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Ph.D. Comparative Literature

The Program in Comparative Literature at the University of Maryland, distinguished by its emphasis on reading in original languages, promotes the rigorous study of multi-disciplinary texts, discourses and media.

Students admitted into Maryland’s very selective comparative literature program benefit from interactions with an internationally recognized core faculty with strengths in literatures of the Americas, the Atlantic, Africa and the African Diaspora, Europe, and Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, as well as expertise in literary theory, postcolonial studies, digital humanities, film and LGBT studies.

Students entering our rigorous five-year Ph.D. program must already hold a B.A. or M.A. degree either in English or in another language and literature. All admitted students receive support in the form of fellowships, teaching assistantships or a combination of both.

Since the University of Maryland is located just 10 miles from Washington, D.C., we have easy access to the city’s rich cultural and scholarly resources, including the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the Folger Shakespeare Library and the National Archives. By enrolling in our program, comparative literature students join an exciting, diverse, engaged and thriving intellectual community.

Satisfactory Progress

Students will meet with the graduate director at least once a semester during the first year to assess progress and the advisability of the student’s intended degree track. Students are also required to meet with the director once a year until the completion of their degree.

Incompletes: Although we recognize emergencies can occur that may warrant a student’s requesting an incomplete, we discourage students from taking incompletes. The student requesting an incomplete and the instructor granting it must notify the Graduate Office that they are electing the incomplete option by the end of the semester in which the incomplete is taken (please see form here). Coursework related to the incomplete must be finished by the end of the next semester and students may not take their qualifying exams with outstanding incompletes.

Students who entered the program as of Fall 2019 are expected to complete their coursework by no later than their fifth semester in the program. Students who entered the program before Fall 2019 are expected to complete their coursework by no later than their third semester in the program

Students who entered the program as of Fall 2019 are expected to advance to candidacy by successfully passing their qualifying examination by their sixth semester in the program. Students who entered the program before Fall 2019 are expected to advance to candidacy by successfully passing their qualifying examination by their fourth semester.

Students must file an approved dissertation prospectus no later than four months following the qualifying examination.

Students must achieve a GPA of at least 3.5 to proceed to the qualifying examination. Likewise, incompletes must be completed before a student may proceed to the qualifying examination. Exceptions may be granted by the DGS only in extreme and extenuating circumstances.

Students must keep regular contact with the DGS and their dissertation committee upon achieving candidacy and submitting an approved prospectus.

Students must defend their dissertation by the end of their fifth year in the program.

For extensions to this schedule, students may petition the DGS through their dissertation committees.

Course Requirements

The CMLT program requires 10 courses, completed in four semesters of coursework. These courses will establish coverage in English and one other language’s literature. These requirements include ENGL602 (“Critical Theory and Literary Criticism”), ENGL 611 (“Approaches to College Composition”), 1 graduate level course with significant engagement with historical perspectives; 2 CMLT designated seminars, 1 of which concerns the history and theory of media (e.g. film, history of the book, digital studies), and 5 remaining courses, selected with the director and advisor. If appropriate graduate classes are not offered in your non-English language of choice, you may substitute independent studies or 400 level courses, with the comparative literature director’s permission.  

At the end of each semester of coursework, you must meet with the director and your advising team to fill out your self-evaluation form, which can be found on the website under Paperwork and Deadlines.

Language Proficiency

Students are expected to enter the program with advanced proficiency in English and at least one other language. Advanced language proficiency is defined as the ability to do graduate level work in the chosen language. All CMLT students entering Fall 2019 onwards will be expected to take a language exam which will consist of translating into English a brief passage of critical scholarly prose. Alternatively, students can demonstrate proficiency by holding an M.A. in the language or by the completion of courses in the target language at or above the 400 level.

Qualifying Exam

By the end of the second semester you should begin the process of identifying a director for the qualifying exam. The director should be able to guide you in a comparative approach to the literatures you intend to work with for your dissertation. Your director must be on the CMLT faculty. If you would like a director who is not currently on the CMLT faculty, please contact the graduate director. We can discuss options for a co-director situation.

The guidelines for the qualifying examination in comparative literature require students to prepare two lists totaling 120‐150 works and an examination committee of at least four faculty members, including the director(s). The general list (covering works in all languages the student will be working in) is oriented toward primary sources of a field of literature and/or critical theory. The focused/special topic list (also covering works in all languages the student will be working in) is for secondary/critical sources on a subject linked to the proposed dissertation topic. In consultation of the examination committee, a scope for both lists will be established prior to establishing the list.

Once the list is drawn up, the student must have their committee sign the CMLT Qualifying Exam Form and submit it, along with your reading list, to the Graduate Office when you come in to schedule your exam, at least one month prior to taking the exam.

The student is given two questions one week before the examination. These questions, written by the co-directors or the director and committee members in consultation with one another, will allow you to answer comparatively between the multiple literary traditions and theory covered on your reading lists. These questions will be forwarded to you one week before the exam by the graduate coordinator. The student will prepare a 20-minute presentation on one of them. A question and answer period on the presentation completes the first hour to 90 minutes of the exam. The examiners should be satisfied that you have answered questions satisfactorily in their area[s] of expertise. The second hour of the exam is devoted to a more general consideration of the material on the lists, with opportunities for comparisons between the linguistic traditions and theories. 

Advancement to Candidacy

Once you pass your qualifying exams, you must submit the Application for Advancement to Candidacy Form to the Graduate Office in 2116 Tawes. Candidacy forms to be submitted can be found in Deadlines and Paperwork. Teaching assistants receive a step promotion and a small raise in stipend once they have advanced to candidacy. Upon advancing to candidacy, the student has four years to complete the dissertation; the Graduate School grants extensions only in extreme circumstances. Students generally complete the dissertation in 2-3 years.


The prospectus is to be submitted within four months of passing the qualifying exam. The prospectus establishes that the student has defined a research question that is worth pursuing and has the knowledge base to pursue it. The prospectus should be developed in consultation with your committee.

The prospectus should demonstrate that the student:

- has defined and delimited an interesting research question

- can explain the importance of the research question and the contribution that it will make to the field

- is familiar with the existing scholarship related to the research question and can describe the relationship of the dissertation project to that scholarship (review of the literature)

- has developed a theoretical framework for the argument and a methodology for your project

The prospectus should be between 8-12 pages in length. It should be written in clear prose and include a bibliography. The prospectus, including a one-page abstract and the completed prospectus form (signed by the first three committee members), should be turned in to the comparative literature graduate director.


Students at this stage of the program have successfully passed the qualifying exam and have advanced to candidacy. Ph.D. candidates are expected to file an approved dissertation prospectus within four months of passing the qualifying exam. At least three of the four members of the student’s dissertation committee are expected to meet annually with the student to review progress. A successful defense of dissertation is the final requirement for the degree. All graduate students must register for courses and pay associated tuition and fees each semester, not including summer and winter sessions, until the degree is awarded. We encourage all students to seek in-state student status within two years of entering the program.

Dissertation Committee

The Ph.D. student should be thinking about assembling a Dissertation Committee while still taking courses and identifying areas of specialization for the Qualifying Examination. A Dissertation Committee consists of four faculty members, who advise the student on his/her dissertation. In many cases, the dissertation committee is the same as the Qualifying Examination committee. The Ph.D. student should consult with the director of Graduate Studies and his or her advising team concerning the selection of the Dissertation Committee. Your director must be a member of the comparative literature faculty; however, we can discuss co-director possibilities if you would like someone not on the faculty to direct.

Dissertation Workshop

We urge students to take the Dissertation Workshop (1 credit of ENGL898) in the semester following successful passage of the Qualifying Examination. Taught by members of the department’s faculty and convened weekly as a seminar, usually during the fall semester, the workshop concentrates on helping students advance their work on the dissertation, whether they are developing a prospectus or writing individual chapters.

Dissertation Defense Committee

When the dissertation is nearly complete and the major advisor has approved moving on to this penultimate step, the Ph.D. candidate 1) submits to the Graduate School a request to appoint the Dissertation Defense Committee and 2) schedules the dissertation defense. Consisting of five faculty, this committee normally includes the four members of the candidate's Dissertation Committee; an additional member of the university’s graduate faculty serves as the graduate dean's representative. In accordance with Graduate School regulations, that representative must be from outside the department. All members of the Defense Committee appointed by the Graduate School must attend the defense. Students must submit the final draft of their dissertation to their committee at least two weeks before the defense date. Students should discuss with their directors the format of the defense. Typically, the defense is a two-hour discussion of the dissertation. The defense usually begins with a statement from the student on the experience of writing the dissertation (key discoveries, important changes in critical perspectives, main critical contributions, etc.). Four of the five members of the Dissertation Defense Committee must approve the dissertation in order for the student to pass. Students are frequently asked to make revisions to the dissertation before submitting it to the Graduate School. Upon satisfactory completion of the oral defense and the electronic submission of the dissertation to, and its approval by, the Graduate School, the candidate is awarded the Ph.D.

Submission of Dissertation

The approved dissertation must be submitted electronically to the Graduate School by the deadlines posted for graduation in a given semester (see the Graduate School Deadlines). Information about all aspects of electronic submission of the dissertation is available on the Graduate School's Information for Current Students under Thesis and Dissertation Resources.


Completing the Ph.D. involves careful attention to deadlines imposed and paperwork required by the Graduate School.

Students are expected to complete their coursework by no later than their fifth semester in the program. Please regularly consult with the DGS and your advising teams to ensure that your course selection fulfills the course requirements. Don't forget to turn in your self-evaluation form at the end of each semester.

Each student is expected to advance to candidacy by successfully passing his or her qualifying examination by his or her sixth semester in the program. Please contact the graduate coordinator to schedule your qualifying exam. Submit your form for candidacy advancement to the Graduate Office (2116 Tawes) upon successful completion of your qualifying exam.

Students must file an approved dissertation prospectus with the Graduate Office no later than four months following the qualifying examination. Please submit the approved prospectus form along with a one page abstract in addition to your completed prospectus. Upon advancing to candidacy, students are expected to file a dissertation progress form with the Graduate Office each semester.

Specific deadlines for students intending to graduate will be announced on the CMLT graduate student reflector and are also available from the Graduate School's Deadlines for Graduates. Most of the necessary paperwork for these deadlines can be found on the Graduate School's General Forms for Graduate Students.

Graduate Admissions

The Comparative Literature program at the University of Maryland is a five-year doctoral program characterized by scholarly engagement across various fields. The program has a wide reach within the English Department, not only through CMLT and ENGL graduate courses, but also lectures, colloquia, and academic events that speak to the interdisciplinary focus of its students and professors.

The Comparative Literature program enjoys the benefits of being part of a large and active English Department, while providing its students with the personal attention and first-rate academic and professional mentorship characteristic of a small, highly selective program. The Center for Literary and Comparative Studies represents the great synergy possible in the co-operation of an English Department and a program in Comparative Literature. It gives graduate students the opportunity to encounter the work of scholars from across campus and other universities through lectures, symposia, readings, and other events as well as opportunities to present their own work.

Professionalization is one of the primary concerns of the Program in Comparative Literature, and students find support in this area through mentorship from professors, workshops and round tables organized by the Graduate English Organization and the Center for Teaching Excellence, and teaching at various levels of undergraduate study.

Ph.D. Application Instructions

Applicants should make sure that they are applying to the Comparative Literature PhD Program, and not English.  Please also note that we only admit students for the start of each fall semester, and not for the start of any spring semester.

The deadline for application is December 1, 2021. We seek to admit 2 students to the program each year. 

Please note that the system will close promptly at midnight on this date so you will be unable to edit your application past 11:59 pm. The system is set to Maryland time (EST). If you are uncertain about what time that the system will close in your timezone, please look it up. We are unable to make exceptions for late applications based on timezone.

University of Maryland's Graduate Application Process

The University of Maryland’s Graduate School accepts applications through its application system. Before completing the application, applicants are asked to check the Admissions Requirements site for specific instructions.

As required by the Graduate School, all application materials are to be submitted electronically:

  1. Graduate Application
  2. Non-refundable application fee ($75)
  3. Statement of Goals, Research Interests, and Experiences. The statement, which should be around 1000 words, should address relevant aspects of your educational experience, the focus of your academic interests, and reasons for applying to our program.
  4. Unofficial transcripts of your entire college/university record (undergraduate and graduate), including records of any advanced work done at another institution. Electronic copies of these unofficial transcripts must be uploaded along with your on-line application. Official transcripts will be required after an applicant is admitted to the program.
  5. Three letters of recommendation. In your on-line application, please complete fully the information requested for your recommenders and ask them to submit their letters electronically.
  6. A single sample of critical writing of approximately 12-20 pages (not including works cited/bibliography). While we encourage you to submit your best writing sample, we prefer a writing sample in your declared field of interest. If you are submitting an excerpted selection, please include a brief description or introduction to the selection.
  7. Statement of language proficiency. Please provide a list of languages you speak/read and note your level of proficiency in each. Indicate which language(s) other than English you would wish to study further if admitted to the program. Please also use this as an opportunity to document your advanced proficiency in your desired languages of study if not made evident by other parts of the application.

The electronic submission of application materials helps expedite the review of an application. Completed applications are reviewed by an admissions committee in each graduate degree program. The recommendations of the committees are submitted to the Dean of the Graduate School, who will make the final admission decision. Students seeking to complete graduate work at the University of Maryland for degree purposes must be formally admitted to the Graduate School by the Dean.  To ensure the integrity of the application process, the University of Maryland authenticates submitted materials through TurnItIn for Admissions.

Information for International Graduate Students

The University of Maryland is dedicated to maintaining a vibrant international graduate student community. The office of International Students and Scholars Services (ISSS) is a valuable resource of information and assistance for prospective and current international students.  International applicants are encouraged to explore the services they offer, and contact them with related questions.

The University of Maryland Graduate School offers admission to international students based on academic information; it is not a guarantee of attendance.  Admitted international students will then receive instructions about obtaining the appropriate visa to study at the University of Maryland which will require submission of additional documents.  Please see the Graduate Admissions Process for International applicants for more information.


Applicants are encouraged to contact the Hobsons online application’s helpdesk for any technical issues.  For questions related to the admissions process, prospective students may contact the Graduate School.

Comparative Literature Prospective Student FAQ

Because many of our applicants share general questions about the application process, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions to make applying a bit easier.

Prospective Student FAQ

English Faculty

Sharada Balachandran Orihuela

Associate Professor, English

3226 Tawes Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-9649

William A. Cohen

Professor, English
Affiliate Professor, American Studies

2110 Marie Mount Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-9354

Merle Collins

Emeritus Professor, English

3104 Tawes Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-3775

Oliver Gaycken

Associate Professor, English
School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

3218 Tawes Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-8529

Gerard Passannante

Professor, English

2116c Tawes Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-9661

Brian Richardson

Professor, English
Affiliate Professor, American Studies

3233 Tawes Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-9656

Kellie Robertson

Professor, English

2116B Tawes Hall
College Park MD, 20742

(301) 405-3810

Vessela Valiavitcharska

Director of the Writing Center, English
Professor, Classics

1205 Tawes Hall
College Park MD, 20742