Studying English

I’m interested in studying English. What can you tell me?

English is an exceptionally broad field that leads to careers in writing, editing and teaching. English programs teach writing conventions like spelling, grammar and syntax rules. They also examine literature and the history of the English language. You can study English at the undergraduate and graduate levels. If you choose to study English, you must have a passion for writing and a natural way with words. In addition, you will be more likely to succeed if you are analytical, self-motivated and willing to work hard to meet deadlines. Keep in mind that if you want to be a writer, you will face stiff competition for salaried jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of all writers and editors are self-employed freelancers rather than salaried employees. But even if you choose not to become an English professional, writing is a part of many jobs. People with English degrees often work in fields like marketing, business or communications.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Amanda Manning

Amanda Manning

Student, Bachelor of Arts in English,University of Phoenix

“I would advise students who are interested in studying English online to just go for it.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Meredith Boe

Meredith Boe

Student, Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing,DePaul University

“If I could go back to college, I would try to figure out what I wanted to study sooner as an undergraduate.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with David Wagoner

David Wagoner

Professor of English Emeritus with Specialization in Creative Writing,University of Washington

“Every bit of knowledge that you acquire will prove beneficial to you as a writer, because it will expand your world. For instance, I took a class in mechanical engineering in college. I learned how to build bridges, which I would not have thought applicable to writing. But now, I feel as though I am a spy holding uncommon knowledge in that area. It made me quite different as a writer.”Read the Full Interview

English Professional Overview

What exactly is an English professional?

English professionals generally fall into 3 categories:

Writers

Writers are broadly classified as either creative or nonfiction writers. Although all writing requires some creativity, creative writers are authors whose work tells stories or reflects personal experiences. They typically write novels, poetry, dramatic scripts and essays. But creative writers make up a very small percentage of all English professionals who make a living using their writing skills. Most writers produce functional nonfiction pieces of writing that instruct, inform or entertain readers. Some examples of nonfiction writing jobs include technical writers, journalists and web writers.

Editors

Editors supervise teams of in-house and freelance writers. They plan writing content and assign work to writers. Editors review completed writing pieces and suggest revisions. Senior editors are called managing and executive editors, while junior editors hold positions like associate and copyeditors. Most editors begin their careers as writers before being promoted to editorial jobs.

English Teachers

English teachers are responsible for teaching writing conventions and literature. Teaching is a very common path for students with English degrees to pursue. You can teach English and language arts at the middle or high school level as well as in community colleges and universities.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Michael Barron

Michael Barron

Editor,New Directions Publishing

“What I like the most about being an editor is that I have the ability to promote something to the world that I really believe in, which is literature.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Elizabeth Kraemer

Elizabeth Kraemer

Faculty Librarian,Kresge Library, Oakland University

“Although I am very busy, I have tremendous power to make decisions about my day. I can choose to adjust my schedule and work from home or develop a different curriculum for a class I am teaching that day.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Dana Crum

Dana Crum

Writer, Poet,Based in New York City

“Ultimately writers try to transcend other writers' influence and find a unique voice, but imitation is a necessary part of development. Majoring in English was a great way to find people I wanted to imitate.”Read the Full Interview

Personality Quiz

How do I know if English would be a good fit for me?

Here is a quick quiz to help you decide if you have the personality it takes to succeed as an English professional. Rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well each of the following statements describes you.

I communicate clearly and effectively in writing.

Writers and editors convey stories and messages to their readers. You need to write with clarity and style in order to reach people with your work.

I am self-motivated and I like to work independently.

English professionals usually work in jobs that have little supervision. Teachers, writers and editors need to stay on task in order to accomplish their work.

I pay close attention to detail.

Even minor mistakes in spelling or punctuation can change the meaning of words and sentences. If you want to be an English professional, you must be attentive to small details in order to create error-free content.

I am organized and I can keep track of many things at the same time.

English professionals are usually involved with several projects at once. You will need to manage your time so that you can complete several tasks simultaneously if you want to work in this field.

I work well under pressure.

The writing business is controlled by publishing deadlines. You will need to get used to working under strict deadlines if you want to be a writer or editor.

I like to learn about new ideas.

Writing jobs require authors to research an array of subjects. If you enjoy learning about a variety of topics, you might like being an English professional.

I am able to learn from my mistakes.

Good authors improve their writing by accepting constructive criticism from their peers and editors. You must learn to accept critiques gracefully if you want to succeed in this career.

I am comfortable working unusual hours.

Freelance writers and editors sometimes work unusual hours in order to meet project deadlines. If you are not comfortable working nights and weekends, a writing career may not be the best choice for you.

I am persistent and I do not give up easily.

English professional jobs are highly competitive since many people are attracted to this field. You will need determination to compete for a job.

I am confident and willing to reach out to other people.

Many writers and editors are freelancers who attract their own clients instead of working for a company. If you work independently, you must seek work proactively.

Get My Score

*Note that this is not a scientific quiz. The result is simply my rough estimate of how well I believe your personality matches that of a successful English professional.

By my assessment, a career as an English professional is probably not a good fit for your personality. Please go to the Admissions Advisor homepage for a listing of other careers you may want to consider.

By my assessment, although a career as an English professional may not be an ideal fit for your personality, if you are willing to adapt in a few areas, you can still find success in the field. Please see the list to the right for information on the areas that you may need to work on.

By my assessment, your personality is a good fit for a career as an English professional. Scroll through our site to gain valuable insight into what it will take you to earn the necessary credentials.

Making the Right Choice

Is there anything else I should consider in deciding if English is the right choice for me?

If you want to become a writer or editor, you might want to consider other degrees that can train you in practical writing skills.

Related Degrees

An English degree is the most common option if you want to find a job teaching English, but it is not the only path to writing jobs. English offers broad training in writing, but you can learn specific writing skills through related degrees. For instance, a bachelors degree in journalism will train you to report the news and to write press releases. And a degree in communications will teach you business writing, advertising and public relations skills. You should consider your career goals when you decide what type of degree to pursue.

English Professions

What English professions can I choose from?

If you decide to pursue a career in writing or editing, your job may require you to perform duties from several of the job descriptions listed below. In fact, a single writing task may require you to produce creative and technical writing. You might have to rely on personal experience and conduct original research. You may even be asked to edit and revise your own work. Therefore, English professionals benefit from having a strong and varied writing background. Some of the English professions that you can choose from include:

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:

$33,000

Work Environment:

Corporate businesses, nonprofit organizations, freelance

Job Description:

Web writers are responsible for creating the diverse written content that appears on websites. Successful web writers also understand elements of Internet content strategy like search engine optimization (SEO), marketing methods, multimedia software, graphic design and page layout. Some types of content that web writers create are articles, blogs, product descriptions, how-to instructions and infographics.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:

$61,620 (Lowest 10% earned less than 36,500; highest 10% earned more than 97,500)

Work Environment:

Corporate businesses, nonprofit organizations, freelance

Job Description:

Technical writers communicate complex information using simple language that the general public can understand. They work with engineers, scientists, information technology professionals and software developers to translate highly specialized language into documents like instruction manuals, assembly directions and technical support manuals.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:

$33,000

Work Environment:

News agencies, freelance

Job Description:

Journalists report local, national and international news. Some journalists also write features stories, which typically have human interest or entertainment value. They work for newspapers, journals and magazines. Many journalists specialize in a particular kind of news, like sports, politics, business or entertainment.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:

$43,000

Work Environment:

Corporate businesses

Job Description:

Copywriters mainly work in the advertising industry. They write marketing copy in order to promote sales, products and services. They often work directly with their clients in order to create slogans and advertising themes. Many copywriters also help to market their copy.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:

$35,000

Work Environment:

News agencies, publishing corporations, freelance

Job Description:

Copy editors make sure that written pieces are free of errors before publication. They review drafts for errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling and factual information. They also suggest revisions that can improve the clarity of a draft. Some copy editors are responsible for writing headlines, arranging page layout and securing advertising.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years) or masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:

$51,000

Work Environment:

News agencies, publishing corporations

Job Description:

Managing or executive editors have the final say about publication decisions. They typically deal with high-level management tasks like deciding what type of content to publish and how writers should cover stories or articles. They also design budgets and hire writers and copy editors.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years); public schools require a teaching license

Average Salary:

$53,200 (Lowest 10% earned $35,000; highest 10% earned $83,200)

Work Environment:

Middle schools, high schools

Job Description:

English teachers instruct students in the writing conventions that govern the English language and introduce them to notable literature. They assess student work and create lesson plans that help students to develop critical thinking, analytical and writing skills. Some subjects that are taught by English teachers include English, creative writing, literature and journalism.

Job Outlook

What is the job outlook for English professionals?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 281,300 authors, writers and editors working in the United States in 2008. Writers held about 151,700 jobs, with about 70% of writers working as self-employed freelancers. Employment of writers and authors is expected to grow by 6% through 2020, which is slower than the national average projected for all jobs. On the other hand, editors held about 129,600 jobs. Of those jobs, about 12% of editors were self-employed. Job prospects for editors will grow at approximately the same rate as writers. People who want to work in the writing business can expect stiff competition for jobs, and those who have experience writing for the web will have the best prospects.
Profession Employment 2010 Projected 2020 Average Growth
Poet, Lyricist Or Creative Writer 145900 155400 7%
Secondary School Teacher 1037600 1109500 7%
Self-enrichment Education Teacher 252800 305600 21%
Teacher Assistant 1288300 1479300 15%
Adult Basic Or Secondary Education Or Literacy Teacher 86900 99600 15%
Writer Or Author 145900 155400 7%

Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011

Profession 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
English Language Or Literature Teacher 57320 60580 63610 65860 67920 68760
Area, Ethnic, Or Cultural Studies Teacher 63710 67770 70560 75130 76720 79840
Poet, Lyricist Or Creative Writer 58080 60120 64560 64560 65960 68060
Secondary School Teacher 51150 52450 54390 55150 55990 56760
Self-enrichment Education Teacher 38470 39600 40920 41360 41210 41070
Teacher Assistant 21860 22820 23560 24280 24880 25270
Adult Basic Or Secondary Education Or Literacy Teacher 46690 47830 49830 50390 51080 51350
Writer Or Author 58080 60120 64560 64560 65960 68060

Salary By Percentile

Profession 10th 25th 50th 75th 90th
English Language Or Literature Teacher $33000 $44390 $61410 $85350 $115520
Area, Ethnic, Or Cultural Studies Teacher $33730 $50080 $69130 $95220 $141970
Poet, Lyricist Or Creative Writer $28180 $39580 $55870 $79050 $115740
Secondary School Teacher $35940 $43540 $54270 $68150 $84000
Self-enrichment Education Teacher $18630 $24800 $36100 $52350 $71260
Teacher Assistant $17090 $19160 $23580 $29790 $36560
Adult Basic Or Secondary Education Or Literacy Teacher $27790 $36240 $47370 $64350 $81990
Writer Or Author $28180 $39580 $55870 $79050 $115740

Education Requirements

How long would it take me to become an English professional?

The majority of jobs that are related to English, including teaching, require a bachelors degree. Students usually complete bachelors degrees in about 4 years. However, writers and editors are usually hired based on their experience. While you may be able to find an entry level writing job right after you graduate from college, it will most likely be several years before you qualify for an editing position.

Areas of Study

What can I expect to learn while pursuing English?

As you pursue a degree in English, you will gain the following knowledge and skills:

KNOWLEDGE

American Literature

American literature surveys notable literary works of the American people from the Colonial period to modern times. This subject examines the recurring cultural themes of American authors and the ways that history influenced their work. Some of the major authors that are discussed include Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain and Toni Morrison.

British Literature

British literature examines the major works of British authors from medieval times to the present. This subject explores the historical circumstances surrounding important literary works like dramas, poetry, essays and novels. Some of the authors that will be studied include Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, William Blake and Jane Austen.

History of the English Language

This subject explores the evolution of the English language from a Germanic tongue to its modern form. Study of the history of the English language discusses the characteristics of written and spoken English that distinguish the different phases of the language. These phases are called Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English and Modern English.

Linguistics

Linguistics is the scientific study of the structure of language. It covers topics like grammar, sound, symbolism, meaning and language acquisition. Linguistics also examines the ways that language relates to other subjects like anthropology, computer science, philosophy and psychology.

Literary Theory

Literary theory is a set of principles that helps readers to understand and critique literature based on the various cultural and historical factors that influence authors. For instance, some prominent literary theories include formalism, structuralism and post-structuralism. This subject is concerned with topics like active reading, historical context, ideology and gender studies.

SKILLS

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking develops your analytical and reasoning skills. As you progress through your English curriculum, you will learn to examine ideas from many different perspectives so that you can see all sides of an issue. You will also be able to use logic and reasoning to infer insightful conclusions.

Communication

Communication skills are vital for every industry. In your English program, you will develop verbal and written communication skills to help you convey your ideas to the public as well as your employer and peers. You will learn to take direction from your supervisor and to speak and write with clarity and thoughtfulness.

Writing Conventions

Proper writing conventions are an essential component of professionalism. Your English program will teach you standard writing conventions like organization, spelling, grammar and word flow. Using these skills, you will be able to craft meaningful documents for many situations. For example, you will be able to write pieces that instruct, inform and persuade people.

Research Methods

Research methods are ways that you can seek out valid information. Your English curriculum will teach you how to conduct academic research in a variety of subjects. You will learn how to find useful information from a variety of sources. In addition, you will be able to synthesize the research that others have conducted with your original ideas so that you can support your claims.

Computer Literacy

In an English program, you will learn to use technology to communicate efficiently. Your classes will show you how to use tools like file-sharing programs and word processors. In addition, you will learn how to use web-based communication methods like social media.

Academic Degrees

What academic levels are available in the field of English?

English credentials are available at the associates, bachelors, masters and doctoral levels. However, an associates degree will not qualify you for any English professional jobs. The most popular choice for people who want to study English is a bachelors degree. Finally, graduate study in English is usually intended to develop creative writing skills or to prepare you to become a university faculty member.

Select the degree level you are interested in:

  • Associate’s
  • Bachelor’s
  • Master’s
  • Doctorate

Associates Degree

A few schools offer an associates degree in English, although this is not a very common degree path. Keep in mind that your professional options will be very limited if you choose not to earn more education. The best use of an associates degree in English is to prepare you to transfer into a bachelors degree program.

What are the different types of associates degrees that I can earn in English?

You can earn an Associate of Arts (AA) in English. This degree program offers liberal arts classes with core concentrations in English and literature to give you a broad educational background.

How long will I have to study to earn my associates degree in English?

Associates degrees in English generally require students to complete 60 to 65 credit hours. Most students are able to complete associates degrees in 2 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my associates degree in English?

If you choose to earn an associates degree in English, you will take classes that introduce you to different types of literature and writing. The exact classes that are offered will vary by program, but you may take classes about British, American or World literature. In addition, you will take introductory writing courses like composition or creative writing. Some schools also offer elective courses about poetry, graphic novels and mythology.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with an associates degree in English?

An associates degree in English will not prepare you for any jobs as an English professional. If you want to work in the field of English, you need to earn at least a bachelors degree.

What about getting an online associates degree in English?

A limited number of schools offer online associates degrees in English. Whether you choose to earn your English associates degree online or offline, this level of degree will not qualify you for any professional writing, editing or teaching jobs. You will have to earn a bachelors degree if you want to become an English professional. Therefore, there is no reason that you should not pursue your English associates degree online. After you complete your basic classes through an online English degree, you can transfer into a 4-year program.

Bachelors Degree

A bachelors degree in English is the most popular route for English professionals to pursue. It qualifies you for most jobs in the field. In addition, you can earn a bachelors degree as a stepping stone to graduate study.

What are the different types of bachelors degrees that I can earn in English?

Bachelor of Arts in English BA

A BA degree in English includes many literature and writing classes to give you a broad background in many types of writing. This is the most common option for people who study English and it is a good choice if you want to work as an English professional or go to graduate school.

Bachelor of Science in English BS

A BS in English has more business writing classes to give you a foundation in technical writing. This degree is a good choice if you want to work in fields like journalism, marketing or public relations.

How long will I have to study to earn my bachelors degree in English?

Bachelors degree programs in English usually require students to complete 120 to 130 credit hours. Most English students are able to finish their bachelors degrees in about 4 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my bachelors degree in English?

If you decide to study English at the bachelors level, you will take classes in literature and writing. Different schools offer a variety of literature classes, but some common courses that you will take include American literature and British literature. You may also take classes about literature that is associated with specific groups of people like young adults, women or Latin Americans. You will also take creative writing, technical writing and literary analysis classes. Finally, you will take classes about grammar and the history of the English language.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a bachelors degree in English?

A bachelors degree in English will qualify you for any entry-level writing job in the field. For instance, with a bachelors degree, you can become a copywriter, web writer or technical writer. And if you earn a teaching license through your state, you can become an English teacher. Although you don’t need more formal education to become an editor, people usually work for a few years as a writer before they are promoted to editing positions. Therefore, you should not expect to be hired for an editing job right out of college.

What about getting an online bachelors degree in English?

A number of reputable schools now offer online English bachelors degrees. Since many English professionals choose to work remotely, earning your degree through an online English program may be beneficial because it will teach you how to collaborate in an online setting. However, if you want to earn your English bachelors degree online, you need to be an independent learner who is capable of meeting deadlines without the structure of a classroom. If you prefer personal interaction, you should not attend an online English school.

Masters Degree

Many schools offer masters degrees in English for students who want to pursue advanced study of literature or to hone their writing skills. You can use a masters degree in English to advance your professional writing or teaching career or as a step on the way to doctoral study.

What are the different types of masters degrees that I can earn in English?

Master of Arts MA

An MA degree in English offers intensive study of literature and literary criticism. This is a good choice if you want to continue in graduate school and earn a doctorate.

Master of Science MS

An MS degree in English has advanced literature and education classes. The MS degree is best if you are a high school teacher and you want to advance your career with a graduate education.

Master of Fine Arts MFA

An MFA degree in English focuses on specific areas of creative writing like fiction, poetry, drama or creative nonfiction. MFA degrees are terminal degrees, which means that you can teach university English courses after completing degree requirements.

How long will I have to study to earn my masters degree in English?

Masters degrees in English typically require students to complete 30 to 45 credit hours. Most students finish their masters degrees in English in 2 to 3 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my masters degree in English?

The exact courses that you will take while studying for a masters degree in English vary according to the type of degree that you pursue. For instance, if you decide to earn an MA in English you will take advanced classes in literature, rhetoric and literary theory. You will take similar classes in an MS program, but you will also study educational research and educational psychology. And if you choose to earn an MFA, you will take classes and writing workshops that relate to your focus area. For example, if you decide to get an MFA in poetry, you will take courses about writing poetry and reading poetry in translation. But if you get an MFA in fiction writing, you will mainly take workshops that help you focus on completing a novel or a series of short stories.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a masters degree in English?

A masters degree in English qualifies you to be a managing editor at a publishing company. It also prepares you for associate or copy editor positions or to be a professional writer. In addition, a masters degree in English will qualify you to teach English at a community college.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my masters degree in English?

If you want to earn a masters degree in English, you should consider the focus of the programs that you apply to. Not all graduate English programs offer specialized tracks in every area of literature and writing. So if you want to study a specific topic like creative nonfiction or playwriting, you should investigate the schools that you are considering to make sure that they offer programs in the area that interests you.

What are the requirements for admission to a masters degree program in English?

Most masters programs in English require students to have a bachelors degree in a liberal arts field. In addition, some MA and MS programs require applicants to submit substantial critical writing samples, while most MFA schools require creative writing samples of 20 to 30 pages.

What about getting an online masters degree in English?

Many students choose to earn their English masters degrees online. Online English programs offer a convenient alternative to on-campus programs for people who are busy and do not want to interrupt their careers. The study of literature and writing is often a solitary pursuit, so there is no significant reason not to earn your English masters degree online. But you should keep in mind that most MFA programs require students to participate in short-term residencies, so these are often not entirely online English masters degrees.

Doctorate

A doctorate is the most prestigious degree that English professionals can earn. This degree is intended for people who want to become university professors. English PhD candidates usually choose a focus area like a specific time period, genre or author to research.

What are the different types of doctorates that I can earn in English?

You can earn a PhD in English and related fields, like literature and creative writing. This degree will require you to conduct scholarly research that results in a lengthy dissertation.

How long will I have to study to earn my doctorate in English?

Doctoral programs in English usually require students to complete about 90 credit hours. Students typically finish their degrees in 5 to 7 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my doctorate in English?

Most PhD programs require students to take a few foundational courses like composition theory and research methods that are designed to prepare them to write a dissertation. Aside from those courses, PhD students are generally able to design their own curriculum. Therefore, the specific courses that you take in an English PhD program will vary according to your focus area.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a doctorate in English?

A PhD in English will qualify you to become a professor at a 4-year university. You can also teach English at a community college, although a doctorate is not necessary to do so.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my doctorate in English?

If you want to earn a doctorate in English, you should look for a program that offers job placement assistance. Jobs for people with graduate degrees in English are notoriously difficult to find, so choose a school that recognizes this problem and will help you to find work after you graduate.

What are the requirements for admission to a doctorate program in English?

PhD programs in English are very competitive. Applicants must have at least a bachelors degree in the liberal arts, and some schools require students to submit a critical writing sample for evaluation. In addition, many schools require PhD applicants to have a working knowledge of at least 1 foreign language and its literature.

What about getting an online doctorate in English?

You should not earn your English doctorate online. PhD programs require intense research, and an online English program will not allow you to work closely with your advisor. In addition, the job market for people with graduate degrees in English is very competitive, and a PhD from an online English school is more likely to be dismissed. Finally, many schools that claim to offer online English PhDs actually require students to be in residence for several sessions throughout their program. Therefore, these degrees are not presented entirely online.

Licensing Information

What else should I keep in mind when considering studying English?

If you are thinking about studying English, there are a few other practical job considerations that you should keep in mind.

Freelance vs. Salaried Positions

If you want to work as a writer or editor, you can either seek employment through a company or offer your services independently. Salaried writing and editing positions are very competitive, but they do offer benefits like more regular work hours, insurance and a pension. On the other hand, the Bureau of Labor Statistics writes that 70% of writers and 12% of editors are self-employed freelancers. Freelancing can be a good way to earn a reputation as an English professional, but it requires a lot of hard work and an understanding of business to build a client base and establish yourself in the field.

Working Remotely

Writing jobs used to be concentrated in major media markets like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. But many writers now rely on Internet communications that allow them to work remotely, so location is no longer a major job consideration for many English professionals. However, if you want to become a journalist after you earn a degree in English, your job prospects will still be best in major metropolitan areas.

Questions & Answers

Select a category to find answers to your questions

Resources

What are some other resources that can help me learn more about pursuing a degree in English?

American Copy Editors Association

American Society of Business Publication Editors

American Society of Journalists and Authors

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs

Editorial Freelancers Association

National Association of Independent Writers and Editors

National Council of English Teachers

National Writers Association

National Writers Union

Screenwriters Federation of America