The Department of English offers master's and doctoral degrees in several areas of specialization: Literature and Cultural Theory; Rhetoric, Professional Writing, and Community Engagement; Creative Writing; and Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies. Students apply for admission to a specific area or concentration but are encouraged to take classes in others.

Admission Requirements 

Application Deadlines

Application deadlines vary by program, please review the application deadline chart for specific programs. Other important dates and deadlines can be found by using the One Stop calendars.


Students in the UWM Master of Arts degree program in English must pass an M.A. exam and be recommended for admission into the Ph.D. program by their M.A. committee. An application for the Ph.D. program also must be submitted to the Graduate School.

Applicants with master’s degrees from other institutions are evaluated on the basis of standard application materials:

  • GPA
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Three Supporting Letters
  • A Sample of Academic Writing

Such applicants are admitted to doctoral study provisionally and are required to complete an Academic Review within six weeks of finishing 12 credits.

For more specific information about departmental requirements for admission, please visit the English Department’s Graduate Admissions Web page.

The Academic Review is a one- to two-hour meeting with three faculty members of the English Graduate Faculty. At least two members come from the student’s concentration. The Review covers the student’s academic progress in doctoral coursework, two unrevised course papers, and a list of 20-25 books chosen by the student in consultation with the reviewers. See the English Graduate Program Handbook for further details regarding the Academic Review. Applicants should contact the Graduate Program Office for additional information and deadlines.

Credits and Courses

The Ph.D. program requires 54 credits beyond the B.A. (56 for Literature and Cultural Theory), including no more than 27 credits earned at the master’s level. Course distribution requirements vary according to the doctoral concentration a student enters.

Doctoral Concentration

Students applying to the English doctoral program must indicate their preference for one of the following doctoral concentrations: Literature and Cultural Theory; Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement; Creative Writing; Professional and Technical Writing; Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies. The Director of Graduate Studies and a Program Coordinator for each concentration provide initial advising for the student in course enrollment and in selecting a Major Professor for long-term advising. Although a continuing doctoral student can change concentrations, such changes require approval by the Coordinator of the new concentration and the Director of Graduate Studies, and may require a substantial amount of additional coursework.

Because course requirements change frequently, students should regularly consult with Program Coordinators or the Director of Graduate Studies regarding doctoral concentration requirements. The following listings reflect current curricular requirements:

Admission to the English PhD program under Plan G (Professional Writing) is suspended as of Fall 2023.

Literature and Cultural Theory

Select 9 credits in literature courses outside the field of emphasis (at least 3 credits pre-1800)9
Select 9 credits in cultural theory9
Select 9 credits in field of emphasis 19
Select one of the following:3
Approaches to the Modern I
Approaches to the Modern II
Select 24 credits of electives24
ENGLISH 703Introduction to Graduate Studies in Literature (taken during the first semester)1
ENGLISH 820Seminar in Advanced Topics in Literary Criticism and Research:1
Total Credits56

Primary field of emphasis must be declared prior to submitting the prelim proposal and field lists to the Graduate Program Committee. Field of emphasis will be selected from among those designated by Plan A to be available on the Literature and Cultural Theory Web page.

All credits must be 600-level or above, with no more than 9 credits at the 600 level. Doctoral students may not accumulate more than 6 credits of independent study. (ENGLISH 701 must be counted as elective.)

Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement

Required Courses
ENGLISH 701Writing Pedagogies3
ENGLISH 712Theories in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement:3
ENGLISH 713Research Methods in Rhetorics, Literacies, and Community Engagement:3
ENGLISH 750History of Rhetoric and Writing Studies:3
Select 24 credits from the list of core courses below (no more than 6 credits from courses below the 700 level)24
Writing for Nonprofits
Topics in Advanced Communications:
The Rhetoric of Argument
Information Design
Grant Writing
Technical Editing
Seminar in Rhetoric and Professional Writing:
Topics in Public and Professional Writing:
Advanced Internship in Writing and Community Engagement
Issues in Writing Research:
Seminar in College Writing Pedagogy:
Seminar in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement:
Select 18 credits of electives18
Total Credits54

Creative Writing

Select one of the following:6
Narrative Craft and Theory:
and Seminar in Fiction Writing:
Poetic Craft and Theory:
and Seminar in Poetry Writing:
Select 21 credits at the graduate level in literature and cultural theory, rhetoric and composition, professional writing, and/or media, cinema, and digital studies21
Select 15 credits in creative writing 700-level or above courses15
Select 12 credits of electives12
Total Credits54

All credits must be 600-level or above, with no more than 6 credits at the 600 level.

Doctoral students may not accumulate more than 6 credits of ENGLISH 999.

Professional Writing

Admission to the English PhD program under Plan G (Professional Writing) is suspended as of Fall 2023.

ENGLISH 706Seminar in Professional Writing Theory and Pedagogy3
ENGLISH 712Theories in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement:3
ENGLISH 713Research Methods in Rhetorics, Literacies, and Community Engagement:3
Professional Writing
Select 6 credits in English 700-level or 400-level U/G courses 6
Select 15 credits in English 800-level courses (with the advisor’s approval, a student may take credits in related areas) 15
Select 24 credits of electives24
Total Credits54

Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies

Core Courses
Take 15 credits across these courses:15
Media Studies
Film Theory and Criticism
Seminar in Media Studies:
Seminar in Film Studies:
Seminar in Digital Studies:
6 credits in 700- or 800- level courses in English or related programs6
Proseminar (take 2 credits)2
Proseminar in Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies
31 credits of electives at the graduate level (may include ENGLISH 700 & ENGLISH 701 and up to 2 additional credits of ENGLISH 747)
Total Credits54

Additional Requirements

General Restrictions

Doctoral students may not accumulate more than 12 credits in U/G courses and not more than 6 credits in independent study without the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. No more than 18 credits may be taken in courses outside the Department.


Students are required to consult periodically with their Major Professor. The Major Professor helps the student to define an area of special interest within the concentration for the preliminary examination. The Major Professor also assists the student in the selection of appropriate coursework and may chair the Preliminary Examination Committee.

Foreign Language Requirement

All Ph.D. candidates are required to demonstrate proficiency (reading knowledge) in a foreign language. The choice of a language must be approved by the student’s advisor. If a student has not met this requirement in other ways (see English Graduate Program Handbook), a student must pass a two-hour written examination in the translation of a piece of literature or criticism. A student may use a dictionary and/or grammar book. The exam must be arranged in advance with the Director of Graduate Studies and must be taken before the preliminary examination. If a student’s Major Professor considers proficiency in more than one language necessary to the student’s specific plan of study, exams in more than one language may be required. The exam may be retaken until proficiency is attained.


The student must meet minimum Graduate School residence requirements.

Doctoral Preliminary Examination

The doctoral preliminary examination consists of a written examination and an oral examination designed to demonstrate the breadth of a student’s knowledge and the ability to conduct advanced research in one or more areas of study. The written and oral examinations draw from field bibliographies with rationale (500 word maximum) prepared by the student and approved by the student’s preliminary examination committee and the advisory committee of the student’s plan.

The written examination must be at least eight hours long, and it is frequently taken as a three-day, take-home, open book exam. It may be taken at the University or at home, if the committee agrees on the location. An oral exam of two hours covering issues raised during the written exam and/or focusing on the proposed dissertation must follow the written exam within 7-10 days.

Students take the preliminary exam after completing all doctoral coursework or with no more than three credits of doctoral coursework remaining. Students cannot take the exam if they have any incomplete or unreported grades or a GPA less than 3.0. The exam must be finished within one semester after all coursework is completed, excluding summer session. Students may receive a one semester extension for additional coursework from the Director of Graduate Studies. Students who fail the preliminary examination may not proceed to the dissertation. The exam may be retaken only once. See the English Graduate Program Handbook or the Director of Graduate Studies for specific guidelines for governing the preliminary examination process.


The dissertation topic, together with a brief prospectus, must be approved by the Graduate Policy Committee. The student’s major professor or a member of the dissertation committee must present the topic and prospectus to the Graduate Policy Committee. See the Director of Graduate Studies and the English Graduate Program Handbook for specific guidelines for selecting a doctoral committee and preparing the dissertation proposal. The Department considers 200 pages a reasonable length for the dissertation.

Dissertation Defense

The completed dissertation is subject to an oral defense, to be arranged by the Coordinator according to Graduate School regulations. A copy of the dissertation is kept in the Department office.

Time Limit

All degree requirements must be completed within ten years from the date of initial enrollment in the doctoral program.

For additional information see the Graduate School PhD requirements.