The LLC Ph.D. program requires a minimum of 78 semester hours of approved course work beyond the B.A., plus 10-12 semester hours of dissertation credits. Working with a faculty advisor, LLC students design a course of study, choosing from multiple doctoral-level courses within the program and advanced, interdisciplinary courses from across the University of Iowa campus.

Application Deadline

  • December 15 (Fall semester)

Admission Requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree from a Regionally Accredited American College or University, or an equivalent degree from another country as determined by the Office of Admissions
  • Undergraduate grade-point average (GPA) of 3.00 or better on a four-point scale
  • Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General test – verbal and quantitative
  • English Proficiency Requirements (international applicants)
  • Two years of experience teaching or tutoring in language or literacy (reading, writing, English, or language arts)
  • Master's degree or significant graduate course work in a literacy-related field

Application Procedure

  1. Create an application account to begin the application process.
  2. Submit the online application to the Graduate College and pay the $60 application fee by credit card ($100 for international applicants).
  3. Once you have submitted your application, you will receive email instructions on how to establish your HawkID and password which you will use to access MyUI, our online service center for students and applicants.
  4. You will use your Admissions Profile on MyUI to upload required supplemental materials.

Required Supplemental Materials

  • Official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions
  • Official GRE scores from Educational Testing Service (the University’s institutional code is 6681)
  • Official TOEFL scores may be required for some non-native speakers of English
  • Statement of purpose including related experiences, reasons for pursuing graduate study in LLC, and future goals
  • Sample(s) of academic writing
  • Three letters of recommendation*

* You will be asked to give the contact information of your recommenders, including their email, on your Admissions Profile. The recommender will then get an email with instructions on how to upload the recommendation letter and/or form.


Application questions can be directed to: Sue Cline in the Office of Student Services, 319/335-5260,

We look forward to receiving your application!

Course of Study

Doctoral students admitted to the LLC program are assigned an academic advisor who provides strong mentoring through the phases of coursework, comprehensive examinations and individual dissertation research.

The student and advisor collaboratively determine a course of study that focuses on several key strands for review and synthesis. The program requires a minimum of 78 semester hours of approved course work beyond the B.A., plus 10-12 semester hours of dissertation credits. Course work includes the following:

  • A 3-semester hour Ph.D. Seminar in Language, Literacy, and Culture: Theoretical and Historical Foundations in Literacy Education
  • 9 additional semester hours of Ph.D. seminars in Language, Literacy, and Culture
  • 3 semester hours (1 course) chosen from two options: one on U.S. schooling, and one on teacher education
  • 18 hours of research course work. (See Language, Literacy, and Culture Ph.D. program research requirements)
  • 9-12 semester hours of graduate course work taken outside the Department of Teaching and Learning (with 6 of these credits taken outside the College of Education).

Comprehensive Exams

Each student writes the following three sections of the comprehensive examination and meets with a self-selected committee of five faculty members for an oral defense.

See the detailed description of the Comprehensive Exam Components and Procedures.

Section 1 - An academic paper that demonstrates the student's ability to analyze and synthesize knowledge in at least one key focus of study. The final paper for this section is intended to be ready to submit for a scholarly publication.

Section 2 - A take home exam that demonstrates the student's comprehensive knowledge of two areas of literacy study selected from a set of options: reading, writing, literature and/or media, and first/second language issues.

Section 3 - A course syllabus for a future literacy course accompanied by a reflective commentary that illustrates the student's understanding of theory-practice relationships.

Memo of Intent

Students submit a memo of intent the semester before taking comprehensive exams. This brief memo includes a description of the student’s comprehensive exam areas and verifies that the student has no outstanding grades of “Incomplete.” Students submit this memo to their advisors who must approve the plan before distributing the memo to all other LLC faculty members. (Examples: Microsoft Office document iconMemo of Intent 1Microsoft Office document iconMemo of Intent 2)

Deadlines for submitting the comprehensive exam memo:

  • Fall exams: Mid-June
  • Spring exams: Mid-November
  • Summer exams: Mid-April

Dissertation Research

Successful completion of the course of study and the comprehensive examination process leads a student toward a dissertation that makes an original contribution to the field of language, literacy and culture. The student writes a substantive proposal for the dissertation that is approved by the student's five-member dissertation committee before beginning the actual study.

Most of our students' dissertations use methods from traditions including ethnography, discourse analysis, case study, and narrative analysis, among others. Examples of dissertation studies completed by LLC doctoral students in the recent past are:

  • Yewande Lewis-Fokum (2010)  Literacy in elementary schools in Jamaica:  The Case of the Grade Four Literacy Test
  • Aimee Mapes (2009)  Sponsoring Literacy:  Borderland Communities and Student Participation in an Academic Support Classroom
  • Karen E. Wohlwend (2007) Kindergarten as Nexus of Practice: A Mediated Discourse Analysis of Reading, Writing, Play, and Design Practices in an Early Literacy Apprenticeship
  • Soonyoung Lee (2007) Korean Adolescent Engaged Readers: Their Self-Perceptions, Literacy Practices, and Negotiations Inside and Outside of a Seventh Grade Classroom.
  • Priscilla McKinley (2006) Literacy in the Lives of the Blind: An Ethnographic Study in the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Yolanda Majors (2004) Shop Talk: Teaching and Learning in an African American Hair Salon

Dissertations culminate in a final oral defense meeting of the student and the dissertation committee. Degrees are awarded at the university's Graduate College ceremony and are marked by the ritual of the advisor/dissertation director "hooding" the student.

Our students have received many prestigious awards for their dissertation research including dissertation fellowships from the Spencer Foundation, American Educational Research Association, and from the University of Iowa Graduate College (the University's Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize).

LLC Policy on Teaching

The Language, Literacy, and Culture program at The University of Iowa seeks to prepare its students fully for a life in the academy. To this end, we provide a range of opportunities for students to develop their skills, not only as scholars, but also as teachers. We believe that teaching at the college level, like teaching at every other level, should be approached planfully and reflectively and that successful university teachers never stop learning about their craft.

Given these commitments, the LLC program attempts (but cannot always guarantee) to give all of our students the chance to work with undergraduates in one or more teaching roles: as student teaching supervisors, as teachers of writing, as academic advisors, and as instructors in one of our methods classes. When students accept one of these positions for the first time, the faculty will do everything they can to provide support and mentoring. Students, for their part, invite faculty mentors to observe their teaching every semester and seek evaluative comments from their own students.

To accomplish these goals, the LLC program has developed two procedures. First, doctoral students who will be teaching one of our key methods classes for the first time must complete a college teaching practicum with the faculty member who usually teaches the class. During the practica, students are expected to attend the class regularly, to meet often with the faculty member to share observations and explore the instructional decisions the faculty member is making, and according to the faculty mentor's determination, contribute to active teaching in the course, or complete a project that is in some direct way related to the course.

Second, every time doctoral students assume a teaching role, they request confidential end-of-semester evaluations of their teaching, just as LLC faculty do. These evaluations can take one of several forms, but they should not be examined until after all grades have been submitted. At that point, the teacher reads through the evaluations, meets with his or her faculty mentor about them, and writes a relatively brief reflective piece that summarizes the evaluations’ major themes and that details what the teacher has learned from them. The reflective writing and the evaluations themselves are then be filed in the Teaching and Learning office.

Students graduating from the LLC program at Iowa have had uncommon success in seeking academic positions over the last ten years or more, and part of the reason for that record is the range of scholarly and teaching skills they've had a chance to practice while here. In fact, our students frequently receive university-wide teaching awards in recognition of their exceptional teaching skills. The policies on doctoral student teaching represent our effort to maintain and extend that tradition.

Our Place within the Department of Teaching and Learning

The Language, Literacy, and Culture Program is one of nine doctoral programs offered by the Department of Teaching and Learning. Our program serves students whose primary interest is literacy research. In addition to doctoral programs, Teaching and Learning is home to an undergraduate teacher education program that includes elementary education with specializations in reading and language arts as well as secondary English education. The Department of Teaching and Learning also offers  masters programs in Developmental Reading and English Education, and a masters of teaching program in English Education. LLC doctoral students frequently serve as teaching assistants for courses in both the undergraduate and masters programs.

Employment Opportunities
  • College and university professors
  • Directors of curriculum development
  • Literacy researchers
  • Administrators of literacy programs
Application Questions

Sue Cline
Office of Student Services

Application Deadline: December 15 (Fall semester)