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Grad Program: English Literature

Basic Information

It was Shakespeare who wrote, "I have immortal longings in me." And if he’s achieved immortality, it’s not only due to the countless high school students who’ve sat bleary-eyed through Richard III, nor to Kenneth Branagh’s noble efforts. It’s through the work of the countless students of English literature who have dignified it with their scrutiny. It’s through their scholarship that the greatest works of the English Language are still-living works which grow and continue to have meaning.

The study of English Literature is the study of the past and the present, and is especially important when one considers the power the literature has had to shape so many cultures and societies. Graduate students examine not just how English Literature reflects its own society, culture, politics, economics, religion, and aesthetics, but also how it is reflected in and has shaped those of many other cultures. At the same time, as with any study of literature, English Literature demands an in-depth knowledge of how language itself operates. Thus, semiotics and structure accompany theory and history in most programs.

But since the sun has more or less set on the British Empire, students have had to begin to ask what constitutes English Literature. Literature in conversation has become an important part of the course of studies as former colonies have responded to English Literature—and have begun to build their own.

Degree Information

An M.A. in English Literature will normally take between one and two years, and will involve submission of a master’s paper or a thesis and written exam(s).

Many programs offer a Ph.D. in English with specialization in English Literature, though some now offering a Ph.D. in English Literature. Either doctorate will take between five and seven years, and will involve a submission and defense of a written dissertation. Some degree programs often require doctoral candidates to pass a set of comprehensive exams before awarding the degree in addition to the thesis.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • Who are the faculty members and what are their areas of concentration?
  • What sort of access do you have to faculty members, especially any big names?
  • With which other departments does the English department cooperate?
  • What about the students? Where are they from? What are their academic interests?
  • What about the alumni? Have they been successful in the job market, particular within academia?
  • How much financial aid is available?
  • What kinds of fellowships or teaching assistantships are available?
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