Open book

Program Description

Combining an apprenticeship in rigorous, traditional scholarship with exposure to the most advanced work in literary and cultural theory, the program in comparative literature at Chicago prepares students to compete successfully for academic careers in both national literature departments and programs that stress comparative or interdisciplinary study. All students take a two-quarter sequence in their M.A. year that provides a solid grounding in literary criticism and theory and poses some of the central challenges facing literary scholars today. Students design the remainder of their program to serve their own interests, either studying several national literatures (with primary emphasis on one) or exploring the relationship between literature and another discipline. Students develop individualized dissertation topics working closely not only with the faculty in comparative literature but also with other professors from the department of the University that best complements their interests. These have included projects ranging from the myth of the artist to illusion, confusion and the Romantic imagination, from  the hermeneutics of divination to the quest to fail, and comparisons between a wide variety of national literatures, such as  Polish and Irish,  Chinese and Indian, Russian and German, English and Portuguese along the African/Indian Ocean. Please see the Graduate Student section of the website for information about current research interests.

The University is famous for the vibrancy and intensity of its interdisciplinary studies and Comparative Literature students often work with faculty in many departments. The university is also renowned for treating graduate students as co-participants in the humanistic enterprise. Through a unique system of some forty interdisciplinary workshops offered annually, students and faculty together focus on topics of current interest, invite speakers from outside the university and share their own work in progress. Recent workshops at which comparative literature students have presented or are scheduled to present their work include: Poetry and Poetics; Literature and Philosophy; Metaphor; Medieval Studies; Renaissance Studies; Critical Animal Studies; African Studies;  Modern France and Francophone Studies;  East Asian and Trans-Regional Histories; Western Mediterranean Culture, and Theater and Performance Studies.

Ph.D. students will find many opportunities for scholarly engagement in lectures, conferences, workshops, and other activities fostered by the University's many research centers and institutes. These include: 

Interdisciplinary centers include:

A standing joint degree program has also been established between Comparative Literature and the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS). It allows students to complement their doctoral studies in Comparative Literature with a program of study in TAPS that reflects their particular training and interests, encompassing both academic and artistic work. Students apply to this standing program at the time of their application to the University.


Our Ph.D.'s hold tenured or tenure-track positions in a variety of literature departments at many colleges and universities both in the United States and abroad, including, in the U.S., Colorado College, Reed College, Rutgers University and Stanford University, and abroad, University College London, University of Paris, University of São Paolo, and Taiwan Normal University. Recent Ph.D.'s have earned positions at Indiana University and the University of Louisville, as well as jobs in consulting, software development, high school teaching, and established scholars among our alumni have published major books and articles, and contributed to the profession in, for example, the American Comparative Literature Association’s annual State of the Discipline Report. Please see our listing of Alums for further details.

Admission and Degree Requirements

To gain admission to the Department of Comparative Literature, a student must have a B.A. or its equivalent, strong preparation in one foreign language and adequate preparation in at least one other foreign language, a strong background in literature or a relevant humanistic discipline, and an overall record of marked distinction. In view of our M.A. language requirements, applicants from Asia and other non-English-speaking nations who have had less than a year of study at an English-medium university are required to submit their TOEFL and/or IELTS scores, as well as demonstrate proficiency in one European language in addition to English.

For the online application form and other essential information about admissions policy, please visit the Admissions page of the Humanities Division at:

Ph.D. Application Checklist and FAQ


Our application process is now entirely online. Please do not send any materials in hard copy. All materials should be submitted through the online application.

Students applying to the PhD program in Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago must have the following materials:

  • Transcripts from all college-level, degree-track programs
  • 3-4 confidential letters of recommendation
  • A 15-20 page writing sample (double-spaced; page count does not include bibliography) 
  • A statement of academic purpose, 1-3 pages, single-spaced
  • All applicants for whom English is not a primary language may be required to submit current scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Current scores are no more than two years old at the time of application submission. A complete description of the English proficiency policy may be found at this website, and questions about the English proficiency requirement should be directed to

More information on English Language Requirements available on the Office of International Affairs Website.

For comprehensive information about admissions requirements and procedures, see the University of Chicago Humanities Division's Prospective Students webpage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the Department of Comparative Literature require the GRE Subject Exam? No, the department does not require the GRE subject exam, and scores for this exam are not considered in the admissions process. Do not submit GRE subject exam scores in your online application.

Supplemental Materials

My writing sample is over 20 pages long. Will my application still be considered? 
Your application will still be considered if your writing sample is over the recommended upper limit of 20 pages. This recommended limit is not absolutely fixed, but we strongly suggest that applicants try to adhere to it as closely as possible. If you are unable to reduce the paper you want to use as a writing sample in your PhD application to 20 pages, please consider providing an 20-page excerpt from that paper and supplying a brief (one-page or less) abstract that contextualizes the function and place of the excerpted section within the paper as a whole.

Where should I mail my supplementary application materials? All materials are submitted online.

Do page counts refer to single- or double-spaced pages? 
The writing sample should be 15-20 pages double-spaced. The statement of academic purpose (also referred to as the Candidate or Personal Statement, or the "Statement of Intent") should be 1-3 pages single-spaced.

Additional PhD application information can be found on the Division of Humanities webpage.

Master's Degree

Does the Department of Comparative Literature offer a master's degree? 
The Department of Comparative Literature does not offer a terminal MA degree. The University of Chicago offers Masters level study in Comparative Literature through the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities. In this one-year program, students build their own curriculum with graduate-level courses in any humanities department (including Comparative Literature) and complete a thesis with a faculty advisor.

Department of Comparative Literature students can earn an MA while on the PhD track, providing they do not already hold an MA in Comparative Literature.

If I already have a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature, how will this affect my application?

Applicants with a Masters degree in Comparative Literature will be evaluated according to the same criteria as all applicants. If accepted, students with masters degrees in Comparative Literature will receive partial credit in the form of a reduced course load but must still fulfill core courses and other  requirements. For further information, see Course Requirements page.

Applicants with Masters degrees in single literatures or in other humanities disciplines will be evaluated according to the same criteria as all applicants including the language and other requirements as stated. Credit, if any, will be decided at the time of admission.


Once I've submitted my application, how can I check that my materials were received? 
Once your application is submitted, you can log in to the submission site to track the receipt of your application. As the Admissions Office receives your application materials, they will update your checklist.

How many applicants does the PhD program receive per year and how many of these applicants are admitted? 
This past year we received almost 150 applications. In recent years, anywhere from 3% to 6% of the applicants have been admitted into the program.

How many admitted applicants receive funding? All incoming graduate students receive a full fellowship renewable based on satisfactory progress for a total of five years. Most of our PhD candidates are successful in the competition for dissertation completion fellowships in the sixth year. For more information, see Funding Opportunities.

I would like to apply for a joint degree program at the University of Chicago. How can I go about doing this? 
In the Humanities Division at Chicago, applicants cannot apply for a joint degree program upfront. It is recommended that you apply to one of the two departments in which you are interested and, in the following year, apply for a joint degree with the other department.

I am currently enrolled in a PhD program at another University and would like to transfer to the University of Chicago. How can I do this? The PhD program in Comparative Literature does not accept transfer students. For admission, you must apply as would any other prospective student, regardless of your academic background. The admission committee will assess your academic progress and see what graduate courses, if any, may be counted toward your PhD course work at University of Chicago. If your work meets the language and other requirements of Comparative Literature, it is possible that you might be admitted with the same credit as those applying with a previous MA (see above) but you would still be required to take ten graduate courses including the required two core seminars. See program requirements.

How many times a year do you accept PhD applicants? 
We only accept new PhD students in the fall. The deadline is typically in the third week of December.

Can prospective students schedule campus visits? 
The Department of Comparative Literature hosts an Open House each year solely for prospective students who have already been admitted to the PhD program. If other prospective students have questions about the program, they should e-mail Ingrid Sagor, the Department Administrator, at The Office of Enrollment also offers tours of campus throughout the year.  While registration is not required, it is strongly advised to ensure that a tour is indeed scheduled and that the tour guide will be familiar with your area of study.

Please see also the FAQ page for the Division of the Humanities