English Programs

Attaining a PhD in English

Achieving the terminal degree in the field of English studies is a lengthy process that takes many doctoral students over five years to successfully complete. Additionally, competition, both to gain acceptance into a reputable English doctoral program, and then for decent jobs post-graduation, is very high. In general, students who are considering attaining a PhD in English should have a sincere passion for the discipline, not just a desire to become an English professor or researcher.

Many PhD programs, particularly those at more prestigious universities, offer full-tuition fellowships throughout the intended normal time to complete all doctorate requirements. Generally, the students will be expected to teach at least one undergraduate course per semester in exchange for free tuition, and often a reasonable stipend and health insurance, in order to support their full-time education.

There are also usually residency requirements that stipulate living on or near campus for at least the first two years, which is the length of time required to complete the traditional, classroom-based learning portion of the doctorate degree.

Skills Learned from a Doctoral Degree in English

As might be expected, English PhD candidates will write hundreds of pages of research-oriented papers, first as assignments for their core classes, then as part of the required work on their dissertations. These papers will be critiqued both by the professors and by the other candidates in small discussion groups. Their writing skills will be improved and their rhetorical arguments strengthened by critique from faculty professors with years of experience in research.

Other core classes that English PhDs will be required to take include history, social studies, literature studies, and poetry and prose classes, which are designed to create well-rounded students who are well-versed in all major humanities topics. Many programs also require intermediate proficiency in at least one foreign language as part of the admissions requirements, so further coursework in the foreign language may be required as part of the student’s curriculum.

In most PhD programs, there is a heavy emphasis on attaining teaching skills, simply because so many of the doctoral students intend to find a career teaching at a college or university after they graduate. During their time as students, most will work several semesters as a teaching assistant or supplementary instructor in a humanities classroom for undergraduate and graduate students. Some universities may place doctoral students in a primary professor role toward the end of their candidacy.

Online English PhD Opportunities

There are dozens of doctoral programs that can primarily or entirely be completed online, but be aware that English studies is both a competitive and research-driven field, so hiring managers may be looking for any opportunity to narrow down the applicant pool when they are recruiting, and might discount the value of an online degree, even if it was just as intensive as a traditional doctoral degree.

Furthermore, because this is a subject ingrained with the aura of prestige, including the emphasis placed on getting published in the top-tier journals and having an enviable education pedigree from undergraduate and graduate schools, many people hiring in this field may overlook doctorates in less well-known English PhD programs.

Universities that Offer Online English PhDs

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University offers both online and on-campus courses for completing a PhD in English. To participate in the online program, students must have a webcam and participate in live classes via video conferencing, as well as attend on-campus seminars for two summers to meet the year-residency requirement. The degree from Old Dominion will be identical to the degree that an on-campus resident would receive.

Old Dominion University
5115 Hampton Blvd
Norfolk, VA 23508

English PhD Website: englishphd.digitalodu.com

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University offers an English PhD in Technical Communications in Rhetoric that can also be taken primarily online. As the degree name implies, there is an emphasis on technology, but specializations in more traditional themes such as literary periods and cultural themes are also encouraged.

Unlike most other PhD programs, there are no residency requirements other than mandatory attendance at a two-week May workshop throughout the duration of the PhD program. Students are allowed to transfer in relevant Masters-level coursework, and many of their online PhD students are able to complete their doctoral degree in three years.

Department of English
Texas Tech University
2500 Broadway
Lubbock, TX 79409

English PhD Website: www.english.ttu.edu

Traditional Universities Offering PhD Programs

The University of Pennsylvania

This English PhD program is very flexible, allowing students’ interests to shape the concentrations. The doctoral candidates are encouraged to choose a specific time period, author, or genre, which will become their focus for the duration of this five-year program.

Department of English
University of Pennsylvania
Fisher-Bennett Hall, room 127
3340 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6273

Website: www.english.upenn.edu

University of California – Berkeley

Berkeley allows PhD students to either develop a broad understanding of British and American literature and cultural theory, or combine their English studies with film, medieval history, or feminism courses to develop an interdisciplinary approach.

This is a six-year degree, which involves a year in the middle spent preparing for a comprehensive oral examination that will examine the student’s knowledge gained during the first two years as well as test his or her preparedness to begin a dissertation.

Department of English, Graduate Office
322 Wheeler Hall #1030
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-1030

Website: english.berkeley.edu

Carnegie Mellon University

CMU offers a PhD in Rhetoric that focuses on communication amongst people and cultures. This is in extremely intensive program that only accepts a handful of new students yearly. Doctoral candidates work with the English faculty as well as professors in the Creative Writing discipline, and are expected to complete the program in five years. Opportunities are available to teach freshman-level writing courses, as well as designing the curriculum for new courses.

Department of English
Carnegie Mellon University
Baker Hall 259
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890

Website: english.cmu.edu

The City University of New York

This state university offers an English PhD program that draws upon the considerable resources of New York City, including its research opportunities and placement program. Students can apply with only a bachelor’s degree, and are expected to complete all coursework within eight years.

Proficiency in two foreign languages is required, and there are two major examinations that students must pass: a comprehensive exam after the first two years, and an oral exam at the completion of all required coursework and their dissertation.

Ph.D. Program in English
The City University of New York Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
Room 4409
New York, NY 10016

Website: web.gc.cuny.edu

The University of Virginia

This Virginia state school offers a six-year English PhD program with particular emphasis in the digital humanities. Students teach one course per semester from their second semester onward, and must demonstrate mastery of one foreign language or proficiency in two, along with the normal coursework and teaching requirements. An optional Certificate in Comparative Literature can also be attained with the PhD if additional coursework and an oral exam are completed successfully.

Department of English
219 Bryan Hall
PO Box 400121
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4121

Website: www.engl.virginia.edu

University of Central Florida

This Florida institution offers a unique PhD program in Texts and Technology, which specializes in the study of digital media against a more traditional background of modern literature and the humanities. Students focus on literature that is disseminated through the Internet, digital publishing, and the cultural and societal implications of technological advancements.

University of Central Florida
Building: CNH302
PO Box 161346
Orlando, FL 32816-1346

Website: english.ucf.edu

Employment Opportunities for PhD Graduates

Most people with a terminal degree in English go on to teach a humanities-related course at a university level. Many have the goal of earning tenure at the university and participating in seminars and research projects in their area of specialization. Those who don’t enter the teaching profession often go on to acquire jobs that require a high level of writing skill, including newspaper, magazine and book editors, and independent researchers.

Post-secondary professors with English PhDs earn about $75,000, though at more well-endowed universities and with tenure, the professors’ annual salaries can reach six figures. Assistant professors, who are usually hoping to reach a tenure-track level, earn around $60,000 annually. High school English positions are readily available for English PhDs, and the salary will be higher than teachers with just Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees, but not by much. High school teachers with doctoral degrees in English earn about $46,000 per year.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the prospects for PhDs looking for university and college-level employment are relatively good, though competition is keen for tenured positions. However, pay and benefits are likely to improve for assistant professors and part-time professors. As many current tenured professors are older, significant retirements are expected over the next decade, opening up positions for younger applicants.

Additionally, more high school graduates choosing to attend college are expected over the next decade than in the past, increasing the demand for professors with high-level credentials. The demand will likely be largest for business, science, and health-related instructors, but English PhDs will also likely benefit from the surge in enrollment levels.

A Final Word on Earning a PhD in English

Both the requirements for completing an English doctoral degree and the traditional employment process after attaining the degree are intellectually stimulating and surrounded by passionate people who share the student’s enthusiasm for the topic of English, rhetoric, and the social sciences. However, the coursework can be demanding and time-intensive for a field that does not generate the extremely high salaries that employment in the “hard sciences” does.

For some potential English PhD students, this fact can be disappointing, but for many others who go on to successfully complete their PhD, the opportunity to work in a field led by Pulitzer Prize winners, Fulbright Scholars, and published and award-winning literary research experts is far more valuable than any monetary compensation could be.

3 Responses to “English Programs”
  1. Ms. Louise F. Moore
    08.06.2011

    I have an MA in English for California State Univ. Dominguez Hills. I have aBA from UCLA in Political Science with a minor in English with over 30 credits in English. I have teaching experience at Texas A&M, several community colleges, and at Mount Vernon Middle School (now Cochran Middle School) where I taught language arts to 7th and 8th grade students for LA Unified Schools. I have never given up my goal though it has been a long road. I am now able to go to school full-time without working though financial help or a teaching position would be very helpful. Thank you for considering me.

    • Barbara Hooker
      03.09.2012

      Hi! Look into apply for the Department of Defense Schools: http://www.dodea.edu
      Best of luck!

  2. Jane Alam
    04.14.2013

    Hello
    I am an MA in English from Bangladeshi university. I have been teaching in a college in Bangladesh for 8 years. Now I want to do PhD in listening skill as a distance learner. How is it possible Help me in detail


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