For Prospective Graduate Students
Applying to PhD programs in the humanities can be a bewildering process. Unlike professional schools, which have more standardized application processes as well as advising programs that support applicants, potential PhD students often find themselves alone as they examine the various ways that graduate programs are organized.
It is with this experience in mind that we have prepared this section.
This section is intended to answer most of the questions that occur to prospective and current applicants regarding the graduate program in History at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL). For questions not addressed here, prospective students may contact the Graduate Program Assistant or the Director of Graduate Studies.
Deciding to Pursue a PhD in History
For people dedicated to reading, researching, and writing about change over time in the past, pursuing a PhD in History can be rewarding. A graduate program in History provides the means to spend years learning about the craft, an education that culminates in the completion of an original piece of historical scholarship, the dissertation. Skills acquired during this process can be put to use in many different careers. To gain a sense of the career paths of our students, please click here.
In the History Department at WUSTL, students are admitted directly into the PhD program. Students earn an MA on the way to the PhD but there is no stand-alone MA program. The PhD program requires students to devote themselves to full-time and continuous study, usually for six years. It is not possible to attend part-time.
Working with the Office of Graduate Studies in the College of Arts and Science, the History Department strives to provide funding to all of its PhD students, for a maximum of six years. Students are granted tuition remission, meaning they do not have to pay tuition for the courses they take. Students receive a yearly stipend to cover living expenses and subsidized health insurance. They are required to live St. Louis for at least the first three years of the program and attend classes in person. Students are required to complete six semester-long Mentored Teaching Experiences (MTEs), usually by serving as an Instructional Assistant for History and related courses.
The Department admits students who are able to demonstrate that they have a good sense of what it takes to produce original historical scholarship. These applicants show that they have, or are in the process of acquiring, the skills that are necessary for successful scholarly work. Many History PhD students arrive with an undergraduate degree in History, although that is not a pre-requisite. People who studied other topics in college, from foreign languages to anthropology to political science to chemistry, have become successful historians. Nevertheless, applicants who submit a writing sample consisting of a senior honors thesis or similar that is based on historical sources and that asks and answers a productive historical question have an advantage during the admissions process.
Potential applicants should consider discussing their plans to apply to graduate school with instructors from their previous institutions. Most college professors hold PhDs and can provide advice on whether and where to go to graduate school. Applicants need three letters of recommendation from faculty. Asking for advice as well as letters can be informative.
Historians need to be able to read the languages used in the time and place of their object of study. Students applying to write about places that use languages other than English need to know those languages or have plans for mastering them before beginning to research the dissertation. As an example, students aspiring to write about the history of Germany should be able to read German or be in the process of learning to do so. Foreign language abilities need to be documented with transcripts and / or proficiency exams. In their writing samples, students should also demonstrate strong analytical writing skills in English.
The Department welcomes applications from international students. Students whose primary language of education is not English must submit TOEFL scores. As required by the graduate school, the score should be above thresholds determined by the OGS. We may require that students who are non-native speakers of English attend ESL courses at WUSTL to improve their academic writing and presentation skills. The Department has been fortunate to include a growing number of excellent international students in our graduate cohort, and they have had highly successful outcomes from their graduate training.
Students who already hold an MA from another institution are encouraged to apply. It is possible, although not always recommended, to receive credit for past work. This can be addressed after admission.
Exploring the History PhD Program at Washington University in St. Louis
Once students have decided to pursue a PhD in History, they should strive to find an appropriate program and advisor. At WUSTL, we train students in fields ranging from early America to the History of Medicine to world migration. Applicants should read the faculty biographies here. Once applicants have identified a potential advisor, they should familiarize themselves with faculty research interests and read some of their scholarship. This will help in the process of determining whether faculty and student research interests are aligned. Students should consider writing to potential advisors to share a brief summary of interests and ask whether they are accepting students.