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Online English degrees

It's not uncommon to hear joking in the private sector about the employability of humanities graduates, and English and philosophy majors tend to get it the worst. It may have once been the case that the study of English literature had limited application to the job market, but a lot has changed in the last few decades.

For one thing, an employer survey in 2012 found that many employers think of liberal arts graduates as more likely to have "soft skills" like clear communication and flexibility of ideas than those with business or engineering degrees. Add that to rebounding national employment figures and the growing importance of writing in the modern workplace and an English degree ends up looking far less impractical than it once did.

Here's a table of National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data that shows how many colleges in universities in each region of the country maintain traditional and online English degree programs:

Region No. of schools offering English degrees No. of schools offering online English degrees
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 234 10
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 54 6
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 137 20
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 157 10
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 369 25
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 228 10
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 261 8
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 114 9
Total (all 50 states) 1554 98

Entry-level English degrees

If you're thinking about studying English composition or literature, you can start at just about every level of the academic system. Here's a little information on what you can expect when seeking a few different types of English degree as an undergraduate:

  • Associate degrees - Degrees in English at two-year schools typically contain at least two semesters' worth of college writing courses, with the bulk of the remaining major-specific material taking place as some mixture of literature study and communication or composition courses. An associate degree in English can be a great way to test out your interest in the subject with an eye toward pursuing a four-year degree; general education courses taken in pursuit of an English degree will often transfer into a variety of different programs if you end up changing your mind.
  • Bachelor's degrees - Literature of different time periods and geographical regions often takes a prominent position among subject matter in bachelor's-level English degrees, as well as courses on the language itself and texts that mark pivotal moments in its development. Aspiring writers may also be able to focus their English coursework on classes that train their creative, technical, professional or journalistic writing skills, and choosing a minor wisely can help position you for an employment advantage after graduation.
  • Non-degree study - Undergraduate certificate programs in English typically center on writing skills, cultural studies via textual analysis and teaching English as a second language. An average of about 18 credit hours is required to complete most non-degree study plans, although different schools' English departments offer different certificate options and set their own coursework requirements.

The study of English literature and composition can be accomplished with nearly as much success in the virtual classroom as in the traditional brick-and-mortar environment, thanks in part to a learning model that revolves around readings, discussions and lecture participation. If you're thinking about studying writing or literature but hesitate to commit the time and money it would take to earn it in a traditional setting, don't overlook online English degrees.

Advanced-degree English programs

It's often the case that students of English realize that they want to teach the subject at the college level or discover a passion for the subject that can't be satisfied with a mere four years of bachelor's-level study. Graduate degrees are the answer for students who fall into either category, and post-graduate study may even be the right choice for truly die-hard scholars:

  • Master's degree programs - At the master's level, degrees in English are often divided into the Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) categories. MA degrees tend to focus on close readings and written analyses of literary and cultural texts, while MFA degrees are designed for poets and fiction writers looking to hone their craft in a concentrated academic setting. Some English master's degrees also focus on professional or technical writing, or on the analytical study of English in its various cultural contexts.
  • Doctorate programs - The terminal degree in English is often more for academics than artists — that is to say, those hoping to analyze, teach and publish scholarship for a living are likely to get more out of a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program in English — but some schools do offer creatively oriented doctoral programs. Students are often encouraged to choose a concentration from a list that includes literature, criticism, rhetoric, composition and linguistics, among others.
  • Graduate certificates - Non-degree study in English is about as common at the graduate level as it is for undergraduates, although the subjects offered tend to have something of a different flavor. Literary study certificates are certainly out there, as well as those that allow students to focus on improving their writing skills, but certificates for educators hoping to teach English as a second language are also well represented throughout the national selection.

Some graduate degrees lend themselves to online study better than others, with those that focus on literary analysis perhaps providing the easiest transition to the virtual classroom. Some students may find it easier to receive constructive feedback in a face-to-face environment, but writing workshop courses online can be surprisingly comfortable once you get accustomed to the digital discussion style.

Q&A with experts

Emil Isaakov, writer at Central Infusion Alliance, a medical products firm in Chicago

Emil Isaakov, writer at Central Infusion Alliance, a medical products firm in ChicagoWhat are some of the workplace advantages that can come with an English degree?

The biggest advantage is the ability English graduates have in communicating in a clear and eloquent manner, through both writing and speech.

Are there particular minors or extracurriculars that can enhance an English grad's employability?

As a writer that has been in the job market the last year and a half, I have noticed that journalism and marketing are the most common fields in which one can work in, so a minor in them is only appropriate.

What's some advice you might have for an English major who's trying to figure out the direction they're best suited to take after college?

Use your time in college as a time of experimentation. Apply to internships that you think you would enjoy. Do not be afraid to explore career options that you might see as unconventional. Find what you're good at and start becoming amazing at it.

Kerri Gois, marketing coordinator at Broadbandsearch.net

What would have been helpful to know when you were pursuing your own education?

I think it would have been helpful to have access to secondary jobs. I feel like myself and a lot of my peers were really trying to pursue writing as a career, but didn't realize that you may not be making money for a while.

What are some jobs suitable for English degree graduates that students might not be aware of?

Aside from the obvious jobs in underwriting and editing, looking into tech companies is huge. Search Engine Optimization is a huge industry that benefits from English majors because of the large quantities of content required to optimize websites and copy.

Are there particular minors or extracurriculars that can enhance an English grad's employability?

I think a minor in finance would be very useful. A lot of banks and financial institutions need marketing writers and those who can create marketing plans and strategy, but applicants need the understanding of the financial industry.

Types of English careers

Depending on the minor you choose and your prior work experience, an English degree might be able to help you enter a wide range of careers once you graduate. Here's some salary and employment data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics that relates to job fields where English degree graduates tend to do particularly well:

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2015)
Projected job growth
(2014-2024)
Total U.S. employment
(2014)
Entry-level education
Copywriter $69,130 2 percent 136,500 Bachelor's degree
Editor $64,910 -5 percent 117,200 Bachelor's degree
Public relations specialist $65,830 6 percent 240,700 Bachelor's degree
Middle school teacher $58,760 6 percent 627,500 Bachelor's degree
High school teacher $60,440 6 percent 961,600 Bachelor's degree
Translator $48,360 29 percent 61,000 Bachelor's degree
English language and literature teacher, postsecondary $68,360 10 percent 90,800 Master's degree

Common misconceptions about English degrees

Just like anything that's been subject to shifting economic value, there are a few persistent misconceptions out there about English degrees. Let's take a moment to dispel a few of these mistaken notions:

Misconception: The skills you learn on the road to an English degree aren't useful in the real world.

  • Fact: Not only do writing, critical analysis and advanced reading comprehension actually have quite a bit of upside in the world after college, but recent research has suggested that reading all the literary fiction that's necessary to earn an English degree might increase empathy and potentially improve the way you relate to other people. These are soft skills, sure, but your employers (not to mention your friends) are likely to be glad you have them.

Misconception: Nobody wants to hire a candidate with an English degree.

  • Fact: In recent memory, there were a few fairly public suggestions that students stay away from the humanities and get a science degree or engineering degree, lest they end up underqualified for "real" jobs. There's been something of a shift in perspective since then, with employer surveys reporting that communication, writing, research, critical thinking, empathy and other English degree skills among the traits they most look for in candidates. As long as you can demonstrate your ability to do the job as advertised, your degree isn't likely to scare anyone off.

Misconception: Getting an English degree online is the easiest path to a college degree.

  • Fact: Online school is not easy. Taking the time and energy to sit yourself down and focus on the course material when you could otherwise be playing or relaxing is a skill that takes true dedication and will power to gain. The coursework in online classes isn't customarily any more difficult than the material taught at brick-and-mortar universities, but the extra effort necessary to complete all your classes on your own time can bring an unexpected challenge to the experience.

How can I enroll in an online English degree program?

If you're ready to get started on your study of English language and literature, the best thing to do is to reach out to some individual schools and learn more about their admissions policies and steps to enrollment. Take a look at the listings we've provided below, pick out a few institutions that interest you and get in touch to find out exactly what it takes to get the ball rolling. Or, if you want to learn about a similar field of study, check out information about online schools in writing.

Sources:

  1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed March 18, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  2. "Employers Target Liberal Arts Majors and College Grads Who Had Internships: Survey," Tyler Kingkade, The Huffington Post, May 17, 2012, accessed March 24, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/16/employers-liberal-arts-interns-college-grads-survey_n_1522144.html
  3. School pages, accessed March 24, 2016: Online Associate Degree in English, Southwestern Assemblies of God University, https://www.sagu.edu/admissions/online-associate-degree-in-english; English Literature Emphasis - Associate in Arts Degree, Anoka-Ramsey Community College, http://www.anokaramsey.edu/en/classes/Two-Year%20Degree%20Programs/AADegree/EngLitAADeg/EngLitAAProgReqs; Associates Degree English, Allegany College of Maryland, http://www.allegany.edu/x237.xml; Bachelor of Arts in English, Sam Houston State University, http://www.shsu.edu/programs/bachelor-of-arts-in-english/; Online BA Degree in English Writing, University of Colorado Denver, http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/CUOnline/OnlineDegrees/EnglishWriting/Pages/EnglishWriting.aspx; Online Bachelor's Degree in English, University of Maryland University College, http://www.umuc.edu/academic-programs/bachelors-degrees/english-major.cfm; Certificates, English, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, http://uwm.edu/english/undergraduate/resources/certificates/; Undergraduate Certificate - Technical Communication, Minnesota State University Mankato, http://english.mnsu.edu/techcomm/tcugcert.html; Undergraduate Certificates, The University of Akron, https://www.uakron.edu/english/academics/undergraduate/certificates.dot; Master of Arts in English, Clark University, http://www.clarku.edu/programs/master-arts-english; MA in English and Creative Writing, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/masters/ma-in-english-and-creative-writing; Program Outline, MFA Creative Writing, Texas State University, http://www.english.txstate.edu/mfa/Program/Coursework.html; M.A. in English, The University of Mississippi, http://www.english.txstate.edu/mfa/Program/Coursework.html; MFA in English, The University of Mississippi, http://english.olemiss.edu/mfa-in-english/; Ph.D. in English, The University of Mississippi, http://english.olemiss.edu/ph-d-in-english/; PhD in English, The University of Tennessee Knoxville, http://english.utk.edu/graduatestudies/phd-in-english/; Program for Writers, University of Illinois at Chicago, http://engl.uic.edu/CW; Graduate Programs, Department of English, University of Denver, http://www.du.edu/ahss/english/graduate/index.html; Graduate Certificate in English, Emory University, http://english.emory.edu/home/graduate/prospective-students/grad-certificate.html; Graduate Certificate Programs, University of South Florida, http://english.usf.edu/graduate/clcert/; Graduate Certificates, East Carolina University, http://www.ecu.edu/cs-cas/engl/certificates.cfm;
  4. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed March 18, 2016: Writers and Authors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Media-and-Communication/Writers-and-authors.htm; Editors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/editors.htm; Public Relations Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/public-relations-specialists.htm; Middle School Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm; High School Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm; Interpreters and Translators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/interpreters-and-translators.htm; Postsecondary Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Postsecondary-teachers.htm;
  5. May 2015 National Occupational and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed May 1, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
  6. Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy, Scientific American, Julianne Chiaet, October 4, 2013, accessed March 29, 2016, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/novel-finding-reading-literary-fiction-improves-empathy/
  7. Why English Majors are the Hot New Hires, OPEN Forum, American Experess, Bruna Martinuzzi, July 11, 2013, accessed March 29, 2016, https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/why-english-majors-are-the-hot-new-hires/
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