Skip to content

PhD in English

The PhD in English at UT combines breadth of study throughout the field of English with advanced work in various specialties. Students choose to pursue a PhD in one of three concentrations: Literature, Criticism, and Textual Studies; Rhetoric, Writing, and Linguistics; or Creative Dissertation.

We have a world-class research library with special collections in British and American literary and cultural history, excellent financial support, and a nationally and internationally recognized faculty. Our students have many opportunities for collaboration with faculty through research and editorial assistantships, as well as informally through reading groups, poetry and fiction readings, and seminars with the Departments’ many visiting speakers.

We provide generous travel funds for research and for presenting at scholarly and creative work at conferences. The Graduate Students in English organization draws students together as an intellectual and social community with shared passions and aspirations. Many of our PhD graduates have gone on to tenure-track positions at research universities, comprehensive universities, and liberal arts colleges, as well as to postdoctoral fellowships and visiting appointments. For a list of recent placements, click here.

Entrance Profile of Candidates

The admissions deadline is December 1 for admission to all our doctoral concentrations.

All  applicants to the PhD program must hold an MA or MFA degree by the time they begin their coursework in the fall.  We do not admit people directly from the BA program. All admitted applicants begin their coursework together as a class in the fall semester. While most of our candidates hold master’s degrees in English, we also consider applicants with master’s degrees in related disciplines. Typically, admitted students are able to transfer up to 24 hours of course credit from their MA or MFA degrees. If students arrive with fewer than 24 hours of transferable credit in English, they may need to take additional coursework in English.

The English Department requires a 3.5 GPA average in all previous coursework at the graduate level for admission to PhD program.

We evaluate all of our degree candidates holistically, based on a portfolio of grades, recommendations, GRE scores (with an emphasis on the Verbal score), a statement of goals, and a writing sample. We are interested in the overall picture of strengths and interests that these materials provide.

We have no specific cutoff numbers for the GRE scores, though our most competitive candidates have Verbal scores of 160 or higher.

For information about how to complete your application, click on Admissions.


We strive for teaching excellence in the graduate and the undergraduate classroom. Our professorial faculty and our graduate students share in the balance of teaching and research that makes up the academic life.

PhD students with funding at UT are considered teaching associates and teach in our award-winning first-year Composition program. After passing comprehensive examinations, students also typically teach one or more courses related to their area of specialization.

Our graduate student teachers as well as our professorial faculty regularly win departmental, college, and university teaching awards for their superb work in the classroom.

Associateships for PhD students include a tuition waiver and health insurance, and current stipend amounts, paid over twelve months, are $16,497 per year for a maximum of five years. For more information about funding, fellowships, and assistantships, see Fellowships and Assistantships.

Requirements for the PhD in English

This page describes the requirements that are common to all three concentrations of the PhD program in English, as well as the specific requirements for each concentration.

All PhD students in English must complete:

A.         Fifty-four credit hours of coursework beyond the BA level. Students may transfer a maximum of 24 hours from their MA or MFA degrees; the remaining 30 hours must be taken as coursework at UT. The total 54 hours, including any hours transferred from a master’s program must be divided as follows:

    1. At least 21 credit hours at the 600 level.
    2. At least 15 additional credit hours at the 500–600 level. (Only 3 credit hours of English 593 (Independent Study) may be applied toward the MA, and only 6 credit hours of English 593 may be applied after the MA).
    3. Fifteen additional credit hours of courses at any level approved for graduate credit. Students may take up to six of these hours in collateral areas outside the English Department. PhD students who are also pursuing Graduate Certificates in Medieval Studies or in Qualitative Research Methods in Education may count an additional 3 hours in a collateral area toward the required 54 hours. Other students may petition to count an additional 3 hours of coursework in a collateral area toward the 54 required hours if it can be shown that the additional hours will enhance his or her program of study. During the PhD, students should take only 500- and 600-level courses.
    4. Three credit hours of English 505 (Composition Pedagogy).
    5. Fulfillment of the core courses for the student’s chosen concentration, as follows:
      Literature, Criticism, and Textual Studies
      At least two courses in literature before 1800.
      At least two courses in literature after 1800.
      At least one course in theory or methodology
      Creative Writing
      At least three graduate courses in Creative Writing (English 580, 581, or 582)
      At least one graduate course in Creative Writing at the 600-level.
      Rhetoric, Writing, and Linguistics
      English 585.
      English 586.
      English 682.

(Note: For each concentration, these requirements may be fulfilled with coursework from the MA used to meet the 54 credit hour requirement.)

B.         Twenty-four hours of English 600 (Dissertation Hours). The dissertation will be directed by a professorial faculty member of the department and approved by him or her and three or four other faculty members, including one from a field other than English.

C.         Successful completion of the foreign language requirement in one of the following ways:

      1. Two foreign languages approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. The requirement for each language may be fulfilled in any of the following ways:
        • Completion of French 302 or German 332 with a grade of B or better.
        • Completion of any two courses at the 300 level or above in the foreign language or literature with at least a grade of B in each course.
        • Passing the doctoral PhD foreign language examination as administered at UT.
      2. One modern foreign language approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. This requirement must be fulfilled in the following way:
        • Passing the doctoral Ph.D. foreign language examination as administered at UT, and
        • Completion of two courses given in the foreign language at the 400 level or above, with at least one course at the 500 or 600 level. A minimum grade of B must be received in each course.
      3. One modern foreign language approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and intense study of the English language. This requirement must be fulfilled in the following way:
        • Completion of one of the three requirements in option 1 above, and
        • Completion of English 508 and 509 (offered in alternate years) with a minimum grade of B in each course (one other course in the English language could, with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, be substituted for one of these courses, with a minimum earned grade of B). (Note: These courses will not count toward the minimum number of courses for the PhD degree, and anyone electing this language option may not take a PhD comprehensive examination in English Language and Linguistics.)

D.         Passing two comprehensive field examinations.

E.         Satisfactory completion of the guided dissertation prospectus writing process

F.          A one-hour oral defense of the dissertation.

For more information on these requirements, please see the current Graduate Handbook.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.