Note: There is only one application for all the UC schools. Therefore, your responses will be sent to every single University of California school that you apply to. Hence, avoid making essays school-specific (unless you are applying to only one school).
To choose which questions to answer, first browse the eight prompts as a list, and sort them into one of three categories: “definites,”“possibilities,” and “avoid at all costs.” With “definites,” after reading the prompt, you immediately know what you will say and how you will say it. With “possibilities,” a few vague ideas swirl in your head, which you think can be sorted out and possibly develop into a great essay. With “avoid at all costs,” you want to have nothing to do with these essays.
Afterwards, jot down bullet point ideas for the questions you for sure want to write about. Then, select out of the “possibility” questions that would, in combination with your “definites,” produce the most well-rounded essay profile, which would both highlight your few key strengths as well as reveal your complexities and breadth of character. While doing so, it is important to base your decision on not only your immediate liking for the topic, but also on the available substance (anecdotes). Repeat this process until you are faced with only four questions.
This is just one way to approach choosing prompts. Since for some, the process happens organically, do not feel constrained to the method above. Just remember:
- Do not rush into prompts at first glance. Make sure that you have jotted down potential ideas for all but the ones you want to avoid, and ultimately write about the one with the most substance.
- Your answers should be able to highlight what is most important to you.
History PhD Admissions Information
Welcome | Background preparation | Application instructions | File status | Application FAQs
Berkeley has moved to a new online application management system for Fall 2018 and unfortunately History has had to create a few workarounds in order for the new system to fit our application needs. In addition to the information below, please refer to these specific instructions when completing the online application.
Welcome to the History Admissions Page
The next opportunity to apply is for Fall 2018 enrollment. The application deadline is December 1 at 8:59pm Pacific time.
We welcome applications from individuals with a record of strong academic performance who intend to devote full-time study to attain the doctoral degree (PhD) in history. We do not offer night and correspondence courses or part-time study and we do not accept applications for terminal master's degrees. However, students who enter without an MA in history may earn the MA en route to the PhD. Our program is highly selective. We receive 325-400 applications each year and offer admission to around 10% of applicants (for international applications, our admission rate is closer to 5%). Review criteria and admissions data may be found on our separate Program FAQ page.
Both domestic and international applicants are advised to review carefully the Graduate Division's minimum degree requirements and required records of academic work. The department strongly encourages applicants of diverse backgrounds to apply; for information on support for these applicants and students, please see the Office for Graduate Diversity.
Individuals should apply for the academic year of intended enrollment as the department does not grant deferrals to those offered admission. Previous applicants must complete a new online application (including essays and uploads of other supporting documents) and pay the application fee. Late applications will not be accepted and incomplete applications will not be considered.
We admit new students into the History program and not into the direct sponsorship of individual faculty. Nevertheless, we ask applicants to indicate (in the applicable section of the application) the faculty with whom they anticipate collaborating. Students will typically begin to identify their dissertation advisor after their first year (though in small fields it may be fairly obvious from the start who will be the dissertation advisor).
Background Preparation and Focus
The typical applicant to our program has:
A background in history roughly equivalent to the department's undergraduate program. We welcome applications from history and non-history majors who have attained a measure of competence with historical subject matter through their academic program. While the majority of our graduate students were history majors, a number of others come to us with an area or period studies major. Our History of Science students often majored or minored in a science.
A strong academic record. The minimum undergraduate GPA for admission is 3.0 but successful applicants typically have GPAs much higher than that.
Language preparation sufficient to ensure that the admitted the student will be able to fulfill all language requirements for their first field by the time they are expected to advance to PhD candidacy (i.e., by the end of the 3rd or 4th year of the program, depending on the field).
Sufficient focus within the field of history to enable one to select a "first field" from among the department’s fifteen established fields of history: Africa; Ancient Greece and Rome; Byzantine; Early Modern Europe; East Asia: China; East Asia: Japan; Jewish; Late Modern Europe; Latin America and the Caribbean; Medieval Europe; Middle East; North America; Science; South Asia; and Southeast Asia. Applicants must indicate their first field under “Primary Research Interest/Study Emphasis” on the Program Information page of the application. Applicants who are unsure which field to select should confer with the faculty with whom they anticipate collaborating. Applicants are asked to list a likely second field under “Secondary Research Interest/Study Emphasis” and to include a 2 to 7 word general description of their research interests (for example, “German intellectual;” “Colonial US;” “Social, cultural, family” etcetera) in the “Research Focus” blank on the History Program page of the applciation. Applications are read first by faculty in the applicant’s selected first field.
An interest in collaborating with one or more specific Berkeley history faculty members. Applicants should list faculty of interest on their application so that the department may anticipate future collaborations and eventual supervisory relationships. After about a year of taking classes and interacting with faculty the student will settle on whom they will ask to serve as their dissertation advisor.
Applicants and recommenders are asked to submit the application and supporting documents electronically via the Slate online application system. Application items will be gathered into individual e-files and upon completion will be read online by our admissions committee members. This means that anything you upload to the application should be easily readable on a computer. It is important for applicants to establish a reliable email address and adjust filters to receive all messages from berkeley(dot)edu accounts. We may need to contact you with important information by email and it is important that our messages don’t end up in your spam box.
How to apply:
Items 4 through 8 are the supporting documents that you will convert to individual PDF files and then upload to the online application. You will not be able to submit the application without having uploaded these materials. Faculty reviewers will view your application online so it is important that you create legible PDFs. You may have to experiment with creating clear and readable files that remain within the size limit.
- Complete all applicable sections of the online Graduate Application for Admission and Fellowship
- From within the online application, request three letters of recommendation from faculty members who can speak to your scholarly potential. On the application you will type the names, titles, and email addresses (please double check for accuracy!) of your recommenders. When you click the "Send to Recommender" button, Berkeley will send each an email request for your letter to be uploaded to our system. Letter writers should upload their letter no later than one week beyond the application deadline. It is a good idea to personally contact your recommenders as well to let them know that they will be receiving a letter request from Berkeley Graduate Admissions (email@example.com).
- Standardized Test Scores. Take either the GRE General Test (gre.org) or the TOEFL (toefl.org) depending on your individual situation. See Application FAQs below to determine which test to take. Take tests by early November to ensure the scores arrive in time for the review in mid-December. If you are taking the test outside the U.S. we recommend you take it as early as possible as there may be delays in score reporting. GRE scores must not be more than five years old from our deadline. TOEFL scores must not be more than 18 months old from our deadline. When you register for either exam, use Berkeley Institution Code 4833 to have scores sent to us. Remember to enter the Test Registration Number on the application to ensure that your scores are accurately matched to your file. If you do not know this important number when you submit the application, you may return to the application and enter it after submission. If you are able to "self-report" your scores before submitting, please do not mix verbal, quantitative, and analytical scores from different test dates. The reviewers will be able to see all scores on the official score report. An upward trend is a positive, but a downward trend does not preclude you from consideration. Standard tests are only one of many criteria used in making the decision.
- Statement of Purpose (maximum 1000 words is a suggested guideline; we do not recommend exceeding three pages) (prompt)
- Personal Statement (maximum 1000 words is a suggested guideline; we do not recommend exceeding three pages) (prompt)
- A scholarly writing sample of no more than ten pages. The sample should be in English and 1.5 or double spaced. A topic of a historical nature is strongly preferred. If your ten page sample is an excerpt from a longer paper, you may add a (no more than) one page abstract of the paper to the beginning of the sample. You may cite references in the body of the ten page sample or include a page of references at the end – whichever works best for you.
- Transcripts in PDF format. Official transcripts of all college-level work must be scanned. Please submit one whole transcript per PDF (i.e., do not scan each page of a transcript into a separate file). If it appears, please black out your social security number. The last scanned page of each PDF should be the page explaining the grading system (if the explanation is printed on the back of each sheet of your transcript, you only need to scan it once). Double-check your PDFs for readability. Upload the transcript PDFs one by one to the application. If you apply while still in school, do not wait for fall semester grades, as they won’t arrive in time for the review. Instead enter on the application your courses-in-progress for fall (and anticipated for spring if you have it) and upload a PDF of a transcript or student report showing your course list of yet-to-be-graded courses. The suggested format for naming your transcript PDF files is LastnameSchoolDegree (e.g., SmithBerkeleyBA). If you are admitted and you accept our offer, then and only then will we require an unopened final official paper transcript for each school attended. For the application review we only require you to upload readable PDFs of your transcript(s).
- GPA Calculation Worksheet. Calculate up to five grade point averages depending on your situation. Remember to transfer the numbers to the online application and save the worksheet as a PDF and upload it to the application. We ask for:
1. Cumulative undergraduate GPA (all applicants)
2. Cumulative graduate GPA (courses taken in a graduate program)
3. History course GPA (all applicants) - the GPA of all courses taken from a history department
4. GPA excluding the first two years (all applicants; if you completed your bachelor’s degree in three years, exclude just the first year and a half)
5. GPA for only non-history majors (include only courses taken in your major discipline or department)
See GPA worksheet for more details.
Check Your File Status
You may return to your application before or after you submit the application in order to check the status of your file. The status page will tell you:
1. Have you submitted your application fee payment?
2. Have you requested recommendations and have the letters arrived?
3. Have your official GRE or TOEFL scores arrived? Note that the scores may have arrived from ETS but have not yet been matched to your file, so don’t panic if you don’t see them before mid-December.
4. After decisions are made (usually in early to mid-February), the decision will be posted on the status page. Please be patient and wait until the decision is posted before contacting us with questions about your application.
The only items you may add or change after submitting the application are the Test Registration Number, recommender information, and payment of the application fee so please double-check all application sections and items before submitting. Department staff will be unable to make any changes for you.
Frequently Asked Questions on History Application Instructions
General | Transcripts | Recommendations | Essays | Writing Sample | GPA | GRE and TOEFL | Fellowships
For all other FAQ related to our program see our separate Program FAQ page
GENERAL APPLICATION FAQs
When is the application deadline?
December 1 at 8:59pm Pacific time
When does the review of files begin?
Department staff begin reviewing files for missing documents shortly after the deadline. Faculty reviewers begin reviewing files in mid-December.
When will a decision be made?
The department, via the Graduate Division, will typically contact applicants via the Slate online application system by mid-February.
If I'm admitted when do I have to decide?
April 15 at 2pm Pacific time
Where do I find the online Graduate Application for Admission and Fellowships?
You can find the online application here.
Do all applicants use the same application?
Yes. New applicants, re-applicants, Berkeley change-of-majors, re-admits after five years, and Education Abroad Program exchange applicants all use the same online application.
What are the steps to apply to Berkeley’s History Department?
Go to the admissions portal and click on APPLY. Set up an account with username and password. On the application you will answer all questions that pertain to you. You will request your three recommendations via the application. You will transfer GPAs to the application from the GPA calculation sheet. You will enter the Test Registration Number for your GRE or TOEFL test. And you will upload PDF files of your Statement of Purpose, Personal History Statement, ten page writing sample, transcripts of colleges attended, and the GPA calculation sheet. You will also sit for the GRE or TOEFL (whichever applies to you) and have ETS send scores to Berkeley Institution Code 4833.
Must I list faculty whose research is of interest to me?
Yes. List them in order of interest.
Do I have to introduce myself to faculty before my file is reviewed?
No, you are not required to contact faculty before the review, but you are welcome to do so.
What are the most serious data-entry mistakes made by applicants filling out the application?
First, entering your name wrong. When we say last name we mean family or surname. When we say first name we mean given name. Please enter first and last name in the correct blanks. Second, entering your email address incorrectly. You may miss out on important messages from us if we do not have a correct email address.
If I make a mistake on my application can the department correct my errors?
No. Before you submit your application please carefully proofread your entries and the files you have uploaded. The department cannot make any changes to a submitted application.
What is the minimum academic degree required to apply to the Berkeley History Department?
We require a bachelor's degree (or equivalent) to apply to our program. In the past few admissions cycles, approximately half of our admits had only a bachelor’s degree and half had a master’s as well.
When should I mail Berkeley my actual official transcripts?
If you are admitted and decide to matriculate, then the Graduate Division will ask you to send unopened official paper transcripts. For the review of files, the faculty will use the PDFs of your transcripts to do their evaluation and we ask that you please do not send any hard copies to our office.
What academic records and certificates are required of domestic or international students?
See Minimum Degree Requirements and Required Records (and translations) of Academic Work
What should I do if I'm in a BA or MA program and I won't have my fall grades by the deadline?
Fall semester grades won’t arrive in time for the review. Instead enter on the application your courses-in-progress for fall (and anticipated for spring, if known and/or applicable) and upload a PDF of a transcript or student report showing your course list of yet-to-be-graded courses.
My transcript is in landscape orientation and when I scan it comes out in portrait and appears sideways on the screen. Will the reviewers be able to rotate the transcript PDF so it is right side up on the screen or will they have to rotate their heads like an owl?
Some scanners have a feature that will automatically orient a "landscape" document so the top of the document appears at the top of the PDF instead of to the side. If your scanner cannot do this then scan the PDF so that the right edge of the transcript appears at the top. That way the reviewer only has to hit the "rotate clockwise" button one time.
Can I ask for more than three recommendations?
We require three recommendations and we strongly prefer you to stay within this requirement.
What if my recommender cannot submit the letter online?
By exception you may print a paper recommendation form, sign the waiver section, and give it to the recommender. The recommender should email the form and letter no later than one week after the December 1 deadline to firstname.lastname@example.org (preferably as a PDF attachment) with applicant name and LOR in the subject line. As last resort the letter may be mailed or faxed to the department, to the attention of Erin/History Admissions.
STATEMENT ESSAY FAQs
What is the difference between the Statement of Purpose and the Personal History Statement?
The Statement of Purpose is a detailed summary of your research interests and overall preparation for undertaking graduate study toward a PhD in history. Include your research interests and goals and why UC Berkeley and our department would be a good intellectual fit.
The Personal History Statement should describe how your personal background shaped your interests and decision to pursue a graduate degree. You should include familial, educational, cultural, economic, or social experiences that have affected your decisions to pursue a career in history. Describe your leadership skills, interests, and how you might contribute to social or cultural diversity in the social sciences.
WRITING SAMPLE FAQs
How long should the writing sample be?
You are limited to ten pages using 1.5 or double spacing. If your sample is an excerpt from a longer paper you may add to the ten pages a one page cover abstract of the longer paper.
What is the purpose of the writing sample?
The purpose of the writing sample is for reviewers to get a sense of how well the candidate writes as well as the level of sophistication of his/her historical analysis. The purpose is not to determine whether the candidate can "do" research per se, but to demonstrate one's capacity for historical thinking.
GRADE POINT AVERAGE FAQs
Is there a minimum GPA required?
Yes. Students must have a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA to be considered for admission. Most admitted students have GPAs much higher than this.
How do I calculate the GPAs?
Use the GPA calculation sheet provided. Count up the credit units you earned for which you got an A and enter it next to "A.” Then count the credits you earned for which you got an A- and enter it next to A- and so on down the scale. (Be sure to count number of credits, not number of courses, unless ALL courses at your school are worth the exact same number of credits.) The calculator will add up the grade points for each grade and the GPAs will automatically appear at the bottom of the worksheet, so you don’t have to do the math! Remember to save the worksheet as a PDF and upload it to your application file.
Must I calculate GPAs if I went to school abroad or if we had a different grading system?
Calculate GPAs if your school uses an A through F (Fail) grading scale. If your school uses written evaluations or a very different grading system you don’t have to calculate GPAs. Instead, enter “0” in the applicable section of the application. Please upload the GPA worksheet, noting where applicable that you have a non-calculable GPA. Also, be doubly sure that the explanation of the grading scale that appears with your transcript is legible.
If I finished my bachelor's degree in only three years how do I calculate the GPA for "excluding the first two years”?
Calculate the GPA excluding the first year and a half.
GRE and TOEFL FAQs
Should I take the GRE or the TOEFL?
Applicants are required to submit either a GRE or a TOEFL score. To find out if you must submit a TOEFL score, please see Graduate Division’s explanation.
How old can the GRE or TOEFL scores be?
GRE scores must be from tests taken no more than five years prior to our application deadline. TOEFL scores must be from tests taken no more than eighteen months prior to the deadline and we consider only the most recent score.
Do you have a minimum GRE or TOEFL score?
We do not set minimum GRE scores. TOEFL test takers must obtain a minimum score of 570 for the paper test, 233 for the Computer Based Test (CBT) or 90 on the Internet based test (IBT) with minimum sub-scores of 18 writing, 17 speaking, 16 listening, and 17 reading. (A score of at least 26 in speaking satisfies the language proficiency requirement for student teaching positions.)
How will my scores be matched to my file?
ETS will send us your scores and Test Registration Number. You will enter your Test Registration Number on your application (before or after submitting the application) and your scores will be matched to your file using that number. Also, it helps if you set up your Berkeley application account using the same name you use when you register for the GRE or TOEFL.
How do I apply for University or departmental fellowships?
Simply fill out the appropriate domestic or international fellowship section of the online application. All admits are offered a standard departmental fellowship. The department will nominate students for University awards based on the answers provided in the fellowship section of the application, as well as a student’s research interests, academic record, and background.
What is a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS)?
FLAS fellowships provide funding to encourage study of critical and less commonly taught modern foreign languages. FLAS is open only to US citizens or permanent residents (holders of a green card). See page two of the Graduate Division's FLAS announcement for a list of languages and priorities.
How do I apply for a FLAS?
In the application, indicate you are applying for a FLAS and upload an essay explaining the need to acquire a high level of competency in your target language for your field and for your career. Applicants must show potential for high achievement and plan to enroll in a language and an area studies course during the course of the award. For most language areas, priority for a FLAS is given to applicants seeking advanced language training (third year of college-level study and beyond). In some cases, training at the intermediate level and by exception beginner level may be considered.