English Literature PhD Program Overviews

Oct 20, 2021

Essential Information

Ph.D. students in English literature programs can study many time periods and movements in British and American literature, as well as choosing an area of personal interest to study. A master's degree is not required for admission into a Ph.D. in English Literature program, but it usually gives prospective students an advantage. Students applying with only a bachelor's degree should have several upper-division English courses on their transcript if the degree is in a subject other than English.

Other admission requirements can include general scores and Literature in English subject test scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), a personal statement, letters of recommendation, a writing sample, transcripts and a graduate school application.

English Literature PhD Program

A Ph.D. in English Literature curriculum is tailored to the student's interests. Typical areas of concentration include Medieval and Renaissance literature, English literature after 1800, colonial American literature or contemporary American literature. Courses can vary according to the student's area of concentration, but they are generally rooted in theoretical concepts. Ph.D. candidates are normally required to take a comprehensive exam during the course of the program. A dissertation related to the student's chosen concentration and a successful dissertation defense must be completed for graduation. Depending on a Ph.D. candidate's focus, the following courses might be part of earning this credential:

  • Literary theory
  • Gender or cultural studies
  • Medieval, Renaissance or Victorian literature
  • British Romantic poets
  • Early American and postcolonial literature
  • Contemporary American literature or Contemporary British literature

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Most graduates of Ph.D. in English Literature programs seek careers as college instructors or professors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 9% growth in job opportunities for postsecondary teachers for the years 2019 through 2029 ( This much faster-than-average growth is largely due to expected increases in college and university enrollment; however, schools are likely to have more openings for part-time faculty than full-time. The median annual salary of English language and literature college professors was $69,000 in May 2020, according to the BLS. The lowest 10% of employees in this field made $39,320 or less, and the highest 10% made $141,190 or more.

Continuing Education

Many Ph.D. in English Literature graduates participate in postdoctoral research fellowships within five years of completing their degree. Fellows complete intensive scholarly research and produce publications. This experience strengthens their expertise in their chosen concentration and improves their marketability for tenure-track faculty positions.

Students seeking to enter a Ph.D. program in English literature can expect to earn a master's degree along the way if they haven't already, and to study a curriculum based on their area of interest. Job prospects will increase with college enrollment, but jobs are more likely to be part-time than full-time.

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