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Ultimate Guide to Online English PhD Programs

Earning your English PhD online is a smart way to advance your career while maintaining the flexibility you need to balance your other responsibilities. Today’s best online English PhD programs combine excellent academics with the ability to study whenever and wherever works best for your lifestyle. 

Search hundreds of top schools for the doctorate YOU want.

Written By

Quinn Dannies

Last updated

Apr 24, 2023

Do you love language? Pontificate about prose? Ruminate on rhetoric? Then an online English PhD program may be in your fabulous future. (Bonus points if you can identify a style of figurative language — alliteration — in the sentences above!)

An online English PhD program can offer more than just a chance to indulge in a love of language; it can also provide tangible benefits. Due to a decrease in advanced degree holders in English and other humanities, graduates of online English PhD programs have many well-paid job opportunities available to them. Additionally, an English PhD is versatile and can be applied to a range of fields, such as marketing, communications, administration, and research.

Pursuing a PhD in English can be a daunting decision, even if you are passionate about one of the many specializations within the field of study. You might question the payoff of such an investment or how it will impact your daily life. Choosing where and how to pursue your degree can also be a big concern. It is normal to have these concerns, and they are worth considering before you begin your school search. Our guide to earning an English PhD online is designed to help demystify the topic and get you started on your research. 

Best Online PhD in English Programs for 2023

Choosing the right English PhD program is crucial, as doctoral programs can be challenging and time-consuming. Therefore, it’s important to select a program that aligns with your long-term goals and provides ample support. With so many options available, finding the best online English PhD program can be daunting. Luckily, we’ve done the research and identified the top programs. While we are currently compiling our complete rankings list, we’ve selected three programs that excel in academic quality, student support, program outcomes, and affordability. 

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University’s hybrid online English PhD program offers the flexibility of online courses with the community of in-person learning. In this program, students attend classes primarily online. But each student will have the chance to connect face to face with peers and professors during two-week long, in-person Summer Doctoral Institutes that take place twice in the program.  

Online English doctoral students at Old Dominion University are encouraged to tailor their studies to their own research and career goals. The school’s emphasis areas include literary and cultural studies; writing, rhetoric, and discourse studies; and technology and media studies. Additionally, students with interdisciplinary interests have the option of designing their own emphasis. 

Notably, online PhD students can enroll in synchronous online courses — typically classes held in real time via video conference. This less common offering allows for deeper engagement in course content through active discussion and peer feedback. 

Texas A&M University – Commerce

The expansive online English PhD program at Texas A&M University – Commerce lets you take control of when and how you learn. Students can study entirely online or opt for a combination of online and in-person courses. Additionally, qualifying students can participate in teaching assistantships or tutoring programs to earn real-world classroom experience. Plus, unlike many programs, Texas A&M offers fall, spring, and summer admission, so you can start your studies when the time is right for you. 

English students in Texas A&M’s online doctoral program will not want for specialization options. The school offers two disciplines within the field of written discourse and three literature-specific emphases. 

Graduates of Texas A&M’s English PhD program will be well-prepared for their future careers. Students who earn their doctorate at Texas A&M go on to work in academia, public service, communications, and marketing. 

St. John’s University

St. John’s University is home to one of the only 100% online English literacy PhD programs in the U.S. In the program, students can specialize in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) or focus on literacy for native English speakers. In either case, these degrees are particularly relevant for students who hope to influence education policy and curriculum or teach English themselves. 

Online English PhD programs at St. John’s University are a fast track to an advanced degree. Students can earn their PhD in as little as three years. However, the accelerated pace of St. John’s University’s English PhD programs does not mean the school is cutting corners on quality. Rather, on top of regional accreditation, the school’s English programs are certified by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the American Association of Colleges and Teacher Education, and the University Council for Educational Administration. 

Benefits of Earning Your PhD in English Online

Online doctoral programs in English are a great opportunity for students who want to pursue further education while balancing their other responsibilities. Whether you are working full-time, taking care of your family, or living far from a campus, online PhD programs are designed to offer flexibility and convenience to help you achieve your academic goals.

Here are just two of the many benefits of pursuing an online PhD in English online: 

  1. Flexibility: The format of online English doctoral programs runs the gamut, so you can select a structure that works best for your needs. For example, some programs are 100% online and do not require students to log in at a specific time to attend class. Other schools incorporate online learning with real-time instruction to help students stay on track and engaged. Still others host doctoral candidates for particular courses or summer institutes on campus. With all these options available, you will surely find an excellent program that meshes with your lifestyle. 
  2. Variety: When you earn your English PhD online, you have the opportunity to seek out a program that aligns with your academic interests and career goals. Your local campus (if you’re lucky enough to live near a college town) may not have an English PhD option, or its curriculum might be limited. And while many students do move to attend graduate school, that isn’t an option for all of us. Online English PhD programs let you study from anywhere. That means you can pursue a doctorate in medieval rhetoric or post-colonial theory and criticism without uprooting your world to attend a niche program. 

Types of Online English PhD Programs

When it comes to online English PhD programs, there are different delivery methods to suit your needs. Some programs are fully online, allowing you to complete your degree from the comfort of your home. Other programs, however, may require occasional or frequent visits to campus. To help you find your ideal program format, we’ve outlined the most common delivery methods below.

Fully online

There are some entirely online programs out there, but not all of them look and feel the same. Some programs are asynchronous, meaning you don’t have to log in at a certain time to attend class — though you’ll still have assignments to stay on top of. Synchronous classes take place in virtual classrooms, so you will have to commit to regular online meetings. Most online programs offer a mix of the two styles.

Fully online with residency

Many schools seek to integrate online PhD students into their community through a number of in-person visits. Unlike the hybrid programs we discuss below, residency requirements for fully online programs are typically once a year or less. So depending on your circumstances, fully online programs with residency may be an option even if you live far away from your institution. Although the on-campus occasions will vary from school to school, common residency requirements include:

  1. Candidacy exams
  2. Dissertation proposals
  3. Dissertation defense 
  4. Summer institutes


These programs work best for students who live, or plan to live, near their school’s campus. In blended programs, individual classes may mix online and in-person learning experiences. Hybrid programs sometimes allow students to decide which courses they take fully online and which courses they attend fully in person.

Timeline of Earning Your PhD in English Online

PhD programs, especially online ones, have a lot of variation in their duration — often dependent upon how much master’s coursework you’ve completed, if any. Some schools offer expedited programs where you can earn your degree in as little as three years. On the other end of the spectrum, some programs take six years or more. Part-time programs can stretch out that timeline even further. When making your plans, it’s important to consider if your intended program has a time limit for earning your degree. While limitations may vary, most schools have some sort of time cap. 

To help you get a feel for what you’re signing up for, we’ve included a sample degree timeline below. 

Year one

In the first year of many English PhD programs, students across all emphases take the same core courses, although some electives may be mixed in. First-year classes are designed to give you a firm foundation in the concepts, research, and methods you will use for the rest of your degree. Many programs also include pedagogy courses to prepare teaching assistants and future educators for their roles.

Year two

At this point, you will have the opportunity to pursue coursework and projects related to your emphasis and future research. Full-time students should be preparing for their comprehensive exams. At some schools, you will also begin to form your dissertation committee. You should also be attending and submitting to conferences by the end of this year. 

Year three

Many full-time students will take their comprehensive exams early in the year and be preparing their research prospectus. This is also a great time to start looking for additional funding so you can cut back on your other responsibilities to focus on your research. 

Year four

Your dissertation writing and research process should be in full swing by this time. You may have completed all of your required coursework. Some schools will require that you continue to submit to and participate in conferences. 

Year five

By now, all work should be focused on preparing for your dissertation defense. Students who entered the program with previous graduate coursework might complete their defense this year. 

Year six-seven

Full-time students with no graduate coursework should be prepared for their dissertation defense and starting to consider their options for post-doctorate programs or job opportunities in year six. For part-time students, the writing and defense process might continue into year seven. 

With this general overview in mind, it’s important to note: The format and requirements are different for each online English PhD program. Don’t hesitate to contact program advisors or directors with questions about a school’s curriculum or timeline. 

Online English PhD Learning Outcomes

Scrolling right past the learning outcomes section on degree pages can be tempting. Resist that urge. The truth is, carefully reviewing a program’s stated outcomes is one of the best ways to identify a program’s values, perspective, and ideal candidates. In addition, these learning outcomes function as an overarching framework for their curriculum and dictate what research opportunities, elective courses, and dissertation topics will be available to you. 

Below are a few of the most common learning outcomes for English PhD programs online: 

  1. Demonstrate deep knowledge within an English-related field. Every program you apply to should have a learning objective along these lines. This objective simply states that students must develop expertise in their research area. Note that some schools will have an additional goal of demonstrating an in-depth understanding of a secondary field. 
  2. Demonstrate the understanding and application of effective teaching practices. As we’ve discussed, English PhD students often pursue careers in education or education-adjacent spaces. So in most emphases, there will be some training in pedagogy. However, even if you don’t plan on entering a teaching career, remember that skills in teaching can be applied to any job that involves communicating information effectively.  
  3. Design and undertake research that contributes to knowledge within the field. Research is almost always a given in an online PhD program in English. Your school will expect that by the time you graduate, you will be able to perform research on a novel topic using the methods and conventions of your discipline. Since you’re pursuing an English PhD, you probably already share this goal. The successful defense of your dissertation fulfills this outcome. 
  4. Utilize primary and secondary sources to examine critical issues within the field. This objective relates closely to the one above but focuses on research literacy. Essentially, this outcome means you’ll graduate with the tools to engage with primary sources and scholarly works. This doesn’t just mean reading and understanding sources; instead, you should be able to analyze and make judgments about them based on your own expertise. 
  5. Present research and publications in a comprehensible and professional manner. This objective refers not only to your dissertation and defense, but also to your participation and presentation in conferences throughout your studies. To succeed in this objective, you will be able to tailor your presentationsto suit the background and expertise of your audience. In many programs, you will also be expected to demonstrate teaching skillsets as part of this outcome. 

English PhD Specialization Options

English is an extensive field of study, with numerous areas of specialization. PhD students often choose a specific area to focus on, which will form the basis for their future research or career. Given the vast range of options available, it is crucial to consider your long-term objectives before committing to a particular path. For instance, individuals with an emphasis on literature may encounter difficulties finding employment in technical communication, while composition and rhetoric experts may lack the necessary skillset to work with English language learners. Some common emphasis areas include: 


Students who choose to emphasize in literature typically focus on a specific region, time period, or author for their research. 


Linguistics students study the nature, origin, and development of language. Doctoral graduates in this field can look forward to a wide range of careers, from education to computer learning.

Composition and Rhetoric

This field focuses on the relationship between language, knowledge, and culture. Students in composition and rhetoric programs typically go on to work in academia, education, or a communications-oriented profession. 

Technical Communication and Rhetoric

Students specializing in this field study how complex information can be effectively described and communicated across groups and skillsets. 

English Language Learning

Doctoral candidates in English Language Learning may focus their research on people who learn English as a second language or how young children in English-speaking areas learn to speak. In either case, students with these backgrounds are highly valued in educational administration, curriculum development, and policymaking. 

Accreditation for Online English PhD Programs

It is imperative to choose an accredited school, regardless of the institution you opt to attend. Obtaining an accredited online PhD in English is the most reliable approach to ensuring that the quality of your program matches that of other online and in-person schools. In the absence of accreditation, potential employers and other academic institutions may not recognize your degree as legitimate. A trustworthy university will transparently state its accreditations on its website. 

Most online English PhD programs are accredited by regional accreditation bodies that oversee schools based on location. By earning a regional accreditation, a school demonstrates that it is a top-tier organization. For most emphases within English doctoral programs, there are no program-level accreditation bodies to look for. However, some English literacy PhD programs may carry an additional accreditation from the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation. Additionally, in education-related specialties, some English PhD programs will hold accreditations from teaching-related accreditation bodies. This program-level certification demonstrates the curriculum’s consistency with other programs of its kind. 

If you find yourself questioning a school’s legitimacy during your school search, we recommend searching the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to verify the school’s credentials.

Application Process for Online English PhD Programs

Applying for a PhD is no small task. Each school has different requirements and deadlines, so staying on top of the details can be tricky. Fortunately, there is some common ground between various applications, so you’ll likely not be starting from scratch each time. Ultimately, the school is looking to get a picture of you as a student, researcher, and future contributor to the field. To make this assessment, a school will consider your GPA, letters of recommendation, school transcripts, and resume. Additionally, you will likely be asked to submit a statement of purpose and a writing sample; we’ll get to those in a minute. The good news for aspiring English PhDs is that fewer and fewer programs require standardized tests like the GRE as part of their application process. When assembling your applications, these are the most important elements to consider:

  • Writing sample: You won’t be surprised to learn that online English PhD programs require a lot of writing. So it makes sense that schools want you to demonstrate your skills. Therefore, most schools will ask for a writing sample of previous work. So if you have a piece you are proud of, there is no need to start from scratch. In any event, submit a sample relevant to your program and formatted correctly in MLA style.  
  • Statement of purpose: A personal statement or statement of purpose is a standard requirement across fields. But submitting a stellar statement is essential for English PhD applicants. Schools may or may not provide a prompt or word count for your statement, so prepare to customize your work for each school you apply to. This is your first chance to really wow the admissions committee. So put your best foot forward by clearly articulating who you are, why you want to attend this school, and what you have to offer. 
  • Background experience: Since many English PhDs go on to teach, some programs — especially those that offer teaching assistantships — will want you to give an in-depth account of your teaching experience. This section can also be an excellent place for applicants working in the professional sphere to connect their work experience to their academic goals. Don’t despair if you don’t have formal teaching experience. Instead, think about how your jobs or hobbies may have involved sharing knowledge with others, and write about that.  

Online English PhD Program Costs

The cost of obtaining an online PhD in English is influenced by various factors. For instance, distance learners may save money on incidental expenses, such as commuting, meal plans, and on-campus fees. However, you will be responsible for ensuring that your technology is up to date and that your Wi-Fi connection is reliable. Additionally, some online programs offer discounts for distance learners, while others charge additional fees. Moreover, some universities may offer in-state tuition discounts to online students, while others do not. Comparing costs may begin by identifying a school’s total credit requirements and cost per credit, which allows you to compare course fees across institutions. We’ve got you started in the table below. 

SchoolCost per CreditTotal CreditsSubtotal
Texas Tech University$50072$36,000
Texas Women’s University$284 in-state, $692 out-of-state90$25,560- $62,280
St. John’s University$1,26542$53,130
Old Dominion University$571 in-state, $595 out-of-state48$27,408 – $28,560

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the cost of your degree? We get it. The good news is that there are tons of opportunities to knock down your tuition price, including financial aid, scholarship, and fellowship opportunities that you can apply for. Some schools offer need- or merit-based scholarships. Definitely schedule a meeting with your school’s financial aid advisor to learn about potential financing opportunities. You can start your research right now by reading through our guides to scholarships and grants and financial aid to see what’s available and how to apply.

Salaries for Professionals with a PhD in English

For many students, the opportunity to teach at the university level is a substantial motivating factor in pursuing their PhD. And rightly so; as a professor, you get to continue your research, train the next generation, and earn significantly more than educators at other levels. 

For example, nationwide, the median salary for English language and literature professors is $75,930, with some earning over $132,220 yearly. By comparison, median earnings for high school teachers sit around $62,000, with only the best-paid educators earning over $100,000 annually. So if teaching is your passion, a PhD in English can definitely pay off. Outside of academia, English PhDs work in various industries. They are typically qualified for high-level, well-paid communication and marketing work.