Online English Degree Program Information

Dec 02, 2019

Research online English courses and programs. Find out what you can learn in these courses and what you'll need in order to participate in online learning to determine if it's right for you.

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Essential Information

Online degree programs in English are commonly available at both the bachelor's and master's degree levels. They can often be completed fully online, although some programs require students to attend seminars or residencies on campus. Hybrid degree programs are available as well.

At the bachelor's degree level, online English programs are sometimes offered as degree-completion programs that require applicants to have completed general education courses or an associate's program prior to enrolling. Bachelor's degree programs are often generalized, although concentrations in areas like creative writing or journalism may be available.

Master's degree programs may offer focus areas, like publishing, technical communication or teaching English as a second language. Students in teaching tracks may need to already hold state licensure; prospective teachers who do not have a teaching license need to investigate to what extent programs can prepare them to meet teacher training education requirements.

English Bachelor's Degree

Degrees in the arts and sciences are often characterized as well-rounded, helping graduates learn about the world in general and enhancing their capacity to learn. English majors are prepared to read attentively, write efficiently and communicate effectively. There are several fully online bachelor's degree programs in English and many hybrid programs. Areas of specialization include communications, speech, journalism and creative writing. Graduates may find entry-level positions in a variety of fields, particularly those that require critical thinking and good communications skills.

Program Information and Requirements

Most English programs offered completely online are designed for students with an associate degree or two completed years of college. As such, many popular higher-level courses are available online. Students who cannot transfer as many as 60 semester credits, or who are interested in less common subject areas, may need to attend some courses in person. Other programs may offer a majority of courses online but still require attendance for some classes or summer seminars. Some students may arrange face-to-face classes at schools nearer their homes and transfer the credits to the degree-granting institution.

Schools look for online candidates who are self-directed, disciplined and able to work independently. Students typically view lectures, read course material and submit assignments online, using applications like Blackboard or Bookshelf. Exams are often conducted interactively. They may also be downloaded, completed independently and delivered to the instructor electronically.

Course Topics

Students gain an appreciation for the structure and history of different forms of writing. They learn to analyze and criticize style, composition and content. Courses typically require significant reading and writing assignments. Live lectures may include classroom participation; prerecorded lectures can be streamed or downloaded to suit students' schedules.

English Literature

The course examines the rich history and genres of British literary history, exposing students to a wide range of authors and their works. Some universities offer a sequence of British literature courses, each one discussing contemporary authors who lived at similar times in history.


Students practice writing for different audiences, with emphasis on grammar, punctuation, editing and stylistic considerations. Writings are typically shared online, for classmates to critique.

Grammar and Syntax

The course thoroughly examines the rules of syntax (word order within sentences), grammar, punctuation and citation for a variety of written forms. Students compare standard style guides, and they review editing and proofreading procedures for all stages of document preparation.

English Master's Degree

Several schools offer fully online programs leading to a master's degree in English. All are designed for students who have completed a bachelor's degree program in the humanities, and most can be completed in 1-3 years. Areas of concentration include teaching, technical communications, teaching English as a second language and publishing. Some schools offer thesis or non-thesis options.

Program Information and Requirements

Schools may not offer all their English courses online. Students wishing to take courses outside the most popular degree paths might need to attend face-to-face classes or make other arrangements.

Online environments vary from school to school, but most are available to Windows and Mac users with relatively up-to-date equipment and a high-speed Internet connection. A school's distance education department can provide specific recommendations for students who are considering the purchase of new computer equipment or software.

Course Topics

Master's degree programs in English allow students to specialize in a particular area of literary study, writing or education. Therefore, one student might not take all of the courses listed below within a single degree program.

Literary Criticism

This class reviews the historical approaches to literary theory, from the Greeks to contemporary analysts. It includes critical movements like structuralism, deconstruction, feminism and new historicism. Students learn to think critically and present coherent arguments to support their observations.


Students of mythology study the archetypal fiction created by ancient cultures and its impact upon subsequent civilizations. Coursework may focus on Greek and Roman mythology. It can also include legends from Norse, Asian, African or North American civilizations.

Creative Writing

Students explore the structure of various forms of creative writing, and they write their own examples of poetry, short stories, nonfiction articles or plays. At the graduate level, students may work in their chosen genre and on manuscripts they intend to publish. Peers are frequently invited to read selections and offer criticism via online review and post functions.

Teaching Children's Literature

Literary genres like historical fiction, biography and fables are examined. The course reviews major authors and themes, and it offers strategies to encourage kids' interest in reading. This course would suit students whose English degree carries a teaching concentration.

Technical Editing

The course examines the role of the editor in today's digital publishing world. Students follow the stages of development in several types of documents, to see how the editor coordinates with the writer, proofreader, designer and publisher to mediate text and layout changes. Students are exposed to different tools and applications useful to the editing and communications process.

Career Information

A primary career path for English majors is writing and editing for entities engaged in publishing, journalism, communications and research. However, a college graduate with an English degree may possess conceptual and organizational skills useful for careers in many fields.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of positions for writers is expected to experience little to no growth, while the number of editors is expected to decline by 3% from 2018-2028. Writers and editors with computer and technical experience may have a competitive advantage, so computer skills obtained pursuing an online degree could benefit distance learning graduates.

With a master's degree in English, graduates are qualified for higher-level writing, editing, publishing and communications jobs. Creative writing specialists may pursue work as freelance writers, poets or novelists.

Another possibility is technical writing. Jobs for technical writers are projected to grow 8% from 2018 to 2028, faster than the national job average. Writers and editors familiar with current publishing technology and trained in the special requirements of technical documentation are likely to have an edge in the job market.

Continuing Education Information

There is no industry-wide certification process for writers and editors, although professional associations such as the American Medical Writers Association or the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences offer paths to certification in specialty writing and editing markets. On-the-job training is generally available for writing and editing jobs. Junior writers who demonstrate proficiency at their tasks can aspire to increasingly more complex responsibilities.

Graduates of an education-based English program may be able to obtain teacher certification for elementary and secondary education. A master's degree in English may qualify graduates to teach college-level English, although many college positions are reserved for doctoral graduates or candidates.

English degrees are available at the bachelor's and master's levels in fully online and hybrid formats. These programs typically help students hone writing, editing, and communication skills, and some master's programs can prepare students for teaching licensure.

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