Application Requirements

Application Requirements

Cultural Studies at UC Davis is an interdisciplinary graduate group that draws from scholarship and faculty across many departments and programs.

Unlike traditional disciplines, in which students select faculty mentors and course offerings from within a single department, Cultural Studies students are encouraged to build a dissertation committee with graduate group faculty members from a variety of departments; they also have the opportunity to construct a highly individualized and project-oriented course of study. The flexibility and relative decentralization of the Cultural Studies program works best for students who are self-motivated, resourceful, and disciplined. Admission to the Cultural Studies graduate program is competitive; we receive between 70 and 100 applications each year for approximately 5-10 positions. The admissions committee is composed of 10 affiliate faculty from a variety of departments and 2 graduate students in the program.  We do not use a waiting list. At this time, we are not accepting applications for the M.A. program.

In what follows we offer you guidelines for making a strong application to our program. We cannot admit everyone who applies. But we can give you the fairest opportunity to do your best if you think we are a good fit with your interests and goals. After reading the information on this site, if you have additional questions regarding the application process or materials, please email Kaitlin Dabdoub (

You can apply for graduate admission online. Please use this on-line application to submit all of your application materials. 

Applications Due December 15

The application fee is $135 for the domestic application and $155 for the international. The fee may be paid by credit card or e-check through the Office of Graduate Studies admissions. The fee must be paid before the application will be considered complete.

Please read the following carefully to help ensure a successful application and admissions process.

Contacting Faculty and Students

We highly encourage you to contact faculty members you would like to work with if accepted into the CST program. Because 'fit' is such an important part of the admissions decision, having faculty who know your name, know your areas of interest, and want to work with you is extremely valuable.  It also shows your interest in the CST program and your ability to independently build networking bridges.  Faculty may be very busy at the time of year application materials are due.  The earlier you reach out, the more likely it is that you will be able to begin meaningful connections with potential advisers.  
Work closely with those professors who are writing your letters of recommendation.  Ask them to review your application packet before submission.  In particular, ask them for feedback on your statement of interest and writing sample.
Current students are often the best resources for getting a sense of how the program works on a day-to-day basis in terms of funding, class offerings, student life in Davis, etc.  Students can also be excellent peers in the application process (and beyond). If you know current graduate students in any program who have gone through the admissions process, ask them for strategies they used and, if possible, read over their application material.  Student contact info and profiles are available on our Students Page.

  • Use the Search bar in the middle of the CST homepage to search for your research interests.  Results will show affiliate faculty and CST students who have listed those interests as well.

Statement of Purpose

The Statement of Purpose is limited to 4000 characters (including spaces).  You will need to use this short space to tell us a great deal.  We would like to know what you plan to do in a Ph.D. program, including the proposal of a specific dissertation project, and what has prepared you for this project thus far.  At this early stage in your work, on which topics do you plan to focus and with whom at UC Davis will it be necessary for you to work and why?
This is the most important component of your application. Statements that articulate interest in undertaking a particular project have a competitive edge over statements that indicate interest only in broad topics or areas of research.  Some students will change their dissertation topic once they enroll and discover new fields and methods, but we have found that students who can articulate a credible dissertation level project are much more prepared for a Ph.D. program than those who may have been successful in academics or testing but who are still expressing interests only in generalized ways.

  • Show that you are ready to work with us, in particular, rather than desiring to stay in school in general. Research into programs and faculty at UC Davis shows that you are ready to embark on your project at our campus (why this program and not another). Regardless of how interesting your project might be, we have to pay close attention to your “fit” with available faculty at UC Davis who would serve on your qualifying and dissertation committees.
  • Keep it academic. You may include autobiographical information in your Personal Statement. Do not use the very limited space in the Statement of Purpose for personal or autobiographical details.
  • We are more interested in what you plan to do in your advanced studies in the Ph.D. program than in a narrative of what you have already done in the past. Draw on your past education and experience to bolster your proposal rather than make that history serve as the proposal itself.

Personal History Statement

Graduate Studies at the University of California at Davis requires a 4000 character “Personal History Statement.”  In this statement please tell us how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree.  Please include any educational, familial, cultural, economic, or social experiences, challenges, or opportunities relevant to your academic journey; how you might contribute to social or cultural diversity within your chosen field; and/or how you might serve educationally underrepresented segments of society with your degree.

Writing Sample

The writing sample is a 10-20 page scholarly paper that demonstrates originality of ideas, familiarity with the conventions of academic research, and writing proficiency. Ideally, the writing sample should complement the project described in your statement of purpose. That is, if your statement of purpose tells us about the project you’re interested in pursuing in graduate school, your writing sample should show us what pursuing that project might look like. On the other hand, if you do not have a writing sample that aligns with your statement of purpose, send us an example of your best academic work.

  • Multimedia are acceptable as a supplement but we also need a writing sample.
  • These materials must be uploaded to your online application. We do not accept hard copies.

Research Interests

This is a list, expressed succinctly, of your primary research interests or desired fields of specialization, in order of preference. These research interests may be expressed in terms of fields or subfields (e.g., gender studies, postcolonial studies, Islamic art, history of science, food studies, disability studies, urban architecture), themes (militarization, sustainability, eugenics, racial justice, indigenous knowledge, intellectual property, memory, violence), cultural contexts (China, contemporary Middle East, US borderlands, Francophone Africa, 20th century Germany), theory (posthumanism, Frankfurt School, performance theory, queer theory), or cultural products (visual culture, contemporary media, fashion, material culture, computer software, popular music).

Letters of Recommendation

We ask for three letters of recommendation, preferably from professors in your field(s). Letters of Recommendation must be submitted electronically through the online application. Please do not have recommenders send letters in hard copy--we will not accept them. This requires you to request and collect your letters early. We do not accept late materials.  Since circumstances beyond your control may cause you to submit your application without all of your letters, it is still your responsibility to make sure the letters are received in our office by the deadline.

We believe that the strongest letter of recommendation comes from an academic who can speak to your readiness to embark on advanced research in a Ph.D. program. Letters from teaching assistants or employers are less helpful since these writers may not have long term experience in extended scholarly research of the sort that you are proposing to begin and the quality of which we are required to assess.  On the other hand, it is always good to include letters from writers who know you well rather than a 2 sentence scrawl from an over-extended, famous person.  The best rule of thumb is to aim for recommenders in your academic field who are familiar with your work and who can describe you honestly and in detail.

  • If you have been out of school for some years and feel you cannot find three former professors to write for you, do the best you can. Collect letters from people who can speak to the strengths you need to be successful in graduate school.
  • At this time, we are unable to accept recommendations from letter services such as Interfolio.

Exam Scores

GRE Exam

Please note that the GRE is required for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle.

  • In addition to the GRE, applicants whose native language or language of instruction is not English must take the TOEFL (The Test of English as a Foreign Language) Exam.
  • TOEFL is given by:
    • Educational Testing Service (ETS)
      PO Box 6151
      Princeton NJ 08541-6151
      (215) 750-8050.
  • Official score reports must be sent from ETS directly to UC Davis Graduate Studies (Not the Cultural Studies Office). The minimum score required for admission to UC Davis is 550 on the paper exam or 80 on the internet-based exam.  There is no conditional admission. The score report is required before application processing begins.
  • GRE scores should be submitted electronically.
  • Keep it current. If your GRE scores are more than 5 years old, you need to retake the exam. If your TOEFL scores are more than 2 years old, you need to retake the exam.
  • We are unable to accept scores for exams taken after December 15th.
  • What happens if your scores come in after the deadline? We will have to consider your application during our deliberations as “incomplete”.

(Un)Official Transcripts

Like GRE scores, grades give an important but incomplete view of your accomplishments. UC Davis Graduate Studies requires a minimum GPA of 3.0. While we take GPA very seriously, some people have abilities that are not reflected, for one reason or another, in their undergraduate or M.A. program GPA.  If this is the case for you, we need substantive context and information to make a request for an exception.  GPA may determine whether or not you are eligible to be nominated for most fellowships. UC Davis now accepts preliminary unofficial transcripts as part of their online application. Students who are accepted to our program and decide to attend will have to submit official transcripts to UC Davis for verification. 

  • Applicants should submit only one transcript for each university or college they have attended and listed on their application. That transcript will be made available to faculty in each graduate program to which the applicant has applied, as well as for the review of the fellowship application.
  • Help us to help you. If your GPA has been under 3.0 make sure you include some information to assist us in making the case for your admission. If this information is sensitive or confidential, contact the chair of the program.
  • If appropriate, ask your recommenders to comment on your abilities in relation to your GPA.

Fellowship Application

The Cultural Studies Graduate Group has no endowments or other resources that would enable us to regularly offer our own fellowships.  UC Davis has some “internal” fellowships  and we urge everyone to apply for them. We have had some success in obtaining these fellowships for our incoming students, but they are small in number, and we cannot promise that you will receive one.

A link to the application is available at the Graduate Studies website. Fellowship applications must be submitted electronically on or before December 15. Domestic students must also fill out the FAFSA form in order to be considered for grants, fellowships and loans.  The FAFSA is available online at:

  • Take the time to apply for the fellowships
  • No FAFSA, no fellowship.  File your FAFSA form.

Résumé or Curriculum Vitae

Tips on writing a Resume or CV from the UC Davis Internship and Career Center