English Literature & Composition Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Info

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What will you learn in an English literature and composition degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying English Literature and Composition: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Before you begin an English literature and composition undergraduate degree program, determine why you want this degree. Although this degree program can help you fine-tune your writing skills and help you develop critical-thinking skills, there are few fields outside of publishing and writing where an English degree may give you an edge in the hiring process.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) most employers require a bachelor's degree for on-staff writing jobs. There is a lot of competition for these types of jobs, and the job outlook is not good. From 2010 to 2020, employment of writers is expected to grow only 6%, which is slower than average. As of May 2011, the average salary for writers and authors was $68,000.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Students interested in obtaining freelance writing positions or going on to a bachelor's degree program Students who want to obtain salaried writing positions or teach English to K-12 students
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Gaming and sports book writers and runners ($24,000)*
- Teacher assistants ($25,000)*
- Executive secretaries and administrative assistants ($48,000)*
Writers and authors ($68,000)*
- Reporters and correspondents ($44,000)*
- Technical writers ($67,000)*

- Editors ($60,000)*
- Public relations specialists ($60,000)*
- Elementary school teachers ($55,000)*
- Middle school teachers ($56,000)*
- Secondary school teachers ($57,000)*
(Teaching positions may require additional education and certification.)
Time to Completion Two years full-time Four years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Core and general education courses - Core and general education courses
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED
Online Availability Yes Yes

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

Associate's in English Literature and Composition

An associate's degree program in English literature and composition can teach you the basics of how to compose your thoughts in writing. In addition, studying literary classics offers you the opportunity to develop your critical-thinking skills. Some associate's degree programs also offer or require creative writing courses to give you the opportunity to take the technical aspects of what you've learned about writing and apply them creatively.

Pros

  • Programs allow you to hone your writing skills in a relatively short period of time.
  • You can develop the type of critical-thinking skills that may be useful for career advancement.
  • The program develops your communication and research skills, which can be transferable to many industries.

Cons

  • Few careers require an associate's degree in English. According to the BLS, the few careers that require or prefer English degrees are looking for at least a bachelor's degree.*
  • Additional skills or training may be required for some entry-level jobs. For instance, an associate's degree may be helpful in getting you an entry-level job as a secretary or court reporter, but additional skills or training are usually required.
  • Salaries for entry-level jobs may be under $25,000.*

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

Courses and Requirements

In addition to general education courses, such as social science, humanities and foreign language, you can expect to take courses in English composition and literature. Your program may offer regional literature courses, such as British literature, American literature and world literature. Other courses that your program may offer include communication, journalism and creative writing courses. The structure of this degree program is often comparable to the first two years of a bachelor's degree program.

Online Degree Options

Online associate's degree programs in English are similar to the on-campus versions. These programs also require the completion of general education, composition and literature courses. At least one course in critical thinking may be required. Examples of other courses offered are creative writing and news writing.

Stand Out with this Degree

Build a writing portfolio while completing your degree program. Employers may ask to see examples of your best work so having a portfolio can make it easier to apply for writing jobs. You could also try to get intern or freelance positions at local newspapers or magazines to get your foot in the door and gain valuable work experience. If needed, take a typing course to get faster at typing. This will help you be more efficient when you take on a writing job. Also, consider starting a web page or blog that demonstrates your technical proficiency and writing skills. Not only will this give you writing experience, potential employers could see your work and offer you jobs.

Bachelor's in English Literature and Composition

A bachelor's degree is usually the minimum education requirement you'll need to gain employment as a writer. Although only a few industries outside of publishing and education may specifically require an English bachelor's degree, the writing, critical-thinking and research skills acquired through this type of program may be easily transferred to many types of entry-level jobs. This degree may also be beneficial if you ever decide to pursue a graduate degree because strong writing, critical-thinking and research skills are usually needed to successfully complete graduate degree programs. With additional teacher training and licensure, you could also teach English to K-12 students.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Earning a bachelor's degree could open the doors to a lot more careers than an associate's degree would.
  • Writers have the potential to earn a good salary ($68,000 per year on average in May 2011).*
  • Most salaried writing positions require a bachelor's degree.

Cons

  • Additional training or experience may be needed if you want to write about a particular topic.
  • There is strong competition for writing jobs.
  • If you want to become an English teacher, you'll need to undergo a teacher preparation program, gain supervised teaching experience and earn a license in addition to earning your bachelor's degree.

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

Courses and Requirements

The core requirements in a bachelor's degree program often include many of the same English and general education courses required for an associate's degree. In addition to those courses, a bachelor's degree program may include courses in speech, poetry, drama, fiction writing and literary criticism. A wide variety of literature courses may be offered, including medieval English literature, English language history, African-American literature and literature by women writers. If you plan to go on to graduate school or would like to gain graduate-level research experience, your program may offer the option to complete a senior thesis. As part of your thesis, you'll research an area of literature and prepare an essay that may be 40-60 pages long.

Online Degree Options

There aren't any major differences in the requirements for online bachelor's degree programs in English literature and composition. Online programs require the completion of similar general education courses, as well as core English major courses. Additional subjects may include non-fiction writing, playwriting, literary theory and more.

Stand Out with this Degree

According to the BLS, competition for jobs in publishing is stiff, and employers for academic jobs may prefer applicants with master's degrees. To stand out, you need to gain work experience that can be seen as an asset to future employers. If you want to teach, try to get teaching experience as a teaching assistant or intern while earning your degree. The BLS notes that many employers are looking for writers who are technologically savvy. Writers who are comfortable with online media may have an advantage in finding work. For this reason, you may consider familiarizing yourself with multimedia software that allows you to combine text with graphic elements, video or audio.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Indiana Wesleyan University

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