American Lit & Composition Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Course Info

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An associate or bachelor's degree in American literature and composition can lead to careers in writing, education, business, communications, and many other fields. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying American Literature and Composition: Degrees at a Glance

An American literature and composition degree program can give you the opportunity to study American authors and literary works, and to build your professional writing skills. Outside of teaching careers, however, you probably won't find a career that asks specifically for a background in literature and composition, especially with an emphasis solely on American literature.

Still, you can expect to find a number of career opportunities that demand excellent communication and critical thinking skills, which are at the core of an American literature and composition degree program. English literature and language graduates may find jobs in education, journalism, and publishing - though most of these require additional schooling and training.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? - Students interested in enhancing their reading, writing, and critical thinking skills, while studying of American literature
- Students seeking to transfer initial credits to a 4-year program
- Students seeking to explore American authors and their works
- Students looking to build their professional/academic composition and critical-thinking skills
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual median salary)* - Desktop publisher ($37,000)*
- Library assistant ($23,000)*
- Teacher assistant ($24,000)*
- High school teacher ($54,000 - additional licensure or certification typically required)*
- Editor ($52,000 - may require experience as a writer or reporter)*
- Writer or author ($56,000)*
- Journalist ($35,000)*
- Public relations specialist ($53,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time - 4 years full-time
- Up to 7 years part-time
Common Graduation Requirements - General education courses
- Select courses in American literature/composition
- General education courses
- Select courses in American literature/composition
- Foreign language requirement
- Senior capstone project
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED
Online Availability Yes (for general Associate of Arts programs) Yes

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures).

Associate in American Literature and Composition

You won't be able to find Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree programs tailored specifically to American literature and composition, but you will be able to choose classes from English and communications departments that suit your interests. You'll have to complete general education courses as part of your program of study; many of these general education credits include basic composition classes, and can include general literature surveys. Graduation requirements for A.A. degrees usually don't include a capstone or research project; after graduation, most students continue on to 4-year institutions for more education, or into entry-level positions in education, writing, or library assistance.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You can finish coursework for this degree in 2 years
  • Many associate degree programs have direct transfer options to bachelor's degree programs
  • Can read and write about essential American literary works

Cons

  • Careers for American literature and composition graduates often require additional training*
  • Not all credits earned as part of an associate degree may transfer to other institutions
  • Earning potential and employment prospects for those with an associate degree are not as high as for bachelor's degree holders*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

For an Associate of Arts degree, you'll be required to complete an average of 60 credits of coursework. Beyond required general education credits in math, natural science, social science, and electives, you generally have the freedom to select literature and writing courses that satisfy the American literature/composition emphasis. A few schools recommend taking a foreign language as part of your program of study. Some of the required classes can include:

  • English composition I & II
  • Introduction to literature
  • Creative writing
  • Survey of American literature

Online Course Info

Because there aren't face-to-face associate degree programs tailored specifically to American literature/composition, you'll likely have a difficult time trying to find an online program that does have such an emphasis. Your best bet is to select a general online associate degree program and then choose your courses within the general English language and literature curriculum. However, you should know that you may not have the same freedom to choose your classes toward an emphasis in American literature as you would in an on-site program; you may be able to achieve those credit requirements through a hybrid class setting, which involves both online and on-campus coursework.

Stand Out with This Degree

A majority of associate degree programs offered by community colleges or junior colleges are designed for direct transfer to 4-year institutions. It may, therefore, be a good idea to select courses within the American literature and composition emphasis, or elective courses that are suited to a full undergraduate major.

While it may not be a requirement for graduation, participating in an internship targeted towards a specific career field (such as education or technical writing) can also be a good step to take before finishing an A.A. degree. Also, getting involved in activities, such as a campus newspaper, can also help you build your writing skills. Although such work is often unpaid, you can still gain valuable experience for a future career.

Bachelor's in American Literature and Composition

Even though only a handful of 4-year institutions offer a specific American literature and composition undergraduate major, most university English programs are flexible and allow you to choose classes toward such an emphasis. Beyond general education courses and electives, you'll be asked to finish a certain number of credits within the program that can directly tie to literature or writing classes.

Those who graduate with bachelor's degree in English with an emphasis in American literature and composition either continue their studies in a graduate program or pursue more professional training for jobs in publishing, education, library science, legal and business writing, and journalism.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A literature/language studies degree is flexible, suitable for many different types of careers
  • You can explore a wide array of American literary works, including classic and modern
  • You have the chance to build your professional writing skills within and beyond academia

Cons

  • While flexible, a literature/language studies degree might not be deemed appropriate for some careers outside of communication fields
  • Many careers won't even consider you without more specific training*
  • Even with a bachelor's degree, the competition for potential careers can be quite high**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET.

Courses and Requirements

After completing necessary composition and introductory literature course prerequisites, you usually have the chance to select your classes in American literary studies and in writing. The literature coursework requirements are typically designed for you to explore a number of different literary genres, authors, and time periods of American literature; additionally, writing courses may range from academic composition courses to technical writing, creative writing, and rhetoric. Many schools also have you fulfill a foreign language requirement as a prerequisite for upper-level coursework. Some undergraduate degree programs also require you to complete a minor, a senior capstone, and/or a research project, in addition to your literature and language studies.

Also, don't let the title 'American literature' mislead you: you can also have the chance to study African-American, Chicano, Asian-American, and Native-American works, as well as classics of the American literary canon. Here are some sample course titles that can satisfy undergraduate coursework for American literature/composition:

  • Literary analysis
  • Survey of American literature
  • Linguistics
  • Survey of British literature

Online Course Info

A large number of universities offer bachelor degree programs online in general English literature and composition studies. Most of these programs have identical graduation and course requirements as their on-campus counterparts. However, there is generally greater flexibility for online students in regards to participating in class and completing program requirements. There are some drawbacks though; schools may have limited enrollment for online programs, and these programs are sometimes designed to prepare you for further education, rather than for an immediate career.

Stand Out with This Degree

English literature and composition programs may offer narrower concentrations within the degree program. Some of these options can include educator certification, or special emphasis in mass media or technical writing. Even if a career in teaching or communications hasn't occurred to you, studying American literature/composition with a more focused track can expand your studies and open doors to other career possibilities. You can also consider choosing a minor or a second major to gain access to additional education/training opportunities.

Many English departments offer internship opportunities to their undergraduate students. An internship can give you the chance to apply your literary studies and language skills in a work setting, while earning your college credit at the same time. Employers oftentimes look to hire English graduates with strong communication and critical thinking skills, and having work experience in addition to those skills can make you a stronger candidate for a job.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Ashford University

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      • BS - Communication
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Featured Schools

Ashford University

  • B.A. - Journalism and Mass Communication
  • B.A. - Psychology
  • BA/Education Studies

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • BS - Communication
  • BS - Human Services
  • BS - Accounting

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Colorado Technical University

  • B.S. - Psychology
  • BS - Criminal Justice
  • B.S. - Psychology - Organizational Behavior

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American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor of Business Administration - Generalist
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Marketing

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Full Sail University

  • B.S. - Music Business
  • B.S. - Digital Cinematography
  • B.S. - Media Communications

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Virginia College

  • Bachelor: Health Services Management
  • Bachelor: Human Resource Management
  • Bachelor: Private Sector Accounting

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Herzing University

  • B.S. - Business Management: Business Admin Concentration
  • B.S. - Business Management With No Concentration
  • B.S. - Business Management: Entrepreneurial Studies Concentration

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Grand Canyon University

  • Bachelor of Science in Business for Secondary Education
  • BS in Applied Management
  • BS in Psychology

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