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Frequently Asked Questions

The Admissions Process

Q. Where can I find an overview of the admissions process?

A. Rackham provides both an Overview of the Application Process and a list of Steps in the Admissions Process. The department also provides a list of the application requirements for the PhD in Comp Lit. 

Q. What role does Rackham have in the admissions process?

A. All applicants admitted to the PhD program are students of Rackham Graduate School and the College of Literature, Science and Arts (LSA). While individual departments make their own decisions about who is recommended for admission, Rackham plays a key role in the administration of the admissions process. The online application is managed by Rackham as is the interface between the vendor handling the application and the information technology staff at the university. In addition, Rackham analyzes all transcripts and certifies the information on them including the GPA. Rackham sets many of the standards applied to admissions including the minimum requirements and level of required English proficiency. Rackham prepares the I-20 documentation for international students. 

Q. On what basis are applicants accepted to the program?

A. The department places a strong emphasis on overall ‘fit’ with our program. We also aim for a diverse selection of thematic and global interests within each cohort. The Admissions Committee relies on a holistic evaluation of the entire application to assess each prospective student: the statement of purpose, personal statement, transcript(s), letters of recommendation, and writing samples. The committee does not focus on one criterion to the exclusion of others, nor do we have minimum requirements for any criterion (including GPA). 

Q. What can I do to make my application more competitive? 

A. While there is no formula that can ensure admission, the best thing you can do is plan in advance to present a complete and good quality application. Contact the people who will write your letters of recommendation several months before the application deadline (ideally during the summer). Investigate the department's research strengths. While it is not required, you can learn about the department and the 'fit' between your interests and the department by contacting members of the faculty. Leave yourself time to revise your application, and ask someone else to proofread it.

Q. How many applications does Comparative Literature receive and how many get accepted?

A. The department typically receives between 50 to 75 applications each year. We are able to admit three or four students each cycle. You can see the application statistics maintained by the graduate school here (including both selectivity and yield). You will have to select "Comparative Literature" from the drop-down menu at the top. 

Q. What kind of background do successful applicants have? Would a masters degree make my file more competitive? 

A. You need not have majored in comparative literature to have a successful application. Past students have majored in a wide variety of subjects. Regardless of your background, your application should show your skills in textual and cultural analysis.While not required, many students who apply for our doctoral program do have Master’s degrees. A Master's degree demonstrates the ability to conduct original research and can therefore be helpful to the professors assessing your file. We welcome applicants with relevant experience outside of academia. Regardless of your background, your application should show your skills in textual and cultural analysis.

Q. Language study is obviously important for the program. What background should I have before entering the PhD program?

A. Students entering the PhD program generally have advanced proficiency in at least one language in addition to English at the time of application. Students with little or no knowledge of a second foreign language are encouraged to enroll in language courses during the academic year or summer prior to matriculation, and should note these plans in their admission application. Advanced proficiency in two languages in addition to English must be established by the end of the second year of the program. 

Q. Do I have to apply simultaneously to a certificate program? 

A. No, in fact, you will need to complete at least one term of your PhD program before applying for any of Rackham’s certificate programs. It may, however, be helpful to the reviewers to demonstrate your interest in pursuing certificates as part of your academic goals. 

Q. Do I need to complete the online application in a single session?

A. The online application does not need to be completed in a single session; you may leave the application site and return as many times as you need. Assistance with forgotten passwords can be found after you select “apply now” on the admissions page

Q. I can’t remember my username or password for the application.

A. The ApplyWeb system uses the email address you entered when you created your account as your username, unless you have changed your account email since then. You can use the following link to recover a forgotten ApplyWeb account and/or password:

Q. How do I, or my recommender, contact to get help with the ApplyWeb application?

A. If you or your recommender need technical assistance regarding the application or
recommendation systems please vist ApplyWeb at

Q. When will I be notified of a decision regarding my admission?

A. While we strive to notify applicants of our decision as soon as possible, the nature of our admissions process means that offers are not made by a specific date. Applicants are most often notified in February or March. All applicants are notified no later than April 15th. 

Q. I am an international applicant. How can I find out if I meet the minimum degree requirements for admission? 

A. The international degree must be equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree from a college or university recognized and approved by the Ministry of Education or Commission responsible for higher education in the country where the degree is earned. Visit Rackham’s Required Academic Credentials from Non-U.S. Institutions for detailed information by country.

Q. I’m an international applicant. Where can I get assistance or learn more about the immigration process if I’m admitted? 

A. The University of Michigan International Center is the University's main point of contact for all F-1 and J-1 student issues, and serves as the liaison with all relevant governmental agencies related to international students. Check out their Pre-Arrival Guide for New International Students.

Application Materials

Q. What materials are required for an application? 

A. A list of the materials required can be found on the Comp Lit website. 

Q. Should I send anything directly to the department? 

A. No, all application materials should be submitted through Rackham’s online application.

Q. What should my academic statement of purpose look like?

A. The Academic Statement of Purpose is your primary tool for communicating to the Admission Committee about your academic interests and your preparation for undertaking graduate studies. It should be a concise and clearly written essay that delineates your previous academic experience, your intellectual trajectory, your scholarly plans and general interests in the humanities, as well as the reasons for choosing to apply to the PhD program in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. This statement should also include an indication of the fields to be studied, e.g., major field: French; minor field: Women's Studies. The statement should be about 500 words long. Please be aware that you are being evaluated on the quality of the writing as well as the content of the essay. 

Q. What should my personal statement look like?

A. The personal statement should be used to help us understand how you have come to be interested in Comparative Literature, what special challenges you might have faced, what relevant experiences you might have had, and what aspirations you have for the future. Please take care not to repeat sentences from your academic statement of purpose. Your statement should explain how your background and life experiences, including cultural, geographical, financial, educational, citizenship status or other opportunities or challenges, motivated your decision to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Michigan; and how studying for a PhD would help you to realize larger life goals, including those motivated by your own personal circumstances, experiences and concerns. Financial and personal hardships, such as limited family income or being undocumented, are factors for consideration for certain fellowships (such as the Rackham Merit Fellowship). If you have experienced such hardships, please explain their specific nature. Please be assured that these disclosures will remain in strict confidence.

Q. What should my writing samples look like?

A. Each applicant must submit two essays (e.g. papers written for courses). One should be a critical essay written in English (15-25 pages) and one should be an essay written in another language to demonstrate language proficiency (10-25 pages). The second essay may be your translation of an essay that you originally wrote in English; an essay related to ancient languages may also be written in English as long as it demonstrates detailed engagement with that language. We expect the writing samples to be critical essays written by the candidate. Literary translations of a work by another author (novel, poetry, etc) do not count as writing samples unless they are accompanied by a substantial critical introduction and theoretical reflection on the translation. The second essay may be written in the applicant’s native language. 

Q. From whom should I request letters of recommendation?

A. You should request letters from those best able to assess your ability to succeed in graduate school. We will accept letters of recommendation from whomever you select but letters from instructors are usually more helpful than those related to teaching or employment. 

Q. Can I submit letters of recommendation from Interfolio or other reference services? 

A. No. We find that these letters are written in vague and general terms in order to satisfy a large audience. Our admissions committee is looking for reference letters that speak in specific terms of your academic strengths, particularly in Comparative Literature, your potential for graduate study, and your other various talents. We have found that letters from services, such as Interfolio, do not make the student stand out as individually created letters of recommendation do, thus hindering your chances of admission.

Q. How can I check that all letters of recommendation have been received?

A. You can check the status of your letters of recommendation, change a recommender, or resend the notification email to your recommender using the ApplyWeb Activity Page. More information about recommendations can be found here

Q. Do international applicants need to demonstrate English language proficiency? 

A. Yes, applicants whose native language is not English must demonstrate English proficiency. If an applicant does not meet one of the criteria for the Rackham English proficiency exemptions, they will be required to submit scores from tests. The list of the exemptions, testing options, minimum scores, and submission instructions can be found on Rackham’s website

Q. How should I submit transcripts as part of my application? 

A. All applicants must upload a scanned copy, front and back, of their official transcript/academic record issued by the Registrar or Records Office to the applicant, to ApplyWeb for each bachelor’s, master’s, professional, or doctoral degree earned or in progress. If you have community or junior college, non-degree, or study abroad coursework, indicate this information on page nine of the application under the “Additional Education Information” section. Do not submit any transcripts from a community or junior college, non-degree, or study abroad coursework to Rackham unless you attended a Non-U.S. institution.

Q. Should I send official transcripts to Rackham or the department? 

A. Not unless you’re offered admission to the program. At that time, you’ll receive instructions on how to submit your official transcripts. 

Q. Do international applicants have to complete the University of Michigan Affidavit of Financial Support for International Students?

A. You only need to submit this form if you are admitted into the program. Rackham will send this form to admitted international students at the time admission is finalized. The letter of financial support you receive from the Department can be used as documentation. Since our Ph.D. program is for 5 years and fully funded, you only need to submit additional documentation if you are bringing dependents with you. Please see Rackham's Immigration Documents webpage for more information. 

Program Information

Q. What is the average length of the PhD program?

A. The PhD in Comparative Literature is a six-year doctoral program.

Q. Do you have a Master's program?

A. We do not offer a freestanding M.A. program in Comp Lit, and students will not be admitted for M.A. work alone.

Q. I am very interested in completing a program through distance learning. Is this possible?

A. Unfortunately, no. All courses are offered at the U-M Ann Arbor campus only.

Q. Is it possible to attend your program part time?

A. No, we expect students to attend our program full time.

Q: What does enrollment typically look like for students?

A: A description of the program can be found here and a sample enrollment plan is available here

Q. How do I find faculty who are working on my interests? Do I need to have an advisor before applying or being admitted to the program? 

A. We recommend that you start by browsing the Faculty and Affiliated Faculty profiles on our website. While the application will ask you to identify faculty at UM with whom you may be interested in working with, you are not expected to identify advisors. The department does not admit students to work solely with a single faculty member. The department works with faculty and admitted students to establish mentoring relationships for those who accept admissions offers. 

Q. Can I take additional language courses (from the beginning, even)?

A. Yes. Many students continue to enroll in language courses after meeting the minimum requirements for degree completion. 

Q. Will I be able to study or complete research abroad while pursuing the PhD?
A. Yes! Students in Comparative Literature often pursue study and research abroad for greater linguistic and cultural immersion in their areas of interest and for dissertation research. The doctoral program is structured to give students in good academic standing flexibility to spend one or two terms studying abroad after achieving candidacy and completing coursework. Funding is available from the department and from other campus sources.

Q. What careers have past students pursued?

A. Our students use their training in Comparative Literature to pursue careers both within and beyond academia; e.g. as professional journalists, bloggers, translators, editors, publishers, social justice activists, and grant-writers; in public libraries, museums, archives, government, NGO’s, humanities councils, political networks, non-profits, and community organizations; and in work related to the visual and performing arts, digital humanities, new media, business ventures, interdisciplinary projects, and public-facing humanities. For more information, view the placement information available on our website


Q. Is funding provided to all PhD students? 

A. Admission to the Ph.D. program comes with guaranteed funding, as a combination of fellowships and teaching. Recognizing that a doctoral degree in Comparative Literature, with its emphasis on language study and research abroad, will usually take six years to complete, our standard package guarantees six years. The standard funding package includes full tuition, health and dental insurance, stipend (for living expenses), and summer funding (currently at $5,000 for five summers). Beyond the typical funding package, additional funding is available each year for travel to give conference papers, to learn languages, or to do dissertation research.

Q. What is the cost of attendance? 

A. Tuition and fees are set annually by the University of Michigan Board of Regents. Current tuition information is available on the Office of Registrar website. Be sure to use the College of Literature, Science and the Arts in your search. Rackham Graduate School's website has basic information on the cost of attendance for graduate students with links to further information. The Office of Financial Aid's website contains an estimated budget for tuition, books and living expenses.

Will the fellowships be provided by the university/the department, or do I need to apply for it separately?

A. All of our admitted students have guaranteed funding for the first six years of study. We will notify you if and when there are other fellowships that we need you to apply for with the exception of the Forieign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS) funding, which is open to U.S. citizens studying less commonly taught languages. If you want to be considered for FLAS funding, you must submit a FLAS application along with supplemental materials. If you have questions about FLAS funding, please contact the Student Services Coordinator.

Q. Does the PhD program offer teaching opportunities? Are Comparative Literature PhD Students required to teach? 

A. Teaching assistantships (graduate student instructor or "GSI" positions) are available at U-M and are a part of every funding offer in the department. Comparative Literature students begin teaching in their second year of graduate studies, when they are usually assigned to teach a First Year Writing course in the English Department (ENGLISH 125). Students typically teach a minimum of four terms, although the amount of teaching varies. 

Q. I have a partner and/or dependents who would be relocating with me. Are there any benefits available for them? 

A. UM's Gradcare program will cover health and dental insurance benefits for your spouse/other qualified adult and dependent children at no cost to those teaching or on benefit-eligible fellowships! Find out more about who qualifies here

Housing and Community

Q. Where can I find more information about the campus and Ann Arbor? 

A. The Welcome to Rackham site, Rackham's Grad Life web pages (especially the Living in Ann Arbor information), the U-M visitor's guide, the Ann Arbor visitors guide, and the virtual U-M tour will give you a small taste of life in our vibrant community. Our student services staff and current students are also happy to answer questions about life on campus and in Ann Arbor!

Q. What housing options are available for graduate students? 

A. Rackham's Grad Life web page on Housing has an overview of housing options.