Online PhD in English Literature: Degree Program Summary

Dec 03, 2019

Learn about online doctoral programs with English literature courses. Get an overview of the program types, requirements and course descriptions available for this field.

Essential Information

Individuals generally cannot earn an online Ph.D. in the specific field of English literature since students must usually serve as teaching assistants, which requires their regular presence on campus. These on-campus Ph.D. programs allow students to concentrate in a particular English literature genre or time period. The program culminates in the production and defense of a dissertation.

Online Ph.D. programs are offered in the related field of English and technical communication, although these programs are rare. These more modern programs focus on the ways that technologies affect the written language. Just like an English literature program, students in an English and technical communication program must complete a dissertation to graduate. Although much of the coursework is offered remotely, there are still residency requirements that span a few weeks each year. During this time, students must travel to campus to interact with their professors and peers. Applicants must have a master's degree in a writing-related field.

Doctor of Philosophy in English Literature

A doctoral degree program in English literature provides students with a firm knowledge of English literature and literary criticism, from Old English texts all the way to contemporary readings. Teaching assistant duties are usually required and typically consist of holding discussion sessions for one undergraduate class per school semester, along with being available for weekly office hours.

As a prerequisite, students must hold a bachelor's degree; some programs require applicants to have a related master's degree as well. Other required materials include Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, a personal statement, letters of recommendations, academic transcripts and an analytical writing sample. Students may also want to brush up on their language skills, since many English literature doctoral degree programs test students' fluency in two foreign languages with an examination at the end of their second year.

Program Information and Requirements

The doctoral program typically takes 5-8 years to complete and culminates in a dissertation. Students take basic coursework and electives during their first two years and enter into advanced research in their area of concentration during the third and fourth years. Students must choose a specific concentration within the field of English literature; this can be a genre or a specific time period in literature, such as the Victorian Period.

A Ph.D. students' final 2-3 years are spent drafting an original dissertation with the help of a faculty advisor holding expertise in their concentration. This one-on-one time with a mentor comprises an important part of the degree, and therefore, presence on campus is vital to student learning and another reason why the doctoral program is not offered online.

Common English Literature Courses

Courses for the English literature Ph.D. program involve a great deal of critical reading, writing and analysis. Many classes also require skilled knowledge of literary research methods. Students must not only understand the reading material, but also propose their own arguments and theses about the works covered in lecture.

Early Modern Period Literature

This course examines British literature written from approximately 1500-1750, such as the works of Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson. The class not only examines the literary devices and themes of various readings, but also the historical and political implications related to the time period.

Intensive Shakespeare Studies

This English Lit class includes in-depth discussions and analysis of selected Shakespearian works. Classes may focus solely on Shakespeare's sonnets or tragedies.

Women Authors of the Early 20th Century

Students in this graduate course examine key female writers of the 1900s and their influence on American and European society, culture and norms. Authors studied may include Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein.

Doctor of Philosophy in English

Students interested in an online Ph.D. program related to English literature may also consider English and technical communication programs, which are rare but offered online by a few universities. Graduates often go on to work as postsecondary teachers and researchers, but may also take jobs as advanced technical and professional writers if their program is more focused on technical communication and rhetoric.

Online English programs emphasize integrating technology, communication and new media into the writing coursework. These degree programs, therefore, take a more modern approach than the traditional English literature Ph.D. programs, which usually deal with older texts and time periods.

Students typically must hold a master's degree in a writing-intensive field to apply to these distance learning programs. Universities often require a letter of intent, academic transcripts, multiple references, GRE general test scores and a writing sample.

Online Program Information and Requirements

An online doctoral program in English typically takes 3-6 years to complete. The first half of the program is spent taking required coursework. Once completed, students must pass a series of qualifying exams. The second half of the doctoral program is spent writing an original dissertation, which must be defended and approved before the Ph.D. is awarded.

Although classes are conducted online, some degree programs require students to attend occasional orientations and seminars located at the main campus. These residency requirements typically span 2-6 weeks per year.

Most online programs require students to have computers with Internet access and video streaming capabilities. The camera must allow for a 2-way video feed, since students interact with their professors during online classes. Students also must be available weekly to meet and work with other students online.

Common English Ph.D. Online Courses

Most online Ph.D. classes in English involve a great deal of writing and Internet research. The reading requirement is also heavy. Texts are more technical and research-based than the English literature program and often involve the examination of technology's effect on communication, information and culture.

Technology and Communication

Online students learn about the effect that certain technologies like Internet, television and social media networks have on specific discourse communities. They might study the effect of Facebook on communication among high school students.

Online Publication Studies

Students analyze how publishing texts online has affected the literature field and influenced the spread of information, ideas and opinions. Online classes cover the effect of wireless reading devices on literacy rates and trends.

Rhetorical Devices and Culture

This course examines how a text's choice of language communicates messages to certain groups or cultures. Students study how advertised content employs specific catchphrases to appeal to a chosen demographic like women or families.

Career Information

Many graduates of English literature doctoral programs become professors and researchers at colleges and universities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more students are projected to enroll in college and more faculty members are predicted to retire, which will create a demand for postsecondary teachers. However, those who want tenured positions are looking at greater competition in the coming years since many colleges are only hiring on a part-time basis (

Graduates of online Ph.D. programs in English, similar to English literature graduates, often go on to become postsecondary teachers. Additionally, the degree program's emphasis on writing and technology gives students the ability to pursue advanced positions as technical writers.

The BLS reports that postsecondary English literature and language teachers earned a median salary of $66,590 in 2018. The number of postsecondary teaching positions in this field is expected to increase by 11% from 2018-2028.

Online doctoral programs in English literature don't exist, but a few schools do offer online programs in English and technical communication. In-person residencies are included along with courses focusing on media in communication.

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