We rank the best online PhD degree programs in English.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Schools that offer online English PhD programs have different admission requirements. However, most online doctoral programs will carry the same basic threshold for admission:
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.
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:
Your English PhD will typically begin with foundational courses in your area of concentration. Concentrations may include:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The following graph depicts the average salaries of similar occupations to Editors in the U.S.
Source: U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS
The online PhD in English programs identified here are ranked based on influence, with weighting for graduation rate and full-time online enrollment.
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Texas A&M University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:
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.
Are planning to conduct advanced graduate research. Texas A&M is classified among R1: Doctoral Universities for its very high level of research activity.
Are looking for a more intimate college experience. Texas A&M is literally the largest school you could possibly attend.
Tuition + fees
University of Alabama at Birmingham’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:
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.
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.
Are seeking a broad selection of on-campus activities. Some students describe options as limited in this area.
Tuition + fees
Texas Tech University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:
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.
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.
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.
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Old Dominion University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:
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.
Enjoy diversity. Students at ODU represent all 50 states as well as more than 80 nations around the world.
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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Murray State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:
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.
Are pursuing careers in teaching, nursing, and business. Murray State is recognized for its excellence in each of these areas.
Have financial limitations. Students describe the cost of attendance and the cost of living as comparatively high at Murray State.
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.
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New York University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:
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University of California, Berkeley’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:
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University of Michigan’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:
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University of California, Los Angeles’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:
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University of Iowa’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:
Check out our complete Online Program Rankings.