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Ph.D. in English

Our nationally ranked Ph.D. program provides specialized training in literary, cultural and language studies for students who plan to teach at universities and colleges. 

English Ph.D. students pursue individualized programs of study within the parameters of our degree requirements; they share the qualities of excellent critical thinking and writing, and above all, of intellectual curiosity. Admission to the Ph.D. program is highly competitive, but all admitted students receive a five-year funding package. Once our students enter, they are mutually supportive and develop networks of collegial friends often maintained beyond their time at UMD.

Our students gain extensive teaching experience as part of their training at UMD, and our placement record is among the best in the nation.

Students moving successfully toward the Ph.D. degree are expected to complete the degree typically in five to six years. To maintain their status, students are expected to make satisfactory progress; those who do not may be eligible to change their degree objective from the Ph.D. to the M.A.


The Ph.D. curriculum offers opportunities for advanced study in a variety of literary and language fields, including literary and cultural history; aesthetic, critical and cultural theory; digital and media studies; humanistic engagement with the sciences; and language, rhetoric and composition. The curriculum addresses a series of broad questions relevant to such studies: What are the histories, genealogies and futures of literary, cultural and rhetorical studies? What is the relationship of such work to society, politics and history? To the media of representation and communication? To reading and writing practices? To disciplinarity and institutional contexts? How do we conceptualize, teach and apprehend aesthetics through literary and other modes of cultural expression? The courses available to doctoral students particularize such broad issues and, together with extensive attention to pedagogy and teacher-training, have as a general objective the training of students to identify and formulate compelling research questions and the preparation of students for long-term careers in academia.

The program combines flexibility with consistent and continuous mentorship from the faculty and the director of Graduate Studies (DGS). The degree requirements are as follows:

  1. a minimum of 12 courses (36 credits) at the graduate level, including three required courses, with a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.6 (see Satisfactory Progress)
  2. between 3 and 6 credits of ENGL898, Pre-candidacy Research
  3. reading facility in a second language
  4. successful passage of a qualifying examination
  5. an approved dissertation prospectus
  6. a successful dissertation defense

Students who begin the Ph.D. program having earned an M.A. in English would be expected to complete a minimum of 9 courses (27 credits) of coursework.

Course Requirements

The Ph.D. requires a minimum of 12 courses (36 credits) for students entering the program without an M.A. This includes 3 required courses. All coursework must be completed with a minimum of a 3.6 GPA (see Satisfactory Progress). Students are required to take ENGL601: “Literary Research and Critical Contexts”; ENGL602: “Critical Theory and Literary Criticism”; and ENGL611: “Approaches to College Composition” as part of their 12 course requirement. In addition, students will select a minimum of 9 additional graduate courses, at least 5 of which must be seminars, which are usually 700 level courses. The degree assumes conversance with the major body of English and American literature as well as familiarity with bibliography, research methods and other necessary tools of the trade.

Students may take up to 2 independent-study courses to fulfill 600-level electives. Students interested in taking an independent-study course for elective credit should collaborate with their professor in writing up an intended course of study and file it with the Graduate Office for approval by the DGS before the first day of classes each semester. Please see the form here.

Students may also make special arrangements to do additional work in their 600-level courses to have those courses count as a seminar/700 level course. Students wishing to take a 600-level class as a seminar must provide the Graduate Studies Office with the required seminar credit form and syllabus detailing the additional work that will be undertaken in order for the course to be counted as a 700-level seminar at the beginning of the semester. Students may not take an independent study for seminar/700 level credit except in extreme circumstances and only after receiving permission from the DGS.

Newly admitted Ph.D. students entering the program with an M.A. from another institution should meet with the director of Graduate Studies (DGS) to have their academic record evaluated; the DGS will establish what courses taken during the previous M.A. can count toward the Ph.D. distribution requirements or recommend courses that will enable their completion. Students who begin the Ph.D. program having earned an M.A. in English from another institution would be expected to complete a minimum of 9 courses (27 credits) of coursework, but may be required to complete more at the DGS’s discretion. All Ph.D. students should select courses with two primary goals in mind: 1) filling in gaps in their knowledge of literary history and 2) developing an area of scholarly expertise and professionalization.

The DGS will help students select courses and act as the general advisor for students entering the program. Students will be assigned mentoring teams just prior to their first semester and this mentoring team, in conjunction with the DGS, will help them select courses for the second semester. After the first year in coursework, students can work directly with their mentors to choose appropriate courses.

During the coursework phase of the program each student will meet with his or her advising team and/or the DGS in order to assess academic progress and to discuss his or her intended degree track and plans for professionalization. Students whose GPA for the first completed 15 credits of coursework is 3.0 or lower will be offered the option of pursuing the terminal M.A. degree or of resigning from the graduate program altogether.

A note on incompletes: Students are generally discouraged from taking incompletes, but especially so at the beginning of their coursework, in order to ensure that academic progress can be accurately assessed. If an incomplete is necessary in the first 15 credits of coursework, the DGS must be consulted in addition to the instructor of the course. 

Foreign Language Requirement

Students must demonstrate, by equivalencies or exam, reading knowledge of one language other than English. When satisfying this requirement, students are encouraged to choose a foreign language that is appropriate for his or her area of doctoral studies. The director of Graduate Studies (DGS), the student's mentors and the student will coordinate in determining the appropriate language. In addition to the foreign language requirement administered by the Graduate Studies Office (GSO), the student's dissertation committee may also recommend more advanced proficiency in the language selected and/or work in an additional language; however, the student is obliged to be tested on (or to provide an equivalent for) only one language. The foreign language requirement must be fulfilled before the student can be admitted to his or her qualifying exam and no later than the fifth semester in the program in order to maintain satisfactory progress.

Equivalencies: Equivalencies include: native speaking ability; undergraduate major; passage of an equivalent requirement in another graduate program; a grade of B or better in a 300-level course in the language taken at the University of Maryland after starting the Ph.D. program. A 300-level course must emphasize the fluent use of the language in a variety of formats and all major assignments in the course must be conducted in the language and not in English. The written work for the course must be evaluated for language and style as well as for organizational accuracy and coherence. The DGS will determine whether coursework or other equivalencies are appropriate and sufficiently recent to attest to proficiency.

Timeline: If foreign language equivalency is not fulfilled prior to admission, students have the option of taking a foreign language exam at the end of their first or second semester of the Ph.D. program. Students who have not fulfilled the foreign language requirement by the end of their second semester will test out of or enroll in a prerequisite entry-level foreign language class in their third semester. Students will have the opportunity of (re-) taking the exam during the first week of their third semester. Students who pass the exam can drop the prerequisite language class. Students who do not pass will complete (or test out of) the pre-requisite class and will have another opportunity to take the language exam at the end of their third semester. Students who have not fulfilled the foreign language requirement by the end of their third semester will take a 300-level language class in their fourth semester. Students who do not receive a grade of “B” or better in the foreign language class during their fourth semester will retake the class or/and the language exam in their fifth semester. (Students admitted prior to Fall 2015 must fulfill their foreign language requirement by their 5th semester in the program, and before taking a qualifying exam, but are exempt from the rest of this timeline.)

The Foreign Language Exam: At least one month prior to the exam, students will choose and submit to the GSO for its approval two books of at least 200 pages in the foreign language, one primary work and one secondary work (both works must have been originally written in the target language and may not be translated works). The GSO will determine the appropriateness of the student’s choice. ('Appropriateness' does not necessarily mean that the primary text must come from your period of specialization and that the secondary text must be about your period, simply that the texts are equivalent in difficulty to other texts students are tested on.) Once the student’s choice of texts has been approved, the GSO will assign an appropriate faculty member to administer the exam and provide this faculty member with a set of guidelines and expectations for the foreign language exam. The faculty member administering the exam will choose a 250- to 300-word passage from each, the primary and the secondary work. The student will have three hours to prepare the translation with the help of a dictionary. The faculty administrator will evaluate the translations and determine whether or not the student passed or failed, based on the guidelines provided by the GSO. The GSO will keep on file all exams and make them available to students preparing for the exam.


Students will be assigned two faculty mentors in their first year and will serve as a research assistant for one of them in the fall and the other in the spring.

These advising teams are charged with meeting with the student at least once each semester and with filing a report (no more than a page) each semester on the student’s progress with the Graduate Studies office. Students are expected to remain in regular contact with their advisors.  The members of each advising team will help students select courses, otherwise navigate the program and begin the process of professionalization, and they will act generally as resources for the student, as well as sign off on the student's self-evaluation form. The DGS will remain available to all students in all stages of the program to assist in advising.

As students are preparing to advance to candidacy, the advising team will help the student form the qualifying examination committee. The advising committee may be separate from the examination committee. From this point until the constitution of the dissertation defense committee, the qualifying examination committee will act as the student's primary advisors.

All students are expected to keep regular contact with the DGS and their advising teams throughout all stages of the program. Measures to be used to assess progress include the student’s grades, other evidence of the quality of coursework, schedule for meeting requirements for candidacy and schedule for completing the dissertation.

Qualifying Exams

To advance to candidacy, all Ph.D. students must complete the oral Qualifying Examination. The language requirement must be satisfied before a student can take his or her qualifying exam. Students should contact the Graduate Office eight weeks before to schedule an exam date and reserve a room. A signed copy of the reading list must also be submitted when scheduling the exam.

Planning for the Qualifying Examination

In order to be admitted to Qualifying Exams, students must have satisfactorily completed all their coursework and met the foreign language requirement. Students with outstanding incompletes in coursework are not eligible to take the exam. Students should consult with their appointed advising teams in forming an examination committee that will administer the Qualifying Exam and serve as the student's advising committee until the constitution of the dissertation committee. The exam committee consists of four graduate faculty members, including a chair and three committee members. (Please note that while many students do keep the same committee for their dissertation, it is not a requirement.) Students register for a range of 3 to 6 credit hours of ENGL898, “Pre-Candidacy Research,” and are expected to meet regularly with the chair and at least one member of their examination committees under this rubric.

We encourage Ph.D. students to take the Qualifying Examination by their sixth semester in the doctoral program and expect them to sit for the exam no later than their seventh semester. Students who received an M.A. prior to admission are expected to complete coursework more quickly and take their qualifying exams as early as the fifth semester in the program.

The Reading List

The Qualifying Examination is based on a reading list compiled by the student in consultation with his or her committee. The list will include roughly 80-120 works, chosen to cover two of the following categories: a literary period; a recognized field; the proposed area of the dissertation.  For students planning to work in literature, it is assumed that a 100-year period will be covered. The field may be interpreted as any discrete literary concern that has accrued a body of serious critical thought and may include such diverse subjects as genre; literary, linguistic or theoretical criticism or methodology; a sub-period. Typically, students develop a literary period or field list of approximately 75 works and a more focused list of 25 works on the proposed dissertation topic; also typically, around 80 percent of the list consists of primary texts and 20 percent of secondary titles. But there are wide varieties in lists (some will be longer than others; some will have more criticism than others; etc.) The reading list must be approved by the committee chair and all committee members eight weeks prior to the examination. A copy of the reading list, signed by your committee, must be turned into the Graduate Office eight weeks prior to scheduling the exam.

The exam consists of two 60-minute parts: 1) an oral presentation by the student and follow-up discussion of the presentation; 2) a general examination on the reading lists.

Working in consultation with other members of the committee and the student, the committee chair prepares 2-4 topics for part one of the exam, the student's oral presentation. The student will receive the topics from the Graduate Office one week before the oral examination. The exam begins with the student's 15-20-minute oral presentation on the selected topic. The student may bring a copy of the reading list and brief notes to the exam. Students may also use PowerPoint or any other technological aid for their presentation. A 35-40 minute discussion follows the student's presentation.

Part two is an approximately one-hour examination on the student's two reading lists. The emphasis here is on breadth.

At the conclusion of the examination the student leaves the room and the committee discusses and votes on the student's performance. Three passing votes constitute a passing grade on the exam. If the student fails the exam, they can retake the exam the following semester. The student will receive a written assessment from the chair of the committee indicating the reasons for the failure. The examination committee and reading list should remain the same from the initial to the second attempt. Changes must be requested, in writing, to the DGS, and may be made only upon approval by the DGS. Failing the exam a second time disqualifies the student from continuing in the Ph.D. program. The DGS or a representative from the Graduate Studies Committee will be present at the second attempt to ensure procedural fairness. The chair of the examining committee informs the director of Graduate Studies in writing about the result of the exam.


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. Candidacy forms to be submitted to the Graduate School must be filed at the English graduate office. See Ph.D. Deadlines and Paperwork. Upon advancing to candidacy, students are expected to file a dissertation progress form (save to your hard drive to access the text fields) with the Graduate Office each semester.

Dissertation Prospectus

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 is in a position to do a good job of pursuing it. The prospectus should be developed in consultation with your committee.


Students have successfully passed the qualifying exam and have advanced to candidacy. Upon advancing to candidacy, students are expected to file a dissertation progress form with the Graduate Office each semester. 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. Students must graduate within four years of advancing to candidacy. 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. 

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. In many cases, the dissertation committee is the same as the Qualifying Examination committee. A Dissertation Committee consists of four faculty members (one of whom may be University of Maryland faculty outside of the English department), who advise the student on his/her dissertation. One member serves as the student's dissertation director. All members of the dissertation committee must be members of the University of Maryland's graduate faculty. If a student wishes to include in his or her dissertation committee a person who is not currently a member of the University's general graduate faculty, that person will have to be nominated by the department as adjunct or special member of the university's graduate faculty and approved as such by the Graduate School. The nomination by the department is made on the recommendation of the department's full graduate faculty by simple majority.

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.

Dissertation Prospectus

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 is in a position to do a good job of pursuing 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 all four committee members), should be turned in to the English graduate office.

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 Template

Please refer to the Graduate School instructions for dissertation templates here (full dissertation template available here) for clarity and guidance in constructing your dissertation for submission and committee review.

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 Oral Committee and 2) schedules the dissertation defense. Consisting of five faculty, this committee normally includes the four members of the candidate's Dissertation Committee and an additional member of the university’s graduate faculty serving 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 their final draft of their dissertation to their committee at least two weeks before the defense date. Typically, the defense is a two-hour discussion of the dissertation. Four of the five members of the Dissertation Defense Committee must approve the dissertation in order for the student to pass.  

Please see the Dissertation Policies here

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 website.


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

Students are expected to complete their coursework and meet the foreign language requirement by no later than their fifth semester in the program. Please contact the Graduate Office to schedule your language exam and confirm the acceptability of equivalences if you wish to not take an exam to meet your language requirement. 

Students are expected to advance to candidacy by successfully passing their qualifying examination by their seventh semester in the program. Please contact the Graduate Office to schedule your qualifying exam. Submit your form for candidacy advancement to the Graduate Office (2116 Tawes) upon successful completion of your qualifying exam. Upon advancing to candidacy, students are expected to file a dissertation progress form with the Graduate Office each semester.

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

Specific deadlines for students intending to graduate will be announced on the English 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

We seek applicants who will enhance our highly motivated, academically accomplished, and intellectually and culturally diverse student body. We normally receive about 100 applications annually for M.A. and Ph.D. programs.

Ph.D. Application Instructions

Submit the complete application and all supporting materials by December 1, 2021. Please note that the system will close promptly at midnight, so you will be unable to edit your application past 11:59 pm on this date. 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.

Admission to the Ph.D. is highly competitive. If you would like to be considered for the M.A. program if not selected for the Ph.D. program, please indicate that in your personal statement. We expect to enroll between 8-10 Ph.D. students for this year's cohort.

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:

  • Graduate Application
  • Non-refundable application fee ($75) for each program
  • 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. If you are applying to the PhD program but would like to be considered for the MA if you are not selected for the PhD, please indicate that here.
  • 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.
  • 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. We do not accept letters through Interfolio.
  •  A single sample of critical writing of approximately 12-20 pages double-spaced (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. The MLA citation format is preferred.
  • Academic CV/Resume

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.


Questions related to the admissions process, prospective students may contact the Graduate School.

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