Online PhD in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies

The field of comparative literature is interdisciplinary. Rather than a simple study of fiction, it spans the study of history, culture, philosophy, and even foreign language. Online PhD programs in comparative literature foster research that combines multiple academic areas to produce critical and holistic research over different pieces of literary work. Students therefore take classes in various movements in literature, historical eras, and cultural concepts to achieve a broad understanding of the climate during which literature is written and the societal factors that influenced literary work. Students will also become familiar with different methods of conducting literary criticism.

Some online PhD programs for comparative literature give students the opportunity to concentrate on different literary movements. Students may dedicate the majority of their research to specific time periods, specific global awareness projects, or on different cultures. All students, however, will learn how to interpret literature and engage in critical analysis of various texts. Typically, graduates from comparative literature graduate programs go on to become professors, authors, or even editors.

About Online PhD Programs in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies

Once enrolled in a graduate comparative literature and cultural studies program, students will take classes that hone their knowledge of literary theory and criticism. Most programs expect students to already have some knowledge of critical analysis and therefore build off of the skills undergraduate students acquire while earning their bachelor's degree in a field related to comparative literature. In addition, students will take classes in history and culture to gain an interdisciplinary understanding of the contexts and influences behind literary works. Some specific examples of classes that an online comparative literature student may take include those listed below, which are derived from the City University of New York‘s comparative literature Ph.D. program.

Year One:

  • History of Literary Theory and Criticism. This class explores how literary theory and criticism has developed as a field over time.
  • Narrating/Theorizing the Self. The self is a prevalent concept in literary works, and many authors explore it through various forms of narration. This class delves into the different literary methods used for discovering and determining the self.
  • Melancholia and Literature. Another prevalent theme in literature is melancholia — sadness and dissatisfaction with the world. This class explores how authors have treated this subject over time.

Year Two:

  • Renaissance Literature: Colonization and Globalization. A survey in Renaissance literature, this class explores how the globalization and colonization affected literary themes, characterization, and plot.
  • Fretful Memory: The Past and Its Anxieties in Renaissance Prose. This class is an exploration of how literature written during the Renaissance was influenced by the past and how that factored into novels and short stories.
  • German Romantic, Russian Formalists, Czech Structuralists This is a survey class that explores the influences on German, Russian, and Czech authors, as well as the literary works that resulted from those influences.

It is typical for online Ph.D. programs in comparative literature and cultural studies to require students to complete dissertations prior to graduating. Dissertations are thorough research projects over a particular aspect of comparative literature. Some example topics include the influence of politics on literature within a particular geographic area, the role of globalization in contemporary literature, and the use of music in literature in postmodern novels. Students usually take classes that help guide them through the dissertation process. Once they have finished writing their dissertations, they will defend them in front of faculty members, after which they will be permitted to graduate.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies

Online Ph.D. programs in comparative literature are a good choice for individuals who hope to establish careers within academia. Potential students should have an interest in history, geography, culture, and related fields in addition to literature, as the field requires students to study multiple fields. Students should also be interested in literary theory and criticism. Those who find themselves bored by history or disinterested in critical analysis may want to seek out a different field. In addition, students who want to establish careers as editors or publicists may find that their needs are better-served by a professional master's degree program.

Online classes are not for everyone. While it is true that they offer greater flexibility than classroom-based programs, they also require a lot of commitment. Online students should be prepared to spend time on their classes each day, even though they won't attend class in a physical classroom. They must also be organized and adept at time management. For students who need structure to succeed, a traditional or hybrid program may be a better alternative to online classes. In addition, students who struggle with self-motivation may also benefit from more traditional course work.

Application & Admission Requirements

Before students can be considered doctoral candidates, they must first earn at least a bachelor's degree, preferably in a field related to comparative literature. Doctoral students often come from English, literature, and history backgrounds. Typically, they are expected to have maintained at least a 3.0 GPA during their undergraduate course work. To be admitted, students must submit an application packet that consists of transcripts, GRE scores, and a personal statement. Most programs also request to see an essay example from candidates. Finally, some programs may also require students to complete interviews before being accepted into a comparative literature program.

Career Options & Job Market

The most common career path for graduates from online comparative literature and culture studies is that of academia. Students typically go on to become post secondary instructors within the field of English. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the field of post secondary teaching is projected to grow by 17% by 2020. In addition, instructors earn around $62,050 annually. Students also have the option to use what they have learned in their comparative literature classes in their own writing. According to the BLS, authors earn around $55,420 annually.

Where to Find Information

How to Get Funding

Many professional societies and associations like those listed above offer fellowship and grant opportunities to graduates within the comparative literature field. In addition, students can seek scholarship opportunities from companies, organizations, and their local governments. The federal government also provides aid programs in the form of scholarships, grants, loans, and loan forgiveness. Listed below are some examples of aid programs for which students can apply.

  • Federal Direct Stafford Loan. Doctoral students can apply for this aid program, which is a low-interest loan of up to $12,000 each academic year.
  • Federal Perkins Loan. Another federal loan, this program is based on need and provides students with an average of $3,500 annually at a fixed interest rate.
  • Campus-Based Aid. Many universities also offer their own financial aid programs. To learn about university-based tuition assistance, contact your school's financial aid office.

Essential Advice

  • Take literary theory and criticism classes while enrolled in undergraduate studies. These will set the foundation that you'll need when you advance into graduate-level course work.
  • Also consider taking some history and culture classes while you are an undergraduate student. Comparative literature is an interdisciplinary field, so the more well-rounded you are, the more likely it is that you will be admitted into Ph.D. programs.
  • Don't be afraid to contact professors to learn more about different comparative literature Ph.D. programs. This is an excellent way to see if your research interests will be fulfilled in a specific program.
  • If you run into trouble with the admissions process, don't be afraid to call the university admissions offices. They are there to help you with any application questions that may arise.