General Guidelines for Admission

The following is a set of general guidelines for the admissions process. It should be noted that while several areas are emphasized here, the Admissions Committee will carefully examine the overall profile of each applicant, taking these and other aspects of the candidate’s application into consideration.

The Writing Sample

The writing sample is one of the most important materials in the application. Candidates should submit only one 15–20 page paper, in 12-point type, double-spaced throughout, and with normal margins. The writing sample must be an example of critical writing (rather than creative writing) on a subject directly related to film, performance and/or visual studies. Applicants should not send longer papers with instructions to read an excerpt or excerpts, but should themselves edit the sample so that they submit only up to 20 pages.


While the overall GPA is important, it is more important to have an average of no lower than A- in courses related to film and visual studies or related fields. In addition, if a candidate has not majored in film studies or a related field, it is important to have sufficient background to enter the graduate program— a matter perhaps best determined by speaking with one’s undergraduate advisor.

Letters of Recommendation

It is important to have three strong letters of recommendation from professors who are familiar with the candidate’s academic work. An applicant who has been out of school for several years should try to reestablish contact with former professors. Additional letters from employers may also be included.


High scores in the Verbal (170) are positive additions to the application but are by no means the most important aspect of one’s candidacy. (The Quantitative and Analytical scores carry less weight than the Verbal scores.) Applicants should make timely plans to take these examinations in order to ensure arrival of scores by the December early application deadline. Scores received after January may be too late to be considered.

Statement of Purpose

The Statement of Purpose should give the admissions committee a clear sense of one’s individual interests and strengths. Applicants need not indicate at the time of application precisely what their field of specialization will be, but it is helpful to know something about a candidate’s aspirations, and how Film and Visual Studies at Harvard might help in attaining these goals.


Strong language background helps to strengthen the application, and students who lack it should be aware that they will need to repair these gaps during their first two years of graduate study.