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Graduate School

Academics / Departments & Programs / French / Careers & Outcomes / Graduate School

The following is a collection of resources and information that we hope you'll find helpful in applying to grad schools.


  • Application process & Timeline
    • Application for admission to the Graduate School and/or department
    • Official transcripts, to be sent directly from the Registrar’s Office
    • Application fee
    • Scores from GRE general test (Verbal and Quantitative)
    • Statement of purpose
    • Recommendation letters (two, three—sometimes four–from professors who can comment on the work you’ve done in the upper level courses they’ve taught).

      When asking for academic recommendations, be sure to provide to your recommender a copy of the paper you wrote for the course taught by the professor, a copy of your statement of purpose, and your resume listing the courses you’ve taken in French and the grades earned, as well as all your involvement with French language and culture. This will help your professor write a detailed informative letter on your behalf. Also, don’t forget to supply the necessary forms, along with addressed envelopes with postage.

    • Demonstration of your competence in French (by submitting a writing sample in French or a tape of a conversation / interview / reading a literary passage, etc.)


    Since deadlines for application with consideration for financial aid occur in January or, at the very latest, the beginning of February, applicants should begin preparing their application documents in the fall semester prior to application. Allow yourself ample time to collect and prepare your materials. The following is an ideal timeline: junior year, Fall and Spring

  • Checklist
    • Research areas of interest, institutions, and programs
    • Register and prepare for appropriate graduate admissions tests (GRE, LSAT, etc.)
    • Investigate national scholarship opportunities Junior Year, Summe
    • Take required graduate admission tests
    • Write for application material
    • Write your application essay
    • Check on application deadlines Senior Year, Fall
    • Ask for letters of recommendation from appropriate instructors
    • Take graduate admissions tests, if you haven't already done so
    • Send in completed application Senior Year, Spring
    • Register for Graduate and Professional School Financial Aid Service (GAPSFAS) if required
    • Check with all institutions before the deadline to make sure your file is complete
    • Send a deposit to hold your institution of choice
    • Notify other institutions that accepted you of your decision so that they may admit students on their waiting list.
  • Financing

    Don’t go anywhere without a teaching assistantship or other financial aid. When you finish your undergraduate degree at Calvin, you may have some debt. With careful planning, you should be able to pursue graduate work in French without incurring any additional debt.

  • Teaching assistantships / fellowships

    Many programs offer teaching assistantships, in which graduate students teach a beginning French course per semester.  As compensation, the graduate student receives a stipend (salary) that enables you to live adequately as a student. Usually there is a TA coordinator, whose job it is to work with the graduate students in course preparation/testing, etc.

    Many teaching assistantship awards include a tuition waiver (i.e. no tuition bill) or in-state tuition for out-of-state students. To maintain an assistantship, a grad student must be a full-time student. Some programs offer assistantships or fellowships without tuition waivers. Be sure to pay attention to the details!


    Some programs have fellowships, which are usually very competitive. The policies that govern fellowships and their holders vary. Normally (but not always) fellowships do not require the recipient to teach or do other service.

  • Programs

    Graduate programs are not all alike: Students have a wide range of programs to choose from, and the choice should be based on factors such as the student's goals, program emphases, amount of financial support available, etc.

    Masters (MA, MAFLL, MFS, MAT, etc.)

    Traditionally, masters programs focus on language/cultural studies / literature and serve as preparation for work on the PhD level. Some universities have masters programs that are not linked to doctoral programs. These programs tend not to be as competitive as MA/PhD programs, but quite often they distinguish themselves by emphasizing particular tracks of study: professional French (Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison), translation (Univ. Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Kent State Univ.), initial certification for K-12 or secondary teaching (Univ. of Delaware, Wake Forest Univ. Univ. of South Carolina, Portland State Univ.), etc.

    Most masters programs range from 30 semester hours to 36 semester hours. It is expected that full-time students complete their degree in two years.

    Doctoral work

    The standard doctoral degree is the PhD.  Some schools (Middlebury College) offer a DA in foreign languages; the EdD is the standard education doctorate. Fields include culture, literature, second language acquisition, pedagogy, applied linguistics.

    Often, applicants will apply to departments offering both an MA and a PhD. For students wishing to continue in the PhD program after completing the masters, there will be some sort of qualifying exam.

    Most doctoral programs require an average of 90 semester hours (which usually includes whatever hours the student has already completed for the MA).  Students should figure on at least two years of full-time study beyond the MA to complete PhD coursework. On the average, 20-24 semester hours of the 90 total are accounted for in the writing of the dissertation. Admission to PhD programs is typically based on grades and on successful completion of qualifying exams. All PhD programs require successful passage of doctoral exams, and the completion of a dissertation; many require passing foreign language exams in languages other than French.

  • Work load & Thesis options

    Work load

    Usually a full-time graduate school course load averages 9 semester hours credit per semester (3 courses). Some programs go a bit higher than that, but usually not more than twelve semester hours.

    Thesis Options

    Traditionally, for masters programs the options include the writing of a thesis (which usually accounts for 6 to 10 semester hours of work) and non-thesis options (in which students have to take courses for the last 6-10 hours).  Non-thesis options may include programs with minors, and may require more semester hours than the thesis option. Some doctoral programs require that student complete a minor in a cognate area (perhaps another Romance language, linguistics, pedagogy, etc.).

  • Language Requirements & Exams

    Language Requirements

    Some masters programs still require students to pass a written test in a second foreign language.  Check the fine print of any program you consider. Most doctoral programs require students to demonstrate competency in two or more foreign languages.


    Most masters programs (and all doctoral programs) require comprehensive exams. These exams are given at set times over the semester and cover a reading list, which the departments make available.  Quite often the comprehensive exams are administered over the course of two or three consecutive days.

  • Other considerations
    • Study/experience abroad - Many programs have some sort of exchange with institutions abroad. It may consist of an assistantship for a student (usually a second or third year grad student) to work with undergraduates in an abroad program (Bowling Green State University) or it may be a year of study somewhere (Columbia). The only way to know if anything is offered is to research the possibilities.
    • Reputation of program and department dynamics - Before applying, ask us if we know anything about the program, the department, and the professors.
    • Campus visits - Increasingly students who are serious contenders for admission to doctoral programs are invited to visit the campus during some special visit days. Any program that offers such visits certainly deserves serious consideration. Graduate students are an investment for the program and the university; thus the programs want to be sure that their student investments are going to be happy and will be productive. Serious graduate programs know that they are assembling persons who will be the future professors in the US, and the programs want to be sure that these graduate students will be successful in the long run. The campus visit isn’t an interview, although the visiting student will probably have several opportunities to talk about their scholarly interests and what they’ve been reading and writing about. The student will probably have opportunities to meet current graduate students as well as professors.  The visit provides an occasion to take stock of the graduate student community. This is important since the fellow students will constitute an important cohort of support and learning.

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