Where do I apply? What about fee waivers?

The Office of Graduate Admissions manages the online application platform and the application fee. Fee waivers are available for some applicants. Please visit Graduate Admissions for information on applying for an Application Fee Waiver.

Should I have a prior MA?

An MA is not prerequisite. Although more than half of our incoming students have received prior graduate degrees, an MA does not in itself improve an applicant’s chances for admission. However, applicants who have completed MA programs are often more focused in their interests and have the advantage of recommendations from faculty who can evaluate their graduate-level achievements.

What is the TA requirement for the program?

The current funding package requires students to T.A. for at minimum, two quarters, generally in the second and third years of study. Since MTL is solely a graduate program at Stanford, our students T.A. in courses offered by the various affiliated departments. Second-year teaching normally consists of a TAship in English. The third-year TAship should be determined with the individual student’s eventual job goals in mind. Stanford offers pedagogical training, beginning in the student’s first year.

What should be included in the Statement of Purpose?

The statement should indicate how you are prepared to do interdisciplinary work. The most common and direct way to do that is to suggest a project or two that would give the Admissions Committee a sense of how you wish to pursue interdisciplinary study, and why MTL is a good fit for you. The statement of purpose can include a brief narrative of your academic journey, if relevant, but the SOP should focus on your proposed doctoral studies. The Statement of Purpose should not exceed 1500 words.

What kind of writing sample do you want?

Submit a critical or analytic sample of scholarly writing, 7000 words maximum. Although we encourage applicants to choose writing samples that display their interdisciplinary interests, this is not a requirement. Choose a sample that reflects your best scholarly work. The writing sample should not be a sample of creative writing. Applicants may submit two or more shorter samples to a total of about 7000 words, but keep in mind that shorter samples are usually less well suited to demonstrate your research and argumentation skills.

How are letters of recommendation submitted?

Letters of recommendation are submitted online. Instructions are posted on the ApplyGrad site.. Applicants may keep track of which letters have been submitted by checking that site. If for some reason a recommender should be unable to upload a letter, they may contact An Nguyen (apotemski [at] (a)antnguyn [at] (ntnguyn[at]stanford[dot]edu)).

Unfortunately, our application system does not interface with letter services. We are unable to accept letters of recommendation submitted via Interfolio, as recommenders are required to respond to specific evaluation questions in addition to uploading a letter. Please ask your recommenders to submit their letters directly using the online application system. Keep in mind that letters written specifically for your Stanford graduate program tend to be stronger than letters written for general use purposes.

What are the deadlines and how strictly are they enforced?

The online application due date is posted on our website (the first Tuesday in December, annually). Faculty begin reading files shortly thereafter.

We realize that some supporting documents (official transcripts, letters of recommendation) may be in transit and arrive later, but all documents that the applicant is solely responsible for – the application, the unofficial transcripts, the statement of purpose, and the writing sample – must be submitted online by midnight Pacific Standard Time on the posted due day.

We will let all applicants know if there are items missing so that they can track missing documents, but it is important that you have as complete a file as possible.  Supporting documents will be added to your file as they are received, but if the application has already been evaluated, it may be too late.

Should I visit Stanford?

We are always happy to accommodate prospective applicants who wish to visit. However, visits are for information purposes only; they are not part of the application process and do not increase your chances of admission. You should therefore carefully weigh the benefits of a personal visit against the expense of time and money it requires.

Prospective applicants who wish to visit Stanford to learn more about the program or to meet faculty with whom they might like to study should plan their visits ahead of time. To learn more about the program, applicants should contact the Program administrator, An Nguyen (apotemski [at] (a)antnguyn [at] (ntnguyn[at]stanford[dot]edu)) to make an appointment regarding application procedures and program requirements. Prospective applicants may also contact relevant Stanford faculty to arrange individual meetings. Since MTL has no dedicated faculty, it falls to the prospective applicant to write to faculty (most departmental websites list faculty email addresses) to try to arrange individual meetings.

Because visits by prospective applicants are informational only and not considered as part of the application process, appointments with the Director will be scheduled only in those cases where the applicant’s interests are focused in the Director’s areas of scholarship.

Although there is no definitive list of appropriate faculty, the list of “affiliated faculty” in “Explore Degrees” is a good starting point for interested applicants. Affiliated faculty will have worked with one or more MTL students in the past, but are unlikely to have detailed knowledge about the Program requirements. Therefore, faculty meetings should focus on questions about scholarship resources at Stanford, and not about the Program itself.

Where can I find information about the joint JD/PhD option?

Please click on and scroll down.

How long does it take to get the PhD at Stanford?

Most of our students receive their degrees at the end of the sixth year.

The typical progress toward degree is something like this:

  • Students spend at least the first two years in coursework.
  • The first two quarters of the third year are spent taking any remaining courses and preparing for the Oral Exam, which is scheduled in the spring quarter of the third year.
  • The fourth year is spent researching and writing; the dissertation proposal is submitted by the end of the fall quarter, and the first chapter completed by the spring quarter of the fourth year. The dissertation colloquium is scheduled for the end of the fourth year.
  • The fifth year is devoted to writing; students should have a significant portion of the dissertation written by the end of the fifth year, when guaranteed funding expires.
  • If the degree was not conferred at the end of the fifth year, students use a sixth year to complete and polish the dissertation, and to enter the academic job market. Students must apply for external funding or take on additional teaching duties in the sixth year to receive financial support.
What are the language requirements for the program?

There is no language requirement at the time of application. However, students are expected to have or acquire reading proficiency in two languages other than English as part of their doctoral requirements.  The first language should be certified by the end of the first year; the second language should be certified prior to the Oral Exam (spring of the third year). Proficiency can be certified a number of ways:

  • Native speakers submit a statement to the office

  • Satisfactory performance on a Ph.D. Reading Exam

  • Completing Ph.D. “Reading” courses while at Stanford

  • Certification by a recognized expert

What kind of graduate aid does MTL offer?

The Program in Modern Thought and Literature funding package provides a five-year plan that covers tuition and a stipend or salary, plus guaranteed additional support for two summers, with the possibility of a third summer of support. The package consists of a combination of straight fellowship stipends, TAships and research assistantships. The funding package is offered to all admittees (whether or not they are U.S. citizens) unless they have already been awarded comparable outside funding.  MTL will supplement outside funding as needed to assure that all students receive funding equivalent to or better than the MTL funding package.

Funding is also available through Knight-Hennessy Scholars. Join dozens of Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences students who gain valuable leadership skills in a multidisciplinary, multicultural community as Knight-Hennessy Scholars(KHS).

KHS admits up to 100 select applicants each year from across Stanford’s seven graduate schools, and delivers engaging experiences that prepare them to be visionary, courageous, and collaborative leaders ready to address complex global challenges. As a scholar, you join a distinguished cohort, participate in up to three years of leadership programming, and receive full funding for up to three years of your PhD studies at Stanford.

Candidates of any country may apply. KHS applicants must have earned their first undergraduate degree within the last seven years, and must apply to both a Stanford graduate program and to KHS. Stanford PhD students may also apply to KHS during their first year of PhD enrollment.

If you aspire to be a leader in your field, we invite you to apply. The KHS application deadline is October 11, 2023. Learn more about KHS admission.

How selective is the process?

On average, we are able to make between three and five offers from a pool of approximately 150 applications each year.

The MTL Admissions Committee evaluates applications holistically: no single factor such as a GRE score or individual reference letter causes a candidate to be admitted or rejected. The statement of purpose must be well written and must present an interesting and viable interdisciplinary focus. Projects that could not be carried out in a conventional department are given priority over those that could find a home in a department. Keep in mind that departments readily admit certain kinds of interdisciplinarity (e.g. the use of historical or philosophical materials in the study of literature is accepted by practically all literature departments). Your statement should show how your interests go beyond such departmental frameworks and link disciplines in new ways. Your writing sample is also a crucial part of your application, since it demonstrates your ability for research and writing.

What kind of bachelor’s degree is required? No specific undergraduate degree is required. Successful applicants come to us with degrees in literature, history, philosophy, sociology, etc., as well as from interdisciplinary programs such as feminist studies, media studies, or American studies.