Biography is an arduous profession. The typical biography can take four or five years to research and write. Some biographers spend a full decade or more to finish their work. It is expensive and time-consuming work. Nevertheless, the profession persists. The biography and memoir program seeks to train new generations of aspiring biographers and show them how to accelerate the pace of their research and writing, while still producing a scholarly piece of work. With that in mind, our program teaches students how to efficiently find sources and do the research that underpins every scholarly piece of work. It also teaches students how to craft a biography to make it readable and engaging while still based on exacting research.
Students may choose to specialize in one of two areas of concentration: political/historical biography or literary/artistic biography. Either of these concentrations represents a different aspect of biography, and, by focusing coursework within a broad topic area, students will be better prepared for their biographical work or for Ph.D. programs and careers in the field.
The program will prepare you to become a biographer; memoirist; journalist; historical researcher; archivist; documentarian; oral history practitioner; creative nonfiction writer; or a Ph.D. student in English, History, or other fields. Building on the reputation and academic initiatives of The Graduate Center’s Leon Levy Center for Biography, established in 2007 as a hub for writers, scholars, students, teachers, and readers of biography, the program also connects you to independent and university-affiliated biographers across disciplines.
Students in the biography and memoir program acquire research and writing skills that are highly valued in a 21st-century job market. Some graduates will use their M.A. thesis as a virtual book proposal, earning a contract from a trade publisher to turn their work into a full-fledged biography. Others might use the credential to obtain employment as entry-level editors in the publishing industry, or as journalists. Still others might use the M.A. program to enter a wide range of doctoral programs in the humanities at The Graduate Center or other institutions.
The skills learned in a biography program are valuable not only for producing biographies, but also for operating in myriad areas that require research and writing skills and the perspective needed to present an individual personality in a specific context. Some examples include
- Journalism, including, particularly, the interviewing, research, fact-checking and reporting skills that are essential for journalists;
- Producing profiles, which are basically abridged biographies and are a popular and sought-after genre within journalism as a whole; and
- Technical writing and work in public relations, since many institutions seek trained writers who can highlight the accomplishments of their leading members for both internal and external audiences
These endeavors rest on the same skills as full-scale biographies, including those of interviewing, data gathering, and illuminating a life experience with clarity and perspective.
Students come to the study of biography and memoir from many different backgrounds. Some have undergraduate academic backgrounds in English, history, or other analytic fields with an emphasis on writing. Some wish to supplement their existing writing credentials, whether as published writers, M.F.A.s, or aspiring memoirists whose writing so far has been largely personal, with rigorous training in archival research and interview techniques. Some work part-time and desire training in a burgeoning genre and lucrative publishing market in order to diversify their intellectual activities. All in all, the biography and memoir program is open to all students hungry for the skills necessary to write compelling memoirs or tackle full-scale biographies.
You apply online, and applicants must meet the following criteria in order to be eligible for admission:
- Hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in the United States, or its equivalent abroad, with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 (B average) or higher, and submit a transcript listing the official date of graduation as part of your application.
- Submit transcripts of all college and graduate work.
- Submit two letters of recommendation, preferably from academics.
- Submit a writing sample consisting of an essay or research paper of no more than 2,000 words.
- Submit a personal statement of up to 1,000 words, explaining why you want to obtain this degree and how your interests and academic/professional background are relevant to the degree.
- Submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores for the verbal, quantitative, and analytical parts of the exam. The GRE must have been taken within the last five years;
- Submit a Curriculum Vitae.
GRE scores taken within the past five years are required for admission, and they cannot be waived. Program faculty recognize, however, that GRE scores do not always fully capture applicants’ talents or preparation, especially so for those from other countries or those who have been out of school for some years. We carefully consider applicants’ entire admissions packages, of which GRE scores are only one element.
The best way is to come to an open house, which will allow you to informally meet other interested applicants, faculty members, staff, and current doctoral students in the English, comparative literature, and history departments.
Our open house dates are listed here.
The M.A. program is a 30-credit program, and how quickly students complete it depends on their chosen course load. For example, full-time students taking 9 credits (three courses) or more per semester can finish in a year and a half to two years; part-time students taking 6 credits (two courses) per semester will finish in two and half years.
Information on Graduate Center tuition and fees can be found here.
All courses are offered at The Graduate Center as in-person courses, which usually meet once a week.
You are likely to find many other students in the biography and memoir program, and in related master’s and doctoral programs, such as English, comparative literature, history, and psychology, who share your interests. Through the Leon Levy Center for Biography you will also be introduced to established biographers in New York City, as well as artists, writers, and agents who collaborate with and present their work at The Graduate Center.
Students at The Graduate Center also participate in many student groups and advocacy organizations, and the institution schedules a vast number of panels and lectures involving faculty and students from varied academic programs as well as other universities in the area.