Graduate Program FAQs

The English Department at George Mason University offers an MA in Linguistics, five separate MA concentrations in English (Cultural Studies; Linguistics; Literature; Professional Writing and Rhetoric; and the Teaching of Writing and Literature) and four graduate certificates (English Pedagogy; Folklore Studies; Professional and Technical Writing; and Teaching English as a Second Language). All English and Linguistics programs admit new students twice a year, for fall and spring. Students are admitted on a rolling basis; nevertheless, the screening process is highly competitive. Since graduate study represents a voluntary commitment to rigorous advanced work, we advise applicants to be certain they have considered how to balance the demands of (e.g.) a career against the time and space needed to perform successful graduate work.

Our graduate faculty is research-oriented and interested in producing and sponsoring cutting-edge work, whether in professional writing, literary study, linguistics, the scholarship of teaching, or cultural studies. Regardless of our areas of specialization, the members of the English Department look forward to sharing our expertise, to challenging students with new modes of thinking, and to training the scholars, teachers, and language practitioners of the future.


How should I prepare to become a graduate student in English at George Mason University?

If you are an English major who has recently graduated, your task is comparatively simple: review the papers you wrote in undergraduate classes to find an appropriate writing sample. (Choose work that best represents your ability as a writer as well as an interpreter of literature.) Start thinking about which instructors to approach to write you letters of recommendation. Begin to draft your statement of purpose.

If it has been some time since you have studied English, you might consider taking either an advanced undergraduate or graduate literature course through non-degree studies as a refresher.

And if you have never studied English, we strongly recommend that you complete at least two upper-division undergraduate English literature courses, through non-degree studies at George Mason University or another four-year college or university, in advance of applying. You can use one of the papers from those classes as your writing sample, and solicit letters of recommendation from your literature instructors. If you are applying to the MA concentration in Professional Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) but have no experience in professional writing, we recommend that you take at least one undergraduate technical writing course before applying.

What should I write about in the goals statement?

For information about the goals statement for the graduate application, click here.

From whom should I seek letters of recommendation? What kinds of questions should the letters address?

For information about letters of recommendation for the graduate application, click here.

What is the best kind of writing sample for my application?

For information about the writing sample for the graduate application, click here. 

How relevant is job-related experience in an application?

In large part, the answer depends on the job and the concentration to which you are applying. If you are a teacher, then your job-related experience is certainly relevant for applying to the TWL concentration. If your job includes a great deal of writing, then you would certainly want to include information about that experience in your application to the PWR concentration. In many cases, though, job-related experience will not turn out to be pertinent.

Should I submit scores for the GRE? For the GRE English examination?

Both the GRE General Exam and the GRE Subject Exam in English are optional. If you choose to submit them, your scores will certainly be taken into account during the admissions process, but the absence of any GRE scores will not be held against any applicant.

How long can I expect to take to complete an MA?

The time needed to complete our MA can vary greatly. Three courses a semester is considered full-time: if you take two or three classes per semester and an occasional summer class, it is possible to graduate in about two years. But a number of our students, perhaps most, attend only part-time, taking only one course a semester; that means some take as long as four or five years to graduate.

The university itself sets a six-year time limit to finish your MA degree, beginning from your initial date of enrollment; course credits begin to expire after six years. If a student cannot finish the degree within this six-year limit, s/he will need to petition the Graduate Dean to grant an extension of candidacy. However, extensions are generally only for a semester or two at most and depend on a student's having been continuously enrolled; please be aware that students who interrupt their courses of study for any length of time might find themselves unable to return.

What are the minimum TOEFL scores needed to be considered for admission to the programs?

Testing of proficiency in English is required for all non-native English speakers who apply, regardless of where they currently reside. The minimum TOEFL score for applicants is 575 on the paper-based exam, 230 on the computer-based exam, or an 88 on the Internet-based exam, with a minimum score of 20 in each sub-section. Note that TOEFL scores are only valid for two years. Note, as well, that achievement of acceptable scores is not a guarantee of admission.

Is there financial aid for incoming students?

While George Mason facilitates federal loans for graduate students, the English Department has few resources of its own for MAs: only a very small amount of financial assistance is available in the form of scholarships, teaching fellowships, or research assistantships. The monies we do have are awarded competitively; the opportunity to apply is announced via the listserve we maintain for matriculated students. Unfortunately, no department monies are available for incoming graduate students.

Is there a foreign language requirement for the completion of the program?

Only MA students are required to demonstrate foreign language proficiency equivalent to the level represented by George Mason’s 210-level language classes: this is also the level of proficiency all GMU undergraduates must attain. New graduate students may demonstrate competence either through an undergraduate transcript that indicates the completion of intermediate-level study (or beyond) in a single language or via a translation examinations offered by the department. There are also other ways to meet the language requirement. For details see information on the English Department’s foreign language requirement.