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Doctoral
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PhD in Literature

Literature Ph.D. programs offer opportunities for specialization; for example, you could focus on classic literature, feminist literature or African-American literature. Continue reading to learn about the structure of doctoral degree programs in literature and for information on career prospects.

What Can I Expect from a Ph.D. Program in Literature?

In general, you will be studying the structural, cultural, theoretical and historical aspects of a variety of literary works. You'll complete 12-18 graduate-level courses or seminars in 4-6 years of full-time study, depending on whether you have an undergraduate or master's degree when you begin. Most programs will require you to complete literary criticism, research methods or survey courses before moving on to your area of interest.

Qualifying exams are usually given in the third or fourth year of the program, preceding work on your dissertation. These written and oral exams test your knowledge of a literary period or particular area of interest. Some schools base these exams on a reading list prepared with the assistance of a faculty member.

Most programs also include a teaching apprenticeship or fellowship where you will teach English composition or literature to undergraduate students. You will not be able to earn this degree online.

Program Requirements Passage of graduate-level courses and qualifying exams; particular programs may require a teaching apprenticeship or fellowship
Specializations British literature, modernism, renaissance literature, African-American literature, feminist theory
Prerequisites A bachelor's or master's degree, letters of recommendation, GRE test scores, current resume, writing sample, statement of purpose
Possible Careers Postsecondary teacher, writer, researcher
Median Salary (2018)$66,590 (for postsecondary English language and literature teachers)*
Job Outlook (2016-26)10% growth (for all postsecondary English language and literature teachers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Can I Specialize within the Degree Program?

Doctoral degrees in literature may be offered by English departments, literature departments or as an interdisciplinary collaboration between several academic departments. You'll find that the focus and content of these programs can vary widely, from broad multi-national comparative studies to those more focused on British and American literature.

Some schools allow students the freedom to create their own cohesive theme and curriculum. You might want to concentrate on a historical period, a genre, a cultural or national literary tradition, literary theory or a literary movement. Below are just a few examples of the specializations you can create.

  • American literature
  • Classics and the classical tradition
  • African-American literature
  • Modernism
  • Renaissance literature
  • Writing, rhetoric and composition
  • Feminist theory and research

What Will I Need to Apply?

You should have a bachelor's or master's degree in literature or a related area, such as anthropology, history or philosophy. You will also need letters of recommendation, GRE scores, a curriculum vitae or resume, a statement of purpose and a 20-page writing sample of literary theory or criticism for some programs. Some courses require the critique of untranslated original texts, so you need to demonstrate proficiency in two foreign languages. For most programs, you must be fluent in one and demonstrate a minimum reading proficiency in another. Students may speak French, Spanish, German, Italian, Latin or Greek, but other languages may be accepted.

What Can I Do with This Degree?

Ph.D. programs in literature are primarily designed to prepare you for teaching and research positions at colleges and universities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted faster than average employment growth for all postsecondary teachers between 2016-2026, due to growing student populations. Competition for tenure-track faculty positions can be intense, and a doctoral degree can give you the best chance of securing one. You may also choose to do independent writing or research.