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Online PhD Programs in English

Ph.D. programs in English can be offered in online, hybrid, or traditional formats. Let's take a look at some of the common courses and concentrations in English programs, as well as typical admissions requirements, career options, and accreditation.

Overview of Doctoral Programs in English

In addition to traditional on-campus programs, doctoral programs in English can be offered fully online or in hybrid formats where there are both online and in-person courses. Many online Ph.D. programs require students to complete coursework before proceeding to the comprehensive exam and dissertation phases of the program. The following discusses the elements that make up a doctoral program in English.

Common Courses in Online Ph.D. Programs in English

Core courses are the classes that students are required to complete as part of the program, while elective courses are typically left up to the student to choose, usually based on the student's interests or career goals. It should be noted that many programs allow students to select from required areas of study rather than requiring them to take specific courses. That said, some of the more common courses in Ph.D. programs in English are listed below.

  • Teaching literature - Typically, these courses focus on teaching literature at the post-secondary level. They usually look at the challenges of teaching various genres and literary periods to undergraduate students.
  • American literature - These courses can focus on various American writers throughout the years. Often, they are divided into specific eras or styles. For example, it's common to see courses in American literature prior to the Civil War (Antebellum American Literature).
  • English literature - English literature courses might cover the works of individual authors, such as Shakespeare, or the popular authors and styles of different eras, such as the Elizabethan era.
  • Rhetoric - Rhetoric courses focus on developing effective writing and presentation skills. This is critical for students who will need those skills to successfully complete the comprehensive exam and dissertation portions of the program.
  • Research methods - Courses in research methods help students develop the skills they will need to conduct the research upon which their dissertation will be based. They have a chance to learn about qualitative and quantitative research, as well as the ethical requirements expected of researchers.

Examples of Concentrations in English Doctoral Programs

Doctoral-level English programs offer a wide variety of concentrations from which students can choose. The most common concentrations are in American and English literature. These concentrations are sometimes separated into eras, such as medieval literature. There are many other concentrations in English Ph.D. programs, and other popular options are listed below.

  • Composition and rhetoric - Practicing, shaping, molding, and revising written works that are generated from thoughtful analysis of ideas is usually the goal of composition and rhetoric concentrations. Some concentrations include courses on the teaching of composition at the college level.
  • Gender studies - Often gender studies concentrations look at the works of female authors throughout history, although more attention is being paid to LGBTQ authors and their works in some schools' concentrations.
  • Film studies - Film studies concentrations usually focus on media culture, film analysis, and various forms of media. Students analyze themes and the impact various media have had on culture throughout history.
  • Creative writing - Poetry, drama, fiction, and non-fiction are some of the genres from which students can choose in a creative writing concentration.

What is a Comprehensive Examination in a Doctoral Program?

As students near the end of their coursework, they will be expected to pass comprehensive examinations. These exams are the gateway to the dissertation phase of the Ph.D. program. They are usually a combination of written and oral exams; however, some programs use portfolios or other projects to determine whether a student is ready to move into the dissertation phase.

What is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is usually an in-depth study of a problem. Working with a mentor, doctoral students narrow the focus of a topic and begin writing the first three chapters of the dissertation, which are often called the dissertation proposal. These initial chapters discuss the problem under study and how research into it will be conducted. Students cannot begin gathering data until the institutional review board at the school has evaluated the dissertation proposal and given the student approval to proceed. This is critical to ensure that the research process is unbiased and conducted ethically and fairly.

As soon as the proposal has been approved, the data can be collected, and the chapters on research and evaluation can be completed. When the written dissertation has been finished, it is time for the student to make a presentation to a faculty committee. The members of the committee will ask the student questions about the research, how it was conducted, and the conclusions drawn from it. Upon gaining the committee members' approval, the process is complete.

Some Practical Questions About Online Doctoral Programs

Before deciding to pursue a doctoral degree online, it's important to give consideration to things like technology, time management, and cost. Here are some common questions that should be asked when considering an online degree program.

  • What technology requirements are there for the program? - Word processing software is a necessity, and online Ph.D. students will also need to have reliable internet access. They may need statistical software during the dissertation phase of their studies to help with the analysis of data. In some cases, video-conferencing software may be needed to hold meetings with instructors or other students or to attend courses virtually.
  • Do I have good time management skills? - Most doctoral programs allow students to take only one or two courses per term. For each course being taken, online doctoral students should expect to spend a minimum of nine hours each week on coursework. That includes studying, reading, writing, and participating in discussion forums.
  • How long will it take to complete the program? - It may take as little as three or as long as seven years to complete a doctoral program. It all depends on whether the student is attending full-time or part-time. It's important to note that most schools have a time limit for how long a student has to complete a doctoral degree.
  • How much do doctoral programs cost? - Some graduate schools charge per credit hour, while others charge per term. Online students usually pay the same tuition as on-campus students; however, some schools base their per-credit-hour charge on whether the student is a resident or non-resident. The total cost of the program typically is determined by how many credit hours the program requires.
  • Are there residency requirements? - For online students, a residency requirement usually means that there will be seminars, meetings, or classes that meet face-to-face. However, it can also mean that Ph.D. students are required to be teaching assistants as part of the program. Sometimes, those positions, called assistantships, are paid, but others are just a requirement of the program.

Typical Admissions Requirements for Entry into Ph.D. Programs in English

There are many admissions requirements for students applying for Ph.D. programs in English. Let's take a look at the most common ones.

  • Master's degree - Students applying for Ph.D. programs are usually required to have a master's degree. However, some schools allow students to enter Ph.D. programs after they have received their bachelor's degrees with the requirement that they complete all of the coursework that would have been undertaken in a master's degree before beginning to take doctoral-level courses.
  • Second language - Sometimes, one of the pre-requisites for students applying for entry into a Ph.D. program in English is knowledge of a second language. If this is a requirement, two years of foreign language study at the undergraduate level is usually the minimum requirement. However, some schools allow Ph.D. students to meet this requirement as part of their Ph.D. coursework.
  • Application - All schools require some form of application from prospective students. Most applications ask for general information, usually about previous education, degrees earned, grade point averages, and areas of academic interest. Fortunately, applications can usually be found online at the schools' websites. Regardless of whether the application is completed online or on paper, there is almost always an application fee.
  • Résumé or curriculum vitae - Both of these documents list the student's academic and employment history in addition to other details about the student's personal history. Typically, in the field of English, they also include sections about publications and presentations where the student can cite where his/her original works have been read or seen.
  • Essay or personal statement - Usually, this is a relatively short essay on a topic, such as why the student is applying to a Ph.D. program in a specific area of study, what that student hopes to achieve academically and professionally, and/or how the student can contribute to the English Department's success.
  • Official transcripts - Students applying for Ph.D. programs need to ask all their previous post-secondary schools to send official transcripts to the new school. Transcripts show grade point averages as well as degree awards, both of which have minimum requirements for acceptance into most Ph.D. programs.
  • Writing sample - Many schools require that students applying to Ph.D. programs in English submit a longer writing sample. The topic is usually in the student's area of interest.
  • GRE and TOEFL scores - Graduate Records Examinations (GRE) scores are often required by Ph.D. programs. Scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is also required by many Ph.D. programs if the applicant's native language is not English.
  • Letters of Recommendation - Recommendations should come from both academic and professional contacts. Ph.D. programs usually ask for two or three letters from contacts who know you well and have observed you in the classroom and at work.

Careers for Individuals with Ph.Ds in English

While teaching at the college level and being an author are the most common career options for individuals with Ph.D. degrees in English, there are other careers that can use the skills and knowledge gained while studying for the degree. Let's take a look at a few of them.

  • Editor - Editors read and correct copy, verify sources, evaluate submissions, do re-writes, and give final approval for content.
  • Post-secondary instructor - College instructors not only teach English and literature classes, they often mentor students, sit on committees, conduct research, and design/develop curricula.
  • Public relations - While public relations specialists work to create and maintain an organization's public image, they use their writing skills to produce speeches, press releases, and advertising copy in addition to improving the organization's internal and external communications.
  • Survey researcher - Individuals with degrees in English have probably studied research methodologies and conducted and analyzed original research. Since survey researchers develop surveys and analyze the results, this position could be a good fit for someone with a degree in English.
  • Writer and author - Writers and authors provide content for a variety of media, including books, magazines, websites, blogs, plays, films, and advertisements.

OccupationMedian Salary (2018)*Job Outlook (2018-2028)*
Editor$59,480-3%
Post-Secondary Instructor in English Language and Literature$78,47011%
Public Relations$60,0006%
Survey Researcher$57,7001%
Writers and Authors$62,1700%

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Why Accreditation is Important

When a school is accredited it means that it has met the standards and criteria set by an accrediting agency that has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Schools are not required to be accredited. However, unaccredited schools cannot receive federal financial aid.

There are two types of accreditation: institutional and specialized or programmatic. Institutional accreditation is awarded after a school has had every area and department evaluated by an accrediting agency, including the performance of its faculty, administration, and staff. Specialized accreditation is usually sought by specific programs, such as library science or nursing. Typically, this type of accreditation is pursued after institutional accreditation has been achieved.

The U.S. has six regional accreditors and numerous national and specialized accreditors. Many non-profit universities and colleges are regionally accredited, while for-profit and career-focused schools are often nationally accredited or have specialized accreditation. Schools can have regional, national, and specialized accreditations at the same time.