Admissions

Although we are here to answer your questions, it is helpful to first acquaint yourself with the following sources of information. A good place to start is the Comparative Literature program description at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. General information about financial aid can be found at www.gsas.harvard.edu/prospective_students/financial_aid.php. See our Q&A below for information on the department's financial aid, offered to all admitted students.

Locating courses that are offered can be a good way to check out which faculty are teaching what courses and if your research interests would be met in our program.

You may apply for admission on-line or request an application packet from https://gsas.harvard.edu/admissions/apply.

And finally, there is a Q&A section (below) of questions most often asked that may provide added information. Happy researching!.

General Guidelines for Admissions: The following is a set of general guidelines for the Department of Comparative Literature’s graduate admissions process. While several areas are emphasized here, the Admissions Committee carefully examines the overall profile of each applicant, taking these and other aspects of the candidate's application into consideration.

The Application: Requests for applications and inquiries about financial aid should be addressed to www.gsas.harvard.edu. The application can be filled out on-line at the same address. You should make every effort to ensure that all supporting materials (transcripts, recommendations) arrive by the application deadline. No applications for admission will be accepted after the deadline set by GSAS.

The Writing Sample: The writing sample is supposed to demonstrate your ability to engage in literary criticism and/or theory. It can be a paper written for a course or a section of a senior thesis or essay. It is usually between 10-20 pages. Do not send longer papers with instructions to read an excerpt; you should edit the sample so that it is no longer than 20 pages.  Writing samples should be in English, although candidates are permitted to submit an additional writing sample written in a different language.

Statement of Purpose: The Statement of Purpose should give the admissions committee a clear sense of your individual interests and strengths. You need not indicate at the time of application precisely what your field of specialization will be, but it is helpful to tell us about your aspirations and how the Comparative Literature department at Harvard might help in attaining these goals. These statements are usually between one and four pages long.

Recommendations: It is important to have strong letters of recommendation from professors who are familiar with your academic work. An applicant who has been out of school for several years should try to reestablish contact with former professors. Additional letters from employers may also be included.

Subject and program number: Our Harvard GSAS subject and program number is 1700 - this number is for use on the Harvard application.  

Graduate Record Examination (GRE) codes: GRE scores should be reported to Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Code 3451.

For more information on our graduate program, please contact our Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Luis Manuel Girón-Negrón (giron@fas.harvard.edu)

Questions and Answers

Where should I start?

The best place to start is with the admissions website: www.gsas.harvard.edu (which also contains the link for the Comparative Literature program description) and with the registrar’s course listings at http://www.registrar.fas.harvard.edu/courses/. This gives you an idea of who is teaching what and whether your interests are well represented at Harvard. This also gives you the foundation from which to ask specific questions.

What about the G’s? GRE and GPA

While a high score in the verbal part of the test is a positive addition to the application, it is by no means the most important aspect of a candidacy. You should plan to take the GRE as early as possible and it should not be taken later than October in order to ensure arrival of scores as part of the application. December exam results can arrive too late to be considered. We do not require a GRE subject test.

We do not ask for GPA but your overall grades do play an important role in the application process.

Must I already know four languages to apply?

We pay careful attention in evaluating prospective applicants to make sure that they would be able to satisfy our program requirements in a reasonable span of time. Our program requires declaring four languages, with coursework in three of them (one of which may be English). Most students we admit have a solid grounding in two literatures and languages and have had exposure to another (or more). Our program allows time for further language study as well. It is important for your application to give a clear idea of what level of language preparation you have.

Read more

Can I apply for the AM degree?

No. You can take a master’s degree only if you are enrolled at Harvard College as an undergraduate. The only way to enter Comparative Literature is through the Ph.D. program, although once you are enrolled in our program you may take the A.M. degree in passing.

Can I speak with current students?

Because we have over a hundred applicants annually and far more requests that do not result in applications, we tend to economize on the time of our students, who are the centerpiece and raison d’être of the whole program, by not involving them officially until after students have been admitted, at which point we put candidates in touch with students who have similar interests. Before then, potential applicants are welcome to contact students whom they know, but we do not connect applicants with students ourselves.

What kind of financial aid is available?

The Graduate School provides five years of full funding to each student admitted by our department, including tuition, medical insurance, and either a fellowship stipend or teaching fellow support for living expenses (currently $26,020 for the 2013-14 academic year). Incoming students will receive three years of stipendiary support (straight scholarship, no teaching), usually taken in the 1st, 2nd, and final years, and two years of teaching fellow support (assisting in courses or tutoring in our undergraduate Literature Concentration), usually done in the 3rd and 4th years.

Read more

Should I visit the campus before admissions are announced?

The Department receives many inquiries each year from prospective students. We have found that in terms of arranging appointments with faculty, what makes the most sense is to focus our efforts on the period after applicants have found out whether or not they have been accepted. Applicants are, of course, free to contact individual faculty and request information or appointments.

What should my preparation be?

The Department has been consistent across the years in paying close attention to the backgrounds of candidates in languages and literatures. Usually the Committee focuses on candidates who have a solid grounding in one language and literature as well as knowledge of at least one other language and a more than passing exposure to its literature. In considering the strongest applicants, the committee looks particularly to whether or not they would be able to complete the demanding course and exam requirements of the program in a timely fashion.

Read more

Who must take the TOEFL?

The University requires that all applicants whose first language is not English must have taken the TOEFL within the last two years or have an undergraduate degree from an English-speaking College or University. Individual courses taken in English or at English-speaking universities do not count in place of a TOEFL.

Can I transfer course credits from my Master’s degree?

Some students come to our program having already completed some graduate work. At the end of the first semester, credits for prior graduate work are considered on a case-by-case basis by the Director of Graduate Studies. A maximum of six credits can be granted for courses that we determine are the equivalent of our graduate courses. There are restrictions about which requirement the credits can count for; these guidelines are listed in the Graduate Student Guide under “Credit for Graduate Work Done Elsewhere.”