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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of English Language and Literature

PhD in English - English & American Literature

The Program

This advanced graduate degree requires a minimum of 36 credit hours post master's level consisting of a minimum of 24 credit hours of course work and 12 credit hours of dissertation work. Major and minor areas may be chosen from the following literary fields: Medieval, Renaissance, Restoration and 18th-century English literature, 19th-century English literature, 20th–century English literature, Colonial and 19th-century American Literature, and 20th-century American Literature. The following may be used only for the minor field: Linguistics, Comparative Literature, Criticism and Theory, Southern Literature, Rhetoric and Composition, Children’s Literature, Women’s Studies, and History of the Book and Authorship. Students may design other minors in consultation with specialist faculty and the Graduate Director.

Specific Requirements

At least 24 hours of course work including at least two 800-level seminars, one class in critical theory (ENGL 732, 734, or an equivalent), and the 3-hour 691-692 pedagogy sequence. For students who have not taken a comparable course during their M.A. degree, ENGL 700 (Introduction to Graduate Study) is also recommended.

  • Twelve hours of Dissertation Preparation (ENGL 899).
  • Reading knowledge of two foreign languages (satisfied by passing the reading exam in each language) OR extensive knowledge of one foreign language (satisfied by passing a 400-level course in literature, not in translation, with a grade of B or better, or a 500-level course in literature, not in translation, with a grade of C or better). NOTE: You may also fulfill one foreign language requirement by passing both ENGL 702 (Old English) and ENGL 703 (Beowulf and Old English Heroic Verse) with a grade of B or better.
  • Admission to doctoral candidacy
  • Written Comprehensive Exams: one in the primary field and one in the secondary field
  • Oral Exam in the primary field
  • Dissertation and Oral Dissertation Defense

Transfer Credit

If you have had equivalent graduate courses at another institution, you may petition the Graduate Program Committee to transfer up to six hours credit in lieu of courses required for the Ph.D. However, these courses cannot be more than ten years old by the time you plan to graduate. A minimum of eight courses taken at USC is generally required of all students.


Up to two electives may be taken in other departments on subjects directly related to your course of study. These electives must be approved by your doctoral committee and/or the Graduate Director.

Program of Study

By the beginning of your third term, you must, in consultation with your advisor, fill out the Ph.D. Program of Study form and submit it to the Director of Graduate Studies; students will bring this form to the meeting to determine qualification for doctoral candidacy that you must schedule with the Graduate Director and major advisor no later than the start of the third semester (see description of this process, below). This form must be on file with the Dean of the Graduate School before you will be cleared for graduation.  It will also help you and your advisor direct your progress toward the degree. The Program of Study should be amended periodically to reflect actual courses taken by filing the Adjustment form available through the forms library on the Graduate School’s website.

Minor Fields

Certain minors (Children’s Literature and Rhetoric and Composition) along with the certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies have an established curriculum (listed below); others provide more flexibility.  Students often minor in a second literary field, or in specialized fields (the department's faculty website includes a page listing established areas of specialization: ).  To form your minor, you must work with an appropriate faculty member to assemble a specialized reading list and a committee for the minor field exam.  Students are strongly encouraged to pursue relevant coursework.  All minor fields must be approved by the Graduate Director.

See the Graduate Handbook for more information on specific minors/certificates (

Admission to Doctoral Candidacy

Admission by the Department of English for graduate study does not mean admission as a candidate in the English and American Literature Ph.D. program.

PhD students in the English Department are admitted to doctoral candidacy on the basis of their record and a meeting with the Director of Graduate Studies and the major adviser, to be held no later than the beginning of the student’s third term. Prior to this meeting, the Graduate Director will review the student's class grades with the expectation of at least a 3.0 GPA over the course of the first year of study. The student will come to the meeting with a completed Program of Study form and an accompanying statement (5-6pp.) detailing progress toward dissertation and degree thus far and plans for future study and research. In the event of an unsuccessful review, the student will be put on probation, not be admitted to candidacy, and be required to maintain a 3.5 GPA for each of the following two semesters. Additionally, field faculty will meet at the end of the probationary student's second year in order to make a recommendation to the Graduate Director about the student’s future in the program. The Graduate Director will factor this recommendation and the student’s GPA into a decision about whether the probationary student should be admitted to candidacy at the end of the second year and allowed to continue in the program.

Doctoral Committee

No later than the end of your second year, you should notify the Graduate Office that you have assembled a doctoral committee of three or four professors in your areas of specialization by obtaining the necessary signatures and filing a Doctoral Committee Appointment Request form available through the forms library on the Graduate School website.  Each committee should consist of three  faculty members from the English Department along with one professor from outside the department with no departmental affiliations. In consultation with this committee, you must devise and file with the Graduate Office a reading list and tentative body of course work.  This will be the basis of the formal Program of Study, initially submitted as part of the process of admission to doctoral candidacy at the start of the second term in the program. At any time, you may change the composition of your committee by advising the Graduate Director and any members removed from the committee (correspondence advising members of their removal should be copied to the Graduate Director) and by revising the aforementioned Doctoral Committee Appointment Request form.

Comprehensive Examinations

Students are required to take written comprehensive exams in both a major and minor field by the fall semester of their fourth year in the program but should ideally have taken them during the preceding spring. This 72-hour take-home exam will consist of a response to a question in the primary field and another response to a question in the secondary field. The completed exam should not exceed 7500 words in length.

There are no standardized reading lists for the Ph.D. comprehensive exams in literature; instead, you are required to compile your own reading lists in consultation with your committee.  The purpose of these lists is twofold:  these lists should cover the major texts, authors, and debates in your chosen fields of expertise, but they should also reflect your particular interests, investigations, and priorities for your emerging dissertation project.  It is your responsibility to strike this balance between field coverage and dissertation focus.  To do this, you should start consulting with your committee about your reading lists well in advance (ideally a year before you take exams).  No later than three months before you plan to sit the exams, you must secure your committee’s approval for a provisional set of reading lists, which you must then file with the Graduate Office.  By the beginning of the semester in which you plan to sit the exams, you must secure your committee’s approval for your final lists, which you should also submit to the Graduate Office.  Students who have not followed this procedure will not be allowed to sign up for the exams.

Questions for the primary field exam are written and graded by the qualified members of your doctoral committee. Questions for the secondary field exam are solicited from appropriate faculty by a member of the doctoral committee, who also calls on members of that faculty as graders (graders are notified that they are reading minor field exams).

Scheduling of Exams

In the semester you plan to take the comprehensive exams, you must sign up with the Graduate Office during the first week of classes. The exams will be offered once in the fall semester and once in the spring semester (usually in the fourth week of each semester) and will take place over a weekend—i.e., from Friday at noon until Monday at noon. Students will not be allowed to schedule alternative days or times in which to take the written exams.

Grading of Exams

To pass each exam, you must receive passing grades on each question from two of your three readers. To receive a pass with distinction, you must receive grades of pass with distinction from two of your three readers. Should you fail one part of the exam (primary or secondary field), you will only have to retake that part; if, however, you fail both parts of the exam, you are required to retake the entire exam. You have two opportunities to pass the written exam, and you must retake any failed portion of the exam within one year.

Oral Examination

You must take the oral comprehensive examination within one month of the time you are notified that you have passed the written examination. This exam typically lasts from one to two hours. The oral examiners will include departmental members of your doctoral committee, with the option to bring the outside reader in at this point. The exam covers only your primary field and will be limited to those texts that appear on your reading list for your primary field written comprehensive exam. If you do not pass the oral examination, you must take it again within a year. You have two opportunities to pass this exam.

Prospectus Meeting

Within thirty days of passing your oral exam, you must have a dissertation prospectus approved. This is done by submitting the written prospectus to your committee, including your outside reader, and then discussing it at a meeting with your full committee. The purpose of this meeting is to help you avoid problems in research methodology, scope of the project, etc., during the later stages of the process.  Students should obtain the prospectus defense form from the Graduate English Office, bring it to the prospectus meeting, and obtain the necessary signatures at the end of the meeting. The prospectus defense form together with a brief description of the project should be filed with the Graduate English Office as soon as possible after the meeting.


Your dissertation committee is your doctoral committee in its final form; it includes your dissertation director, at least two specialists in your research area or areas, and one faculty member from an outside department. (English department faculty affiliated with other programs or with joint appointments may not serve as outside readers).  The dissertation must be defended orally before the dissertation committee. At least two weeks before the defense is to be held, you must submit the dissertation in its final form, to the director and the rest of the committee. Be sure to consult the Graduate School for current requirements regarding the format of the dissertation as well as for information about electronic submission of the dissertation to the Graduate School:


Applicants who apply prior the first deadline (December 15), are admitted to this PhD program, and have completed 18 hours of graduate English course work will be considered for a Graduate Teaching Assistantship ('GTA'). Potentially renewable for four consecutive years, the Teaching Assistantship comes with a competitive stipend (currently $12,800 for 3 classes per academic year), in-state tuition status, and a tuition supplement.

Students awarded an assistantship by the Department of English are expected to

  • carry no incompletes;
  • earn no more than one grade below B during their academic career;
  • perform assigned duties in a satisfactory manner;
  • maintain a GPA of 3.5; and
  • make steady progress toward the degree.

Professional Opportunities at the University of South Carolina

  • Opportunities to present papers at conferences sponsored by USC graduate student organizations and by affiliated programs such as Women's and Gender Studies.
  • Opportunities for financial support to fund paper presentations at other local, regional, national, or international conferences.
  • Opportunities to teach undergraduate literature and writing courses.
  • Eligibility for recognition and awards from The Graduate School (especially for presentations at Graduate Student Day).
  • Opportunities for editorial or other career-advancing internships within the university or outside it.
  • Guidance through the job search by an expert faculty committee, including CV workshops, presentation strategies, and mock interviews.
  •        Opportunity to apply for lucrative year-long Bilinski Dissertation Fellowship ( )

For more information on Professional Development and Graduate Student Placement, see the following webpages: