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The graduate program in English provides you with a broad knowledge in the discipline, including critical and cultural theory and literary history.

The graduate program in English provides you with a broad knowledge in the discipline, including critical and cultural theory and literary history. This solid foundation enables you to choose your own path based on the wide variety of areas of concentration. Our flexible program allows you to take courses outside the department to further explore your chosen field(s). Our program emphasizes excellence in writing, innovative scholarship, and eloquent presentations—important skills you will need in your future profession. The program and its faculty are committed both to diversity in its student body and in the diversity of thought and scholarship.

Examples of student theses and dissertations include “The Write to Stay Home: Southern Black Literature from the Great Depression to Early Twenty-first Century,” “Profaning Theater: The Drama of Religion on the Modernists Stage,” and “Sentimental Borders: Genre and Geography in the Literature of Civil War and Reconstruction.”

Graduates have secured faculty positions at institutions such as Brown University, Columbia University, and University of California, Los Angeles. Others have begun their careers with leading organizations such as Google and McKinsey & Company.

Additional information on the graduate program is available from the Department of English and requirements for the degree are detailed in Policies.

Areas of Study

Unspecified | Medieval | Renaissance/Early Modern | 18th Century/Enlightenment | 19th Century British/Romantics/Victorian | Early American (to 1900) | 20th Century British | 20th Century American | Criticism and Theory | The English Language | Transnational Anglophone/Postcolonial | African American Literature | Drama | Poetry

Admissions Requirements

Please review admissions requirements and other information before applying. You can find degree program-specific admissions requirements below and access additional guidance on applying from the Department of English.

Writing Sample

The writing samples (one primary and one secondary) are highly significant parts of the application. Applicants should submit 2 double-spaced, 15-page papers of no more than 5,000 words each, in 12-point type with 1-inch margins. The writing samples must be examples of critical writing (rather than creative writing) on subjects directly related to English. Applicants should not send longer papers with instructions to read an excerpt or excerpts but should edit the samples themselves so that they submit only 15 pages for each paper. Applicants who know the field in which they expect to specialize should, when possible, submit a primary writing sample related to that field.

Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose is not a personal statement and should not be heavily weighted down with autobiographical anecdotes. It should be no longer than 1,000 words. It should give the admissions committee a clear sense of applicants’ individual interests and strengths. Applicants need not indicate a precise field of specialization if they do not know, but it is helpful to know something about a candidate’s professional aspirations and sense of their own skills, as well as how the Harvard Department of English might help in attaining their goals. Those who already have a research topic in mind should outline it in detail, giving a sense of how they plan their progress through the program. Those who do not should at least attempt to define the questions and interests they foresee driving their work over the next few years.

Standardized Tests

GRE: Not Accepted


While there are no specific prerequisites for admission, a strong language background helps to strengthen the application, and students who lack it should be aware that they will need to address these gaps during their first two years of graduate study.


While a candidate's overall GPA is important, it is more important to have an average of no lower than A- in literature (and related) courses. In addition, while we encourage applications from candidates in programs other than English, they must have both the requisite critical skills and a foundation in English literature for graduate work in English. Most of our successful candidates have some knowledge of all the major fields of English literary study and advanced knowledge of the field in which they intend to study.

Theses & Dissertations

Theses & Dissertations for English


See list of English faculty


Degrees Offered


Questions about the Program?

Department of English