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Top 10 Colleges for Comparative Literature

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Writer typing with retro writing machine. View from above.

Top 10 Colleges for Comparative Literature

Comparative literature is a dynamic academic discipline that explores the connections and contrasts between literary works from different cultures, languages, and historical periods. As a program or degree from the top colleges for comparative literature, it offers students a unique opportunity to explore the richness of global literary traditions, fostering a deeper understanding of the human experience across diverse societies.

Studying literature comparatively lets students gain insights into universal themes, cultural exchanges, and historical contexts, while also honing critical thinking, analytical, and language skills. Through exploring the intersections of literature with philosophy, history, politics, and other disciplines, comparative literature plays a crucial role in shaping our understanding of the world and fostering cultural appreciation and empathy.

Choosing the best schools for a comparative literature program is paramount for an optimal college experience. A top-notch program not only provides rigorous academic training but also offers a supportive environment, access to renowned faculty, diverse course offerings, and opportunities for research and cultural engagement. The right school can enrich students’ academic journey, providing them with the resources and experiences necessary to thrive in their chosen field and beyond.

Moreover, attending a reputable institution can enhance students’ credentials, opening doors to graduate studies, career opportunities, and lifelong intellectual growth. Thus, careful consideration of school options ensures that students can make the most of their college experience and achieve their academic and professional goals.

Top Colleges for Comparative Literature

1. Columbia University – Department of English and Comparative Literature

  • Location:  Philosophy Hall, MC4927 1150 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY
  • Estimated Tuition: $22,000 – $25,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • Undergraduate Program in English and Comparative Literature
    • Master of Arts (Free-Standing)
    • Master of Arts (Sequential)
    • Master of Philosophy
  • Acceptance Rate: 4%

In 1899, Columbia President Seth Low established two distinct departments: the Department of English Language and Literature, which focused on rhetoric, philology, and composition, and the Department of Comparative Literature, which aimed at embracing emerging historical, cultural, and psychological perspectives on literary expression. In 1910, these departments were consolidated into the Department of English and Comparative Literature, a merger that has since defined the expansive intellectual landscape of literary studies at Columbia University.

Columbia University of New York in winter

To satisfy the requirements of the English major, students must successfully complete a minimum of ten courses offered by the Department of English and Comparative Literature, each with a grade higher than D.

Among these ten courses, one must be Literary Texts, Critical Methods ENGL UN3001, and its corresponding seminar section ENGL UN3011. ENGL UN3001 and ENGL UN3011 are considered a single course. While students can take this course in any academic year, it is strongly recommended that majors enroll as early as possible, ideally during their freshman or sophomore years. It’s important to note that ENGL UN3001 does not fulfill any distribution requirements.

2. Princeton University – Department of Comparative Literature

  • Location: Princeton, NJ
  • Estimated Tuition: $18,000 – $22,000
  • Degrees Offered:
    • AB Major in Comparative Literature
    • Doctor of Philosophy
  • Acceptance Rate: 6%

The Department of Comparative Literature welcomes students to explore literature through a wide-ranging, cross-cultural lens. The curriculum spans literatures, languages, and cultures worldwide, encompassing Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, as well as various interdisciplinary studies. While students are encouraged to specialize in a particular language and literature, a fundamental aspect of the department’s ethos is an appreciation for how different literary traditions intersect and interact with other disciplines, media, and art forms.

Whether driven by a curiosity to grasp literature in its broadest context or by a specific interest in comparative literary analysis, students will find a nurturing academic environment within the Department of Comparative Literature.

One of the major strengths of the program lies in its flexibility. Under the guidance of the director of undergraduate studies and faculty advisers, students tailor their academic journey to match their intellectual passions. This involves selecting courses and engaging in independent projects that contribute meaningfully to their overall educational experience.

3. Williams College – Center for Global Languages, Literatures & Cultures

  • Location: Hollander Hall, 85 Mission Park Drive, Williamstown, MA
  • Estimated Tuition: $20,000 – $25,000
  • Degrees Offered:
    • Major in Comparative Literature
  • Acceptance Rate: 8%

Williams boasts a vibrant and exciting program in comparative literature, characterized by a range of course offerings and by an energetic and collegial group of faculty who cooperate across departments to support the program.

Chapin Hall of the Williams College in Williamstown, MA.

Comp Lit at Williams involves the study of literature from multiple cultural traditions to appreciate the variety, complexity, and breadth of what literature can be and do. Courses are geared to students who are interested in literature and culture and who want exposure to a range of texts and cultures from both inside and outside the English-speaking world: from Imperial Russia to contemporary Latin America, from Victorian London to postmodern Tokyo.

The critical approaches used link with a wide range of other disciplines, including art, anthropology, history, and psychology, to name a few. The program emphasizes critical thinking and writing skills that serve students across departments and divisions.

4. Occidental College

  • Location: Campus Road, Los Angeles, CA
  • Estimated Tuition: $40,000 – $45,000
  • Degrees Offered:
    • Comparative Studies in Literature & Culture
  • Acceptance Rate: 39%

CSLC extends an invitation to its students to develop a collaboratively designed and fully interdisciplinary major, in consultation with department faculty. This major should engage at least one specific literature and language, and one specialized external discipline, of the student’s own choosing.

For instance, you might elect to study German literature in relation to music or painting, Ancient Greek literature in relation to biology or economics, or Chinese prose and poetry in relation to film. Alternatively, students may wish to compare the literary and cultural forms of different language groups—such as Roman epic in relation to Spanish or Russian novel, or Persian love lyric in relation to Japanese song.

The department offers courses in subjects such as German, Russian, Ancient Greek, Latin, Persian, and Nahuatl (Aztec). With the permission of their home department, students may also petition to study French, Spanish, and Arabic as part of their CSLC major.

5. Cornell University – Department of Comparative Literature

  • Location: Goldwin Smith Hall, Ithaca, NY
  • Estimated Tuition: $25,000 – $30,000
  • Degrees Offered:
    • Major in Comparative Literature
    • Ph.D. in Comparative Literature
  • Acceptance Rate: 8%

The Department of Comparative Literature offers an extensive range of courses covering both European and non-European works of literature. These courses dive into various aspects of literary studies, emphasizing significant authors, themes, problems, genres, historical periods, and theoretical perspectives.

Additionally, the Department provides opportunities to explore visual and media studies, allowing students to analyze literature in conjunction with the history and theory of film, video, and other art forms.

In collaboration with related departments in the humanities, the department fosters interdisciplinary approaches to literary studies, integrating fields such as anthropology, history, philosophy, sexuality studies, psychology, and sociology.

Cornell University

The course offerings reflect contemporary theoretical frameworks applied to literature, media, and the arts, encompassing hermeneutics, semiotics, deconstruction, cultural criticism, Marxism, postcolonialism, reception aesthetics, feminism, and psychoanalysis.

6. Georgetown University – College of Arts and Sciences

  • Location: 37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington DC
  • Estimated Tuition: $30,000 – $35,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • Global and Comparative Literature Undergraduate Program
  • Acceptance Rate: 12%

The Global and Comparative Literature major, housed within the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics at Georgetown University, provides undergraduate students with a distinctive opportunity to develop expertise in two or more linguistic, literary, and cultural traditions. Through a tailored yet adaptable program, students can explore connections between these traditions while honing their analytical, critical, and writing skills to a high level.

Global and Comparative Literature encourages the examination of literary connections across national, linguistic, cultural, and temporal boundaries, emphasizing literature’s interaction with various cultural forms. Its overarching aim is to foster an understanding of literary and cultural productions as global phenomena.

The comparative approach encourages an exploration of the nature and significance of literature by examining its diverse outputs, highlighting connections, exchanges, analogies, and disparities among works, authors, periods, or genres. Moreover, it encourages the engagement of literature in dialogue with other disciplines, including history, politics, sociology, linguistics, translation studies, philosophy, visual arts, music, and film studies.

7. Harvard University – Department of Comparative Literature

  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Estimated Tuition: $40,000 – $50,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • AB in Comparative Literature
    • Doctor of Philosophy
  • Acceptance Rate: 13%

The undergraduate program in Comparative Literature equips students to actively engage in today’s globalized world by exploring literature and culture across languages and national boundaries.

Through working in multiple languages, students examine the interconnections among literatures, cultures, and media to gain insights into the human experience within a comparative and interdisciplinary framework. The adaptable structure of the concentration enables students to craft a personalized course of study that extends beyond the Humanities, tailored to their specific languages and interests.

Harvard flag is seen outside the Harvard Cooperative Society (the Coop), a collegiate bookstore on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard is renowned as one of the most dynamic and diverse in the nation. Home to esteemed scholars like Irving Babbitt, Albert Lord, Harry Levin, Claudio Guillén, and Barbara Johnson, it has been instrumental in shaping a discipline that remains multifaceted.

Anchored in critical theory, literary interpretation, and comparative philology, the department’s research encompasses translation, the history of ideas, gender studies, drama, oral poetics, multilingualism, postcolonialism, environmental and medical humanities, globalization, and world literature.

8. USC – Department of Comparative Literature

  • Location: Taper Hall, 161, 3501 Trousdale Pkwy, Los Angeles, CA
  • Estimated Tuition: $25,000 – $30,000
  • Degrees Offered:
    • Undergraduate Studies in Comparative Literature
    • Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture Doctoral Program
  • Acceptance Rate: 13%

The undergraduate program presented is more broadly conceived than at many other universities. Traditional comparative literature courses are offered, which cross the boundaries of national literatures and study literary periods, movements, and genres.

Additionally, courses provide opportunities for students to explore literature in its interaction with philosophy, to discover the relation of literature to other arts and media, and to reflect on practices of translation as modes of transcultural exchange and production.

Majors and minors within the program explore the relationship between literature and other media, investigate cultures across national boundaries, deepen and enrich their linguistic and intercultural competence, and hone their critical thinking skills.

Classes are kept small, ensuring that students receive individualized attention from the advisement team and professors. Majors are eligible for honors and have the opportunity to collaborate closely with distinguished faculty on a research project of their own design. Each year, prizes are awarded for the best student paper in comparative literature and to the most accomplished undergraduate majoring in the field.

9. Brown University

  • Location: Providence, RI
  • Estimated Tuition: $55,000 – $60,000
  • Degrees Offered (Tracks)
    • Comparative Literature in Two Languages
    • Comparative Literature in Three Languages
    • Literary Translation
  • Acceptance Rate: not reported

The Comparative Literature concentration offers students an extensive exploration of literary topics and fosters a focused critical understanding of cultural distinctions and their significance. Our courses facilitate engagement with literary works spanning linguistic and cultural boundaries, delving into the traditions and innovations of world literatures.

brown monitor

In line with Brown’s Open Curriculum philosophy, a concentration in Comparative Literature provides considerable academic flexibility. Advanced literature courses from any department at Brown can be credited towards the concentration.

Additionally, any language—ancient or modern—supported at Brown can be incorporated into a Comparative Literature concentration program. All students are required to take a course in literary theory and have the opportunity to complete a senior essay.

10. Middlebury College

  • Location: Middlebury, VT
  • Estimated Tuition: $65,000
  • Degrees Offered: 
    • Major in Comparative Literature
  • Acceptance Rate: 13%

The Comparative Literature Program at Middlebury College aims to create an extensive shared framework for all literature students. This is achieved by fostering collaboration and communication among scholars and educators across all departments and programs related to literature.

Distinct from other literary approaches, comparative literature equips students to concentrate on the comparative examination of national literatures. Specifically, students are trained in at least two of these literatures in their original languages, along with comparative methodology.

Within the Comparative Literature Program, a core course on world literature is offered, alongside cross-listed literature and culture courses from various departments and programs. Additionally, students are encouraged to explore numerous Middlebury courses on English-language literature and world literature, available both in the original languages and in English translation.

What should you consider in choosing a college for comparative literature?

Choosing the right college for comparative literature is a crucial decision that can significantly impact your academic journey and future career prospects. As you navigate through various options, it’s essential to consider several factors to ensure that you find a program that aligns with your academic goals, interests, and aspirations. Here are six key considerations to keep in mind when choosing a college for comparative literature:

1. Program Reputation and Faculty Expertise

One of the first factors to consider is the reputation and expertise of the comparative literature program and its faculty. Look for colleges with a strong reputation in literary studies and a dedicated faculty known for their research, publications, and teaching excellence in comparative literature. Investigate the backgrounds and areas of expertise of professors within the department to ensure that their interests and expertise align with your own academic interests. A program with renowned scholars and experienced educators can provide invaluable mentorship, guidance, and opportunities for intellectual growth and exploration.

2. Course Offerings and Curriculum

Examine the course offerings and curriculum structure of the comparative literature program. Look for colleges that offer a diverse range of courses covering various literary traditions, genres, periods, and themes.

An excellent curriculum should include both foundational courses in literary theory and methodology and specialized courses that allow for in-depth exploration of specific literary topics and regions. Consider whether the program offers opportunities for interdisciplinary study and cross-listed courses with related departments, providing you with a comprehensive understanding of literature’s intersections with other disciplines.

3. Language Proficiency and Language Programs

Assess the language proficiency requirements and language programs offered by the college. Comparative literature often involves studying literary works in their original languages, so it’s essential to choose a college that offers strong language programs and support for language learning.

Look for colleges with a wide range of language offerings, including both commonly studied languages and less commonly taught languages relevant to your interests. Additionally, consider whether the college provides resources such as language immersion programs, study abroad opportunities, and language-focused cultural events to enhance your language skills and cultural understanding.

4. Research and Extracurricular Opportunities

Investigate the research and extracurricular opportunities available to students within the comparative literature program. Look for colleges that support undergraduate research initiatives, independent study projects, and opportunities for publication or presentation of scholarly work.

Consider whether the college has research centers, literary journals, or academic conferences dedicated to comparative literature where you can engage with peers and scholars in the field. Additionally, explore extracurricular activities such as literary clubs, reading groups, and cultural events that can enrich your academic experience and foster a sense of community within the program.

5. Alumni Success and Career Support

Research the career outcomes and alumni success stories of graduates from the comparative literature program. Look for colleges with a track record of preparing students for diverse career paths in academia, publishing, journalism, arts and culture, education, and beyond.

Consider whether the college offers career counseling, internship opportunities, networking events, and alumni mentorship programs to support your professional development and transition into the workforce. Connect with alumni or current students to learn more about their experiences and the career paths they have pursued with a degree in comparative literature from the college.

6. Campus Culture and Resources

Finally, consider the campus culture and resources available to students at the college. Evaluate factors such as campus size, location, diversity, student support services, and facilities such as libraries, archives, and cultural centers.

Group of students walking in the campus.

Choose a college where you feel comfortable and supported, with a vibrant intellectual community and access to resources that will enhance your academic and personal growth. Visit the campus if possible, attend information sessions or open houses, and engage with current students and faculty to get a sense of the campus culture and whether it aligns with your values and preferences.

By carefully considering these factors, you can make an informed decision and choose a college for comparative literature that offers the best fit for your academic and personal goals.

What can you do with a degree in comparative literature?

A degree in comparative literature opens up a diverse array of career paths and opportunities, leveraging skills in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, cross-cultural understanding, and effective communication.

While some may envision careers in academia or literary analysis, the versatility of a comparative literature degree extends far beyond traditional boundaries. Here are ten potential career paths for graduates with a degree in comparative literature:

Academic Research and Teaching

Many graduates pursue advanced degrees and careers in academia, conducting research, publishing scholarly work, and teaching literature and literary theory at colleges and universities. With a strong foundation in comparative literature, graduates can specialize in specific literary traditions, genres, or thematic areas, contributing to the advancement of knowledge in the field.

Publishing and Editing

Comparative literature graduates often find rewarding careers in publishing and editing, working for publishing houses, literary journals, magazines, or online platforms. Their expertise in analyzing and interpreting literary texts, along with their strong writing and editing skills, make them well-suited for roles in manuscript editing, content editing, copywriting, and literary criticism.

Translation and Localization

With proficiency in multiple languages and a deep understanding of cultural nuances, comparative literature graduates are well-positioned for careers in translation and localization. They can work as freelance translators, translating literary works, articles, or documents across languages, or as localization specialists, adapting content for global audiences in various industries such as publishing, media, technology, and marketing.

Cultural Diplomacy and International Relations

Comparative literature graduates often excel in roles that require cross-cultural communication, diplomacy, and global engagement. They may work in government agencies, non-profit organizations, or international organizations, promoting cultural exchange, fostering mutual understanding, and facilitating dialogue between different cultures and societies.

Journalism and Media

Graduates with a degree in comparative literature may pursue careers in journalism, media, or broadcasting, leveraging their analytical skills and cultural literacy to report on literary trends, cultural events, or international affairs. They may work as journalists, editors, or content creators for newspapers, magazines, digital media platforms, or broadcasting networks.

Arts and Cultural Management

Comparative literature graduates may find fulfilling careers in arts and cultural management, working for museums, galleries, theaters, or cultural institutions. They can contribute their expertise in literary analysis and cultural studies to curatorial roles, program development, event planning, or arts administration, promoting literary and cultural initiatives within their communities.

Library and Information Science

With a strong background in research methods and information literacy, comparative literature graduates may pursue careers in library and information science, working as librarians, archivists, or information specialists. They can help preserve and curate literary collections, provide research assistance, or develop digital resources for libraries and archives.

Content Creation and Digital Media

Comparative literature graduates may explore opportunities in content creation, digital media, or creative writing, leveraging their storytelling abilities and cultural insights to produce engaging content for online platforms, social media, or digital marketing campaigns. They may work as content strategists, digital editors, or multimedia storytellers, crafting compelling narratives for diverse audiences.

Two students talking to each other.

Education and Language Instruction

Graduates with a degree in comparative literature may pursue careers in education and language instruction, teaching literature, language, or cultural studies at secondary schools, language institutes, or international schools. They can share their passion for literature and language with students, fostering critical thinking skills, intercultural competence, and a love for lifelong learning.

Nonprofit and Advocacy Work

Comparative literature graduates may engage in nonprofit and advocacy work, advocating for social justice, human rights, or cultural preservation. They can work for literary organizations, cultural associations, or advocacy groups, promoting literacy, diversity, and the preservation of literary heritage within their communities or on a global scale.

By leveraging their interdisciplinary skills and cultural fluency, graduates with a degree in comparative literature can pursue diverse and fulfilling career paths across various industries, contributing their unique perspectives and insights to the world around them.

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