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 GSAS Harvard financial aid. 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.
Beginning with the 2021 application cycle, the GRE test is no longer required for applicants.
For more information on our graduate program, please contact our Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Luis Girón-Negrón [fall] (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Verena Conley [spring] (email@example.com)
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 course catalogue at https://courses.my.harvard.edu/. 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.
Beginning with the 2021 admissions application cycle, the GRE is no longer a requirement for applicants. 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.
We do not ask for GPA but your overall grades do play an important role in the application process.
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. For instance, languages listed on the application should have a clear indication of how language proficiency was acquired; i.e. were languages learned in high school or college and at what level (beginning, intermediate, etc); were they a result of living in a country for a number of years; are they a native language or the result of private tutoring?
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.
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.
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 $33,624 for 2017-18). 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.
There is also a fifth year of tuition-only coverage. The final, sixth year of support is during dissertation completion year and also includes tuition and fees and a stipend. Throughout their six years of tuition funding, students receive medical insurance coverage through the Harvard Health Plan. Although the department can make no guarantees, in the past most students have continued to receive teaching fellowship funding in the one or two years between their fourth year of full funding and their final year in the program. Students also are eligible for numerous Harvard and outside grants, including FLAS, to cover expenses. For further information, see https://gsas.harvard.edu/financial-support/funding-and-aid
Students are admitted without regard to their financial circumstances and are fully supported for five years, as long as they make satisfactory progress toward the degree.
There are additional fellowships and financial aid available (international students: be sure to check US citizenship requirements when looking at supplemental financial resources). The Fellowship Office provides information and consultation on how to apply for fellowships inside and outside Harvard.
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.
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. That said, the Department is eclectic in that it encompasses many different types of professors, students, and programs. The same is true of the languages and literatures which figure in the programs of individual students. The only limitations would be the vagaries of staffing, so it is a good idea to check the on-line course catalog for course offerings and faculty presence and expertise We have a number of students who have entered our program who have come with degrees in entirely different fields. What we seek in them is both documentable knowledge of languages and a commitment to the study of literature, as demonstrated in coursework (even if the courses are taken as electives rather than as prerequisite toward a degree in a specific language-and-literature program). Admissions to the Department of Comparative Literature are decided by a committee of several faculty members. Since the composition of the committee varies from year to year as does the pool of applicants, it would not be appropriate for any one individual to offer predictions about who is likely to be accepted and who is not.
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
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.”