University of Mississippi

Ph.D. in English


Bondurant Hall


William Shakespeare's signature


Oxford, Mississippi town square

The Ph.D. in English literature is a specialist degree that prepares students for teaching in postsecondary education as well as for literary interpretation and scholarly pursuits. Upon completion of the degree, graduates should be aware of the richness inherent in literature written in English and to have honed a high level of both interpretive thinking and oral and written competencies. Current graduate students can go here to access forms and catalogs.

How to Apply to the Ph.D. Program


Application for admission to graduate study in English is now entirely online.  The University of Mississippi Graduate School’s online application interface will allow you to attach a statement of purpose and a writing sample. It will also prompt you to include contact information for three recommenders,


Apply online to the Graduate School at

  • Complete the Online Application
  • Submit the required supporting documents:
    • Official University transcripts
    • GRE scores (general test only)
    • All test scores must be sent directly from the testing service.  The Institution Code for the University of Mississippi on the GRE and TOEFL is 1840.
    • Once all of the steps have been completed and the $40 non-refundable application fee has been received, your application will be sent for department review.
  • TOEFL/IELTS scores – International Students only
  • Submit a statement of purpose, a writing sample, and contact information for 3 recommenders

Application Guidelines:

  •  The statement of purpose should be approximately 500 words (no more than two typewritten pages), describing your academic interests, qualifying experiences, and specific reasons for pursuing a graduate degree in English at the University of Mississippi.
  • The writing sample should be a polished seminar-length sample (no more than 20 double-spaced pages) of your best academic work.  The sample should represent some significant aspect of your interests and/or academic strengths.
  • The three confidential letters of recommendation should address your developing scholarly interests, your academic performance and potential, and any other details relevant to graduate study in English.

Note: The online application requests your recommenders to submit their letters electronically. If necessary, you may also request that your recommenders send letters in hard copy (separately in signed and sealed envelopes) directly to the department.

PhD Graduate Admissions
Department of English
C128 Bondurant Hall
P.O. Box 1848
University, MS 38677-1848


Course Requirements

The Graduate Admissions Committee will determine the amount of course work required of students entering the program with the master’s degree; this requirement will be at least 24 hours of graduate course work (excluding dissertation hours) beyond the master’s degree, and at least 18 hours dissertation credit. Students are required to take ENGL 600 (Introduction to Graduate Study) during the first fall semester of enrollment in full standing. The student’s graduate course work will include 6 hours of course work in English or American literature before 1800, 6 hours of course work in English or American literature after 1800, and 3 hours of course work in literary, critical, cultural, rhetorical, or composition theory. Up to 6 hours of graduate course work may be taken in related disciplines, and 3 of those 6 hours may be taken in independent study/directed reading. Application deadlines for directed reading courses are April 1 and November 1. Teaching assistants serving as instructors of record in first-year composition courses are required to complete ENGL 617 (Teaching College English) during the first semester of teaching or at the earliest opportunity otherwise. All graduate course work must be completed before a candidate may submit any section of the Candidacy Examination.

  • ENGL 600, Introduction to Graduate Study is a 3-hour seminar required of all incoming graduate students in English, is designed to provide a framework for thinking about research, writing, and teaching English as professional activities. In particular, students are encouraged to explore the ways in which their own interests and proposed academic work may form the basis for a life’s career in literary studies, and the ways in which that work might contribute to the evolution of the profession. English 600 is concerned with the history of the profession, its institutional contours, and the varied directions it may take in the future.
  • ENGL 617, Teaching College English is a 3-hour seminar/practicum required of all graduate instructors of record in first-year composition, focuses on strategies for teaching college writing. Composition theory is a guiding force, along with various aspects of rhetorical theory. However, the dominant classroom activity is discussion of actual teaching experiences. Students are encouraged to use the forum as an opportunity to share classroom experiences, focusing on ways to improve teaching and application of methods. The course maintains a balance between theory and practice, addressing not just what composition teachers do but also why they do it. Primary course requirements include reflective journals, oral presentations, paper assignments, and the production of a teaching portfolio.

Foreign Language Requirement
Depending on the student’s area of specialization and dissertation topic, a student may, at the behest of the Ph.D. committee, be asked to demonstrate reading competency in one or more foreign languages.

Ph.D. Committee
Each student, working in collaboration with the director of graduate studies, puts together a Ph.D. committee, comprised of three members of the English department graduate faculty whose teaching and research interests complement the student’s own plans for doctoral study. (The faculty members chosen must agree to serve on the committee.) The student and his or her Ph.D. committee are expected to design an individual program of study which contributes significantly to the student’s familiarity with the broad scope of literary history; and with areas such as linguistics, rhetoric, theory, methodology, criticism, canonicity, and the reciprocities between literature and culture. The responsibilities of the Ph.D. committee include supervising foreign language study; setting, administering, and evaluating the Candidacy Examination and admitting the student to candidacy; evaluating the dissertation prospectus; supervising and approving dissertation work; conducting and evaluating the oral dissertation defense; and recommending the conferral of both the M.A. and the Ph.D. degrees.
A fourth (extradepartmental) examiner works with the committee to evaluate the candidate’s work from the prospectus stage forward. (See Dissertation Prospectus.)

Candidacy Examination
Admission to candidacy follows the successful completion of the Candidacy Examination. This examination, which is both written and oral in form, tests the candidate’s knowledge of two areas of inquiry, consisting of: (1) an historical period in British or American or World Anglophone literature and (2) a special topic. (Special topics include, but are by no means limited to, the representative writings of a single author or select group of authors, studied intensively and supplemented by relevant secondary materials; the intensive study of a single genre, supplemented by relevant theory, criticism, and literary history; issues of rhetoric, structure, technique, gender, race, power, ideology, culture, literary theory, methodology, intellectual history, canonicity, and interdisciplinary.) The candidate and the Ph.D. committee will draw up and agree upon an intensive reading list for each of the two areas of inquiry. Both reading lists must be formally approved at a single meeting of the Ph.D. Committee, at which copies of each list must be initialed and dated by the student and each member of the committee for submission to the Graduate Studies Director. This meeting must take place by no later than one semester after the student completes classroom course work for the degree. All members of the committee will participate in evaluating the written and oral sections of the Examination, and in all future responsibilities of the committee.

  • The written section of the examination is an original, article-length (20-25-page) publishable* research paper on the special topic area and its reading list. The essay is expected to address the topic in a thorough, critically responsible manner, not to provide a broad overview of the materials on the reading list. This essay must be submitted to the Ph.D. committee within six months of either the completion of the student’s final semester of classroom course work or the date of final approval of the reading lists, whichever comes later.The reading lists and the topic of the written research paper should be arrived at through consultation between the student and his or her committee. The topic should be a fresh undertaking for the student, although certainly it can be derived from course work. The topic should reflect an interest in and knowledge of the exam area it is to represent; that is, although narrow in focus, the topic should be situated convincingly within the context of its area. It should illuminate as well as be illuminated by the area of study in which the student has located it. A kind of two-way street ought to be apparent in the finished work: the research paper providing insight into the special topic, the special topic expanding the implications of the paper.Students and committees are encouraged to work closely together, especially during the formative stage of the topic. Some sort of outline or prospectus may well be a part of this stage, although full or fragmentary drafts should not be. Once the student submits the research paper, the committee will respond in one of three ways: acceptance, rejection, or request for revision. In the event of the last option, a single revision will be permitted, to be resubmitted according to a schedule agreed on by the student and the Ph.D. committee but ordinarily within one month of the student’s notification of the need to revise. If the research paper is rejected, either at first or after revision, the student is not permitted to continue in the Ph.D. program.*The concept of a “publishable paper” should be understood as a descriptive rather than a valuative term. Such a paper should be original, demonstrating a familiarity with relevant secondary sources to support that claim. It should constitute a complete argument within the range of the 20- to 25-page paper.
  • The oral section of the examination, which must be formally scheduled with the Graduate School, may be taken only after all foreign language requirements have been satisfied and the written section of the examination has been accepted. The student must pass the oral examination within 18 months of either the completion of the student’s final semester of classroom course work or the date of final approval of the reading lists, whichever comes later. Ordinarily 2 hours in length, the oral is a comprehensive exam covering the historical period reading list; the examiners will expect the candidate to be familiar with all of the primary and secondary materials from this list and to be able to discuss them critically and comparatively. The exam is graded Pass or Fail. On passing the oral examination, the student is admitted to candidacy. A failed oral may be retaken once, at a time agreed on by the student and the Ph.D. committee but within the time constraints described above. If the student fails the oral again, s/he is not permitted to continue in the Ph.D. program.

Dissertation Prospectus
Within 6 months of admission to candidacy, the candidate is expected to submit a dissertation prospectus to the Ph.D. committee and an outside (extradepartmental) examiner. The prospectus is a statement of a problem the student intends to address, and a brief narrative indicating the direction of future reading and research toward the dissertation; it should also include some sort of methodological statement and a rudimentary bibliography. Most prospecti run between 15 and 25 pages in length, including bibiography.

Prospectus Defense
The Ph.D. committee and the outside examiner will conduct a formal prospectus defense, which the candidate must pass in order to proceed with dissertation work. The defense, which must be scheduled formally with the Graduate School, is ordinarily 30 to 60 minutes in length.

The candidate is required to complete a book-length research project that makes an original and significant contribution to the field of literary studies. After the dissertation is completed and approved, the Ph.D. committee and the outside examiner will conduct an oral dissertation defense, which the candidate must pass before conferral of the degree is recommended

Renaissance and Early Modern Studies Emphasis
Students may receive a Ph.D. with an emphasis in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies by completing 21 hours of graduate course work in Renaissance and/or Early Modern Studies, including a minimum of nine hours in the English Department and a minimum of nine hours outside the English Department, and submitting a dissertation on a Renaissance or Early Modern subject. With the exception of the 6-hour requirement in literature after 1800 and the 6-hour limit on graduate course work in related disciplines, students must also satisfy all other general program requirements for the Ph.D. in English.

Financial Aid and Travel Funding
The Department of English and the Graduate School have a variety of prizes, awards, and scholarships available to graduate students: