Best Online PhD in English

Timelines, Programs and Resources for English Students

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The time commitment for earning and online PhD in English is equal to that of earning the same degree on campus. Students will hone their research skills, take on self-motivated projects, collaborate with elite academics and ultimately present a culmination of their research as a contribution to the area of English they chose to study. After graduation, students can pursue careers in academia, as well as fields like business, law or advertising. English PhD graduates are typically excellent communicators, and this guide explores where and how to earn these doctoral credentials through distance learning.

Timeline: Earning an Online PhD in English

Earning an English doctoral degree through an online program tests a student's ability to study and research intensively on their own time. It requires a great deal of commitment, but even distance learning programs include students in academic discussions with their thesis advisors and other faculty members in the English department. The following timeline provides a helpful guide for online students to navigate through their program with, from applications through graduation.

Application Process

Because an English PhD is such a high-level degree, applicants must be prepared to provide examples of their best work and explain why they would do well in a certain program. They must show their commitment to English and literature in order to be accepted.

Completed master’s degree and transcripts

This prior graduate degree should be in English or a closely related field, and applicants should have earned it through an accredited institution. Programs will ask for official transcripts to be sent from all higher learning institutions that an applicant attended.

GRE scores

There may be a minimum scoring requirement in the reading and verbal areas of the GRE for doctoral level English applicants, but all programs will want to see general scores from this exam taken within the last five years.

Personal statement

This personal essay is where an applicant outlines their professional, academic and research goals and how the specific online PhD program in English will help them achieve these goals. Applicants should also note what degree emphasis they are interested in pursuing within English, depending on what the school offers.

Writing sample

English PhD applicants must include a writing sample with their application, usually around 20 double-spaced pages, that is on a topic related to their specialization or English expertise.

Recommendation letters

Online PhD programs will ask for letters of recommendation from sources that are able to comment on an applicant’s readiness to attend a graduate program in English.


English PhD programs will take academic qualifications and professional experience into account. Some consider this an integral part of application requirements for doctoral-level English students.

Demonstration of learning commitment

Because online English PhDs require self-motivated, research-intensive study, applicants may be asked to demonstrate their ability to make time, use relevant technologies and facilities, and commit fully to distance learning. Previous experience with online education programs is helpful.

Year 1 Milestones

The first year of an online English doctoral program is the last chance a student has to play the academic field. After this year, or sometimes even before applying to the program, English PhD students must choose an area of English to specialize in and study intensively. This is where they will devote all of their attention to throughout their PhD program.

Choose a concentration

Any undecided students need to choose a focus within English in the first year of an online PhD program in order to direct their future research and prepare for their final thesis. Concentrations may be in a specific time period of literature, or more general concentrations like technology and media studies.

Refine research practices

Throughout the English PhD program, students will design and conduct empirical research with literature, including various scholarly approaches to writing such as ethnography and feminist research.

Investigate faculty member advisors

Because professors are such a major component of a PhD program in English, students should begin looking for faculty advisors early. This usually involves finding a professor who specializes in the student’s chosen area of specialty.

Year 2 Milestones

Second-year English doctoral students must complete all specialized courses in their area of specialty. Some may choose to take more electives, which may mean more time in school. This is also the year English PhD students will begin to prepare for their final theses and dissertations.

Concentration courses and electives

Because English PhD areas of specialization vary, students are usually required to complete courses within their specialization during this year. These can be in subject areas such as historical literature, or theories around rhetoric and writing. There will also be other required courses and a certain number of electives second-year English PhD students must take in addition to these specialty studies.

Critical research and applications

Online PhD programs teach English students to think and reason outside the box, using uncharted paths. They will have to investigate topics with a critical eye, exploring previous research but not relying on others’ opinions for their own findings.

Prepare for a research project

Students should begin cultivating ideas and relevant sources of research material for their final English PhD thesis as soon as they have decided on concentrations. This final, culminating project will exemplify their academic achievement and is needed to become experts in their field.

Year 3 Milestones

The final year of an English PhD program is completely devoted to a student’s final thesis and dissertation. Their entire academic career has honed their research skills, critical thinking, writing and speaking abilities to reach this pinnacle of academic achievement.

Dissertation hours

Different online PhD programs in English may have specific dissertation courses that prepare students to develop, initially research, refine, and organize a topic for their thesis and defense. Faculty members oversee research and bibliography construction. All core, field, specialized and elective coursework needs to be completed before undertaking preparations for a dissertation.

Doctoral candidacy exams

After completing class and research requirements, some online English PhD programs require students to pass an exam designed specifically for student’s chosen field and the projects they hope to pursue. If a student does not pass, they will not be allowed to submit their research proposal or work on their dissertation. These students will need to re-evaluate and re-test.

Apply for a research project

Before starting research preparing for the defense on their English PhD thesis, students must find a faculty advisor and submit a research proposal. This is to ensure that they are pursuing interesting, relevant, original research in the field, that they have planned their research and thesis well and that they are completely prepared for rigorous academic work.

Independent, relevant research

The final stage of a student’s English doctoral program focuses completely on research into the specialization that they have chosen to study. English PhD students must apply their researching, analysis and writing skills, under the supervision of a faculty advisor, to complete their thesis.

Graduation Requirements

Graduating from a PhD program in English is a testament to a student’s research ability and their commitment to the subject. They have defended their skills before a panel of successful academics. This is the most important requirement for a PhD, but there are a few other key requirements for an online degree that English PhD students must also meet.

Completed coursework

Because English doctoral degree studies build upon a student’s experience with research in their chosen field, they must complete each online course to the professor’s satisfaction before proceeding in the program. Most PhD programs have minimum GPA requirements that students must meet to remain in the program.

Tests and trainings

While individual English professors may administer exams to their PhD students, the online university itself may have test requirements that accepted students must fulfill, usually to establish a common base knowledge of good research practices.

On-campus requirements

Some programs may require online PhD student to attend a specified amount of English classes on-campus. These residential credit hours must be fulfilled before a student can graduate.

Thesis and defense

All English PhD programs require students to complete an original thesis or dissertation under the supervision of an advisor. Defending the value and work of this thesis to a panel of fellow English academics is also major part of earning a doctorate.

Core Principles & Skills Learned in Online English PhD Programs

PhD in English

  • Literature and culture

    Students concentrating on an English PhD in world literature or the intersection of history and literature will gain experience with critical theories, reading texts through perspectives that range from feminism to post-colonialism. They will also apply these methodologies to literature and media in general.

  • Rhetoric and communication

    All PhD students will learn how to research critically, compose arguments and information effectively and communicate clearly in writing and orally. English students may decide to study the history and theory of rhetoric, writing program administration, or how rhetoric and language affect people, society, culture and politics.

  • Technology resources

    Online PhD programs in English use technology to teach and research, but students in these programs learn to explore the value of technology and media as it pertains to scholarship. Students learn practical solutions for academic and industry positions where they can use the research and strategy skills they learned in their English PhD programs.

Spotlight: 2017 Online PhD Programs in English

The best thing about online programs is that students have the opportunity to enroll in the best schools, no matter where they are located geographically. The following list spotlights the best accredited English PhD programs that offer online degrees in the nation, base on a variety of factors important to students. This information can provide a base for students to begin digging deeper into each program to find the best overall fit.

University of Florida

University of Florida students have access to more than 200 research and education centers, and institutes. PhD degree in English at Florida provides doctoral students with more than 20 specialized academic tracks across all eras, genres, and theoretical/critical schools of thought. Students entering with a bachelor’s degree must complete a 90 credit hour degree. Students with an English master’s degree from another school must complete 60 hours required toward the PhD. Courses include studies in the track area, related studies, electives, and master’s research including a thesis and comprehensive oral examination. PhD students must complete foreign language requirements and defend a dissertation based on original scholarly research.

  • In-State Tuition$6,313
  • Student Population50,645
  • Percentage of Students Receiving Financial Aid89%
  • Number of Students per Instructor21
Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University opened in 1923. In 2013, 10 Texas Tech faculty members received Fulbright Scholarships, the most for any faculty in the nation. The PhD in English program reflects the university’s commitment to academic excellence, offering students the opportunity to advance scholarship in their field while concurrently learning to teach in multiple English disciplines. Areas of emphasis include British Literature, American Literature, Linguistics, Creative Writing, or Comparative Literature, Globalization and Translation. New specializations have been recently developed in 19th Century literature, Book History, Literature, Social Justice, and Environment, and Film & Media Studies.

  • In-State Tuition$7,811
  • Student Population35,859
  • Percentage of Students Receiving Financial Aid53%
  • Number of Students per Instructor22

Your Degree: What Can I Do with a PhD in English?

An online PhD in English typically leads graduates into academia, as professors who teach English students and continue to study, research and publish papers in their field. This does not always have to be the case, however. Graduates from English PhD programs have proven their ability to focus, research, reason, write and explore: all qualities that can be essential in many job markets. Take a look at some examples of career paths a PhD in English could lead to below.

Browse PhD in English Careers
English Professor

English professors teach English and literature studies at a collegiate level. They may teach classes in their chosen area of specialization, such as literature from a certain period in history. Conducting research, remaining current in their field and publishing research papers is also a major part of an English professor's job.

Job Growth (2014-2024)

13 %

Median Annual Salary (May 2015)


Grant Writer

Grant writers research, write and submit funding proposals for organizations, institutions, programs and individuals. They ask for sums of money from government or private foundations, tailoring their requests to connect the specific missions of their organization or program. Typically, grant writers request funding from programs designed to aid specific types of organizations or programs.

Job Growth (2014-2024)

Data unavailable

Median Annual Salary (May 2015)


Urban and Regional Planner

These professionals plan ways to use lands and programs to create communities, facilitate growth, generate interest in revitalization efforts and study the inner workings of cities and counties, in both metro and rural areas. They work with teams of people who have a wide range of skills, from infrastructure and construction to data gathering and surveying. They are great communicators and problem solvers.

Job Growth (2014-2024)

6.3 %

Median Annual Salary (May 2015)


Survey Researcher

In addition to conducting surveys and analyzing their data, survey researches design a wide variety of information gathering tools to ask questions. Their objective is to understand the perspectives, beliefs, traditions and preferences different people hold based on a variety of factors, such as demographics or economic group. Survey researchers can cover work across any number of fields, from advertising to politics.

Job Growth (2014-2024)

12 %

Median Annual Salary (May 2015)


Additional English PhD Resources

Below is a collection of free online resources for current PhD students, English and humanities membership organizations, and career and networking resources for English PhD graduates seeking careers beyond colleges or universities. English PhD scholars dedicate their time to very narrow areas of literature, but the skills can be applied in so many different jobs and situations.


This grassroots academic membership organization provides a database of humanities scholars in various careers for networking purposes, as well as publishing humanities papers on alternative careers in an effort to encourage graduate studies and career pursuits outside of academia.

Life After the PhD

Doctoral program graduates discuss their lives and career paths on this website. There are also links to resources for students curious about careers outside academia.

Modern Language Association

From conventions to governmental policies, the MLA advocates for studying and teaching language and literature. There are many professional resources for scholars and teachers.

The National Council of Teachers of English

This organization has a section of their website dedicated to professionals who teach English at the college level.


This online subscriber forum is a support group for PhD students struggling to finish their theses and dissertations. Various PhD candidates and graduate members can help each other find resources and finish theses.

Project Gutenberg

Over 50,000 free ebooks are available through this donation-run website. Students interested in older works of literature may find this to be a valuable source for research projects.

Versatile PhD

This online forum is a professional community that explores non-academic, non-faculty careers for PhD graduates in several areas, including the humanities. Members can see job listings, community posts, local meetup calendars, and more.

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