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How to Apply

Annual deadline for the receipt of complete applications: January 5.

The history graduate program at Penn State is not comprehensive. We admit students to pursue PhDs in four primary fields of study:

1. United States (19th and 20th centuries)

2. Latin America

3. China and South Asia

4. Early modern global (15th-19th centuries; transnational or transregional)

We admit students into our program whose highest degree earned is a BA or whose highest degree is an MA. Students entering our program with a BA typically spend three years in coursework, followed by two years of dissertation research and writing. Those admitted with an MA typically spend two years in coursework, followed by two years of dissertation research and writing. Comprehensive exams take place during the final semester of coursework.

Before proceeding to the application, we recommend the following preliminary activities:

1. Read the Graduate School requirements.

2. Read Graduate Frequently Asked Questions, especially those relating to admissions.

3. Think about your main research topic and write a draft of your statement of intent.

4. Consider the members of our faculty in your field of study and identify one or more of them who would be able to direct your research.

5. Finally, decide whether to apply as an MA student or a PhD student. This matter is a technicality, but it is very important. If your highest degree is a BA, then you must apply as an MA student to conform to Graduate School procedures (even though our department does not have a terminal MA program). In that case, be sure in your application narrative to state that your final goal is the PhD. If your highest degree is an academically-oriented MA in history, then you should apply as a PhD student. If your highest degree is an MA in a field other than history, or if it is pedagogically oriented, then you should apply as an MA student. Doing so will allow you an extra year of coursework in our program, and experience indicates that this course of action is best.

Step 1:  Please complete the online Graduate School Application:

  • Statement of intent outlining in 1-3 pages the proposed fields of study and research.
  • Writing sample of at least 10 pages demonstrating competence in historical research, analysis and writing.
  • Three letters of recommendation from qualified persons (preferably faculty) familiar with the applicant's academic performance and potential for graduate studies in history. No special form is required but please be sure to provide the correct e-mail for your reference to prevent delays.


Step 2: Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores
(school code: 2660; department code: 2799). Penn State does not require the subject GRE test. Please be certain that your official scores arrive by the application deadline.

Step 3:  International applicants must submit the following additional items with their application:

  • Results from a recent TOEFL examination or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). A minimum score of 100 is required.
  • International applicants who have received a baccalaureate or a master’s degree from a college/university/institution in any of the following countries are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States.