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Department of History
How to Apply to Auburn's History Program


Eden Knudsen McLean

Eden Knudsen McLean

Joseph A. Kicklighter Endowed Associate Professor

Director of Graduate Studies

Application Process

The application process begins by submitting an application before the January 15 deadline. Your application will be read by professors within the department and decisions are usually made by early March. Accepted students have until mid-April to accept or decline admissions. Below you will find a primer on how to prepare the best application materials you can for Auburn (and graduate school more generally).

Elements of an application:
Applicants must provide the following:

1. A formal statement of purpose or personal statement
2. A writing sample
3. At least three academic recommendations
4. Academic transcripts
5. Application for funding (optional)

Note: The GRE is no longer required but we will accept scores if you wish to submit them.

What is a formal statement of purpose (also known as a personal statement)?

A personal statement is a written piece (usually 1-2 pages single-spaced) that describes your relevant academic experiences and the work you wish to do in the future. To that end, a strong statement of purpose answers three primary questions: what experiences do you have in the study of history; what do you want to study further (and why); and, why do you want to study at Auburn?

First, a personal statement should highlight specific academic, professional and/or life experiences (and accomplishments) that have helped develop your historical interests and your plans for the near future.

Second, a personal statement should explain what topic you hope to study in graduate school. If you have a sense of what you think your MA or PhD thesis might be on, lay that out in a statement. While many people change the specific topic of their thesis, having a project in mind helps ensure you are paired with the best adviser possible. Especially for those applying to the PhD program, the clearer the thesis project you have in mind the better.

Third, a strong statement should explain why you want to come to Auburn to study. Whom do you envision studying with on your thesis? Whom do you envision having on your thesis committee. To that end, you should look over the list of faculty and highlight specific professors with whom you hope to work. In your statement, you should mention any potential advisor(s), as well as other faculty members you are excited to work with.

A personal statement is also your opportunity to let the admissions committee know anything that might help us decide to admit you or share any additional information you think is relevant to your application. So you might mention work experience if you have been out of college for a while, or inform us of training not noted in your transcripts, and explain any holes in an otherwise strong record.

Finally, the personal statement acts as a second sample of your writing ability so make sure it is a polished piece. We encourage applicants to reach out to current or former professors and have them proofread your personal statement before submitting it (it will also help them write stronger letters of recommendation for you).

What makes a good writing sample?

In addition to a personal statement, each applicant is required to submit a writing sample. The writing sample should be a work of history that you authored. It should engage with both secondary and primary sources to make an original historical argument. It should be your best, most polished piece of historical writing that you can provide. It does not necessarily have to be on the topic you with to research at Auburn (although it can be helpful). Most importantly, you want to demonstrate your capabilities as a historian. An ideal writing sample will show a mastery of a research topic and demonstrate the student’s analytical, research, and writing abilities. Again, we encourage you to discuss with current or former professors the selection of your writing sample as well as have them proofread and edit it.

GRE Scores

GRE scores are optional and not required.

What makes a good recommender?

Former or current professors of yours can provide the best letters of recommendation for you, as they have a very clear understanding of what it takes to be successful in graduate school. The letter writer should be able to speak in depth about your abilities, accomplishments, and potential in the field of historical research and writing, so we ask that at least one letter be from a history professor or if that isn’t possible than an employer with a background in historical scholarship. Letter writers should be able to honestly discuss a student’s strengths and weaknesses. Details about an applicant’s time in class, the papers they wrote, and how they grew (and continue to grow) help the faculty decide whether they will fit well in the department and make sure they are paired with advisers who can best help them develop as a student and historian.

Other Tips

  • We encourage you to reach out to prospective advisers at Auburn before the application deadline.
  • Don’t leave it to the last minute to complete your application.
  • Make sure you give your letter writers plenty of time to prepare your recommendation letter (and ask them before you list them as a recommender). Provide them with copies of your application materials.
  • Talk to a current professor or mentor about choosing the best programs to apply to. Graduate school is complex. Talking to someone who has the degree you are seeking will help you figure out the best schools to apply to.
  • Do not send materials that are not requested.

To Apply

The application portal can be reached here.

Application Deadline

The deadline to apply for admission with funding is January 15.

Graduate Curriculum

To learn more about our graduate programs you should start with our Introduction to Graduate School page. The details of each degree are further outlined on our Degree Requirements page. The official graduate curriculum can be found in the Auburn Graduate Bulletin.

If you have specific questions about the Department of History graduate program or the application process, please contact the director of graduate studies.


Eden Knudsen McLean

Eden Knudsen McLean

Associate Professor

Director of Graduate Studies