2021 Best Online PhD in English Programs

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Earning an online PhD in English can help you set yourself apart as an expert in language and literature.

Online PhD in English Programs

With a doctorate in English, you may be able to establish your career as an academic or grow in your role as a practitioner. Your interests in this field might include writing, English literature, language mechanics, film, or persuasive speech.

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English doctoral programs allow you to pursue your passions or to work toward a respected degree that can help provide a boost for your career.

Online PhD in English Degree Programs

English Degree Programs

A PhD in English is a terminal degree in this field. Earning it can signify that you’re an expert who is qualified to train or lead others. English is a diverse field. Doctoral studies allow you to spend several years engaged in topics that are of great interest to you.

By the time you finish your program, not only will you be a better writer or a more informed reader, but you’ll also have completed an extensive research project and presented it to authorities in your field.

English doctoral studies may focus on writing or literary criticism. If your bent is toward writing, your studies might emphasize persuasive nonfiction, humor, or creative writing. Linguistics could be a focus of your studies as well.

If literary criticism is your preference, you may study American, British, or global literature. You may also study works centered around a particular demographic, such as young adults. Literary criticism is also relevant to film studies.

The studies you undertake may address:

  • Genres
  • Historical literature
  • Literacy
  • Modern writing
  • Second-language studies
  • Research
  • Rhetoric
  • Teaching

There are often several semesters of coursework to complete as part of a doctoral program. You might take written and oral examinations along the way.

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One of the most essential components of a PhD program is the dissertation. This original project involves undertaking research, performing analyses of your findings, and composing a major paper that presents your data and conclusions. The doctoral program will be set up to help you go through the dissertation process step by step.

Once you have completed your work, you’ll defend your dissertation before a team of faculty members or other experts. If you defend it successfully, you’ll have earned your PhD title. One of the most common reasons to get a doctorate in English is to become a college professor.

Alternatively, PhD graduates may have hopes of developing careers as journalists or public relations directors. Having a PhD might also qualify you to work as a postsecondary education administrator or a museum researcher.

Careers & Salaries

PhD in English Careers & Salaries

The education field is a top career goal for many students entering English Ph.D. programs. For many, the goal is to teach at the college level. With a doctoral degree and experience, you might qualify for a tenured position someday.

As a college professor, you could share your love of language with new students each year. You could teach at the undergraduate or graduate level and help your students grow their communication skills. You might also be able to work as a researcher at the school.

For a job outside of the classroom, you could consider pursuing a postsecondary education administrator position. Having a PhD is often a requirement for academic deans and provosts. Other administration jobs include registrar or student affairs director. Younger students can benefit from your doctoral knowledge as well.

In high school classrooms, your love of books and language might inspire students to become lifelong writers, readers, or scholars. Typically, a teaching license is also required for high school teachers in addition to a degree.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in media and communications earn a median annual salary of $61,310, making an English degree worth it for many students.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers $118,430
Postsecondary Education Administrators $97,500
Technical Writers $74,650
Postsecondary English Language and Literature Teachers $69,000
Writers and Authors $67,120
Editors $63,400
High School Teachers $62,870
Public Relations Specialists $62,810
Archivists $56,760
News Analysts, Reporters, and Journalists $49,300

These figures represent national income averages. Actual salaries can vary based on factors like geographic location, job title, and experience. Research isn’t only conducted on college campuses, so PhD graduates can attain research jobs in other settings too. For example, you might oversee a collection of old books in a museum.

Taking doctoral-level English classes and preparing a dissertation can allow you to further develop your communication skills. Expert communicators are needed in a wide range of positions, including public relations specialists and managers in the business world.

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Publishing is another field that might be of interest to you. You could draw on your English education while working as a novelist, a nonfiction writer, a journalist, or an editor.

English PhD Curriculum & Courses

English PhD Curriculum

Although the dissertation project plays a major role in a PhD program, you’ll take classes too. There’s usually a wide range of courses from which you can choose, but examples include:

  • Academic Writing in Linguistics: For students who haven’t completed graduate-level writing projects before, a course like this teaches appropriate formatting and bibliography styles.
  • Gender Theory in Literature: The texts that you read or films that you watch in this class will address issues of gender and sexuality.
  • Intersection of Language and Behavior: A course on sociolinguistics could influence how you view people’s behaviors and interactions.
  • Literary Criticism Through the Years: Your time in this course may address how worldviews and philosophies have shaped literary theories.
  • Literacy Studies: You may take a class that deals with the acquisition of reading skills and how literacy leaders can remove barriers to fluency.
  • Methods of Teaching English: In this course, you can prepare for a career in college classrooms.
  • Practice of Literary Professions: This class explores what it means to be a literary professional and discusses practices that can enhance your work.
  • Research in Applied Linguistics: You can get ready to work on your dissertation by studying quantitative and qualitative research methods.
  • Shakespearean Works: In a class on Shakespeare, you might study his plays and sonnets as well as his historical setting.
  • Writing Workshop: A workshop course may refine your writing skills in a particular style, such as poetry or short stories.

If you already hold a masters degree in English, you may have to take fewer classes than someone without that educational background.

Admissions Requirements

PhD in English Programs Admissions

There can be stiff competition for securing a spot in some PhD programs. When you submit admissions materials like those listed below, it’s beneficial to put forth your best effort so your application may stand out.

  • Academic writing sample
  • Letters of recommendation from past professors
  • Official college transcripts
  • Resume or curriculum vitae

Some colleges will request your GRE scores, but standardized tests are not a universal requirement. Some programs may want your college transcripts to reflect a minimum GPA or previous English studies.


PhD in English Programs Accreditation

Most universities will only hire professors whose PhDs were earned at regionally accredited colleges. That’s because regional accreditation is generally considered the mark of a reputable school.

Regional accreditation can be critical even if you’re not aiming for an academic job. All sorts of employers consider accreditation status when reviewing a job candidate’s academic background.

There are seven US organizations that are authorized to evaluate colleges to determine whether they qualify for regional accreditation. Accreditation from any of these seven organizations is equally valid.

Financial Aid & Scholarships

PhD in English Programs Financial Aid

Doctoral students often qualify for financial aid, but it may look rather different from the student assistance that you may have received as an undergraduate student. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is still a good place to start, though.

You might be able to borrow government money through a student loan program. Grants are less common for graduate students than they are for undergrads.

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Fortunately, many colleges pick up a large part of their doctoral students’ tuition costs. Often, this financial assistance is provided in exchange for taking on teaching or research responsibilities. There may even be a stipend involved.

Private scholarships and fellowships may knock out a portion of your costs as well. Awards can be available through philanthropic groups or industry associations. Employer assistance might be another avenue to try. If you’re working full-time while attending school online, you might qualify for tuition reimbursement through your job.

Professional Organizations for English & Literature

Professional Organizations for English

You can build up your professional network by joining an industry organization. You might be able to connect with other English experts through conferences, local meetings, and online forums. Some common English and literature organizations include:

In addition to networking opportunities, membership in a professional organization can likely give you access to journals, continuing education courses, job boards, online resource libraries, discounts, and other benefits.

What Can You Do with an English PhD?

English PhD

Becoming a professor is a common career goal for professionals with a PhD in English. Postsecondary educators may also head up research projects. With state certification, you could also pursue an English education job at lower levels. Being a high school literature teacher is one popular example.

Online English PhD programs can help prepare you for jobs in other industries as well. For instance, your developed communication skills can apply well to a public relations manager position. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, PR professionals often work in corporate businesses and civic organizations.

Can You Get a PhD in English Online?

Yes, just as you can earn a masters in English online, there are many online PhD in English programs. If you live far away from your school of choice, distance learning may be an ideal option for you. Online learning can also be an asset if you plan to balance school and a full-time job.

In an online English degree program, you’ll take courses just like you would on campus. There might be lectures to watch, texts to read, discussions to engage in, and projects to complete. Writing a dissertation can be done from a distance too. You’ll still be able to consult your faculty mentors, though, and receive their feedback.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in English Online?

Get a PhD in English

In general, you can expect to spend 3 to 5 years completing an online PhD in English Lit or Rhetoric.

Your required course load is one factor that helps determine the overall length of your program. Students who already have masters degrees in English often take fewer classes than those who are coming straight from bachelors programs.

Your dissertation process will be another significant time factor. It can take several years to complete your research, write your paper, and successfully defend it. Some schools allow you to stay enrolled for many semesters while finishing the process.

What’s the Difference Between Comparative Literature vs. English Literature?

Comparative Literature vs. English Literature

Students in English literature programs study writings from the English-speaking world, especially British and American works. Comparative literature students study pieces written in multiple languages.

Comp lit may offer:

  • Foreign language study
  • Interdisciplinary curriculum
  • Study abroad options
  • Work opportunities in education, translation, and writing

English lit may offer:

  • Creative writing sessions
  • Focus on historical texts
  • Reading groups and student journals
  • Work opportunities in education, film, writing, and editing

In either program, you can expect to spend a lot of time reading.

Is a PhD in English Worth It?

Yes, a PhD in English is worth it for many professionals. Many PhD graduates start academic careers. Most university professors must hold PhDs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 9% job growth for postsecondary educators over the next ten years.

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English studies can also expand your world. As you read multicultural works and explore literature from different eras, you may become a more well-rounded, cultured person. In addition, your developed communication skills can serve you well in any line of work.

Universities Offering Online PhD in English Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Murray State University

Murray State University

Murray State University offers an online Doctor of Arts in English program. Students may choose between one of four specializations: Language, Literacy, Literature, or Writing.

The program offers a route for students with a master’s degree and another route for those with only a bachelor’s degree. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.2 or higher and 3 letters of reference.

Murray State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Northcentral University

Northcentral University

Northcentral University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Education with a specialization in English Language Learning. Students must complete 60 credit hours to graduate. The program can typically be completed in 37 months. Applicants must submit an online application with official transcripts when applying.

Northcentral University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University offers an online Doctor of Philosophy in English program. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher, a master’s degree, and 3 letters of reference to be eligible.

Students in the program choose two areas of emphasis. Options to choose from include Literary and Cultural Studies, Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse, Technology and Media, or a student-designed emphasis.

Old Dominion University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Rowan University

Rowan University

Rowan University offers an online program for a PhD in Education with a concentration in Literacy Education.

Students must complete 72 semester hours, with 21 hours dedicated to a dissertation and 15 hours towards a language concentration. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of 3.0, 3 letters of recommendation, an essay, and official transcripts from previous institutions.

Rowan University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

St. John’s University

St Johns University

St. John’s University offers an online PhD in Literacy. Students may choose between one of two specializations: Literacy or TESOL and Bilingual Education. To graduate, students must complete 42 credits and a dissertation. Applicants must have a master’s degree in any field with a minimum GPA of 3.2 and 2 letters of recommendation.

St. John’s University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

SUNY – Albany

SUNY Albany

SUNY—Albany offers an online program to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Literacy for those interested in teaching the subject.

Students must complete 66 credit hours, take a comprehensive exam, and complete a dissertation to graduate. To be eligible for the program, applicants must submit 3 letters of recommendation, transcripts from all schools attended, and GRE scores.

SUNY – Albany is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Texas Woman’s University

Texas Woman's University

Texas Woman’s University offers a PhD in Rhetoric. Students must finish 90 credits, with 12 credits dedicated to a dissertation and 30 to electives.

Applicants must have a master’s degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0. If the applicant doesn’t have a background in English, they will be required to complete a deficiency plan before starting the program.

Texas Woman’s University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Texas A and M University

Texas A and M University

Texas A&M University offers a PhD in English for those interested in teaching. To graduate, students must complete a residency working as a teaching assistant, finish a dissertation, and complete a qualifying examination.

Applicants must submit official transcripts from previous institutions they’ve attended, 4 letters of recommendation, and GRE scores.

Texas A&M University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University offers an online PhD in Technical Communication and Rhetoric program. Applicants must submit transcripts, 3 letters of recommendation, and a letter of intent when applying. 

To graduate, students must complete 72 credit hours, including 12 dedicated to a dissertation. One of five areas of emphasis, including Technology, Culture, and Rhetoric and Technical Communication, must be chosen to complete the degree.

Texas Tech University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of New Mexico

University of New Mexico

The University of New Mexico offers an online PhD in Rhetoric and Writing program. Students must complete 51 credit hours, pass 3 exams, meet the foreign language requirement, and write a doctoral dissertation to graduate.

Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, 3 letters of recommendation, and a 20 page writing sample that demonstrates the applicant’s research and analytical skills.

The University of New Mexico is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Earning Your PhD in English Online

PhD in English Online

If you’re passionate about English lit and language, you might want to get a PhD in English. PhD graduates may become professors, hold research positions, or advance their careers in business, education, or journalism.

For a grad school experience that works with your life and schedule, you might think about earning your doctorate online. Accredited online schools offer solid academics and flexible scheduling. The coursework is comparable to what you’d find in on-campus classrooms, and online faculty members offer dissertation support as well.

If you’re ready to find the online PhD in English program that best fits your goals and preferences, you can start by exploring accredited universities.

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Jordan Meeks
Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.