How do I Earn a Humanities PhD?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2018
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A doctorate in humanities or humanities PhD is earned by being accepted to and completing all requirements of a doctoral humanities program. This means first having earned a bachelor’s degree, and different programs may have varying requirements on what subject must be studied first. Since humanities incorporates so many areas of studies in the arts, philosophy, literature and history, some programs are very accepting of students with degrees in other fields. Other programs expect students to have a bachelor’s degree specifically in the humanities, and many programs expect students to have at least reading competency in a foreign language of the past or present.

Each humanities PhD program is structured differently, but many will have required courses or seminars, offering a whole worldview on the development of society from historic past to present. In these studies, students can begin to identify those areas in which they would like to specialize, and they’ll usually be offered a wide variety of elective courses that provide them with ways to enhance their studies.

While people are completing coursework requirements for the humanities PhD, they may have other responsibilities. Many graduate programs require and pay students to either teach classes or work as teaching assistants. This is useful training, since a large percentage of people who get a humanities PhD plan to continue as college instructors. Work in teaching may also help pay some college expenses or defer some costs.


The other important consideration during the early years of study is development of the humanities PhD dissertation, an original work that will contribute new thinking to humanities studies. With one advisor or more, students must develop a focus, and if they’re attending school full-time, they’re usually expected to start work on the dissertation by the end of year three. Research requirements for this work are extensive, and the finished product is approximately book length. In order for the PhD to be awarded, faculty members will read, evaluate and question the work and the student must make a formal defense of it in a public venue. Should this prove successful, the humanities PhD is awarded.

The humanities PhD tends to attract natural scholars who enjoy the school setting, and think about becoming college professors. It’s fair to state that even with a PhD, getting jobs in humanities programs is difficult and competitive. A doctorate from a highly regarded school doesn’t necessarily guarantee work. This is one area to consider when evaluating the potential income or career solidity that might be gained by earning a doctorate. Some students find ways to enlarge or direct focus in PhD studies that may give them more career opportunities besides teaching after they earn their degrees.



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