English Graduate Programs & Schools

English Graduate Programs: An Overview

English Graduate Programs look at the major authors, periods, and genres in literature and analyze skillful ways to apply literary criticism.

Beyond essential linguistic and literary competency, English Graduate Programs could challenge students to think analytically, read closely, and write clearly. Instead of thinking about what an English degree could do for you, ponder what you want from your Masters in English or PhD in English program.

  • Do you enjoy research and foraging through a library to look for manuscripts?
  • Would you like to sharpen skills in argument - perhaps to further study law or public administration)?
  • Are you an educator who wants to reach a certain population of students?
  • Could you benefit from instruction in how to write for electronic modalities and social media?
  • Is it your intention to further develop your writing and editing skills?
  • Does the idea of an English grad school with a research-active faculty appeal to you?

The answers to these questions are personal and informative. Use them to search for a Masters or PhD in English that might support your goals and draw out your many talents.

English Graduate Degrees written by Rana Waxman

What Does a Major in English Do?

A graduate English major does more than study English at an advanced level. Grad programs for English majors often have just a few required courses (unlike for undergrads). This way, they are often flexible and may draw content from multiple areas - Medievalism to Modernism, psychoanalysis and even popular culture.

Course lists for graduate English degree programs often include the study of the English language and literature through a wide array of topics. For instance, participants may be expected to study literary theories, literary texts and composition with a critical eye.

Coursework could take several forms, from online and live lectures to workshops. Students may be urged to take actively take part in professional conferences, publications, workshops, symposiums and productive dialogues. As a result, the study of English could be intense as well as dynamic and full of lively interaction.

While no two graduate English programs cover the same courses, take a look at some sample topics below. Then, follow up individual schools to see which syllabus appeals to your goals.

Typical Classes

  • Medieval Poetry
  • Contemporary American Novels
  • Post-colonial Studies
  • Visual Culture
  • Literary Non-fiction
  • Digital Humanities

Beyond the English Language

Many graduate English programs emphasize original scholarly work. Students might (especially in a PhD program) conduct your own research and/or engage with faculty on collaborative projects. This work could help students use analytic and problem-solving skills to evaluate and/or challenge ideas and arguments.

A 10% rise in employment for Postsecondary English Teachers is projected from 2016 to 2026.i

Admission Information

Applicants to English graduate programs may need a Bachelors degree in English or a related discipline (e.g. history, religion, liberal studies, humanities). Also, a university may want to see that a candidate has a voracious appetite for books and strong interests in writing and inquiry.

Along with a university set of standards for GPA and GRE scores (where relevant), prospective students might need to furnish an essay (goals), letters of recommendation, resume/CV, and an example of written work.

Types of Graduate English Programs

Students who want to study English at the graduate level might pursue a Masters in English (MA), and/ or a PhD in English degree. Some graduate schools for English may roll these degrees together for students who want to seamlessly earn both degrees.

Many graduate English programs also offer certificates for teaching in K-12 schools and college composition programs. These programs may be aimed at current and/or aspiring educators and could therefore include coursework in classroom strategies and lesson design. Education-oriented English degree programs might entail some type of hands-on teacher training experience. 

Masters in English Programs

A Masters in English degree program could meld courses in literary studies, theory and cultural studies, and composition and rhetoric. Curriculums for English Masters Programs differ so as to appeal to a variety of student groups and their distinct goals.

Popular Schools with English Degrees

ProgramInstitutionDegree Awarded
EnglishUniversity of LouisvilleMS
EnglishYoungstown State UniversityN/A
LiteratureDuke UniversityDHL
English - DoctorateUniversity of New HampshirePhD
EnglishFlorida Atlantic UniversityMS
EnglishCalifornia State University, NorthridgeMS
English and American Literature - DoctorateNew York UniversityPhD
English Studies - DoctorateUniversity of NottinghamPhD
EnglishMillersville UniversityMS
English: Literature & Criticism Ph.D.Indiana University Of PennsylvaniaPhD
Master of Arts in Teaching, English Education (Secondary)Western Governors UniversityMAT
M.A. in English with an Emphasis in EducationGrand Canyon UniversityMA
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In their core courses, students might first explore topics such as literary research, American and British literature along with studies in criticism. Then, degree plans usually branch out so that each student could choose a series of electives and tailor their program to their interests.

There is usually some type of final thesis or independent research project which may get students to pick up research skills. Masters in English programs may also assess students’ portfolio of work from the duration of their studies.

5 Ways to Focus an English Masters Program

In addition to a hub of core courses, students might stack a concentration. The themes for these emphases vary in each grad school, which makes it important to read program course lists. Commonly, a MA in English could come with a choice of tracks such as the ones listed below. See individual schools for other options.

  1. Literature – Built for students who plan to go on to a doctoral program, or whose primary interest is in-depth literary study. Electives could include topics such as non-fiction, fiction or modern rhetoric
  2. Writing – Planned for current teachers who plan to teach English at the secondary level, or who want to pursue a career that involves sharp written skills. For instance, elective could cover topics such as scientific and technical writing or composition theory and practice
  3. Creative Writing – Designed for individuals who want to pursue a career as an author or creative writing teachers. Or, who want to study to earn a MFA or PhD. Course topics could include fiction, non-fiction and poetry
  4. General – Intended mainly for enrichment, students might mix courses in both literature and writing
  5. Rhetoric and Pedagogy – Usually for students who want to pursue a career as community college teachers or refine their ability to teach English to high school students. Coursework could include topics such as history and theory of rhetoric and criticism, and in the history and structure of the English language

Dual Degree in English and Library Information Management – Students in this type of dual degree program might be able to apply coursework from each degree to fulfill both a MA and MLS degree at the same time.

MA in English and Education – Students who aspire to teach professional writing and communication might consider a MA in English/Education. Participants could learn how to broaden their own knowledge of writing, rhetoric and genre theories. In tandem, students could learn how to instruct these courses as well as assessment practices within teaching.

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Masters Degree in English?

Although degree requirements vary, students might need to complete from 8 to 34 credits, which a full-time student might complete in one to two years.

What Could I Do with a Masters in English?

A graduate degree in English could prepare students for a myriad of career paths where solid communication and a sharp sense of analysis are valued.

Teach. Some students might want to teach at the community college or secondary levels. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Community colleges or career and technical schools may hire those with a master’s degree.”

Study. Graduates might go onto pursue a doctoral degree in English or literature, especially if they want to teach at the university level. ii Or, study to earn a professional degree in law or business, just to name a few.

Careers. Some English graduates might seek employment within publishing or public relations. iii Or pursue a career in writing (creative and/or technical), editing, or journalism.iv

PhD in English Programs

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in English is a research degree and the highest academic degree in this discipline. PhD students often learn to master the traditional discipline of literary study as well as discover the richness of contemporary streams.

Beyond breadth of knowledge, one could look to an English PhD program to cultivate expertise and garner insight from a mentor. Faculty may be versed (and/or published) and may guide students who too, seek to publish.

Candidates may have the chance to select from a wide range of courses and often do so in consultation with faculty advisors. For instance, in some programs, topics might span modern theory, historical periods in English and American literature to composition.

PhD students may only be required to take a few seminars, a course in composition theory and pedagogy, and one research colloquium. Otherwise the content and range of a candidate's work may be built around graduate courses, tutorials, and directed research.

Apart from the this, PhD students typically proceed through a streamlined series of exams which culminate in a dissertation prospectus exam and the writing of the dissertation. Through these projects students often become well-versed in theoretical pproaches, research, and bibliography.

Here are a few potential areas that may be associated with Doctorate in English programs.

PhD in Medieval Studies: Coursework could take a deep dive into the theatrical space of Shakespeare’s scholarship and Milton’s great works like Paradise Lost. Students might be immersed in Medieval English, Renaissance literature and critical theory.

PhD in Nineteen-Century Studies: Courses might examine the Victorian Novel, English Poetry, Digital Textuality, Realism and Poetics. Students might look at the work of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the light of today’s aesthetics and culture.

PhD in Modern Literature and Culture: Could offer students a plethora of readings in Modernism, Postmodern, and Contemporary literature. Courses could bring up issues of class identity, ethics, nationhood and religion.

PhD in Textual Studies and Digital Humanities: Students could examine digital texts and media as well as ways to apply computing to humanities research. Courses might have students investigating original documents, whether manuscript, print, or electronic. Students might learn about processes of composition, revision, editing, printing, production, distribution, and reception.

How Many Years Does It Take to Get a PhD in English?

Coursework in a PhD English program might be completed by a full-time student within three years (two years for students entering with the MA degree). The qualifying exams and dissertation could add two to three more years of study.

What Could I Do with a PhD in English?

Graduates who aspire to teach English to university students might consider a PhD in English. Per the BLS, Postsecondary teachers who work for 4-year colleges and universities typically need a doctoral degree in their field.i

Graduate Certificate in English Programs

A Graduate Certificate in English is a non-degree program that usually commits students to a few courses in a singular theme. For instance, teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL).

Some universities may offer certificates concurrently with an English graduate program or a program from another Department. These tend to build a focused set of skills and knowledge much like a concentration.

Study English Online or On-campus

Another thing to think about is whether you want to pursue a Graduate degree in English online or on campus.

Since PhD programs tend to take longer, some students may want to relocate for the experience and perhaps, the library of a destination university. If this speaks to you, use the menu to find Graduate Schools in English in a specific city (E.g. Boston), or state (E.g. California).

For students who are already at-work or have to juggle other aspects of a busy life, an online graduate English program may be more convenient. Most programs simulate in-person discussion and feedback, or focus more on independent study.

Top States for Employment: Writers and Authors
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York2,890$78,030

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Writers and Authors
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV$87,3002,240
Knoxville, TN$84,810Not Reported
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA$77,6904,830
Fort Collins, CO$77,11030
Norwich-New London-Westerly, CT-RI$75,77040

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Sources:[i] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-6 | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-4 | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/management/advertising-promotions-and-marketing-managers.htm#tab-4 | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/writers-and-authors.htm#tab-4 |

Top 17 Graduate Schools with English Programs

  • No application fee for April & June terms
  • Some of the nation's most affordable tuition rates, from a private, nonprofit, NEASC accredited university
  • Qualified students with 2.5 GPA and up may receive up to $20K in grants & scholarships
  • Multiple term start dates throughout the year. 24/7 online classroom access
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