Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Admissions
Is MTL right for me?
Students in MTL take coursework in a variety of disciplines: literature, history, philosophy, cultural anthropology, law, political science, etc., depending upon their interdisciplinary interests. Half of the course work is in literature, the other half in non-literary fields of the student's choosing. (Students may include courses on theory, film, etc. as part of the literature component, with the approval of their advisers.)
As an interdisciplinary program (rather than a department), MTL does not have its own faculty. Our students work with faculty across the University, although primarily with faculty in the humanities or humanistic social sciences. The extensive list on our website is made up of those faculty who have worked with one or more of our students in the relatively recent past. But students can and will work with faculty who are not on that list. It depends entirely on the student's areas of academic interest.
The most important thing for you to do in order to determine whether or not MTL is the right program for you is to browse the offerings in the Stanford departments from which you would probably take courses to see if the faculty and the course offerings would support your particular interdisciplinary focus. You may also want to visit interdisciplinary program or institute sites to see which faculty are affiliated (e.g. Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, Feminist Studies, Ethics and Society, the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies). You can access the various websites using the A-Z menu on the Stanford Home page (www.stanford.edu).
In general, if you can find faculty to work with and courses to take, MTL can accommodate your interests. Please remember that you need to configure your program of study so that half of the course work (8 courses) falls under the category of "literature," and the other half (8 courses) falls under the category of "interdisciplinary" or "non-literature" courses (e.g. history, philosophy, anthropology, law, political science, etc.)
The current students are an excellent source of information about the program. You may want to browse the list of current students and their interests, and e-mail one or more of them whose interests seem to intersect with yours to see whether they think Stanford would prove to be a good place for you to pursue your particular academic interests. (Please be concise when you outline your interests. You are less apt to get helpful responses if you send in lengthy queries.)
You can also check the names of faculty on the MTL Committee in Charge and contact one or more of them to see what they think about the compatibility of your interests with the MTL program. Most department websites list the e-mail address of their faculty.
How long does it take to get the PhD at Stanford?
Most of our students receive their degrees at the end of the sixth year.
The typical progress toward degree is something like this:
- Students spend at least the first two years in coursework.
- The first two quarters of the third year are spent taking any remaining courses and preparing for the Oral Exam, which is scheduled in the spring quarter of the third year.
- The fourth year is spent researching and writing; the dissertation proposal is submitted by the end of the fall quarter, and the first chapter completed by the spring quarter of the fourth year. The dissertation colloquium is scheduled for the end of the fourth year.
- The fifth year is devoted to writing; students should have a significant portion of the dissertation written by the end of the fifth year, when guaranteed funding expires.
- If the degree was not conferred at the end of the fifth year, students use a sixth year to complete and polish the dissertation, and to enter the academic job market. Students may have to take on additional teaching duties in the sixth year to receive financial support.
What are the language requirements for the program?
There is no language requirement at the time of application. However, students are expected to have or acquire reading proficiency in two languages other than English as part of their doctoral requirements. The first language should be certified by the end of the first year; the second language should be certified prior to the Oral Exam (spring of the third year). Proficiency can be certified a number of ways:
- Native speakers submit a statement to the office
- Satisfactory performance on a Ph.D. Reading Exam
- Completing Ph.D. “Reading” courses while at Stanford
- Certification by a recognized expert
What kind of graduate aid does MTL offer?
The Program in Modern Thought and Literature funding package provides a five-year plan that covers tuition and a stipend or salary, plus guaranteed additional support for two summers, with the possibility of a third summer of support. The package consists of a combination of straight fellowship stipends, TAships and research assistantships. The funding package is offered to all admittees (whether or not they are U.S. citizens) unless they have already been awarded comparable outside funding. MTL will supplement outside funding as needed to assure that all students receive funding equivalent to or better than the MTL funding package.
How do I find out how to apply? What about fee waivers?
Go to the Graduate Admissions Website: http://gradadmissions.stanford.edu
This site is kept up-to-date and should direct you to all the information you need to make your application to Stanford.
Fee waivers are only available to U.S. citizens. Instructions for how to apply for a fee waiver are found at the gradadmissions website under #2, "Reviewing Requirements," in the section devoted to the application fee.
How selective is the process?
We are able to make between two and four offers from a pool of approximately 150 applications each year.
The MTL Admissions Committee evaluates applications holistically: no single factor such as a GRE score or individual reference letter causes a candidate to be admitted or rejected. The statement of purpose must be well written and must present an interesting and viable interdisciplinary focus. Projects that could not be carried out in a conventional department are given priority over those that could find a home in a department. Keep in mind that departments readily admit certain kinds of interdisciplinarity (e.g. the use of historical or philosophical materials in the study of literature is accepted by practically all literature departments). Your statement should show how your interests go beyond such departmental frameworks and link disciplines in new ways. Your writing sample is also a crucial part of your application, since it demonstrates your ability for research and writing.
What kind of bachelor’s degree is required? No specific undergraduate degree is required. Successful applicants come to us with degrees in literature, history, philosophy, sociology, etc., as well as from interdisciplinary programs such as feminist studies, media studies, or American studies.
Should I have a prior MA?
An MA is not prerequisite. Although more than half of our incoming students have received prior graduate degrees, an MA does not in itself improve an applicant’s chances for admission. However, applicants who have completed MA programs are often more focused in their interests and have the advantage of recommendations from faculty who can evaluate their graduate-level achievements.
What is the TA requirement for the program?
The current program funding package requires students to teach for five quarters in the first three years. Since MTL is solely a graduate program at Stanford, our students teach in courses offered by the various affiliated departments. First-year teaching normally consists of a TAship in English. The second year teaching takes place with the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (introductory writing) and consists of one quarter as an apprentice and two quarters as the primary instructor. The third-year TAship should be determined with the individual student's eventual job goals in mind. Stanford offers sustained pedagogical training, beginning in the student's first year.
What kind of GRE scores do I need in order to be considered?
We do not establish any minimum or optimum scores for applicants. The GRE is only one component of the application. Much of the information that is used to make a decision comes from the statement of purpose, the writing sample, and letters of recommendation. While it may be helpful to have high GREs and a strong GPA, they are not stand-alone indicators of an applicant's success or potential.
Please note: You do not need a "department code" for Stanford. All ETS scores are submitted to our central Graduate Admissions Office. You only need to have the University Code: 4704.
When should I take the GRE/TOEFL?
If you do not have prior scores on file, it is strongly recommended that you sit for the October GRE exam. (MTL only requires the general test—no subject tests.) Those scores are sure to make it into your file in a timely manner. We will accept scores from later exams, but you cannot be sure that they will make it into your file by the time it is reviewed.
We also recommend early completion of the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), which is required of all international applicants, unless they have completed either a BA or a 2-year MA in the U.S. or another English-speaking country. See the specific requirements on the Admissions website:
Please note: The TOEFL is a University Requirement; MTL cannot waive this requirement. Students may write to Graduate Admissions to inquire about exceptions to the requirement: email@example.com
What should be included in the Statement of Purpose?
The statement should indicate how you are prepared to do interdisciplinary work. The most common and direct way to do that is to suggest a project or two that would give the Admissions Committee a sense of how you wish to pursue interdisciplinary study, and why MTL is a good fit for you. The statement of purpose can include a brief narrative of your academic journey, if relevant, but the SOP should focus on your proposed doctoral studies.
What kind of writing sample do you want?
Submit a critical or analytic sample of scholarly writing, 7000 words maximum. Although we encourage applicants to choose writing samples that display their interdisciplinary interests, this is not a requirement. Choose a sample that reflects your best scholarly work. The writing sample should not be a sample of creative writing. Applicants may submit two or more shorter samples to a total of about 7000 words, but keep in mind that shorter samples are usually less well suited to demonstrate your research and argumentation skills.
How are letters of recommendation submitted?
Letters of recommendation are submitted online. Instructions are posted on the CollegeNet site. Applicants may keep track of which letters have been submitted by checking that site. If for some reason a recommender should be unable to upload a letter, he or she may contact the Program Administrator (firstname.lastname@example.org).
What are the deadlines and how strictly are they enforced?
The online application due date is posted on our website (late November or early December). Faculty begin reading files shortly thereafter.
We realize that some supporting documents (official transcripts, letters of recommendation, official GRE scores) may be in transit and arrive later, but all documents that the applicant is solely responsible for – the application, the unofficial transcripts, the statement of purpose, and the writing sample – must be submitted online by midnight Pacific Standard Time on the posted due day. Be sure to self-report your GRE scores on the application if you have that information, even if the official scores have not yet been transmitted to Stanford.
We will let all applicants know if there are items missing so that they can track missing documents, but it is important that you have as complete a file as possible. Supporting documents will be added to your file as they are received, but if the application has already been evaluated, it may be too late.
Should I visit Stanford?
We are always happy to accommodate prospective applicants who wish to visit. However, visits are for information purposes only. They are not part of the application process, and do not increase your chances of admission. You should therefore carefully weigh the benefits of a personal visit against the expense of time and money it requires.
Prospective applicants who wish to visit Stanford to learn more about the program or to meet faculty with whom they might like to study should plan their visits ahead of time. To learn more about the program, applicants should contact the Program administrator, Monica Moore (email@example.com) to make an appointment regarding application procedures and program requirements. Prospective applicants may also contact relevant Stanford faculty to arrange individual meetings. Since MTL has no dedicated faculty, it falls to the prospective applicant to write to faculty (most departmental websites list faculty email addresses) to see whether or not meetings can be arranged.
Because visits by prospective applicants will be informational only and are not considered as part of the application process, program policy dictates that appointments with the Director will be scheduled only in those cases where the applicant's interests are focused in the Director's areas of scholarship.
Although there is no definitive list of appropriate faculty, the list of "affiliated faculty" in "Explore Degrees" is a good starting point for interested applicants. Affiliated faculty will have worked with one or more MTL students in the past, but are unlikely to have detailed knowledge about the Program requirements. Therefore, faculty meetings should focus on questions about scholarship resources at Stanford, and not about the Program itself.
 International applicants should check the Graduate Admissions website for information about international credentials.