French Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's degrees and PhDs in French can lead to careers in and out of academia. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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French Master's and PhD Degrees at a Glance

In the United States, there may not be much demand for French degrees, outside of academia and international travel-related careers. So, if you are thinking about getting a graduate degree in French, you should decide what you want to do with this degree first. If you're interested in becoming a French teacher, you should be aware that most graduate degree programs for teaching require education-specific courses and several hours of student teaching experience.

The highest salaries are usually available for university and college teachers, but these positions usually require a PhD. As of May 2011, the mean annual salary for postsecondary teachers was $67,000. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2010-2020, jobs are expected to grow 17%, which is about as fast as average.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Students interested in teaching at the secondary school or junior college level and those who want to work outside of academia Students who want to advance in their careers as teachers and researchers at universities
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Graduate teaching assistants ($33,000)*
- Interpreters and translators ($51,000)*
- Secondary school teachers ($57,000 - requires additional training)*
- Postsecondary foreign language and literature teachers ($67,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 3-5 years after a master's program
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 6-8 graduate level courses
- Master's thesis (may be optional for some degree programs)
- Master's exams
The equivalent of a master's degree plus:
- Approximately 4-6 more graduate level courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Foreign language requirement in addition to French
- Dissertation prospectus
- Dissertation
- Teaching requirement (not required by all schools)
Prerequisites - Official transcripts for bachelor's degree (preferably in French)
- Statement of purpose
- Letters of recommendation
- GRE test scores (foreign students also need TOEFL test scores)
- Academic writing sample in French
Master's degree prerequisites plus a minimum of 30 credit hours of graduate level courses or a master's degree
Online Availability Yes, but accredited schools are rare and may not offer full online degree programs None currently available, but on-campus programs may offer independent study options for some students

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in French

Most schools offer master's degrees in French that focus on literature, language, civilization, and teaching. Some schools offer separate degree programs for each area of focus. Others may only offer one or two French degrees, but allow students to take electives to concentrate on their areas of interest. Areas of interest could include courses in advanced style and grammar, philosophy, art, Medieval French literature, Renaissance French literature, and more.

Some schools also offer degrees in literary translation. Students may be required or encouraged to spend time in a French-speaking country before graduation to hone their French language skills. Some schools also require proficiency in an additional foreign language. For instance, if you are interested in Medieval French literature, you may be required to become proficient in Latin or Italian.

Pros and Cons


  • Employers of interpreters and translators prefer candidates with higher education, especially when technical information is involved, such as health or legal topics*
  • Most interpreters and translators work in freelance, which allows them to manage their own schedules*
  • It may be possible to seamlessly transition from a master's program to a PhD program at the same school


  • If you can write and speak French and you don't plan to go into education, getting a master's degree may not be necessary for most careers
  • Master's degree programs are competitive and time consuming
  • These programs are expensive

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Students are required to take about 6-10 graduate courses that focus on a variety of time periods in French history, culture and literature. An essay or research paper focusing on your area of interest is normally required. You must also pass comprehensive oral and written master's exams. These exams cover your major area of interest as well as other French subjects. Some schools require that a portion of these exams be written in French.

Examples of courses for French graduate degrees may include:

  • French culture and civilization
  • Renaissance French literature
  • French literature in the Middle Ages
  • 20th century pre-war French literature
  • Contemporary French culture
  • Teaching a foreign language

Online Degree Options

It may be hard to find accredited schools that offer master degree programs fully online; it may be easier to find a school that will allow you to take some of your courses online. It could also be possible to take a portion of some of your courses online. If you're interested in this, you should discuss it during the admission process. If you find an online program, make sure it's a full degree program and not a certificate program. Certificate programs may be useful for working professionals, but they should not be used as a substitute for a master's degree.

Stand Out with this Degree

Make sure you demonstrate that you put your French language skills to use outside of the classroom. Most schools offer opportunities to spend time in French-speaking countries, so you should sign up for these opportunities, if possible. Also try to get internships or volunteer positions in companies and organizations where you can frequently use your French skills. You may also want to show off your tech skills, since the BLS notes that most employers are looking for tech-savvy workers. Consider showing off your tech skills, while getting more French language practice, by starting a French language blog.

PhD in French

Courses for PhD programs are typically more narrowly focused versions of those taken in master's degree programs. For instance, if you majored in French literature for your master's, you probably had to take courses that included studies of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance. For your PhD, you may be able to devote more time to a particular area within those time periods, such as a specific author.

At this degree level, you are expected to demonstrate expert knowledge of your area of French study by the time you graduate, so this degree program will require a good deal of research. In addition to conducting research and working on your dissertation, you may also be required to become a teaching assistant. Agreeing to become a teaching assistant is normally required if you want the school to waive tuition fees. Although not having to pay tuition is a valuable perk, the workload for teaching assistants can be heavy, depending on the professor you assist.

Pros and Cons


  • If you can get tenure as a professor, you'll have a high level of job security
  • As a professor, you may have many opportunities to travel, both domestically and internationally, to complete research projects, visit other schools and attend conferences
  • There can be an immeasurable level of personal accomplishment that comes with completing a PhD degree


  • It may take a long time, up to 7 years, to become a tenured professor*
  • There may be fewer tenured positions available in the future because schools are relying more on part-time faculty*
  • Teaching can be stressful because advancement depends on doing research to publish papers, which must be done while also teaching

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

The PhD program in French may require additional 6-8 graduate-level courses beyond your master's degree courses. The courses for a PhD program are typically the same as those listed a master's degree program. The only difference is that PhD candidates may have to work with their professors or the school's graduate degree committee to design an independent studies plan that will focus on a narrow area of their major. If your master's degree program focused on French language and civilization, you could narrow that focus to the influence of French art in history.

Much of a PhD candidate's time will be spent on researching, fine-tuning and completing his or her dissertation. The first step is to submit and defend a dissertation proposal. After your proposal is accepted, you'll spend a good deal of your time researching, writing and preparing to defend your dissertation. Your dissertation will be your opportunity to display your knowledge of your chosen subject.

Online Degree Options

Currently, there aren't any accredited schools offering fully online PhD degree programs in French. One reason may be because the successful completion of a PhD degree requires a lot of research and some of the research material you need may not be available online. Because of this, you may find it more beneficial to try to work out a hybrid degree plan where you can take some of your courses online. You also shouldn't discount the value of in-person contact for networking for future job prospects.

Stand Out with this Degree

By the time you graduate, you should have a record of published works. You may want to choose underrepresented areas to research or discover a unique spin on a common research topic. You may want to start thinking about your research topics during your master's degree program and then build upon them during your PhD program.

If you are not a native French speaker, you may also want to spend time living in a French-speaking country. Most schools also offer opportunities to study in France, or other French-speaking countries, for up to a year.

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