Our MA/PhD Programs for Literary Studies and Writing Studies are split into three stages, with different requirements at each stage. 

More information about the requirements of each stage, including information for current graduate students regarding Stage II applications, Special Fields Exam documents, and Dissertation Prospectus guidelines, can be found below. Students are also encouraged to review the Graduate Resources available to them.



Stage I: Master's Coursework and Requirements


The candidate for the MA degree must earn 32 hours of graduate credit, keeping in mind the following guidelines:

  • At least 24 of the 32 credits must be in the Department of English; at least 16 of the 32 must be in 500-level courses and 12 of these in the Department of English.
  • In 400-level courses graduate students are expected to do work beyond that required of undergraduate students, ordinarily in the form of an additional writing assignment.
  • Half of these hours must be earned in courses meeting on the Urbana-Champaign or the Chicago campus. After the first semester in the program, a student may, with the permission of the Director of Graduate Studies, petition to transfer unit and/or distribution credit from graduate credit earned in another graduate program which was not used for work toward a degree

Language Requirement

To fulfill the language requirement, students must demonstrate reading knowledge of another language. This requirement may be satisfied in one of the following five ways:

  • Completing the equivalent of three full years of undergraduate work;
  • Passing a proficiency exam administered by a UIUC foreign language department;
  • Passing a non-credit 501 language course with a grade of B or higher;
  • Fulfilling the Old English course sequence of ENGL 407 and ENGL 514 (on an Old English topic) with a B or higher; or
  • In consultation with the DGS, pursuing a plan of study to fulfill an alternative competency in a language such as Tagalog, Hmong, ASL, or computer programming (this list is not meant to be exhaustive).

Stage II Application

Students desiring to continue to the doctoral program will have to submit an application to Stage II in the Spring semester in which they will be finishing their master's coursework. Students wishing to leave the program are eligible to earn a terminal MA degree and need not apply to Stage II.

The Stage II application has two goals: first, to demonstrate a student’s readiness to pursue doctoral work (in Stage II of the program); and second, to acquaint students with the faculty in their fields of study, the intellectual questions animating those fields, and the career trajectories of current graduates in the field. Students begin the process of the application in the Fall of their second years, during which students will 1) meet with a faculty member in the field they plan to join to discuss it; 2) explore the resources for careers at the Graduate College and other sources, such as a ImaginePhD; 3) secure 3 short recommendations from faculty 4) write a Self-Reflective Statement; 5) polish their Writing Sample; and 6) produce a CV (see sample CV).

For a breakdown of the required tasks as well as a recommended schedule of when to complete each task, please see below.

Fall Tasks
  • Seek out a meeting with at least 1 faculty member in the field the student plans to join and have a discussion of the field’s current debates and interests, as well as the issues for that field in terms of the job market in tenure-track jobs. Meeting with more faculty members is encouraged.

  • Begin the process of asking 3 faculty members to write short recommendations for their Spring applications.

  • Read through resources for careers for English PhDs (which should include the Graduate College Career resources, Humanities Without Walls, MLA resources, and Imagine PhD) to understand what the commitment to an English PhD entails in terms of career trajectories.

  • Choose a Writing Sample (15-25 pages double-spaced) that reflects their best writing and intellectual trajectory and begin polishing it.

Spring Tasks
  • Keep in mind the April 15 deadline to submit Stage II applications.

  • Prepare a Self-Reflective Statement, which should be no more than 2 single-spaced pages. The statement should reflect what the student has learned about their field and intellectual interests during MA coursework, what they see as their plans for the PhD and (preliminarily) career goals, and what fields and research plans they want to pursue and why.

  • Submit the application as a single pdf file via the Secure Upload Form. The application document should include: 1) Stage II Application Form; 2) Self-Reflective Statement; 3) CV; 4)Writing Sample (15-25 pp double spaced)

  • In addition: 1) submit a Change of Curriculum Petition, and 2) request 3 short recommendations from faculty--to be emailed directly to Andrea Dodd-Wronke (



Stage II: Doctoral Coursework, Special Field Exam, and Prospectus

Doctoral Coursework

  • Stage II coursework consists of 8 graduate seminars, chosen with an eye toward narrowing to a Special Field Exam and Dissertation topic. Courses may be selected both from the English Department and from related disciplines.
  • Between Stage II and Stage III, students must complete at least 64 hours, which may include hours of thesis credit (English 599), and these must be earned in courses meeting on the Urbana-Champaign campus.
  • After the residence requirement has been fulfilled, a student may petition the Graduate College for permission to register in absentia for thesis credit.

Language Requirement (if not fulfilled at the MA level)

To fulfill the language requirement, students must demonstrate reading knowledge of another language. This requirement may be satisfied in one of the following five ways:

  • Completing the equivalent of three full years of undergraduate work;
  • Passing a proficiency exam administered by a UIUC foreign language department;
  • Passing a non-credit 501 language course with a grade of B or higher;
  • Fulfilling the Old English course sequence of ENGL 407 and ENGL 514 (on an Old English topic) with a B or higher; or
  • In consultation with the DGS, pursuing a plan of study to fulfill an alternative competency in a language such as Tagalog, Hmong, ASL, or computer programming (this list is not meant to be exhaustive).

Special Field Exam

The Special Field Exam and the preparation for it serve as the bridge between coursework and the dissertation. The exam allows students to master the core knowledge appropriate to a specialist and a teacher in his or her field. Constructing the list and the rationale, studying for the exam, and taking it are part of the process of defining a professional identity within the discipline of literary studies, film studies, or writing studies. The exam requirements are designed to achieve this end. For more information on preparing for the exam, see Advice for Special Field Exams.

Submitting the Special Field Proposal
  • All requirements for the MA must be completed before the Special Field Exam can be taken and most, if not all, of the PhD coursework should be completed. While completing this coursework, students should begin drafting a list and contemplating a proposal by defining their field with increasing precision, identifying their areas of strength and weakness within the field, and filling in gaps in their reading. Students should ask a faculty member, as soon as it seems appropriate to do so, to serve as Director of the Exam Committee and (likely) the Dissertation Committee. In consultation with that Director, they should invite three other faculty members to serve on their committee. It is expected that students will submit a draft proposal to the faculty as they begin reading for the Special Field Exam, and students should plan to take the exam within nine months of completing coursework.
  • 2 to 3.5 months before the expected date of the Exam, the candidate is required to submit to the Graduate Studies Committee a Special Field Proposal which summarizes the candidate's construction of a Special Field. This Proposal should be shaped in consultation with the Director and the committee members. The proposal identifies the candidate's field, names a four-member committee (including the Dissertation Director) and proposes a tentative exam date and a format (oral, written, or a combination of the two) for the exam. Other than this basic information (on the cover form), the proposal consists of two parts:
    1. Rationale for the Exam: 1-2 page rationale (single spaced) describing the shape of the list and addressing its relationship to the proposed dissertation topic. Good proposals will express not just a stock conception of the field but will fit--and shape--the candidate's developing professional identity.
    2. List of texts: An extensive list of the works in the field on which the candidate proposes to be examined. There are examples of previously submitted exams in the Graduate Studies Office. The Graduate Studies Committee assesses and approves the proposal, sometimes suggesting revisions and/or resubmission.
Deadlines and Requirements
  • Proposals for Special Field Examinations must be submitted no later than three-and-one-half months before the anticipated exam date so that they can be revised if necessary and get final approval no less than three months before the exam date. Earlier is better. It is reasonable to aim to submit a proposal six months before the expected exam date.
  • It is the responsibility of the student, about two months before the exam, to choose a date and a time for the exam in consultation with the Director and Committee members.
  • Notify Andrea Dodd-Wronke in the Graduate Studies Office of this date and time at least a month before the exam so that she can submit the required paperwork to the Graduate College and reserve the seminar room in the Graduate Studies Office. The Graduate College and Graduate Studies Office will send reminders to the candidate and the Committee confirming the exam date and time.
  • Students who do not sit for this exam by March 15th of their fifth year shall be removed from the program, with exceptions--for illness, for parental leave, for unavoidable problems in constructing or maintaining a faculty committee--to be granted on a case-by-case basis by the Director of Graduate Studies.
  • Members of the committee may participate remotely, but the student must be in attendance. If there are extraordinary circumstances, the student can petition to take the exam remotely. All of the members of the student’s committee must agree to it.
  • The Special Field Exam Committee must include at least four voting members, at least three of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty, and at least two of whom must also be tenured at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Members may be in other fields in the English Department or in other departments.
  • Students should also consult the Graduate College Handbook for further information about exam requirements

Dissertation Prospectus

  • Within four months following the successful completion of the Preliminary Examination, graduate students must file a prospectus for the doctoral dissertation with the Director of Graduate Studies. Its text should be developed by each student in consultation with the dissertation director, and must be approved and signed by them as well as by all three secondary dissertation committee members before submission. Unlike in the case of the Special Field proposal, the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Studies Committee will not formally evaluate the content of the prospectus. To submit this document to the Director with all the necessary signatures, then, is to have it accepted.
  • It is understood that the completed dissertation will almost certainly evolve away from some features of the prospectus, and a student will not be required to submit a new version to his or her committee and the Director of Graduate Studies unless the dissertation director determines that the topic has dramatically changed. In any case, the prospectus requirement is meant to encourage an intelligent running start to the dissertation by ensuring that all faculty readers have given their advice and consent to a substantial elaboration of the student's initial design. Failure to file the prospectus within four months of the date of the Special Field exam will not result in expulsion from the program, but may, as with multiple EX grades, lead to a reduction in teaching assistantship or fellowship support.
  • Format of Prospectus:
    1. A succinct, double-spaced document of five to ten pages in 12-point font
    2. A provisional dissertation title
    3. A direct statement of the overall argument and of the original contribution this argument makes to relevant research
    4. A provisional chapter-by-chapter outline, with brief descriptions for each chapter



Stage III: Dissertation and Defense


  • Upon successful completion of Stage II, graduate students should develop a writing plan for their dissertations with their advisors. The department recommends staying in communication with advisors and committee members as students research and write their dissertations.
  • Graduate students who are working on their dissertations may find a community of scholars working on similar projects by joining a Graduate Writing Group at the Writer’s Workshop, which also offers 1:1 writing consultation.
  • At this stage, students should also begin to explore professionalization questions by speaking to their advisors, attending events organized by the Job Placement Director, and visiting the Careers Office in the Graduate College.
  • Graduate students are also encouraged to apply to both internal and external fellowship opportunities.

Dissertation Defense

  • The final requirement of the PhD program is the Dissertation Defense, a two-hour examination conducted by the candidate’s Dissertation Committee. To determine when you need to schedule your defense and deposit the dissertation in time for your projected degree conferral date, be sure to consult the Graduate College Calendar.
  • The candidate must inform the Graduate Studies office of their intention to undertake the defense and distribute copies of the dissertation to the committee well in advance of the defense date. An opportunity will be provided, however, for the incorporation of changes suggested by the Committee before the final copies are submitted to the Graduate College.
  • Members of the Committee who ask for significant revision may withhold their signatures of approval until satisfied that the revisions have been made satisfactorily. The candidate passes the final exam if the Director(s) of Research vote Pass and no more than one of the remaining Committee members votes Fail.
  • Students should consult the Graduate College’s rules for the defense, especially for exceptions to the general rules and timelines outlined here.
  • While students must be enrolled in the semester in which they defend, students do not need to be enrolled to deposit. Students have up to three semesters, counting the semester in which they defended, to deposit their dissertations.
  • These steps will help a student prepare for the defense and deposit:
    1. The text of the dissertation submitted to the committee for the defense must be complete, with full documentation, and carefully proofread.
    2. All voting members of the committee must be present in person or participate remotely for the entire duration of the final examination, and the deliberation and determination of the result. The candidate, chair, and at least one additional voting member must be physically present on campus for the defense. There are exceptions to this rule for extraordinary circumstances. Go to the Graduate College Handbook for more details.
    3. If students need to re-enroll, they must petition the Department and the Graduate College for permission to re-register (if they have time left). Such petitions are usually granted. Students with no time left must apply to the Department and the Graduate College to be re-admitted before they can re-register. This can be done at the time when the Dissertation Defense is set or at least six weeks before depositing. It is typical to grant such permission but it is not guaranteed.
    4. After the defense, when all revisions to the dissertation are complete (and, if necessary, approved by the committee or chair), the student should consult the Graduate College Handbook for formatting the document.
    5. Ideally, candidates should submit their fully formatted dissertation PDF to Andrea Dodd-Wronke one week before the deposit deadline (at the latest) for a formatting check.