What is an English Degree?

English is a very broad field of study. English majors, therefore, can concentrate on one or more of the areas that the discipline covers. Consider this diverse set of sample courses:

  • American Literature Before 1900
  • Authors of the Developing World
  • Continental Literature
  • History of English
  • Linguistic Analysis of Modern English
  • Literary Theory and Criticism
  • Literature by Ethnic Minorities
  • Literature by women
  • Modern Literature in English
  • Poetry and Poetics
  • Victorian Literature
  • Works of Chaucer

This diversity means that while one student of an English degree program may be reading, discussing and writing about English literature and culture, another may be learning about the history, linguistic structure, and use of the English language. And still other students may choose to combine studies of both literature and linguistics.

Program Options

Associate Degree in English – Two Year Duration
Graduates of degree programs at this level often go on to earn a degree at the bachelor’s level. Coursework in associate degree programs commonly cover the following:

  • Rhetoric (the art of persuasion) and Writing
  • Critical Analysis
  • Introduction to English Literature
  • Introduction to American Literature
  • Introduction to World Literature

Bachelor’s Degree in English – Four Year Duration
Four-year bachelor’s degree programs may focus on a specific genre of literature like novels, poetry, or drama. Courses also cover different periods of literature, such as romantic or Elizabethan. Here are some examples of courses offered at this level:

  • Modern fiction
  • Shakespearean Drama
  • British Literature
  • World Literature
  • Drama and Theater Arts
  • Short Story Writing
  • Analyzing Literature

With a bachelor’s degree and depending on specific job requirements, graduates may qualify for entry- and mid- level positions as bloggers, writers, journalists, associate editors, and associate publishers.

Master’s Degree in English –Two Year Duration
At this graduate degree level, students delve further into analyzing and evaluating literary works. Typical courses include:

  • Critical Theory and Practice
  • American Literature Before 1800
  • American Literature After 1800
  • The Works of William Shakespeare
  • The Works of John Milton

With a master’s degree, graduates may go on to write professionally, to teach English literature, or to apply the skills they have gained in a business role.

Doctoral Degree in English – Four Year Duration
Holders of a Master’s in English Literature may pursue a doctorate in the field. In a doctoral program students complete a comprehensive examination of English literature, typically with a period or genre specialization. Components of a Ph.D. program include:

  • Literature Criticism and Analysis
  • Genre Studies
  • Critical Methodologies
  • Advanced Rhetoric
  • Dissertation Research

Many doctoral graduates in English literature teach the discipline at the college or university level.

Degrees Similar to English

American Literature
This degree field is concerned with the literatures and literary history of the United States, from the colonial period to present. Coursework may include contemporary American literature, literary theory and criticism, the American novel, and American Jewish literature.

American Studies
As the name implies, students who major in American Studies study the United States, its history, literature, politics, economy, people, and popular culture. Increasingly, programs in this field incorporate examination of the wider Americas and the Caribbean.

British Literature
Degree programs in British literature teach students about the literatures and literary history of English-speaking people of the British Isles, from the birth of the English language to the present. Sample courses are Renaissance literature, Victorian literature, modern British literature, and the works of Shakespeare.

Classical Studies
The study of the languages, literatures, philosophy, history, archaeology, and civilization of ancient Greece and Rome is the focus of a degree in the classics.

Comparative Literature
This field of study is dedicated to the literature and literary traditions of two or more different countries, cultures, or languages. Examples of courses in comparative literature are literature of the Americas, literature of China and Japan, romanticism, and tragedy.

Creative Writing
In creative writing programs students analyze how prose and poetry are constructed and also write their own works. Typical classes include American poetry, fiction writing, the contemporary short story, and the creative process.

Journalism degree programs teach students how to report, write, and edit articles for broadcast or publication. They include classes in broadcast news writing, copyediting and design, reporting, and media law and ethics.

Mass Communication and Media Studies
This degree field studies the exchange of messages and information in all their forms. Students learn about communication theory, inter-cultural communication, mass communication, organizational communication, and the psychology of communication.

Linguistics explores the nature of language variations and dialects, how language evolves over time, how it is processed and stored in the human brain, and how it is acquired. It is the scientific study of language and communication, both within a single language and across language groups. The primary sub-areas of linguistics are phonetics – the study of the production, acoustics, and hearing of speech sounds; phonology – the patterning of sounds; morphology – the structure of words; syntax – the structure of sentences; semantics – meaning; and pragmatics – language in context.

This is a multidisciplinary degree field that combines the study of languages, literatures, art, history, music, philosophy, and religion. Coursework includes examining ideas and themes that run throughout human history and throughout different cultures.

Liberal Arts
An education in liberal arts is broad and diverse. Therefore, students who pursue a degree in the field can choose courses in the humanities, the social sciences, the creative arts, and the sciences.

Skills You’ll Learn

First and foremost, graduates with an English degree develop a keen capacity to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in written form. This is perhaps the most sought-after skill that potential employers seek in English majors. It is not, however, the only transferable skill that students take away from their studies in English:

  • Ability to work independently and in groups
  • Creative and critical thinking, reasoning, and analysis
  • Capacity to debate and lead discussions
  • Understanding texts, concepts, and theories
  • Capacity to summarize written material
  • Research
  • Time management
  • Organization

What Can You Do with an English Degree?

The following occupational fields are common employers of English graduates:

Journalism / Traditional Media
This field is, of course, a natural fit for English graduates. Opportunities exist with newspapers as reporters, columnists, and section editors; as well as with all kinds of magazines, including those that cover general interest topics; specialty areas like politics, business, and entertainment; and trade publications.

Writing and Composition / Other Media
Several other media platforms can benefit from the knowledge and skills gained by English majors. Writers and authors in this sector write books and novels and develop, compose, and edit content for movie and television scripts and songs. The Internet has further expanded opportunities in new media: English majors may find employment as digital/online writers and copywriters, as well as in the field of web content development and management.

Technical Writing and Business Communications
Graduates with an English degree can also look to the diverse field of technical writing for potential employment opportunities. Technical writers create content that is used in brochures, guides, and manuals that explain complex information. One example, from the manufacturing sector, is a user’s manual for purchasers of a specific product. Business communications writers may be asked to compose form letters, presentations, proposals, white papers, memos, and contracts.

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing
These fields also employ English graduates, often for their command of language, spelling, and grammar, which are vital in creating successful, attention-grabbing consumer communication pieces.

Proofreading, Editing, and Publishing
In the publishing industry, editors, editorial assistants, and proofreaders bring an all-important eye for detail and the ability to spot errors in manuscripts before they go to print. Those who work in these roles are often holders of an English degree. Their work also involves assessing manuscripts and making recommendations to senior editorial staff, summarizing written material, and organizing and researching projects to tight deadlines.

Lexicography is the compiling, writing, and editing of dictionaries. This field is another perfect fit for English graduates, who naturally bring an appreciation for words to the work.

Many elementary and high school teachers start their post-secondary education with a degree in English and subsequently earn a teaching certificate. English majors also find work with tutoring companies.


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