Top 5 English Graduate Schools in the Country

By Tucker Cummings , last updated December 21, 2011

When it comes time to apply to graduate programs for English, you want to find the best, the most prestigious institutions and ensure that you will get a job after graduation. But picking the school with the best English department for your graduate studies isn’t cut and dry.

Firstly, every school has its own area of expertise, with some programs being best for English grad students looking to specialize in African-American literature, Shakespeare, British Literature, or literary criticism. Another complicating factor when trying to rank the top five graduate programs for English in the United States is the tendency for ranking agencies to allow “ties” between schools with equal educational merit. For example, U.S. News and World Report ranked English programs in the US, but had Stanford and Yale tied for second place. This forced Columbia, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania into a three-way tie for the next best school, ranking them as the fourth-best in the nation.

Taking all that into account, here is a rundown of five of the best graduate programs for English in the country.

University of California: Berkeley

Top-rated in English by U.S. News and World Report, this graduate program offers specializations in African-American Literature, American Literature, 18th through 20th Century British Literature, Literary Criticism and Theory, Gender and Literature, and Medieval/Renaissance Literature. According to the department’s website, “Faculty in the English Department have received more university Distinguished Teaching Awards—25—than any other department.”


Offering the exact same array of English graduate specialties as UC Berkley, this school has also received top marks from U.S. News and World Report. Prizes are offered each year for the best dissertations in English; prize money is also awarded to support selected research projects for grad students. There are many teaching opportunities and fellowships available.


Located in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University is considered to be one of the best programs in the country. On the department website, officials state that “Yale English majors have an astonishing recent history of writing awards and successful publication.” Teaching is a priority for all graduate coursework, with the aim of the program to hone the skills of graduate students and prepare them to teach in any environment. The English Department is affiliated with the programs in African-American Studies, Film Studies, Renaissance Studies and Medieval Studies, meaning you can create a combined degree with English and these subject areas.


Normally, all accepted English grad students receive full tuition waivers, and a stipend. In the second year, you can augment that money with a teaching fellowship. By the third year of the program, you will need to demonstrate a reading knowledge of at least two foreign languages. Out of the 400 applications received each year, only 10-15 new students are admitted each year.


Unlike many other top-ranked English grad programs, Columbia distinguishes itself by offering a MA degree, as well as an MPhil degree (many other programs just offer PhDs.) Columbia’s Department of English and Comparative Literature does not have a minimum GRE score required to apply, but it is still competitive: less than 5% of applicants make the cut each year.

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