Prospective Graduate Students

Successful Application Components

Even though there are different procedures for applying to the MA, MFA, and PhD programs, there are some common features of successful applications.

The Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose should provide the admissions committee with a strong sense of 1) why you are choosing to enter graduate school and 2) why the University of South Florida is the right choice for you. Strong statements help the committee understand if the USF program can help you achieve your goals and if you are prepared for undertaking a program that requires maturity, independence, and self-direction.

Successful statements from PhD and MFA applicants identify faculty that the student wants to work with and explain how that person would help fulfill their goals. Such statements note the types of work that current students are doing and highlight how their interests dovetail with the scholarship and teaching at USF.

Before completing your statement, you should peruse this site's information on faculty, students, and departmental strengths to determine if USF's program will help you achieve your goals. Students who want to be considered for a graduate assistantship should indicate their interest in their statement of purpose.

The Writing Sample

The writing sample for rhetoric and composition and literary studies programs should demonstrate your ability to synthesize academic scholarship within an effective argument. Strong samples demonstrate the fundamentals of academic scholarship: an engaging thesis supported with compelling evidence, solid library research skills, consistent style use, and strong signposts and transitions.

Particularly strong writing samples will speak to a research area that one or more of the faculty members specializes in, especially at the PhD level. The writing sample is your opportunity to introduce the graduate admissions committee to you as a scholar. If you have developed an unorthodox or intriguing approach to writing or scholarship, the writing sample is an opportunity to showcase that talent.

For the MFA program application, the writing sample should represent your best work in your chosen genre(s). The program welcomes a wide range of genres and styles, so it's best to revise and polish the work you're most interested in and that best demonstrates your talents. The sample consists of 12-20 pages:

  • Prose should be double spaced. Indicate genre (fiction, memoir).
  • Poetry should be single spaced.
  • A sample that includes both prose and poetry is permitted if the student plans to specialize in more than one genre.
  • Hybrid, graphic, text/image works, and comics are invited (format is left up to the author).

Letters of Recommendation

The strongest letters of recommendation often come from faculty who have taught you in upper level classes, graduate or undergraduate, because these references can often best speak to your ability to execute independent scholarship while also addressing the quality of your character. For example, if you worked on a paper closely with a professor who can speak to your research and writing skills, that person would be a good choice.

Other references that have observed you in a role similar to that which you'd take on at USF may also help the graduate admissions committee. For instance, if you've worked for a non-profit and you're interested in pursuing scholarship on writing in non-profits, a manager's letter would be able to speak to your practical experience.

GRE Scores

GRE scores are considered as a supplement to the other materials. They are optional and not required. The admissions committee does not necessarily consider a GRE score to be a good indicator of a student's potential to conduct independent research and teaching. If your scores are lower, especially your verbal score, you can still compile a strong application with the other application materials. Note: If you are applying for any university fellowships, the GRE may be required.

Contact Information

John Lennon, PhD,
Graduate Director

Marissa Klippenstein
Graduate Program Specialist 

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