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Overview of Online PhD in Literature Programs

Get info about online Ph.D. programs in literature. Read about program requirements, course topics and degree levels, and check out career and continuing education options.

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Essential Information

Literature Ph.D. programs are not common due to the hands-on research and writing required, but some are available. Most courses for the remote programs may be taken online, but schools require students to complete a residency period that must take place on campus in two summer school sessions. A teaching assistantship may also be required. These programs usually come with technical concentrations in subjects like discourse and rhetoric, technology, and media studies. Students may be able to tailor their concentration for a more literature-based emphasis. A bachelor's degree in a related field is required, as well as critical and creative writing samples.


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  • American Literature
  • British Literature

Ph.D. Program in Literature

Literature Ph.D. programs typically place heavy emphasis on creative writing, research, and literary analysis. These programs often include classes that prepare students to teach literature at the university level, and they might require students to serve as teaching assistants. Additionally, doctoral degree candidates may need to complete foreign language courses as a way to enhance their proficiency in multiple aspects of literature.

Ph.D. students usually choose a concentration based on a literary genre, historic period or theoretical approach. This specialization generally is incorporated into the student's dissertation. Most schools also require doctoral candidates to complete a comprehensive examination in various aspects of literature.

Program Information and Requirements

Students pursuing a Ph.D. in Literature typically are required to have both a bachelor's and master's degree in a related field of study or have a bachelor's degree and be working toward a master's en route to a Ph.D. Often, they also must provide critical and creative writing samples.

Most work in doctoral-level literature programs is completed in close contact with a departmental advisor and small group of faculty members. Thus, there generally aren't online options for a Ph.D. in Literature.

Common Coursework

Many courses in a Ph.D. in Literature curriculum prepare students with the communication, study and research skills needed to propose, present and defend their dissertations. Other courses generally focus on understanding and teaching literature.

Early American Literature

Washington Irving, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Emily Dickinson are among the colonial through pre-Civil War-era authors studied in this survey of early American literature. Students explore the relationships between literature and religion, race and nationality.

Literary Theory and Criticism

Students explore theories of varying literary periods, cultures and genres. Topics of study might include the use of literary metaphors and issues in the translation of literature, as well as exploration of various critical approaches, such as new historicism and deconstruction.

Postsecondary Teaching Preparation

Doctoral candidates typically are required to take a course that teaches them to share their literary knowledge as postsecondary teachers. Future educators learn about teaching methodology, as well as exploring ways to hone their own study and research skills for the benefit of their students.


Career Information for Graduates

The most common career option for a graduate with a Ph.D. in Literature is postsecondary teacher. As of May 2015, postsecondary teachers in literature earned a median annual salary of $61,990, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS reports that, between 2014 and 2024, job opportunities for these postsecondary teachers are expected to grow by 10%.

Online Ph.D. in Literature programs are rare due to the writing and research intensiveness of these programs, and those that are available, require on-campus residencies that usually take place during the summer. You will need to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in order to apply for a doctoral program in literature.

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