Graduate Program Overview

Ph.D. Program in English at Princeton

The aim of the Princeton graduate program in English is to produce well-trained and field-transforming scholars, insightful and imaginative critics, and effective and creative teachers. The Ph.D. program is both rigorous and supportive. With two years of coursework and three years of research and teaching, all fully funded, it is possible to complete the degree in five years. We offer multiple funding opportunities for research fellowships in year six, should students need additional time for dissertation completion and for the academic job market, or for pursuing other career opportunities.

Princeton is a research institution with strengths across the disciplines, but it maintains a feeling of intimacy. In keeping with the goals of the University at large, the Department of English seeks to cultivate and sustain a diverse, cosmopolitan, and lively intellectual community. Because this is a residential university, whose traditions emphasize teaching as well as research, the faculty is easily accessible to students and committed to their progress.

The faculty of the Department of English is notable for its world-renowned scholarly reputation, and commitment to teaching and close collaboration with colleagues and students. The faculty showcases wide-ranging interdisciplinary interests as well as a diverse range of critical approaches within the discipline. In addition to offering seminars in every major historical field of concentration, from medieval to contemporary literatures, we offer a wide range of theoretical specializations in fields such as feminist theory, gender and sexuality studies, psychoanalysis, Marxism, postcolonialism, environmental studies, political and social theory, and cultural studies. Students may also take courses in cognate departments such as comparative literature, classics, philosophy, linguistics, history, and art history.

Course of Study

The graduate program in English is a five-year program (with multiple opportunities for funding in year six) leading to the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Students may not enroll for a Master of Arts degree. During the first two years, students prepare for the General Examination through work in seminars, and directed or independent reading. The third, fourth, and fifth years are devoted the writing of a dissertation, and to teaching in undergraduate courses. Through numerous funding opportunities, we are able to offer sixth-year students generous research support.

Although programs are flexible, during the first two years graduate students normally take an average of three courses per semester, to complete the required 12 courses by the end of the second year. The comprehensive General Examination is then taken at the beginning of the third year of study.

Students must also demonstrate a reading knowledge of two foreign languages before the completion of the General Examination.

Course Requirements

Graduate students are required to take a minimum of twelve courses over their first two years in the program, usually enrolling in three courses per semester.

Our distribution requirements are designed to acquaint each student with a diverse range of historical periods and thematic and methodological concerns. The Department values both historical expertise and theoretical inquiry, and assumes that our discipline includes the study of film, visual culture, and media studies.

Graduate Students in English must take courses in each of the following six areas:

  1. Medieval and Renaissance
  2. 18th Century and 19th Century
  3. Modern and Contemporary
  4. Theory
  5. Race, Ethnicity, and Postcoloniality
  6. Gender and Sexuality

All distribution requirements must be taken for a letter grade. The six-course distribution requirement comprises 50% of the courses required for the degree, leaving sufficient room for intensive coursework in areas of specialization. 

While some graduate seminars may cover more than one field, students may not use one course to fulfill two or more distribution requirements at the same time. For example, a medieval course with a substantial commitment to theory may fulfill either the medieval and Renaissance or the theory requirements.


Each entering student is assigned a faculty advisor who works with the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) in planning course selection in the first and second years. After successfully submitting and presenting the dissertation proposal during the spring of the third year, students choose three faculty members to serve as their dissertation advisers.

Graduate Action Committee (GAC)

The Graduate Action Committee (GAC) is a representative group of graduate students in the Department that advocates for graduate student with faculty and administration. Among its primary goals are representing the concerns of the entire graduate student body, promoting intellectual and social interaction between faculty and graduate students, organizing an annual speaker series of distinguished academics, and improving the quality of graduate student life at Princeton. Every graduate student in the Department is welcome and encouraged to participate in GAC.

Working Group on Graduate Issues (WGGI)

The Working Group on Graduate Issues (WGGI) is a four- or five-person elected group of students who meet at several points during the academic year with the chair, director of graduate studies, and one additional faculty member to represent graduate student concerns.


In addition to participating in a variety of seminars and colloquia organized by the Department and other units at the University, graduate students are welcome to organize colloquia of their own. These may involve the discussion of an article or problem, the presentation of a paper, or a forum for debate.


Graduate students who have passed the General Examination are required to teach in undergraduate courses. While the minimum Department requirement is four hours, most students teach more than this. Students may conduct sections of large lecture courses, or direct precepts in upper-division courses. This teaching is supervised by experienced members of the faculty. The Department and University also offer, on an annual basis, a teacher training seminar and workshop. Advanced graduate students may co-design and co-teach courses with faculty through the Collaborative Teaching Initiative

Library Collections

In addition to the general collections of Princeton’s libraries, Firestone Library has a number of special collections that are particularly rich in materials for study: one of the most important collections of medieval and renaissance manuscripts in the United States; works of the Restoration Period, with emphasis on drama; the theater collection, which contains materials for the study of theatrical history; extensive collections concerning the history and literature of the middle Atlantic and southern states; little poetry magazines; concrete and visual poetry; the Sinclair Hamilton Collection of American Illustrated books, 1670–1870; the Morris L. Parrish Collection of Victorian Novelists; the J. Harlin O’Connell Collection of the 1890's and the Gallatin Collection of Aubrey Beardsley; and the archives of major American publishing houses. The extensive Miriam Y. Holden Collection of Books on the History of Women is located adjacent to the Department’s literature collection in the Scribner Room.

Job Placement

We offer strong support and deep resources for students pursuing careers inside and outside academia. Our Job Placement and Career Resources page provides details, as well as information and statistics about recent academic appointments.

Admission and Financial Aid

Competition for admission to the program is keen. About ten new students from a wide range of backgrounds are enrolled each year. The Department looks for candidates of outstanding ability and intellectual promise who have the potential to be lively, effective, and sympathetic scholars and teachers. Its judgments are based on letters of recommendation, transcripts, a personal statement, and a sample of the candidate’s academic writing. GRE scores are not required. Facility in foreign languages is also taken into account. To access the online application, please visit the Graduate Admission Office.

All admitted students are fully funded. Fellowships are awarded by the Graduate School on the Department’s recommendation. Students are also eligible to apply for competitive external and internal fellowships, such as those offered by the Graduate School, the Center for Human Values, and the Center for the Study of Religion.

English Department

The Department offices, lecture halls, and seminar rooms are located in McCosh Hall. There are two libraries in McCosh Hall: the Thorp Library, home to the Bain-Swiggett Library of Contemporary Poetry, and the Hinds Library, the Department’s reading room and lounge. There is also a separate English Graduate Reading Room in Firestone Library, where reserve books for graduate seminars are kept on the shelves. It is adjacent to the Scribner Room, the Department's large non-circulating collection of books and journals.


The Graduate School provides University housing for about 65 percent of the graduate student body. New students have first priority. Although housing in the Princeton area is expensive, many graduate students find convenient and attractive private housing, sharing accommodations or investigating neighboring towns. There are also opportunities for graduate students to apply for resident positions in the undergraduate colleges.

Visiting Princeton

Applicants for admission are welcome to visit the campus at any time, and tours of the campus are available. Once the formal admissions period is over by the end of February, admitted students will be invited to campus and will have the opportunity to visit seminars, and meet with faculty and current graduate students.