Top 5 Best Online English PhD Degree Programs (Doctorates)


We rank the best online PhD degree programs in English.

Key Takeaways

  • Students seeking a PhD in English can choose from a small selection of online English doctoral programs.

  • Online English PhD graduates typically work in areas like post-secondary education, language research, publishing.

  • Online English PhD programs come in concentrations like American literature, technology and media studies, literary theory, and more.

Featured Programs

The online English PhD program is ideal for working professionals and graduate students with a deep interest in English literature, comparative literature, creative writing, English language learning education, literacy education, and more. However, only a select number of universities offer a full selection of English PhD programs online.

The online English doctoral degree is considered a terminal degree, which means it is the highest degree that you can earn in your field. This means that online doctoral programs for PhD students in English can lead to opportunities for teaching English at the post-secondary level, participating in advanced humanities research, or providing public consultation on critical literacy and learning issues.

Online PhD in English candidates are typically already working at a high level in their field. This means that students seeking their doctorate must balance existing work and personal responsibilities with a challenging course of education. For many graduate students, online courses and fully online programs provide a way to achieve this balance.

For a look at how these online doctor of English programs stack up against traditional on campus programs, check out our look at the The Best Research Universities for English Degrees.

Or find out more with a look at our College Rankings Guide.


Otherwise, read on and learn more about how you can earn an online PhD in English.

Happy students in a classroom

The best online PhD in English programs will have proper accreditation. Be sure that you are pursuing your PhD in English through a fully accredited university and program:

  • Institutional Accreditation: Accreditation is vital for online doctoral programs. It signifies that the online PhD programs offered by the online school are in compliance with the standards of a Department of Education-approved accrediting body.
  • A school must also be accredited in order to offer federal financial aid to its online doctorate candidates. When looking for an online doctoral program, seek out options with accreditation from a colleges and schools commission in your region. This stamp of approval is critical for ensuring the quality and credibility of your online program.

  • Programmatic Accreditation: In addition to institutional accreditation, be sure that you prioritize online doctorate degree programs with programmatic accreditation. While there is no specifically required programmatic accreditation for the general field of English, those who intend to work in post-secondary educational institutions may be required to complete a doctoral program with accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Make sure that your online English PhD program offers the proper programmatic accreditation requirements for your career goals.
  • Carnegie Classification: The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, or as it is more commonly known, the Carnegie Classification, is a framework for categorizing all accredited, degree-granting institutions in the United States. Originally formulated in 1970 by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and administered through the University of Indiana’s Center for Postsecondary Research since 2014, the Carnegie Classification is “the leading framework for recognizing and describing institutional diversity in U.S. higher education.”
  • Under this classification, top research universities for doctoral degrees and PhD candidates are identified as either R2: Doctoral Universities for “high research activity” or R1: Doctoral Universities for “very high research activity.” Look for these classifications when considering options for your online Phd programs.

Key Point: Be sure that you only consider an online English PhD program with proper accreditation.

Doctoral Program Admission Requirements

Schools that offer online English PhD programs have different admission requirements. However, most online doctoral programs will carry the same basic threshold for admission:

  • A completed online application
  • Official transcripts
  • A cumulative GPA of at least 3.0
  • GRE scores, MAT scores, or GMAT scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal interviews
  • Personal statement or writing sample
  • Plan of study

Key Point: In most cases, you will be eligible to enter a doctoral degree online after earning only a bachelor’s degree. However, some specialized online English Degree programs may require you to have earned a master’s degree as well.

Man working on a laptop

Curriculum and Courses For English Graduate Students

As with other advanced degree and graduate programs, research is the central component of your online PhD in English program. This is true for fully online doctorate degrees as well as hybrid degrees combining online education with traditional on-campus courses. Regardless of whether you complete a traditional, hybrid or online doctoral program, the typical time to completion is five to seven years.

The typical components of your online English PhD program may include:

Foundational Courses

Your English PhD will typically begin with foundational courses in your area of concentration. Concentrations may include:

  • English literature
  • British literature
  • Creative writing
  • Critical literacy training
  • Literary and cultural studies

Some of your courses will focus on research methods and experimental design. You may be able to complete many of these requirements through online classes. Your English graduate program may also include a foreign language requirement.

Examinations for PhD Candidacy

Many online doctoral students are required to complete certain examinations to enter into online PhD candidacy. This will typically occur after you’ve completed one to two years of foundational courses.


In most cases, the central component of your online PhD program will be the completion of your dissertation. After gaining status as an online PhD candidate, you will typically work closely with a professorial advisor or mentor to develop an original scholarly research question.

This research question will form the basis of your dissertation—an ongoing project designed to address this research question through applied research. While you will work closely with your advisor or mentor, much of your dissertation will be rooted in independent research. This is especially true for students pursuing an online PhD.

Oral Defense

Upon completion of the written portion of your dissertation—which will typically present the findings from your original research project—you will be expected to defend your findings. This “oral defense” will typically be conducted by a commission of professors and experts in your field. PhD candidates in some online degree programs may be able to conduct this defense via teleconferencing.

Teaching Requirements

Some online Ph.D programs will also include a teaching component, which will require you to work as an adjunct professor or teaching assistant in an undergraduate or graduate school. It may be possible for students in the online doctoral degree program to also serve teaching requirements through distance learning.

Key Point: Completion and defense of your dissertation will be a central part of completing your online doctoral degree program in English.

Careers for English Online Doctoral Students

The online PhD in English is a terminal degree program. This means that PhD students who complete this online program will qualify for top positions and opportunities in their field.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that you may be able to qualify for work as an English teacher with a master’s degree in English. However, the highest paying careers in English are generally held by those working in post-secondary education. The BLS notes that the highest paid 10% of professionals in the English field earned more than $132,000 in 2021.

Earning an online PhD in English can lead to some of these top-paying roles in the field, including:

  • Critical Literacy Policy Development
  • Education Policy Consultation
  • Publishing
  • Post-Secondary Literature Education
  • Education Department Chairmanship

Key Point: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, English professionals with a doctorate will earn more than graduates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

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What’s the difference between online doctoral programs and online PhD programs?

Technically, a PhD is a type of doctorate degree. This means that all online PhD candidates are doctoral students. By contrast, not all doctoral students are PhD candidates.

The primary distinction is that doctoral students are primarily focused on putting existing theories into practice. Depending on your chosen field, your online doctoral degree may require participation in an educational leadership program, engagement in clinical practice, work as a resident in a nursing program, and much more.

By contrast, online PhD students are focused on creating new knowledge in their area of study. This usually means that online PhD candidates are focused on introducing new theories, creating research projects around these theories, and presenting new findings that demonstrate a mastery of existing knowledge and the insight to introduce new ideas into the field.

Today, more working professionals than ever before are pursuing both online doctoral degrees and online Phd programs.

English students working at a table

Median Salaries of Similar Careers in the U.S.

The following graph depicts the average salaries of similar occupations to Editors in the U.S.


Annual Salary
63230News Analysts, Reporters, and Journalists
73250Public Relations Specialists
81120Writers and Authors
81470Technical Writers
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The Best Online English Doctorates (PhDs)

The online PhD in English programs identified here are ranked based on influence, with weighting for graduation rate and full-time online enrollment.

  1. #1

    Texas A&M University

    College Station , TX
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    What do we love about Texas A&M University?

    Texas A&M University was founded in 1876 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. In 1948, Texas A&M began to expand into additional campuses throughout the state, making the College Station, Texas campus the flagship school in the Texas A&M University system.

    With more than 73,000 students pursuing degrees at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels, Texas A&M University is in fact the largest school in the United States by enrollment. The public research university is also the only school in Texas that is designated as a land-, sea-, and space-grant university.

    Texas A&M makes a wide range of excellent graduate level degrees available to students both through traditional delivery and fully online classes. For instance, students can complete the PhD in English either online or at the Texas A&M-Commerce campus.

    • Texas A&M University is great for students who:

      Are planning to conduct advanced graduate research. Texas A&M is classified among R1: Doctoral Universities for its very high level of research activity.

    • Texas A&M University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are looking for a more intimate college experience. Texas A&M is literally the largest school you could possibly attend.

  2. Other Rankings

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    What do we love about University of Alabama-Birmingham?

    University of Alabama-Birmingham was formed in 1936 as a small regional “academic extension center.” Over the next three decades, the school grew into a public research university boasting 140 undergraduate and graduate programs across 12 academic departments.

    From its humble regional beginning, the University of Alabama-Birmingham today serves more than 22,000 students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In fact, the university is also the single largest employer in the state, with more than 75,000 people working as faculty, staff, and in various jobs across the university health system.

    UAB is identified among R1: Doctoral Universities for its very high level of research. Students pursuing their PhD have a number of options both online and on campus. In particular, UAB offers a variety of excellent online education PhDs, which can provide an excellent degree pathway for those with an interest in post-secondary English and literature education, or those with an interest in literacy research and policy development. Relevant concentrations include the online PhD in Early Childhood Education and the online PhD in Educational Studies in Diverse Populations.

    • University of Alabama-Birmingham is great for students who:

      Want balance between big city life and a small town feel. Students describe the campus and surrounding Birmingham as offering a safe community in a vibrant urban setting.

    • University of Alabama-Birmingham might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are seeking a broad selection of on-campus activities. Some students describe options as limited in this area.

  3. Happy student on a college campus
  4. #3

    Texas Tech University

    Lubbock , TX
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    What do we love about Texas Tech University?

    Texas Tech University began life as the Texas Technical College with its founding 1923. Based in Lubbock, Texas Tech is considered the primary institution among the five schools making up the Texas Tech University System.

    Taking its present name in 1969, Texas Tech University would become the sixth-largest institution in the state of Texas. Today, there are more than 40,000 students earning degrees at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels at the public research university


    Texas Tech is particularly noteworthy as a destination for prospective PhDs, including those with an interest in its online PhD in English. The school has a number of different PhD in English programs, including creative writing, literature, linguistics, and rhetoric. Texas Tech is classified among R1: Doctoral Universities, so noted for their very high research activity.

    • Texas Tech University is great for students who:

      Like a college with strong school spirit. Students repeatedly note that the school spirit is a major feature of campus life, which can make Texas Tech feel like one big community.

    • Texas Tech University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are looking for a small campus. Like a lot of other things in Texas, Texas Tech is a sprawling campus. Students note that the sheer distance of walking between classes can sometimes be exhausting.

  5. Other Rankings

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    What do we love about Old Dominion University?

    Old Dominion University was formed in 1930 as the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary. Based in Norfolk, Virginia, Old Dominion university offers more than 150 graduate and undergraduate degree options.

    Today, Old Dominion serves more than 24,000 students at the graduate and undergraduate levels, and is noted as an institution where a high level of scientific and technological innovation takes place.

    Old Dominion is identified among R1: Doctoral Universities for its very high level of research. Students pursuing their PhD have a number of options both online and on campus.

    ODU has an online English doctoral program that results in a PhD in English. The program is 48 credit hours and includes two summer visits to campus.

    • Old Dominion University is great for students who:

      Enjoy diversity. Students at ODU represent all 50 states as well as more than 80 nations around the world.

    • Old Dominion University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Do not prefer a college in an urban area. ODU’s 251 acre campus is less than 5 miles from downtown Norfolk.

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    What do we love about Murray State University?

    Murray State University was formed in 1922 as the Murray State Normal School. Though Murray State’s flagship campus is based in Calloway, Kentucky, the public university operates an additional four campuses throughout the state.

    Murray State gradually evolved throughout its history, from a modest teachers college operating out of a local middle school into a degree-granting institution and, by 1966, a state-recognized university. Today, Murray serves more than 9,000 students at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

    Murray State offers several only doctoral programs, and is recognized for its NCATE accreditation, which distinguishes its advanced degree programs in the field of education.

    The school has an online Doctor of Arts in English Pedagogy degree program.

    • Murray State University is great for students who:

      Are pursuing careers in teaching, nursing, and business. Murray State is recognized for its excellence in each of these areas.

    • Murray State University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Have financial limitations. Students describe the cost of attendance and the cost of living as comparatively high at Murray State.

Other Options for Aspiring English PhDs

Students considering an online doctoral in English should also check out the best on-campus options to compare features like cost, curriculum, acceptance rate, and more.

  1. #1

    New York University

    New York , NY
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  3. #3

    University of Michigan

    Ann Arbor , MI
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  5. #5

    University of Iowa

    Iowa City , IA
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Check out our complete Online Program Rankings.