Admission FAQs

What grades are required for admission, and how to you calculate them?

The Faculty of Graduate Studies minimum requirement for admission to any graduate program at Dalhousie is a B average.  Our Admissions Committee in the Department of English, however, will rarely consider students who do not have a minimum of an A- average (3.7 GPA) in their last twenty half-credits of undergraduate work (for most students this means the last two years of your undergraduate degree). 

In the case of students applying to the PhD program, MA grades are considered along with undergraduate grades to make up a total of twenty half-credits. Find details on how we calculate your GPA.

Do I have to follow through with the research proposal I submit as part of my application?

No.  The admissions committee understands that at the time of application many people don’t know what their thesis topic will be.  Your “statement of intent”, or “proposed area of research” is considered as an example of your ability to communicate a research topic in a clear, concise, and compelling manner.  It’s understood your interests may (and probably will) change.  Applicants to the PhD program are expected to have a clearer idea of what they wish to write their dissertation on than applicants to the MA program, and the admissions committee will not admit a student who proposes to do research in an area that will not have adequate supervision at Dalhousie.

I see your MA and PhD programs require knowledge of a second language. Do I have to have this before I can apply? What level of competency are you looking for?

The second language requirement is for graduation, not for admission, so feel free to apply even if English is your only language.  The Graduate Coordinator determines what constitutes competency in a second language on a case by case basis.  Usually it means you have completed an introductory university level class in a language related to your thesis area with a grade of a C or better. 

It is sometimes possible to show competency by writing challenge exams at Dalhousie.  If you have no knowledge of any language other than English, you can complete an introductory level language class at Dalhousie at no extra charge.

What are the requirements for students who have English as a second language?

The Faculty of Graduate Studies sets the minimum admission requirements for English language competency.  Because our graduate students are expected to have an excellent knowledge of the English language, our admissions committee looks for TOEFL (or other approved test) scores that are significantly higher than the minimum required by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and evidence of near-native language competency in the applicant’s written work. 

Do you offer graduate work in TESL / Education / Linguistics / Creative Writing / Professional Writing?

No.  Our graduate programs are based on the study of English Literature, and we do not have the courses or the supervisory expertise to accept students who wish to pursue studies in other fields.

If I am accepted into the MA program, can I then automatically move to the PhD program?

No.  Each year is a new competition, and any of our MA students who wish to stay at Dalhousie for the PhD program must apply and compete with everyone else. Because our PhD program is small (4 or 5 new students are accepted each year), there are years we cannot accept all the Dalhousie MA students who apply.  In most cases the students who are not accepted at Dalhousie are successful in gaining admission to a PhD program at another institution of their choice.

I didn’t take an Honours undergraduate degree. Can I still apply to the MA program?

The Faculty of Graduate Studies regulations state that in order to be admissible to a graduate program at Dalhousie you must have completed an Honours undergraduate degree or equivalent.  If the institution you attend offers an Honours BA, this is the route you should take in order to prepare yourself for graduate work.  If your institution does not offer an Honours BA, you must complete a four-year undergraduate degree, and your transcript must show evidence of an independent research component.  This can mean a significant number of seminar courses (usually at the 4th year level), a research project, or thesis component.  Courses with a strong independent research emphasis are the bridge between undergraduate and graduate work, and success in these courses will show the admissions committee that you will thrive in the graduate school environment.

My undergraduate degree is in a discipline other than English. Can I still apply to the English MA program?

It depends on how many upper level English Literature courses you completed.  Remember, you are competing for a very few seats with students who have completed undergraduate degrees with an English Literature emphasis.  The admissions committee will be looking at the number of English Literature courses you completed, and your coverage of the various periods within the discipline.  As well, they will want to see evidence of independent research ability in the field of English Literature (see “I didn’t take an Honours degree” response above).

I completed my undergraduate degree some time ago. Can I still apply to the MA program?

The admissions committee doesn’t consider when you completed your coursework; they are primarily looking at the grades you achieved, your period coverage, and evidence of independent research.  The difficulty many students have when they decide to apply to a graduate program after having been out of school for a number of years is the lack of referee availability.  The admissions committee will want to see two strong letters of academic reference from faculty who have taught you in the past.  If you have not been taking classes for some years, it may be difficult to find faculty to write these references.  If you find yourself in this situation you may want to consider taking an upper level undergraduate English Literature course or two, in order to brush up on your academic skills and showcase them to faculty who can write you fresh references.  See “Can I upgrade” below.

Can I upgrade my undergraduate degree in order to be eligible for the MA degree?

Absolutely.  If you did not complete an Honours undergraduate degree or completed an Honours degree in a discipline other than English Literature, if your GPA is less than 3.7, or if you completed your degree some years ago, you can take upper-level undergraduate courses to strengthen your application.  If you would like to take these courses at Dalhousie, you should be looking at 4000 level seminars and speak to the Honours Advisor as soon as possible.  These seminars tend to fill up quickly, and have a cap of 20 students per class.  We are happy to consider classes taken from other universities as well, but please remember that they should be at the Honours level or have a strong independent research component.  If in doubt, contact the Graduate Coordinator before registering.

Documents Required

I filled in the online application form but haven’t heard anything from you. What’s up?

It takes a few days and at peak times up to a week before the Department of English will receive the information you submitted through the online application form.  Once we receive it and your other required documents (references, transcripts, and 500 word statement) we will send you an email to let you know your application is complete.

Is there a separate application for scholarships?

No, with three exceptions.  As long as your application is received by January 15th, you will automatically be considered for Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) Fellowships and Killam Scholarships.  Applications received by January 31st  will be considered for FGS Fellowships, but will be too late for Killam consideration.  The three scholarships that do require a separate application are the Eliza Ritchie Scholarship for Women (one PhD scholarship awarded each year), the James Robinson Johnson Scholarship for African Canadians (one MA and one PhD scholarship awarded each year), and the Nova Scotia Black and First Nations Graduate Entrance Scholarships. You will find details about our funding levels on the Admissions and Financial Aid page.

Is there a separate application for Teaching Assistant positions?

Full-time students who are offered admission are also offered a Teaching Assistant  position (unless they are asked to perform Research Assistant duties).  TA positions are covered by the CUPE 3912 Collective Agreement.  Most of the TA positions in the Department of English are at the TA260 level.   If you are NOT a full-time graduate student, and wish to apply for a Teaching Assistant position, job postings are advertised on the Employment section of our website. 

How does the online reference system work?

If you complete the online application you have the option of listing your referees and their email addresses.  As long as the email address you list is a university email address, not a personal email address (hotmail, gmail, sympatico, etc.)  your referee will be sent an email with a link to Dalhousie’s online reference system.  When they click on the link they will be able to fill in a reference form and upload additional documents. 

I completed the online application buy my referees haven’t received an email yet – should I be worried?

No.  In order to be considered legitimate all references must either be submitted through Dalhousie’s electronic reference system or mailed to the Department of English bearing original signatures.     

My referees want to (or have to) mail you their references. Do they have to use the Confidential Reference Letter form, or can they just send a regular reference letter?

Your referees should complete the Confidential Reference Letter form, and, if they wish, attach a more detailed reference letter outlining your strengths as a student and researcher.  The information on the form helps the admissions committee understand how your referee sees you in relation to your peers, and the information in the reference letter will speak to your individual strengths.  Dalhousie also has an electronic reference system that can be used if you submit your application electronically.

Do the Confidential Reference Letters have to be completed by professors, or can I use my work supervisor as a reference?

At least one and preferably both of the references should be from faculty members who have taught you in upper level classes.  The admissions committee is looking for confirmation that you will thrive in a graduate program, and the people best equipped to speak to your academic abilities are people who have taught you and understand the challenges you will face in graduate school. 

Can I mail you my transcript or does my university have to do that?

You can mail us a copy of your transcript as long as it’s sealed (i.e. you were given a copy in a sealed envelope by your university and did not open it).  Alternately you can have your transcript sent directly from your university to us in the English Department.

Not all my Fall grades are on my transcript yet. Is that a problem?

Have a copy of your transcript sent to us in the English Department  in time for the January 15th deadline.  If there are Fall grades missing we’ll get in touch with you if the admission committee needs them to evaluate your application.

I filled in the online application form, my referees filled in the electronic reference forms, and my university is sending you copies of my transcript. The only item left is my 500 word statement. Do I have to mail that to you?

You can email your statement to englwww@dal.ca

Deadlines/ Timing

What is your deadline for applications? What if my application arrives after the deadline? What if the deadline is on a weekend?

The recommended deadline for applications is January 15th.   This is so that our admissions committee will have time to consider the best applicants for a Killam scholarship nomination.  The first offers are usually made in early February.  Applications will be accepted as late as January 31st, however it is possible that all available scholarship money may have already been allocated by this date.  It is in your best interest to apply on or before January 15th

If January 31st falls on a Saturday or Sunday, applications will be accepted the following Monday.  If your application is late, consideration is not guaranteed.  The admissions committee may have already allocated all available resources, both in time and money.

I applied online before January 15th. This means I’ll be considered for all scholarships, right?

When you apply online it takes two or three days before the information you entered is available for us to view, sometimes longer during peak periods.  Additionally, we can’t consider your application until it is complete, including official transcripts, your statement, and references.   We’ll do our best to ensure your application is considered for all available funding, but there are some deadlines we don’t control (such as the Killam Scholarship nomination deadline).  Ideally you should apply several weeks early and make arrangements for transcripts and references to arrive on or before January 15th.

Can I start the graduate program in January?

The only entry date for our full-time programs is September.  You might be able to start a part-time MA in January, but this would be unusual and you should check with the Graduate Coordinator before submitting an application.  There is no funding available for part-time MA students, and there is no part-time PhD option.

Do I need to find a supervisor before I apply?

No.  However, it’s always a good idea to search out faculty directory to confirm we have supervisory support for the period/topic you have in mind, especially if you are applying to the PhD program.  

I am planning on finishing my BA (or MA) degree over the summer and won’t graduate until the Fall. Does this mean I can’t apply for September admission?

You can absolutely apply for September admission.  Your acceptance will be conditional on your being able to produce a final transcript confirming you have completed your BA (or MA) degree within 90 days of beginning the graduate program at Dalhousie. 

Calculating Your Admission GPA

Although the Faculty of Graduate Studies minimum GPA requirement is a 3.0 (B average), it is rare that students who have less than a 3.7 (A- average) will be offered admission to a graduate program in the Department of English.  Your Admission GPA is not the same as your cumulative GPA.  Based on guidelines supplied to us by the Faculty of Graduate Studies, here are some examples of how your admission GPA will be calculated:

MA Applicants

Your admission GPA will be based on the last 20 half credits of your undergraduate degree, which is roughly equivalent to the last two years of full-time study.  If you apply before completing your undergraduate degree (which is commonly done), we will take into consideration the courses you are currently enrolled in when counting back the last 20 half credits, and finalize our calculations as grades for these courses become available.  If you completed more than 20 half credits in the last two years of study, the lowest grades in the earliest semester will not be included in our calculation.  Once the last 20 half credits have been identified, grades and/or percentages will be converted to a grade point using the following scale:



GPA Equivalent


































This scale applies to students from North American institutions using a 4.3 scale.  If you are an international student or completed courses overseas, contact the English Department for information on calculating international GPAs.

PhD Applicants

Grade Point Averages for PhD applicants will be based on the most recent 20 half-credits, including up to 10 credits at the MA level. 

Funding FAQs

How much will the program cost me?

A breakdown of tuition and fees is maintained by Student Accounts.  For the 2013-2014 academic year, the total cost of the MA program is $8,202, and the total cost for the first year of the PhD program is $8,547 (PhD students pay full tuition for the first two years, and continuation fees of $3,396 each year after that).  This figure includes tuition and all ancillary fees, such as the Student Health Plan, Dalplex membership, and a Bus Pass.  International students will also be charged a differential fee.  In 2013-2014, this fee is $1,890 per semester (there are three semesters each year).  Tuition and fees are updated each year, usually in late spring.  Please check the Student Accounts website periodically for any updates.  

What funding can I expect to receive from Dalhousie?

Our admissions committee makes every effort to offer each MA student a Faculty of Graduate Studies fellowship of $12,000, tenable for one year, and each PhD student a FGS fellowship of $14,500, tenable for four years.  In addition, first year students have priority for Teaching Assistant positions.  Teaching Assistant salaries are governed by the Collective Agreement between Dalhousie and CUPE local 3912.  Most of our TAs are at the TA260 level, which currently carries a stipend of $5,590 for the September through April period.  Tuition and fees are automatically deducted from these awards, and the remaining funds are paid to the student over the course of the year.

What’s a SSHRC?

SSHRC (often pronounced ‘shirk’) stands for the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  SSHRC holds annual competitions for graduate scholarships.  The Canada Graduate Scholarship at the MA level is valued at $17,500 and can be held for a one year period at a Canadian university.  There are two awards at the PhD level:  SSHRC doctoral fellowships can be held for up to four years, and are valued at $20,000 per year.  Canada Graduate Scholarships at the doctoral level can be held for up to three years, and are valued at $35,000 per year.  For information about these scholarships, please visit the SSHRC website, or contact the Faculty of Graduate Studies at your current university.

What’s a Killam?

Dalhousie University is one of Canada's five Killam Universities. The Killam Endowment at Dalhousie University, in honour of Izaak Walton Killam (1885-1955), one of Canada's most eminent financiers, was established by his widow, Dorothy Johnston Killam, before her death in 1965. Through the Killam Endowments, the university maintains a number of major programs: Killam Predoctoral Scholarships, general graduate scholarships in the sciences and engineering, Killam Postdoctoral Fellowships, four Killam Research Chairs, twelve Killam Science Professors, and the Dorothy J. Killam Lecture Series.  Note that you do not apply for a Killam scholarship, you are nominated based on the strength of your application for admission.  In order to be eligible for Killam nomination, you MUST have applied for any external funding you may be eligible for.  For Canadian citizens, this means you must apply to SSHRC, although it is not required that your SSHRC application be successful.  Killam scholarships are currently valued at $19,000 at the MA level (tenable for two years) and $25,000 at the PhD level (tenable for three years).  Learn more information about Killam scholarships.

I’m an international student. What scholarships are available for me?

International students are eligible for FGS fellowships at the same funding levels as Canadian students, and can be nominated for Killam scholarships.  Note that in order to be eligible for Killam nomination, you must have applied for external funding.  Although international students are not eligible to apply for SSHRC funding, there are a number of other external funding sources, many of which can be found on the Faculty of Graduate Studies website.   If you are from a Commonwealth country, you should apply for a Commonwealth Scholarship.

Are there opportunities for students to act as Research Assistants?

Most of our students hold appointments as Teaching Assistants rather than Research Assistants.  Because the Faculty of Graduate Studies limits the number of hours a full-time graduate student can work to 16 per week, and TAships can require up to 10 hours per week, students usually do not hold both RA and TA positions.  However, faculty members with research grants are often looking for graduate students to assist them with their projects.  Depending on the grant, the RAship funding can replace the usual FGS Fellowship award, or can be paid on an hourly basis. 

If I’m successful in winning external funding, what happens to my funding offer from Dalhousie?

If you are an MA student and are successful in the SSHRC or Killam competitions, the external funding you receive will replace the $12,000 fellowship we offer all our incoming MAs, but you will still be eligible to accept a Teaching Assistant position.  If you are a new PhD student and win a SSHRC or Killam, the external funding will replace the $14,500 fellowship we offer all our incoming PhDs, but in addition you will be eligible for a President’s Award, which will cover your tuition fees for the first two years of your programme.  Check out more information on the President’s Award.

Is funding available for Conferences / Research Trips?

Yes. The Faculty of Graduate Studies offers one Conference Travel Grant of $400 for both MA and PhD students, and a Research Travel Grant of $400 for PhD students. We encourage our students to take advantage of these opportunities.  As these amounts do not always cover the full cost of attending a conference or conducting research outside of Halifax, the English Department has agreed to make additional funds of up to $1500 per year available to assist with these costs, with a maximum of $750 per PhD student.  Students must apply to the Faculty of Graduate Studies for funding before they will be eligible to apply for funds from the Department of English.

Graduate Seminar FAQs

Can I audit or take undergraduate classes as part of my graduate degree?

You can’t take undergraduate courses for credit towards your graduate degree, but you can take them as “ancillary” classes.  This means you are taking them out of interest, or to fill a gap in your undergraduate record.  There are no additional fees charged for ancillary classes.  Students normally take only one ancillary class during their degree.

I want to design a reading class to replace one of my required seminars. What do I do?

Directed Reading classes are rare, as they create a good deal of extra work for both the student and the faculty member involved.  When you ask a faculty member to take you on as a directed reading student, you are in effect asking them to teach an extra class with no additional compensation.  That said, if you have a specific topic in mind that you would like to study, and no graduate seminar is being offered in the general area of that topic, the following is the process you should follow in order to get your directed reading course approved:

First, talk to the faculty member you would like to do the reading course with, and see if they are open to the idea.  Reading classes mean a lot of extra work, both for you and the faculty member involved.  If the faculty member agrees to supervise you in a reading course, you should then talk to the Graduate Coordinator and see if s/he will support the proposal.  If your proposal is similar to a graduate seminar being offered, you may be asked to take the seminar.  If the Graduate Coordinator agrees that s/he can support your reading class proposal, you and your faculty supervisor then have to put together a syllabus.  The syllabus should give a week by week breakdown of the material that is to be covered, and how you will be evaluated.  The syllabus must then be approved by the graduate committee before you can begin the class.  Reading courses will appear on your transcript as ENGL 5000.03 Directed Readings or ENGL 5002.03 Directed Readings II.  You can take a maximum of two half-credit reading classes per degree.

Can I take graduate classes if I’m an undergraduate student?

No.  Our graduate seminars are developed to challenge students who have already achieved outstanding results in an Honours program, and all seminar members are expected to participate at the same level.  Undergraduate students who are still developing the background necessary for graduate work would have difficulty meeting the expectations of a graduate seminar.

Can I take a graduate class if I’m a graduate student in another discipline?

Yes, as long as you can convince the professor you have the background necessary to be an active participant in the class.  You should first discuss this option with the graduate advisor in your own department to ensure he/she agrees an English seminar would be suitable for your programme of study.  Next you should discuss the seminar requirements with the professor teaching it, and gain his/her approval.  Finally you approach the English Department Graduate Coordinator and ask for his/her permission to join the seminar.  If the seminar is full, students in English graduate programmes will be given priority.

Supervisor FAQ

Several MA students have been asking about how to decide on and approach a thesis supervisor.   Here are some suggestions.


You should have a supervisor before Christmas break, and by mid-January at the very latest.  On or around January 15th, the Graduate Coordinator will be offering a workshop on thesis prospectus submission and thesis writing.  MA thesis prospectuses are due by mid-February, usually a few days prior to reading week break.  Once you have attended the January workshop, you will only have four or five weeks to put your prospectus together.  You will need a supervisor to guide you, and approve the version that is submitted for graduate committee approval. 

Some students who come into the programme with a specific direction will start looking for a supervisor early in the Fall term.  It’s great to have things settled early, but some faculty prefer not to commit to a project until they have a feel for what other students will be asking to work with them.  Don’t expect a definite answer on the supervisor question until later in the Fall term (mid November ish).

How do I ask a faculty member to be my supervisor?

There is no right way or wrong way to ask.  You should have an idea of what you want to write your thesis on before you start your hunt for a supervisor, as the prospective faculty member will need to decide if they have the background to be able to direct you.  Here are some points to keep in mind, and some suggestions on how to make the approach:

  1. Be ready to discuss a general thesis topic with prospective supervisors.  Don’t approach a faculty member with a “will you be my supervisor” request and nothing else.  In order to give you an answer, the faculty member will need to have an idea of what you would like to research. 
  2. Be flexible with your topic.  At this stage it would be rare and somewhat imprudent to be certain of your exact thesis, texts, and approach.  A faculty member might be interested in your thesis topic, but suggest changing some of the authors, critics, texts, etc.  Be open to these suggestions, especially if you have your heart set on working with that particular faculty member.
  3. Don’t think it’s an imposition for you ask someone to be your supervisor.  Faculty are expected to supervise graduate students, and it’s often one of the most enjoyable jobs they take on.  They will be happy to hear about your research plans and make suggestions.
  4. Speak to a number of potential supervisors.  Don’t feel a faculty member will be slighted if you don’t ask him/her to be your supervisor.  If you’re unsure of who to ask, approach several faculty and talk to them about your ideas.  Find out who is interested in your topic, and who gives you the most useful feedback.  You will eventually have to choose one faculty member to act as supervisor, but those you don’t choose won’t take it personally.
  5. Don’t take it personally if a faculty member tells you they can’t be your supervisor.  It may be they feel they can’t give you adequate supervision in the topic you have chosen, or it may be they have already agreed to supervise a number of students and can’t take on another at this time.  Their decision is not based on the strength of your topic, or you personally.  If you are the recipient of a graceful “I have to decline”, know that the professor is evaluating their ability to supervise you, not the merits of your topic. 
  6. Don’t forget about Dalhousie faculty who aren’t teaching in the graduate programme this year, and adjunct faculty who you may not have an opportunity to meet unless you make an effort to approach them.  Faculty who teach in the Fall term can sometimes be overwhelmed with requests, since they have become familiar faces. 
  7.  Making your first approach via email is ok, if this will make you feel more comfortable.  You should be prepared to speak to the faculty member in person, though, after the initial contact, as it can be unwieldy to have a back-and-forth discussion via email.  Email your thesis ideas to one or more faculty members and ask if there would be a good time for you to see them in person about these ideas.