. Action on applications will be deferred until the department has received transcripts that include the first-semester grades of the senior year. Applications for fellowship aid will be seriously handicapped if the first semester grades are not received by February 1st. If offered admission, final confirmation of admission, furthermore, cannot be formally completed without the final transcript of undergraduate grades indicating a satisfactory record in the senior year and award of the undergraduate degree.

Graduate Record Examination Scores

Strong GRE scores are required for admission. The general exam is required of all applicants, but not the History exam. The average scores of applicants who were offered admission for the Fall of 2011 were 682 Verbal, 714 Quantitative, and 4.85 Analytic Writing. There is no minimum that all applicants must obtain to be considered for acceptance. Please understand that the GRE score is but one of several factors considered during the process of reviewing applications.

The GRE is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), Princeton, New Jersey 08540. Application to ETS should be made well in advance of the desired examination date, and arrangements should be made for a copy of the scores to be sent to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at U.Va. Applicants with GRE scores more than four years old will be required to take the test again. This U.Va. policy is recommended by ETS as a way of ensuring that the scores of applicants in a given pool can be compared reliably (since ETS changes the exam format and grading scale from time to time).

Generally, action on applications will be postponed until the GRE scores are received, usually six weeks after the examination. The departmental fellowship committee seldom recommends the award of a fellowship unless the candidate's GRE scores are available at the time the committee meets in February. Therefore, applicants are advised to take the earliest test offered, usually in October. If the December test is taken, the applicant should request that the results be rushed to the University.

Applicants to the Program in Legal History may submit LSAT scores in lieu of GRE scores.

Many international applicants are required to take the TOEFL exam in addition to the GRE (see below).

Letters of Recommendation

Applicants should request letters of recommendation from AT LEAST TWO history professors who are well acquainted with recent work; if possible, at least one of these should be submitted by a professor in your intended field of specialization. Letters from instructors in departments other than History are less valuable (unless the writer has a Ph.D. in History), and letters from non-academic sources are seldom of use. However, if you have been out of school for some time and have acquired job skills relevant to graduate work in history, the recommendation of a supervisor can be useful. It is still advisable, if at all possible, to get at least one recommendation from a history professor (either from one's Undergraduate years, or from more recent history courses taken on a non-degree basis). Letters of recommendation must be submitted electronically through the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences application process.

Applicants with (or completing) M.A. degrees see below.

Applicants Holding (or Completing) M.A. Degree

The department expects an applicant holding an M.A. degree to have a sophisticated sense of his or her field of study as well as clear research goals. Applicants to the Ph.D. program who are in the process of earning or already hold an M.A. degree must submit, in addition to the Personal Statement, a 300-word Research Statement describing their work to date and ideas and intentions for doctoral dissertation research. For the Writing Sample, such applicants should submit the M.A. thesis (in whole if it is finished) or a graduate seminar paper based on original research. Such applicants also should submit at least THREE letters of recommendation, including at least one (and preferably two) from an instructor familiar with their graduate work. Applicants with M.A. degrees who are admitted to the program must complete the same coursework requirements as those admitted with a B.A. or B.S. degree, and there is no provision for transferring graduate credits from another institution or accelerating the coursework phase of the program.

International Applicants

All international applicants should be sure to follow all instructions on the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Admissions web page regarding additional documents required with the application.

Applicants whose native language is not English are required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and obtain a score of at least 250 on the computer version, or 600 on the paper version. (These scores are institutional minima for the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.) The requirement may be waived by special permission if you are from a country where English is widely spoken and you can show that English has been your primary language of education.

Information and application forms for the TOEFL are available at many places outside the United States. Forms can also be obtained from TOEFL, Box 899, Princeton, N. J. 08541, U.S.A.

Notification of Applicants

Applicants may receive communication from the Department or from the Graduate School indicating that parts of the application are missing. But because of staff limitations, it is ultimately you, the applicant, who is responsible for making sure that the university has received your complete application. This can be done online using the account that you will establish when you file your application.

The Director of Graduate Admissions for the History Department begins reviewing each application as soon as it is complete. However, since all applications must be reviewed further by specialists on the faculty, and since additional time is required for the Dean of Graduate Admissions to consider and act upon the department's recommendations in each case, applicants should not expect to be notified of a decision immediately. Usually candidates will be notified by early to mid-March (though candidates nominated for some fellowships may be notified earlier). If circumstances require, the Department may put some applicants on a waiting list.

The deadline for successful candidates to accept or decline the department's offers of admission is normally April 15. Acceptees are welcome and indeed encouraged to visit U.Va. and the Department before making their decisions.

Deferral of Enrollment

Accepted applicants who wish to postpone enrollment for up to one academic year will usually be allowed to do so. Such students, however, must formally reapply to the Dean of Graduate Admission and re-file the basic application form, although not the supporting documents such as transcripts, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation. Normally fellowship offers are NOT deferrable beyond the year for which they are offered; a candidate deferring admission will be reconsidered for fellowship support along with the following year's applicant pool.


Candidates not accepted for admission may reapply in subsequent years. Although the Graduate Admissions Office keeps all supporting documents for applications on file for two years, keep in mind that your chances of admission are not likely to be improved by resubmission of all the same documents. In the event that you begin an M.A. program elsewhere and apply to U.Va. from there, normally the Department expects the personal statement, letters of recommendation, and writing sample to reflect the new circumstances and additional training (see section on Applicants with or Completing M.A. degrees). New GRE scores must be submitted if the previous ones are more than four years out of date, and in any case some applications may be substantially improved by retaking the GRE and obtaining higher scores.

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904

tel: (434) 924-7147; fax: (434) 924-7891
office: M-F 8 am to 4:30 pm
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