Which universities have the best graduate English department?

Hello! I’m planning on pursuing a graduate degree from the US, but I can’t seem to find information on which universities actually have great English departments. So far, on account of my own research, Yale seems to be a good idea. Which other universities have good resources and good faculty to make the experience worthwhile?

For graduate schools, you need to find professors that are doing research in the area you are interested in pursuing. For example, if you wish to specialize in 20th century American poets you would find profs who are working in that area and would apply to the programs at the colleges that they teach at.


First, define your terms: what does “worthwhile” mean to you? For any graduate program the first thing is to be clear about what you want from the program. That means both:

  • what you want to do once you have the degree


  • what you want the focus of your studies to be.

Somebody looking for an MA in creative writing will prioritize different things than somebody looking for a PhD in Imagery in Medieval Literature, which will be different again than somebody interested in Post-Colonial Literature, etc.


For perspective on the English PhD path in general, you may want to read 100 Semesters, by William Chace (who earned his PhD at UC Berkeley).


That’s the first thing a prospective grad student needs to know.

If you wand a grad degree because a life in academia is your goal, the most important thing is the PhD program’s placement record. If they’re not turning out graduates landing tenure track positions, it’s just not worth 4-8 years of grad school just to teach HS or become an extremely underpaid part time instructor or adjunct Prof.

Once you narrow things down to PhD programs with the best placement records, focus on the fit with your research interests and funding.

If you’re looking at MA programs, the first question is: why? If you want to teach K-12, you’d be better off with an MA in education, and there isn’t really much else that an English MA will prepare you for other than creative writing if you’re looking to become a writer of fiction.


And UC Berkeley is top ranked for PhD in English.

To the OP, yes, make sure you have a potential mentor who shares your interests. Your current teachers may be able to advise you.

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Those last 3 words suggest you’re an international applicant. Is that the case?

This is a very simple ranking based solely on peer assessment, but it’s a place to start.


I would use this list as a starting point, and delve deeper into schools that interest you – courses, faculty, schedule, degree requirements, location/setting, cost, etc.

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@rabbiay While others are giving you excellent advice on how to pursue a PhD, and more will likely add their advice, I will take the opportunity to provide some words of warnings.
Academia, especially the Humanities, and most of all English, are extremely prestige-ridden. That means that, unless your PhD is from an extremely prestigious university, your chances at landing a tenure-track job are extremely low. The list of “extremely prestigious universities” is pretty short, admissions to these programs is pretty competitive, and even with a PhD from one of these programs, the future is far from being rosy.

English graduate programs churn out far more people with English PhDs than there are open positions each year, and positions are constantly being cut and replaced with adjunct labor.

In addition, of the 2,000 4-year non-profit colleges and universities in the USA, the majority are public regional and directional universities, and the vast majority of jobs are either at one of those, or at one of the 1,500 or so 2-year colleges. Not that these are bad jobs, and they are some of the most important teaching jobs in the country. However, they are not the “professor” jobs that are in the imagination of most people who are looking to pursue a PhD in English. Many of those faculty positions are also extremely underpaid (below USA median wage, for a person who has just spent 11 years of training after high school).

In short, I would not recommend that anybody pursue a PhD in English for the purpose of working as a faculty member of a university, unless they have done their undergraduate at a VERY prestigious college or university, have been accepted for the PhD program at a VERY prestigious university, and are willing to accept a faculty position at any type of college or university, teaching students of any type and level of preparation. Even then, one should have a plan B for employment outside of academia.

True. However, one must remember that many PhD programs post misleading statistics, and will count graduates who are working as contingent labor (AKA “adjuncts”) as “being employed in academia”. In many of the humanities fields including English, these adjuncts make up 2/3 of all PhDs being hired.


Absolutely true. That’s why I added: “If they’re not turning out graduates landing tenure track positions, it’s just not worth…”

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Are you an international student?

Where are you getting your undergrad degree?

Can you afford to pay for a PhD program in English in the United States? Not all are fully funded.

What do you plan to do after you complete your PhD.

What is your advisor suggesting? Start there.

Yes, I am! I’m an international student and starting my senior year of my undergraduate in September.

Thank you for the advice! My first option was academia, but I’ll keep in mind other ideas too, as you’ve said, in case my first choice doesn’t pan out.

Yes, I think that’s a good way to start too. I have a question though: do you have any idea from where I’d be able to get such information, besides maybe just your average Google search? I will be asking one of my own advisers at my current university, but I fear they may not be as much help considering they did their graduate degrees either locally or from the UK. I’m an international student, so I wouldn’t know where to start with regards to researching professors in the fields I most want - either Nineteenth Century (British) Literature, or Literature and Critical Theory.

Yes, I am an international student, and I’m currently studying in Pakistan. I cannot afford to pay for a PhD program, no, but I’ve done research on scholarships, etc. and I know my chances. After a PhD, I was looking forward to working in academia and research. However, I am open to other ideas. For a while I even thought about working as an editor.

Do you plan to work in Pakistan?

I would be fine with that, yeah.

As a suggestion for these interests, look into the CUNY Graduate Center.