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 percent 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.
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Associate Degree in English
A few schools offer an Associate of Arts (AA) 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 associate degree in English is to prepare you to transfer into a bachelor’s degree program.
- Credit hours/length of study: 2 years (60-65 hours)
- Coursework: 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.
- Employment prospects: An associate 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 bachelor’s degree.
Bachelor’s Degree in English
A Bachelor of Arts in English (BA) 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.
A Bachelor of Science (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.
- Credit hours/length of study: 4 years (120-130 credit hours)
- Coursework: 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.
- Employment prospects: You will qualify you for any entry-level writing job in the field. For instance, with a bachelor’s 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.
Master’s Degree in English
A Master of Arts (MA) 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.
A Master of Science (MS) 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.
A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) 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.
- Credit hours/length of study: 2-3 years (30-45 hours)
- Coursework: 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.
- Employment prospects: You are qualified 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 master’s degree in English will qualify you to teach English at a community college.
Doctoral Degree in English
A Doctoral Degree in English (PhD) 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.
- Credit hours/length of study: 5-7 years (90 credit hours)
- Coursework: 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.
- Employment prospects: 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.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of writers and authors is expected to grow by 6 percent 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 percent 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.
With a degree in English, you are qualified for a wide range of fields and jobs, including:
- Web Writer
- Technical Writer
- Copy Editor
- Managing Editor
- English Teacher
- 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