Hints for Successful Graduate Applications
1) Apply early
There are several reasons to submit your application several weeks before the deadline. First, in case you forget to include something or a part of your application is delayed in the mail, we have time to let you know so you can get your application completed before the deadline. Second, if we get your application early, we have more time to read it carefully before the flood of last-minute submissions. Sometimes this enables us to contact you and solicit additional information that strengthens your application. We rarely have time to do that with the 100 or so applications that arrive on January 15 (the usual deadline for those seeking financial aid). Third, your application is more likely to make an impression if it arrives on a day on which one or two others arrive, rather than on a day when forty or fifty are delivered. Finally, because we get so many applications, we have to turn away many qualified applicants. Getting your application in early insures that your application is considered before all the slots for a given year are filled. Thus, even if you are not applying for financial aid, it is to your advantage to apply by the January 2 deadline, as there are often very few slots remaining for the applications that arrive between January 2 and April 1.
2) Get relevant letters of recommendation
Because we seek to determine your potential as a historian, letters of recommendation should be solicited primarily from historians with whom you have worked during your academic career. If you did not major in history and therefore cannot get many (or any) letters from historians, then letters from professors in the field in which you majored are the next best thing. Letters of recommendation from employers, family friends, and the like are completely useless to us, unless your employer or friend is a historian (or perhaps an archivist or a curator), has a graduate degree in history (or a related field), or works closely with historians.
3) Write a focused statement of purpose
Your statement of purpose must answer three questions. The first is why you want a graduate degree in history. The second is why you are qualified to study history at GW. This section should include a discussion of previously completed coursework, theses, research projects, and anything else that explains why you have the necessary background to do advanced work in history at GW. It is particularly important that those who want to study the history of a non-English speaking area of the world describe their language preparation (Ph.D. applicants must take special care to address this question). The third question to answer in your statement is what area of history do you want to study and why is GW the right place for you to study it. This is the section in which you should mention why GW fits your needs and goals. M.A. applicants do not need to devote a great deal of effort to this section, but Ph.D. applicants must discuss which GW faculty members they hope to work with, and who might become their dissertation director. You need not tell us what you want to write your dissertation about (in fact, we would probably frown upon that), but a Ph.D. applicant must be able to identify a field of study (such as twentieth-century America, the modern Middle East, or early modern Europe) and a particular interest within that field (such as Cold War diplomacy, the Arab-Israeli conflict, or eighteenth-century French social history).
4) Include an impressive writing sample
All applicants must include a writing sample in addition to the statement of purpose. We prefer a history paper written during an applicant's undergraduate or master's studies, and research papers are especially helpful to the admissions committee. A ten to twenty page paper is ideal, but feel free to send something longer if you like (though remember that writing samples cannot be returned).
5) Take the GRE early
Take the GRE months before the application deadline. If you are disappointed with your score, you will still have plenty of time to take it again (and perhaps prepare better the second time). If you take the test near the application deadline and don't do well, it will be too late to take it again. The GRE score is especially important for applicants whose undergraduate degrees are from not-so-well-known institutions, as the admissions committee will not be as familiar with the grading standards at those schools, nor with the faculty from those colleges who write your letters of recommendation.