English Graduate Programs Overview

English graduate programs offer students the opportunity to develop critical reading skills, improve their writing and build teaching skills. They're available at both the master's and Ph.D. levels.

Essential Information

English graduate programs explore literary theory and genres. Graduate-level studies in English typically are designed to prepare students to pursue academic careers in secondary or postsecondary settings. Most programs require a thesis or dissertation for graduation. Some schools offer online programs.

Master's programs typically require applicants to possess a bachelor's degree, though only rarely do programs require a baccalaureate degree in English. Ph.D. programs in English also require applicants to possess a bachelor's degree; students with a master's degree in English can often apply previously completed coursework towards the degree requirements for the Ph.D. Most programs require applicants to submit a critical writing sample, demonstrating both their thinking and writing skills. GRE scores are typically required for both master's and Ph.D. programs.


Master's Degree in English

Master's degrees in English are most commonly available in the field of English literature; in these graduate programs, students may study a broad range of English writing or a particular era, such as pre-1800s British literature or early 20th century American literature. Other possible areas of specialization include creative writing, children's literature or English education; all of these programs typically include a significant literature component. Common courses include the following:

  • The works of Shakespeare
  • Chaucer and Middle English
  • American Indian literature
  • Contemporary American poetry
  • 19th century Romantic poetry
  • Fiction writing and non-fiction writing workshops

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Ph.D. in English

Most Ph.D programs in English allow students to concentrate their studies in a particular sub-discipline of English literature or language studies. This typically involves extensive reading of literature, theory and criticism, as well as the writing of a doctoral thesis. While much a student's time in an English Ph.D. program is devoted to research and a dissertation, courses to be taken generally reflect the student's area of interest or address gaps in previous English education. Common courses include the following:

  • The Bible and other religious literature
  • African-American literature
  • Modernist literature
  • Advanced literary theory
  • Victorian literature
  • Early American literature

Popular Career Options

Ph.D. programs in English are primarily intended for aspiring college and university educators. A master's degree program in English prepares the graduate for careers necessitating a strong command of literature, linguistics and editorial skills. Graduates work in schools, libraries, publishing companies and other organizations in positions such as the following:

  • High school or middle school English teacher
  • Librarian
  • Writer
  • Editor
  • Literary critic

Career Outlook and Salary Info

The most commonly pursued position by graduates of English Ph.D. programs is in postsecondary education as an English language and literature teacher. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, postsecondary teaching jobs across all disciplines are expected to grow by 13% between 2014 and 2024. However, many of these jobs are part-time and non-tenured positions due to budget cuts in higher education, according to the BLS. The median annual salary of English professors and other postsecondary teachers was $61,990 in 2015.

Graduate programs in English may be offered at the master's and doctoral levels. These programs can include various concentrations for students to focus on, including creative writing, contemporary poetry, modernist literature, and many more. Graduates of these programs can continue into careers as writers, teachers, and editors, among others.


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