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What Will I Learn in an English Degree Program?

While pursuing a degree in English, you’ll read and analyze literature—novels, poetry, short stories, essays, and more—and you’ll understand what makes it all worth reading. You’ll learn about criticism, speech, and rhetoric, so that you’ll be able to communicate clearly and effectively, whether your argument is written or spoken. The skills you’ll pick up while pursuing a degree in English are indispensible because when you’re finished, you’ll be able to think critically and creatively in a variety of different situations.

During your first year of study pursuing an English degree, it is probable that you will start with the basics of good written communication. This is often referred to as “rhetoric.” You’ll learn how to build a strong, interesting argument on paper, free of logical fallacies as well as errors in grammar and syntax. Once you’ve mastered the rather difficult art of writing clearly and concisely, you will be ready to then explore the world’s finest literature.

In basic literature courses, you will spend most of your time reading and thinking critically. You will explore different time periods in literature’s evolution, you’ll learn the historical context in which a certain work was written, and you’ll read what others have had to say about the work over the years. You’ll explore the different themes that a novelist, poet, playwright, or essayist was trying to convey in their writing, and you’ll come to an understanding of why a work’s message is so important within the context of moral and aesthetic values.

Although not all English degree programs offer creative writing courses, most of them do. In these courses, you’ll get to try your own hand at creating a written work of art. Fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction courses are usually run as workshops, in which every week, one student submits her work. Then, the rest of the class, as well as the professor, reads the student’s work carefully and provides helpful feedback. In creative writing courses, you’ll also read and analyze literature, but the focus will be on the author’s use of specific writing techniques.

In more advanced English courses, you’ll delve deeper into literary theory, where you’ll learn a variety of different perspectives that can be applied to any given literary work. You’ll learn about seeing literature through the lens of feminism, Marxism, Freudian psychoanalysis, or perhaps even Derrida’s deconstructive criticism.

In the end, no matter what type of book you read as an English student, you’ll learn about topics on a variety of levels, and you’ll be able to effectively communicate your knowledge, too.