English Major and Literature Major Guide

English Major and Literature Major Guide

The English language is a gateway to a rich literary history. Majoring in literature is a great first step on the way to a career as an educator, author, journalist and much more. Read on to find out more about what you can expect as an English/Literature Major.

Majoring in English (also referred to as a literature major in many schools) is a great way to explore history while building valuable learning skills and preparing for a wide array of professional opportunities. As an English major, you’ll delve into classic and contemporary literature, study ancient texts, and examine the connection between world cultures and the written word. You’ll also have a chance to refine important skills including writing, research, and critical thinking.

If you’re ready to earn this degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Literature.

Or read on to find out what you can expect as an English major.

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5 Reasons to major in literature

1.English majors get to read…a lot!

If you enjoy getting lost in a world of words and ideas, this is the major for you. Your time will be spent absorbed in great works of fiction, texts from ancient civilizations, and contemporary critical analysis. Your reading will touch on everything from history and philosophy to psychology, sociology and more. Literature studies provide the ultimate opportunity for multidisciplinary academic enrichment.

2.English majors learn critical thinking skills.

As an English major, you’ll be doing more than just reading literature. The primary objective of an English major is to achieve greater appreciation and understanding of the written word. This means you’ll learn how to deconstruct literature in search of meaning, character and culture; and to explore the innovative ways that language can be used as a form of expression. In short, you won’t be a passive participant in your reading. As an English major, you will learn to read actively, with thought, insight, and analysis.

3.English majors learn media literacy.

Media literacy is the ability to evaluate both message and medium for credibility, accuracy, and intent. At a time when it can be difficult to distinguish between real reporting and “fake news,” majoring in literature arms you with the tools to separate fact from fiction. Learn how to use context, citations, and phrasing to spot the real McCoy.

4.English majors learn valuable communication skills.

Mastering the English language has value well beyond the field of literature. Gaining greater depth, versatility, and confidence with the English language will make you a better writer, a more confident speaker, and a more perceptive listener. These skills will pay dividends in life and work.

5.5.English majors are influential.

The most influential literary scholars go on to achieve acclaim as bestselling authors, prominent professors, noted historians, and more. Today, top influencers in English are breaking new ground in historical fiction, graphic novels, poetry, and much more.

Find out who the Most Influential People are in Literature today!

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What Kinds of English Degrees Are There?

English and literature degrees take a few general forms. These degrees are mostly differentiated by the amount of emphasis placed on writing and composition, particularly as you advance to higher degree levels.

  • Associate in English: This two-year degree will provide an introductory level education in English and literature including basic courses in writing, reading, and critical analysis. Your degree will provide entry-level opportunities as an administrative assistance, copy-editor, data processor and more. It can also be a great way to get an affordable head start on a four-year degree.
  • Bachelor of English: This four-year degree provides both a comprehensive foundation in English and literature, and allows you to find your own area of concentration. Depending on your concentration, a bachelor’s degree in English could allow you to pursue a career in education, journalism, writing, editing, and more.
  • Master of English: Typically a two- to three-year program, a master’s degree in literature is especially appealing if you’re pursuing a career in education or academics. A master’s in English is essential if you plan to teach writing or literature at the post-secondary level. This is also a strong credential if you aspire to a leadership role in fields like journalism, publishing, or educational consulting.
  • PhD in English: Typically a 3-5 year commitment, this terminal degree in English and literature is best-suited for those interested in becoming full university professors, literary critics, or literary researchers.

*Note: Many, but not all, degree programs offer the choice between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. Likewise, many, but not all, advanced degree programs offer a choice between Master of Arts, and Master of Science degrees. In most cases, the primary difference is the diversity of course offerings. “Science” degree courses will focus almost entirely on the Major discipline, with a deep dive into a specific concentration, including laboratory, clinical or practicum experience. An “Arts” degree will provide a more well-rounded curriculum which includes both core/concentration courses and a selection of humanities and electives. The type of degree you choose will depend both on your school’s offerings and your career/educational goals. Moreover, there are sometimes numerous variations in the way that colleges name and categorize majors. The degree types identified here above are some of the common naming variations, but may not be all-encompassing.

Thinking of a graduate degree in English/Literature? Check out What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in English/Literature? for more information on obtaining a graduate degree in this field.

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What Are Some Popular English Concentrations?

Your “concentration” refers to a specific area of focus within your major. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides a complete listing of college degree programs and concentrations (Classification for Instructional Programs), as sourced from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). According to IPEDS, which refers to the major collectively as English Language and Literature/Letters, the following are among the most popular English concentrations:

  • Rhetoric and Composition
  • Creative Writing
  • American Literature
  • Children’s and Adolescent Literature
  • English Literature
  • Technical and Business Writing
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What Courses Will I Take as an English Major?

Your concentration will determine many of the courses you’ll take as an English major. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as Literary Critical Analysis and Comparative Literature. However, as an English major, you will also have the chance to develop your curriculum around the themes, cultural traditions, and literary periods that most interest you. Examples of traditional literature courses include:

  • Translating World Literature
  • Narrative Negotiations: How Do Readers and Writers Decide
  • The Ancient Greek Hero
  • Dreams and Literature
  • Persuasive Writing and Public Speaking
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What Can I Do With a Major in English?

The English degree is actually quite versatile. The skills you’ll learn and refine as an English major can qualify you for a wide range of career opportunities, including these top jobs:

If you’re still searching for the perfect college major, our roundup of some of the most popular college majors may help you nail down what to study in college.

Curious how far you could go with a major in English? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!

Thinking of a graduate degree in English/Literature? Check out What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in English/Literature? for more information on obtaining a graduate degree in this field.


Check out the The Most Influential Schools in Literature and get started on your path to an English degree.

And if you’re shopping for the right college, be sure that you’ve reviewed our Resources on critical issues like Accreditation, Scholarships, Financial Aid, and more!

We also offer comprehensive Career Guidance for students at every stage in the educational journey.

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