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Comparative Literature Ph.D. (Ithaca)

Field of Study

Comparative Literature

Program Description

The Field of Comparative Literature at Cornell offers a Ph.D. degree in all major areas of literary study and on literary and cultural theory. Because the field is small (about twenty students), it is possible to plan diverse and interdisciplinary programs of study.

Entering students design a program in consultation with the Field Committee, which is chaired by the Director of Graduate Studies. Areas of concentration and principal advisors (the Special Committee) should be selected by the end of the first year of residence. Because course work is completed within three years, the student should have proficiency in two foreign languages. Those intending to specialize in a foreign literature are strongly encouraged to acquire fluency in the relevant language. Students normally take fourteen courses. All candidates are required to do at least one year of classroom teaching as part of the doctoral program.

The Second-Year Review takes place in the third term. Its aim is to enable students to begin focusing on the topics and the fields of research that will form the basis of their A exams. The Admission to Candidacy (A) examination is usually taken in the third year of study and is both written and oral.

The department does not offer a terminal M.A. program (and consequently does not admit students seeking only that degree), but an M.A. degree is granted after satisfactory completion of the A examination. The student then begins work on a dissertation, which upon completion is defended at the oral final (B) examination, administered by the Special Committee.

Contact Information

Phone: 607 255-4155

240 Goldwin Smith Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY  14853

Concentrations by Subject

  • comparative literature



Application Requirements and Deadlines

Application Deadlines:

Fall, Jan. 10; no spring admission

Requirements Summary:

Applicants are required to submit GRE general test scores, a writing sample, a statement of purpose and to demonstrate proficiency in two foreign literatures (through, for instance, course work or study abroad).

  • all Graduate School Requirements, including the TOEFL Exam for Non-Native English Applicants
  • three recommendations
  • GRE general test
  • writing sample
  • statement of purpose
  • proficiency in two foreign literatures

Learning Outcomes

Comparative Literature at Cornell is a highly selective, interdisciplinary Ph.D. program. Students receiving the degree go on to teach in a variety of different academic departments or to pursue work in a variety of creative fields.  We value a diversity of approaches and concentrations in our admissions process. Therefore, it is rare that any two students will follow the same paths in their choice of courses, composition of Special Committee, or areas of expertise. Moreover, it is impossible to generalize about what makes  a successful Comparative Literature Ph.D. Indeed, one of the features that distinguishes Comparative Literature from other humanities or literature/language degrees in general is that there are few academic positions for assistant professors designated as purely “Comparative Literature”. Rather, many comparatists find teaching positions in national foreign language departments, in English, film and media studies, critical theory, area studies or world literature and culture departments. 


Learn more about graduate assessment for the Comparative Literature PhD degree.