Graduate Programs in English Literature with Curriculum Overviews

Graduate degrees in English literature are available at the master's and Ph.D. levels. Students can earn a master's during the course of their Ph.D. program or complete each degree separately. Learn about these programs, as well as career options.

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Essential Information

An M.A. in English Literature can be completed as a terminal degree or as a stepping-stone to a Ph.D. program. Master's programs can offer a thesis or non-thesis option; non-thesis students typically must take a comprehensive exam. Ph.D. programs require a dissertation and are typically tailored to a student's area of interest, like American or British literature, and graduates of these programs generally pursue careers in academia or look for post-doctoral fellowships.

In order to enroll in a bachelor's program, students must have earned a bachelor's degree and typically need proficiency in a foreign language. Doctoral programs require the same, only with a master's degree prerequisite.


Master of Arts in English Literature

The curriculum for a master's program in English literature is designed to sharpen writing ability, critical thinking skills and understanding of literature and theoretical concepts. Master's degree students take classes alongside Ph.D. students. Students often specialize in an area of interest. Classes may be offered in the following topics:

  • Literary research methods
  • Critical theory
  • Women's literature
  • Ethnic studies
  • Victorian literature
  • The Romantic movement

Doctor of Philosophy in English Literature

Most doctoral students frame literary study in theoretical contexts. In addition to taking courses, students may conduct original research, such as tracking down old manuscripts or offering new analyses of literary works, in their concentration area. Course topics can include:

  • Women's studies
  • Medieval drama
  • Shakespeare and his contemporaries
  • Early American and postcolonial literature
  • Modern and postmodern American literature
  • Modern and postmodern British literature

Popular Career Options

Although a graduate degree in English literature is not geared towards a specific job, it does equip students with strong comprehension and communication skills that can be useful in such careers as:

  • Technical writer
  • Teacher
  • Journalist
  • Writer
  • Editor
  • College instructor

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Ph.D. in English Literature graduates generally seek postsecondary teaching positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 13% growth for postsecondary teaching positions from 2014-2024. The median annual salary for English language and literature college instructors in 2015 was $61,990, per the BLS.

Continuing Education Information

Graduates of master's degree programs in English literature usually apply for Ph.D. programs in English literature in order to work in academia as instructors or researchers. Others may apply for MFA in Creative Writing programs. M.A. graduates who wish to become teachers can consider applying to an Ed.S. (Educational Specialist) degree program or obtain teaching certification in their state.

Postdoctoral research opportunities are available for Ph.D. graduates. Fellowships are granted to postdoctoral researchers to allow them to conduct academic research and write for publications. Participation in a postdoctoral research fellowship usually increases opportunities for a tenure-track faculty position.

Master's and Ph.D. programs in English literature teach a wide variety of analysis, research, and practical skills relating to writings in the English language, whether contemporary or historical. Jobs are typically in the writing or academic fields, with other degree and research opportunities for graduates.

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