The Catholic University of America

ASL  |  Arabic  |  Chinese  |  French  |  German  |  Irish  |  Italian |  Portuguese  |  Spanish

Ph.D. in Hispanic Literatures and Cultures

The PhD Program in Hispanic Literatures and Cultures prepares students to be well-rounded scholars able to conduct independent research of publishable quality in their fields of specialization. We place great emphasis in assisting our students in the process of establishing an academic dialogue with colleagues in their own and other fields. Our low faculty-student ratio allows for very close faculty mentoring and professional training. From the beginning of the program we encourage and support our students to actively present their work at scholarly conferences and professional meetings, as well as to begin a promising publication career. We see as necessary to provide curricular flexibility and professional mentoring in fields not strictly related to academia. For that reason our students are offered advice in workshops and other university-wide networking opportunities to help them envision professional paths in editorial positions (publishing houses, news agencies), cultural institutions (libraries, foundations), and U.S. government agencies and private companies seeking individuals with specialized knowledge in multicultural and foreign affairs. We encourage our students to take advantage of CUA’s location in the political and diplomatic heart of the U.S.


The normal preparation for the doctoral program is an M.A or M.Phil. in Spanish Language, Literature or Hispanic Studies. Students with different backgrounds are encouraged to contact the department to see if they qualify for admission.

Applications are accepted year round. Online application available at: 

GRE scores are required for all U.S. applicants. International students whose native language is not English should present TOEFL or IELTS scores. GRE scores are required of international students who have obtained B.A. or MA degrees in English-speaking countries. Students are selected on the basis of undergraduate and graduate (if applicable) records, GRE, TOEFL or IELTS scores, a Statement of Purpose indicating research interests, 3 confidential letters of recommendation and a 20-25 page academic writing sample in Spanish. The department may schedule interviews to complete the application process.


Knights of Columbus Fellowship and Board of Trustees full-tuition scholarship
The most qualified applicants whose application is complete by February 1 may be nominated for the University wide competition for the Knights of Columbus Fellowship and the prestigious Board of Trustees full-tuition scholarship.

Full-Tuition Scholarship

The strongest applicants to the Ph.D. program (high G.P.A., cumulative verbal and quantitative G.R.E. of at least 1300 or equivalent) may be considered for a full-tuition scholarship.
For information on financial aid resources offered by the university please visit:


The Department of Modern Languages and Literatures attaches great importance to the personal nurturing of its students throughout their graduate programs, in the form of individual advising, professional encouragement, and financial support.
A limited number of Teaching Fellowships are available for the Spanish Ph.D. program. These include waiver of tuition and an annual stipend of $18,000. Graduate fellows take a course on Principles and Practice of Second Language Teaching and have the opportunity to develop their mastery of the art of teaching under the supervision of faculty skilled in second language acquisition.



  • Colonial and Postcolonial
  • Modern and Contemporary Peninsular
  • Modern and Contemporary Spanish America

PhD students complete a minimum of 54 credits. Students coming to CUA with an M.A from another institution may transfer up to 24 credits.

Distribution of credits for students transferring 24 credits*

  • ML 521 Principles and Practice of Second Language Teaching
  • ML 531 Theory and Criticism
  • 7 area courses: at least 2 in each of the 3 areas
  • 1 free elective course outside of the MLL department

*students transferring less than 24 credits will decide the distribution of any extra credits with the director of graduate studies.

Distribution of credits for students with an M.A from CUA
Students are required to earn a minimum of 24 credits beyond the credits counted for the M.A.

  • 3 courses: 1 in each of the 3 areas.
  • 4 elective courses within the department
  • 1 free elective course outside of the MLL department

Directed Reading Courses

The department offers directed reading courses to accommodate the needs of individual students under special circumstances.

Transferring Credits

Up to 24 transfer credits completed in an accredited graduate program with a grade of B or better may be applied toward the Ph.D. degree. This credit transfer must be recommended by the Director of Graduate Studies and the Department Chair, and approved by the Academic Dean.

Consortium Classes

The Director of Graduate Studies may recommend classes in the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area. For information on member institutions see:
A student may take a consortium course only for credit and must have the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, Chair, Dean and consortium coordinator.


Ph.D. students are required to demonstrate a reading knowledge of a second foreign language. The research language required will be chosen, with the adviser’s approval, to fit the program selected by the candidate. The language requirement has to be satisfied no later than the semester preceding the comprehensive examination. Accepted methods of satisfying this requirement are:

-A minimum score of 450 on the Graduate School Foreign Language Test. See Bulletin of Information issued by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J. Information is also available at the Counseling Center, 127 O'Boyle Hall. Call (202)319-5765 to schedule an appointment.
-Pass the noncredit intensive language course offered by the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures: FREN/GER/ITAL 500


Students in the Ph.D. program must pass a comprehensive written examination. This examination may be taken in the semester during which the student will complete the course work or after all other degree requirements are fulfilled. Students need to consult the Director of Graduate Studies to check eligibility and preparation for the exam.

Candidates for the Ph.D. degree are expected to have fluency and satisfactory critical writing skills in Spanish and demonstrate a solid knowledge of the literatures and cultures of Spanish America and the Iberian Peninsula. Thorough knowledge of the main scholarly and critical works relating to the chosen field of specialization will be assessed in these exams. 

Comprehensive examinations are comprised of three written exams and one oral exam.

Two written exams on general areas outside the area of specialization
Students will prepare a list of 30 to 40 primary and secondary sources with the faculty members responsible for those areas. These areas can be on a period, genre, or a theme covering several periods and genres; they can also be transatlantic. The second of these areas must be from the other side of the Atlantic of the area of specialization. Students will answer two out of three questions for these exams.

One written exam covering the overall student’s area of specialization
Students will prepare a list of 50 to 60 primary and secondary sources with the faculty member responsible for this area. Students will answer two out of three questions for this exam.

One written exam covering an elective area within the student’s area of specialization
Students will prepare a list of 25 primary and secondary sources with the faculty member responsible for this area. The purpose of this list is to start exploring works and topics for the doctoral dissertation. Students will answer one out of two questions for this exam.

Oral exam
This exam is an opportunity for students to elaborate on their written exam questions and answers.

Day 1 9:00 – 11:00 General Area 1
2:00 – 4:00 General Area 2

Day 2 9:00 – 12:00 Specialization (overall area)
2:00- 5:00 Specialization (elective area)

Day 3 2:00- 4:00 Oral exam

*All exams, written and oral, must be taken within a maximum period of 15 days. The oral exam (Day 3) will be scheduled at least 7 days after the specialization exams (Day 2).


When all courses and requirements are fulfilled and after passing the comprehensive exam, students apply to candidacy. Once admitted to candidacy, students have five years to complete the doctoral dissertation. 


Within the first semester of being accepted into candidacy, students will be required to submit an annotated bibliography of a minimum of 25 sources. This bibliography will be evaluated by the dissertation committee and must be approved before submitting the dissertation proposal.


Once the dissertation director and the dissertation committee have approved the proposal, the director of graduate studies will schedule an oral defense. During this defense the student will present the proposal to the department and tenured and tenure-track faculty members will indicate whether it may be approved and forwarded to the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs in the School of Arts and Sciences. The department, the school and the Dean of Graduate Studies must approve the student’s dissertation topic and dissertation committee. This committee consists of a director and two readers from the Department of Modern Languages. External committee members may be added upon approval by the faculty.