You should consider going to graduate school in English if you want to pursue an academic career—that is to say, a career teaching, researching, and writing. You should be intensely curious about certain texts, authors, and literary questions (you should have some idea of what those are), and you should want to pursue those questions in your research (a largely solitary experience that requires initiative and self-discipline) and in your teaching (which will require, among other things, some extroversion and an ability to communicate with others). In order to be admitted to a Ph.D. program–and to thrive there and beyond–you should have an exceptional record of accomplishment as an English major.
The job market for Ph.D.’s in English is grim, so here is a caveat. You are smart and capable of doing many things; if there’s any other career that interests you, do give it serious thought. The Ph.D. in English is long, 6-8 years on average, and the jobs are few. It is important to ask yourself if there are any other careers that might engage your skills and interests. Another way to put it is that you should apply only if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.
You should consider not applying to a Ph.D. program in English if:
- You really enjoyed your English classes and simply want to learn more. Or you just love to read. These are desirable qualities in an English major, of course, and they should be among your reasons for pursuing further study. But they shouldn’t be your only reasons. A Ph.D. is a professional degree. People don’t apply to medical school because they really enjoy anatomy; you should apply to a graduate program if you would like to train for an academic career.
- You want only to teach. What you see your professors doing in the classroom is a large part, but not all, of the job. You will be expected to do original research and publish throughout your career.
- You have your heart set on living in a particular geographical area or working at a specific kind of institution. Because there are so few jobs available (in some years, just a handful in any given sub-field), you need to be prepared to live in parts of the country you may not have considered and to work at institutions quite different from the ones you yourself applied to.
If you do see yourself as an academic, then graduate school is the next step. The application process is competitive and requires much preparation. It is best to begin this process as early as possible; searching for the right schools, preparing for the various standardized tests and collecting the necessary documents you need can take anywhere from six months to a year. Below are a few links that may assist you in the various aspects of applying to graduate school.