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Choosing a university and degree program in an English-related field requires extensive research. Prospective students must consider the curriculum, online vs. on-campus options, and future applications in a variety of professions. This guide is designed to make the process easier by providing an in-depth look at traditional and online English schools at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate levels.

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The ABCs of English Degrees

By exposing students to works of great literature, English degree programs train them to become better readers, writers and critical thinkers. At the associate level, English majors study types of literature such as novels and drama. Bachelor’s degree programs impart communication and critical thinking skills through the study of English literature. Related courses could encompass grammar, composition and rhetoric. At the graduate level, students delve further into literary genres, authors, time periods and movements, and they may choose a specialization, such as English teaching.

Studying for Online English Degrees

Like the traditional classroom curriculum, online English degrees provide a foundation in critical analysis, writing, communication and literature. There are numerous English degrees offered completely online or in hybrid programs, as this course of study is well-suited to virtual learning. Students can watch lectures, read course material and submit research papers online through a course management system. Professors conduct interactive exams or allow students to download and submit exams electronically. Students interact in online forums or through programs such as Skype or FaceTime. Online English studies offer exposure to remote teamwork and electronic modes of communication, which are useful skills in the modern workplace.

Program Highlight: Online Bachelor’s Degree in English

Students earning a bachelor’s degree from online English schools learn to interpret literature and apply language in ethical, strategic and articulate ways. Additionally, students explore how to apply models of literature to leadership and management in a business environment. Electives could include classes in technical writing or film as literature.

A bachelor’s degree consists of about 120 credit hours. Depending on the school, students may choose 18 hours of electives to specialize in a particular area. Full-time students can usually complete a bachelor’s degree in four to five years. In online English schools, students attend classes virtually through a learning management system, communicating with peers and instructors via email, online chat, phone or other electronic media.

Associate Online English Degrees

It takes two years to complete an associate degree in English, depending on a student’s availability. The curriculum typically includes coursework in communication, fine arts and humanities, along with general education courses in math, social sciences and physical sciences. Some programs require a foreign language as well. Associate degrees in English can be useful for graduates interested in teaching at the preschool level, complemented by studies in early childhood education.

The following table describes a few of the courses offered in an associate-level online English degree program:

COURSE NAME overview
Intro to American Literature Introduces great writers of the U.S. from the colonial period to the present, including Hawthorne, Whitman, Dickenson and Twain.
Intro to British Literature Analyzes work of important British writers from the medieval period to the present, including Chaucer, Milton, Swift, Pope and Blake.
Shakespeare Includes a critical study of selected works of Shakespeare, including how they were influenced by social and cultural issues.
Intro to Academic Writing Prepares students for scholarly research: planning and organizing material, revising and editing reports for college courses.

Bachelor’s-Level Online English Degrees

It takes a full-time student about four years to earn a bachelor’s degree in English. Students combine literature courses with expository writing courses, with electives such as creative writing. The major lends itself to Internet-based studies because most of the work required involves reading, researching, composing, revising and editing papers. A bachelor’s degree may qualify graduates to teach English in private schools or in programs focused on adult literacy and high school equivalency (HSE or GED) diplomas.

The curriculum can vary at different colleges, but the following courses are examples of subjects found in online programs.

COURSE NAME overview
Contemporary Literature Studies how post-1950s literature around the world addresses contemporary issues. Analyzes different methods and theories of textual criticism.
Advanced Academic Writing Teaches writing skills for all types of papers, from short reports to dissertations for academic or professional purposes.
Public Speaking Prepares students to deliver formal presentations. Includes cultural conventions and speech, perceptions of others, verbal and nonverbal messages, oral presentation techniques and persuasion.
Creative Writing Studies the tools of the craft, terms and techniques while writing a variety of poems and short stories.
Literature Research and Theory Examines different strategies of reading, comprehending and engaging with 20th century literary texts. Covers literary criticism, such as poststructuralist theories and their legacy.
Analytical Writing Approaches issues and claims presented in visual, oral or written arguments. Teaches students to research and compose analytical and argumentative essays, with a focus on source-based writing.
World Literature Explores literature from antiquity to the 17th century, emphasizing the literary and aesthetic value of writing from all parts of the globe.

Master’s-Level Online English Degrees

A master’s degree in English takes approximately two years to complete, although this may vary with graduate opportunities, such as teaching or research assistantships. The degree could qualify graduates for roles as community college English instructors and for various writing careers.

Students explore British and U.S. literature in a variety of genres, authors, time periods and movements. Students explore literary analysis, literary criticism and research methods. Some schools offer concentrations in comparative literature, creative writing, linguistics or English education. Most master’s programs in English require students to complete a thesis project for graduation that they must present before a committee.

The following table presents some of the core courses in a master’s-level online English degree program:

Linguistics Covers speech sounds and patterns, including how words are formed and organized into sentences, how language is understood, and how language changes. Topics include morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, phonetics and phonology.
Medieval Literature Explores literary traditions associated with the diverse cultures of early and late medieval England. Includes major genres, themes and styles.
Renaissance Literature Covers a wide variety of literature from 16th century. Examines science, religious fundamentalism, colonialism and capitalism by reading works like Utopia and The Faerie Queene.
Rhetoric and Composition Instructs students in writing essays, emphasizing different rhetorical modes such as comparison, narrative, description, analysis, argument, classification and cause and effect.
Writing Nonfiction Develops skills necessary for professional communicators preparing written material for print or electronic media.
Old English Studies Old English, the Germanic language spoken by Anglo-Saxons in Britain from middle of the 5th century until around the end of the 11th century.
English Language History Examines issues of language use, the construction of standard and nonstandard English, literary language, spelling reform, pidgins and creoles, and important variations of English around the world.
Multiethnic Literature Explores a selection of multiethnic literatures of the U.S. through a comparative framework. Includes fiction, poetry, autobiography, personal essays and cultural studies by African American, Asian American, Native American and Latin writers since the 1960s and 1970s.
Early American Literature Reviews the poetry, fiction and nonfiction written in and about the United States before the end of the Civil War.

Online English Degrees at the PhD Level

An English doctorate prepares students for many roles in academia, either teaching or conducting research. Most programs take a minimum of five years to complete. The curriculum combines graduate level classes, comprehensive examinations and a dissertation, which requires significant scholarly research presented to a panel of reviewers. Doctoral students may be able to teach introductory courses in composition or literature for undergraduates. In addition to specialized studies in British and American literature, doctoral candidates also study language and composition.

What Can You Do With an Online English Degree?

An English degree provides a foundation for several types of careers. Many English majors move on to careers as teachers, editors, authors, technical communicators or copywriters. The skills in research, analysis and communication that English students develop can translate to a variety of other fields, ranging from marketing to law. The list below highlights some potential career paths for those devoted to English studies. Occupations such as teaching may require additional education or professional credentials.

Featured Careers

  • College English Language/Literature Teachers

    College English and literature teachers instruct postsecondary students on the English language and works of literature. Their focus can range from linguistics to comparative literature. They not only teach, but also conduct research on the subject matter. They can be employed by universities or colleges, on both physical campuses or in the realm of online education.

    Median Salary: $60,040

    Median Hourly: $NR

    Est. Growth: 12.2%

    No. Employed: 72,680

    Minimum Education: Doctoral/Professional

  • Lawyers

    Lawyers advise and represent people, businesses and government entities in a wide range of legal matters. Their specialties can range from criminal matters to contract law to civil matters. They draft and interpret legal documents, and represent individuals or entities in court. They also work in defense against litigation, and advise or direct litigation against other people or entities.

    Median Salary: $113,530

    Median Hourly: $54.58

    Est. Growth: 9.8%

    No. Employed: 581,920

    Minimum Education: Doctoral/Professional

  • Editors

    Editors plan, advise and review content prior to publication. They can work for individuals, publishers, newspapers, magazines, websites or trade publications. They review content for grammar and factual accuracy. In many cases, editors work closely with writers through all stages, from the planning phase all the way to final publication, guiding the course of overall projects. Many editors work in offices, but a growing number work from home.

    Median Salary: $53,880

    Median Hourly: $25.90

    Est. Growth: -2.4%

    No. Employed: 99,040

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s

  • Technical Writers

    Also called technical communicators, technical writers create documents such as training manuals or journal articles, with the goal of making complicated content easier to read and understand. These writers develop, gather and disseminate information to employees, customers, clients, manufacturers and designers. Technical writers can work full-time as in-house employees of a business or governmental agency, or on a freelance, contract basis.

    Median Salary: $65,500

    Median Hourly: $31.49

    Est. Growth: 14.8%

    No. Employed: 46,160

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s

  • Writers/Authors

    Writers and authors gather and create content for a wide range of media and resources, including manuscripts, books, magazines, trade publications, educational materials, movies and television programs. They can work for publishers, studios, academic institutions or work for themselves as freelancers or independent authors. They may work with a single, specific editor and publisher, or with many different professionals depending on the project.

    Median Salary: $55,940

    Median Hourly: $26.89

    Est. Growth: 3%

    No. Employed: 41,990

    Minimum Education: Bachelor’s