what is english literature

What is English Literature? in the US

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With such a diverse field of study, prospective students are frequently unclear about what an English Literature degree actually provides. This article explains what an English Literature degree looks like and what doors it can open for graduates. English literature is one of the most popular majors in colleges and universities in the US, with a huge number of students enrolling every year due to its diverse nature and numerous graduate opportunities.

Writing, research, and teaching are a few careers that people with degrees in English literature frequently pursue. A degree in English literature can be used in a wide variety of other ways, though. In this day and age, some students will utilize it to start a journey in the realm of digital marketing, while others use it as a stepping stone to a degree in law. Any path you choose can lead to a number of rewarding employment choices with this degree.

What is English Literature at its Very Core?

The study of international materials published in English is referred to as English literature. You can learn to understand a wide range of texts and write eloquently, utilizing a variety of writing styles by pursuing a degree in English literature.

Generally speaking, the term “literature” refers to various genres of text, such as plays, poetry, novels, and non-fiction. However, the term “literature” is debatable because modern communication technologies offer a variety of contemporary literary genres.

Writing with artistic worth is generally considered to be literature. The term “literature” today, however, could also be applied to various genres of material, including scripts, nonfiction, song lyrics, and online communication via blogs and other platforms. The conventional literary works will be a prominent part of the English Literature curricula at the majority of significant US institutions. Poems, plays, and works of prose fiction are among the materials that an English Literature major is likely to study, and they may also briefly touch on more divisive genres.

what is english literature

Studying Literature Versus Reading for Pleasure

If you decide to major in literature in the US, you will learn how to read various texts and critically assess the style, use of various linguistic constructions, and meaning. Additionally, you’ll learn how to write in a variety of stylistically varied forms in a clear, succinct, and analytical manner. British literature, American literature, world literature, and periods (pre-1800 and post-2000) are among the numerous focuses of literature courses that are typically offered.

In addition to being required to take fundamental courses in several of these subjects, you will also be obliged to select a concentration that interests you, such as drama or creative writing. Ultimately, you will understand the books you study far more thoroughly than is possible from solitary reading, and you will learn how to communicate your knowledge through written analysis, presentations, and class discussions.

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Why Study English Literature?

You will gain a deeper grasp of the world by studying English literature in the United States. A degree in literature teaches you how to evaluate and dissect problems in order to present a critical viewpoint in all contexts.

Studying English literature as an international student shows potential employers that you are fluent in both academic and professional English and that you have a solid command of the language.

As a graduate, you can choose from a variety of employment routes in literature. Additionally, you can enroll in graduate programs to work as a teacher, lecturer, or journalist. Popular career paths for English graduates include business, law, and teaching.

Alternately, you may use your analytical abilities to transition into unanticipated occupations in marketing, advertising, or pretty much anything else you’re willing to learn.

Additionally, there are apparent job openings in the publishing sector, including those for editors, proofreaders, and literary agents. Before honing their unique capacities for written expression, many creative writers, including novelists, poets, and screenwriters among others, begin their careers by mastering written English in depth.

English literature may be the appropriate field of study for you if you want to master the English language, refine your ability to critically analyze the world around you, and get a degree that will open up a wide range of job options.

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English Majors Have Marketable Skills

Before you decide to give up your passion for reading and literary analysis in favor of a more marketable endeavor, remember that skills, not majors, are important in the job.

An advantage of studying English is that businesses are currently seeking applicants with superior communication and soft skills, especially at this time when STEM-based majors are in high demand.

Hard talents, like computer coding or calculus, are quantifiable aptitudes. The hard skills needed to become computer scientists, web developers, engineers, and financial experts are taught to students in STEM-based curricula. Students majoring in English literature acquire an important and desirable hard skill that many STEM majors lack: the ability to write well.

Students majoring in English literature also leave college with a better understanding of the soft skills required to land a job. Both measuring and teaching these abilities are challenging. Many are related to having good communication and decision-making skills. These abilities include:

  • Flexible thinking: Studying English literature teaches students how to be considerate of others’ viewpoints, evaluate issues from various angles, and modify their communication style according to the target audience.
  • Judgment and decision making:  Judgment, analysis, and decision-making are required while writing a 15-page term paper with an argument and supporting details.
  • Creativity: Students who study English are encouraged to read poetry and write short tales to explore their creative side. One of the most significant and challenging soft talents to hire for is creativity.
  • Critical reasoning: Writing a feminist analysis of a piece of literature, for example, teaches English students how to analyze critically as well as how to construct a concise, fact-based argument.

Why Should I Study English Literature and Not Communication?

Why not just major in communication at your American institution since being able to communicate effectively is a primary benefit of an English literary degree? Students studying communication take courses in career-ready subjects like marketing, public relations, and digital media. Students of English literature read books. Would studying communication make more sense for you?

There is a lot of overlap between the study of communication and English. Both subjects help students improve their writing skills, research skills, and capacity to evaluate various viewpoints. However, English literature students graduate with the following advantages whereas communications students learn more about integrating technology into their field of study

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Graduates in English literature have comparable prospects: The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that the starting pay for a graduate with a communications degree is roughly $3,000 higher than for a graduate with an English literature degree, and that their anticipated lifetime earnings are essentially equal. Therefore, English literature students receive the additional enrichment of studying and understanding the great works of the English language canon for around $1.40 less per hour—a fantastic offer for book lovers.

English literature students read more:  Unbelievably, the ability to conduct in-depth analyses of complex literary works is very transportable. Successful jobs in research and development and legislation can be attained through the development of strong analytical writing skills.

English literature majors have more opportunities for teaching: If you want to be a teacher, an English degree will make you more marketable. English literature majors will have a better time locating employment as English teachers, whether it be in private high schools or ESL programs.

what is english literature

What Is it Like to Study English Literature as an Undergraduate Student in the United States?

The English department at Florida International University (FIU) requires students to concentrate on four areas of study and choose one for their specialization or track, similar to other undergraduate programs. These fields include linguistics, literature, writing and rhetoric, and creative writing.

Literature: An artistically or intellectually valuable body of written work is referred to as literature. The literary works that English students study cover a vast geographic and time span.

Writing and rhetoric: These courses help students develop their capacity to construct and sustain arguments in order to convey ideas. In order to improve their own writing abilities, students study rhetorical devices and classic examples of excellent writing. Nearly all professions require the ability to write and speak effectively, especially those in business and marketing.

Creative writing:  In contrast to writing and rhetoric, creative writing typically involves students authoring fiction or nonfiction rather than developing an argument based on previously published material. Students’ writing is read aloud and discussed in workshops with other students in creative writing classes.

Linguistics: The study of language, including its structure, rules, and varieties, as well as what it might reveal about the culture in which it is used, is known as linguistics. Since linguistics involves the systematic examination of the structure and behavior of language in everyday contexts, it is the closest thing English students have to a scientific endeavor.


Which Required Classes Do English Literature Majors Take?

Traditionally, American undergraduate students choose their major towards the conclusion of their sophomore year. During their first two years of college, students are often obliged to complete foundational courses in the humanities and sciences at the undergraduate level.

Instead of making judgments solely on what they believe they want to do for a living, students who explore other fields of study before selecting a major tend to make better conclusions.

These general education courses are appropriate for students enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and fall under the following headings:

  • Analyzing the natural world
  • Understanding the individual and society
  • Understanding the past
  • Understanding the creative arts
  • Exploring world cultures
  • Understanding US society
  • Quantitative reasoning

Out of the 120 credits needed to graduate from the English literature program at UIC, students must complete 78–84 credits in general education courses and related electives. The roughly 40 remaining credits are made up of core English requirements, English electives, and requirements for concentration or specialization. Classes in the literary genre on which students want to concentrate their study are considered concentration or specialization requirements.

what is english literature

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Most American institutions require students to take a number of core English classes, including the following:

  • English literature I: Beginnings to 1660
  • English literature II: 1660-1900
  • American literature: 1900-present
  • Core writing classes
  • Core theory and criticism classes

Universities in the US frequently offer the following electives and concentration classes:

  • Colonial and postcolonial literature
  • Culture and media studies
  • Gender theory
  • Introduction to writing fiction
  • Latinx literary studies
  • Russian nineteenth-century novels
  • Topics in criticism and theory
  • Topics in Asian American literature and culture
  • Women and literature


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