PhD in French
The PhD in French trains scholars in the literature, culture, and history of France and the Francophone world. If you have any questions about the application process, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies. Please also see our ‘PhD program FAQs’ below.
Message to Potential Applicants
The Department of French is committed to admissions that are free from bias and discrimination. We welcome applications from talented, passionate individuals from all backgrounds and strive to build a community that is diverse and inclusive. Our admissions committee approaches each application holistically, taking into consideration factors that may have had an impact on an applicant’s academic history. Admissions are not a one-size-fits-all process in which we look for a single applicant profile – rather we embrace the fact that applicants bring different skills and life experiences to the study of French and Francophone literature, history, and culture. Successful candidates come from many different national and educational backgrounds but generally have strong written and oral skills in both French and English and a record of excellence in the study of French and Francophone literature, culture, thought or history or in an adjacent academic field.
Financial hardship should never be a barrier to applying to our program. If you are unable to pay Columbia’s application fee, you may apply for a fee waiver (Application Fee Waivers).
PhD Program FAQs
Our students take courses on and write dissertations about a wide array of literary, theoretical, historical and sociological topics relating to France and the Francophone world. Coursework explores different historical periods, world regions and disciplinary methodologies. For current courses, see the Columbia University Directory of Classes site. For recent dissertation titles visit the Department's Placement page.
Our students are inspired by their enthusiasm for Francophone literature and culture and the history of the French-speaking world, but they are also training for a future career. While the majority of our students apply for academic jobs, some of our alumni pursue careers in other fields, e.g. translation, diplomacy, arts administration, secondary education, the non-profit sector, and business, or pursue additional training for careers in law, finance and other professions.
The faculty of the Columbia Department of French are a diverse body of scholars, hailing from all over the world, and who do exciting, interdisciplinary research in fields including literature, cultural studies, history, sociology, and philosophy. The department has strong ties to related programs and institutes in comparative literature, gender and sexuality studies, and African studies among other programs. Columbia is also fortunate to have its own Maison Française, which hosts regular events related to Francophone studies, including academic lectures and conferences, readings by and interviews with authors, intellectuals, and artists, and annual film festivals. Recent PhDs from Columbia’s French department have been hired by top-tier research and liberal arts institutions.
The program is designed to take five to six years. The first two years are devoted to taking courses and writing the MA thesis. The third year is devoted to qualifying examinations and to the preparation of the dissertation prospectus, which outlines the topic, original contribution, and methodology of the dissertation. During the fourth and fifth years, students write their dissertations. The curriculum includes courses that help students to hone their academic writing skills.
The PhD Program in French is sequential: the MA and MPhil degrees are obtained along the way to the doctorate. Students who do not wish to commit to a PhD or who feel that they need more training before they apply to PhD programs should consider applying to one of our freestanding MA programs (MA in French, MA in History and Literature).
All PhD students receive a five-year fellowship package that covers their tuition and health insurance and provides a stipend to cover living expenses. It is often possible to extend the duration of the fellowship for an additional year by teaching or through external funding, such as Fulbright, Mellon, ACLS, Ford and Chateaubriand fellowships. (Note that the freestanding MA program does not include a tuition waiver or stipend though limited financial aid is available.)
Students usually teach for 3-4 years. In their first and fifth years they receive their fellowship but do not teach. Students usually begin by teaching elementary and intermediate French-language courses then progress to offering more advanced language, literature, and history courses.
Some students opt to complete the graduate certificate in comparative literature offered by the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society (ICLS) while they are working on their PhD in French. Admission to ICLS and completion of the certificate requires foreign language skills and coursework additional to those required by the French Department. Applicants who are interested in this option apply to the French Department and check the box indicating that they wish to be considered for the ICLS certificate program.
In addition to the application form required by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, applicants are required to submit:
1) Curriculum Vitae (CV) or résumé
2) Statement of Academic Purpose
The statement should explain your motivations for applying to the PhD program, connecting them to previous studies or other relevant life experience. You do not have to outline a future dissertation project, but you should identify a few questions/areas of study that are of interest to you. It is important to explain why you are applying to Columbia specifically and to show that you are familiar with our program and the areas of expertise of the faculty.
3) Three letters of evaluation
We prefer that your letters come from current or former professors who know your academic abilities well. It is also a firm requirement of Columbia’s Graduate school that at least two of your letters come from academic institutions.
4) Two writing samples
One of the samples should be in English, the other in French. Each submission should be 10-15 pages long. Please choose work that reflects your analytical and interpretative strengths. Work that is relevant to the PhD in French is preferred, but we will also consider writing in other fields that demonstrates your ability to conduct research and present an argument. It is fine to send an excerpt from a longer piece of work, e.g. a section of a Senior or Master’s thesis.
5) Toefl/IELTS scores
All international students whose undergraduate degree is from an institution in a country where the official language is not English must submit scores of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or IELTS.
Please note: for 2024 admissions, we are not requiring the GRE exam. You may submit GRE scores if you wish, but there is no requirement to do so.