Getting your degree or finishing your postsecondary education is a major event in your adult life: it is a rite of passage, the foundation of your career, and a sign that you have achieved a higher level of education. Whatever you choose to study in college or university, you can be sure that you have hit a key milestone.

Those that are considering taking English as their degree can sometimes be apprehensive about their choice. After all, English doesn’t lead to a specific career like medicine, law, or nursing might, and it can be difficult to picture what kind of work reading and analyzing a lot of novels can get you. And let’s face it, attending university is not a task for the faint of heart: it can cost tens of thousands of dollars you may need to borrow, not to mention the hours of study and writing it takes to pass and obtain credits.

So is completing an English degree worth it? Absolutely. If you have been contemplating whether or not to major in English, you have come to the right place. This article will discuss the top reasons for studying English in school, and the best careers you can pursue once you have your degree.

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Why Should I Study English Literature?

Taking a literature degree should be an easy decision to make if you are passionate about reading books and other texts, and enjoy delving deep into a book and discussing its themes, characters, and plot. If you find that you are successful in your English courses, you will likely be successful in university as well, which will ensure you get good grades for postgraduate training or at least secure your bachelor of arts.

Letting our passions and interests guide our studies is important because we excel when our learning aligns with what we are engaged with. When we are engaged and successful, we are highly likely to finish a program of study, which means that you can actually leave 4 years of learning with a degree in hand. Too often students take majors or programs that they aren’t actually interested or engaged in, and may drop out or change programs while studying, which means it can take longer to graduate, if at all.

And let’s keep in mind that English majors have the background to pursue rich and rewarding careers in many areas, including education, business, law, and journalism. A major in English can be paired with another area of study in a faculty of Arts and Sciences, so if you are worried about having limited options you can certainly expand your studies. Keep in mind that many professional programs will require you to have a degree before applying, so an English major would still enable you to achieve admission into a Law, Education, or Business postgraduate program.

jobs for english majors
Many English majors go on to pursue rewarding careers. Source: Unsplash.

Finally, studying English in university will enable you to acquire a skill set that is useful in so many careers. You will become a stronger, more concise, and sophisticated writer as you develop complex theses for your essays. You will strengthen your skills of critical analysis as you focus on interpreting literature through different theoretical lenses, or simply analyze character and plot development. Strong reading skills are critical for any career that requires you to analyze policy, law, or contracts, making English majors suitable for those careers.

Let’s now take a closer look at the nature of English as a discipline.

What is it like to pursue an English major? Find out why so many students are choosing to study literature and writing in university.

The Study of English

The study of English is one that starts early for Canadian students, in some cases from our preschool days. How can this be possible?

From the time we are toddlers, the adults and educators in our lives start to focus on helping us develop literacy skills so we can begin to read. Those that happen to be in an English speaking area will almost certainly be learning the English alphabet, sounds, and sight words. Why do we start learning language at such a young age? Literacy skills are life skills, and the success you have as a student largely depends on how strong our reading, writing, and communication skills are. We use language skills for every subject, not just English, so having the ability to read and understand texts cannot be underestimated.

In the early years of school, the study of English is typically called Language Arts, and involves building basic skills of reading and analysis. By the time we reach the third or fourth grade, we may already find ourselves engaged in the study of literature: we are reading poetry, novels, and other stories, looking critically at characters and elements like setting and plot.

At the same time, we are also developing our communication skills such as writing and oral communication. Kids learn the basics of punctuation and style, the correct structure of a sentence, a paragraph, and descriptive vocabulary that enables us to communicate concisely. We practice our writing skills by telling stories, writing reflections, and summarizing ideas in texts. Through guided instruction, we also learn how to present our ideas effectively, demonstrate strong interpersonal body language, and how to listen to others with intention.

English in Secondary School

Secondary school English is when our study of literature tends to become more serious, with courses and texts becoming increasingly challenging. We may even choose to take courses that focus on specific pathways, such as academic or applied streams. Everyone who is interested in applying for university typically must take grade 12 academic stream English: whether you are studying Science or even Math, English will likely be a prerequisite.

english class
Our study of English literature starts from a very young age. Source: Unsplash.

So why is studying English so important for university? In any area of study you pursue, you will need to have strong communication and writing skills. Having a higher level English credit in high school shows you have succeeded in learning the communication skills required to pursue higher education, whether it is Engineering, Science, History, or even Mathematics.

Secondary school English classes are typically focused on a standard curriculum where you must read specific pieces of work from a variety of genres, and participate in discussions about them. You will also have to write a long form essay about what you are reading, demonstrating the skills of literary analysis you have obtained through your years of school.

Students that are passionate about the study of literature and excel in English class are great candidates for taking an English major in university.

Is an English degree worth all the time and investment? We certainly think so! Find out why s0 many students study English in university.

Learning English as a Second or Additional Language

It’s important to note that the study of literature is not the only way students learn English. Those that speak or are educated in another language may take English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, where they will learn English in a very different way.

ESL classes will teach newcomer students how to communicate in English, essential vocabulary, and provide conversational and writing practice. In secondary school, these classes may be separate from mainstream English classes, while younger students will have a Language Arts program modified for their abilities.

While it may seem like a lot of work to learn a new language from scratch, it’s good to keep in mind that many skills are transferable from one language to another. For example, if you speak Spanish and have taken much of your education in a Spanish speaking context, chances are you have already developed many literacy and communication skills in Spanish and can transfer them to English once a sufficient amount of vocabulary and fluency is acquired. The same would also hold true for English speakers looking to learn another language. It is in fact very common for English majors to pursue additional programs in other languages or even the study of linguistics!

Students in ESL courses will typically shift over to mainstream English courses once they have completed the appropriate course work. They may also choose to continue studying English in university, or pursue other areas of learning.

What Can I Expect in a University English Class?

Should you decide to continue onto university English classes, you can certainly expect a challenge. What you will see and experience in class will depend on a few factors: the year or level of the course, the professor, and the school itself. First year courses are typically large, take place in a lecture hall, and aim to take a thematic approach to an extensive review of literature. Some themes include: narrative, Western literature, and the Novel. These courses will aim at giving you a wide perspective on literature so that you may specialize in your upper year courses.

Second year courses may take you in a deeper dive into specific genres or forms, like poetry or literature written in a specific country or identity group. You might find courses that focus specifically on Canadian Literature, Shakespeare or even simply poetry. Third year courses similarly narrow focus on authors, or literary theory. Second and third year English literature courses are usually smaller than first year courses, and will provide opportunities for you to interact more closely with a professor or Teaching Assistant.

Fourth year courses are often in small groups and taken in a seminar style format, where students will spend time discussing specific authors or themes in literature. In many cases, seminar courses are based on the research of a professor, so you will get an in-depth perspective on the subject. You will often be asked to present a paper or seminar in your class.

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Are Online English Courses Effective?

While learning in-person is ideal for many, online learning is quickly becoming a mode of learning that offers more benefits, especially for students that prefer to work from home or have busy work or family schedules.

Thankfully, English is an area of study that can be just as great learned online or in person. Much of the learning will take place through discussions and lectures from your professor, so logging onto your computer from the comfort of your bedroom and living room can be ideal. Imagine shifting from reading your required novels to your desk at home for class - could studying be more ideal?

While online courses will not offer the benefit of making live, in-person connections with others, you will likely have plenty of opportunities to network with your classmates through breakout rooms and small group discussions.

online english courses
Online English courses have their limitations, but can still be just as effective as in-person. Source: Unsplash.

What kind of English Online Courses Are There?

The type of online English courses offered at your school will largely depend on your university’s policies and offerings. Some faculties of Arts will not offer online options for any courses, meaning that you will likely have to commute to class.

With so many changes brought about by the pandemic, however, more universities than ever are adding online courses for English. While the ability to take a class online may change as the situation evolves, you will be pleased to know that many schools offer permanent online options. If you want to be sure that all of your English classes will take place online, you may want to attend a fully online school or simply check with the department of English at your university to see what will be offered.

What are the Requirements for an English Major?

To earn an English major, you will need to complete a certain amount of credits. The amount of credits will depend on each university and how they organize their programs. For example, in some universities, 20 credits are required to finish a Bachelor of Arts, and to major in English 8-10 of those credits must be in English.

You might also opt for a specialist degree if you want to take more English courses, or a minor degree if you prefer less.

Is an English Tutor Useful in University?

Tutoring is an option being used increasingly by university students as they seek to enhance their learning or want to ensure they are performing as best as they can.

An English tutor can help you in whatever areas you need most, whether it is understanding complex critical theory, getting through a challenging set of texts, or writing a lengthy paper. A tutor can review new learning, provide you with valuable feedback, or discuss ideas in certain books with you. As an English major, you will want a tutor who has already completed their English degree, and is perhaps even pursuing a PhD or working in education.

You can find the best tutors for English on Superprof Canada. Superprof connects the best tutors in Canada with students on an easy to use site. The site contains plenty of useful information and articles about learning, and the profiles of hundreds of tutors in Canada and near you who can help you with your work. You can also see each tutor’s expected rate of pay, making it easy to budget or determine costs. To message a prospective tutor, simply use the on site messaging system. You can even pay your tutor through the site, making the whole process of hiring a tutor easy and safe.

Where can you expect to work as an English major? Read everything you need to know about careers for English grads.

Online English Tutor
An online English tutor can help you achieve your learning goals. Source: Unsplash.

What are the Best Jobs for English Majors?

Finding a career as an English major can have its challenges, as with any other major you take, as you must navigate a competitive job market and find work that utilizes your skill set and talents. There are some areas of work that English majors can thrive in - let’s take a quick look at some of the most popular careers.

Education

Teaching is often one of the most sought after careers for English majors, especially those that love working with kids. As an English major, you can teach in either primary, junior, intermediate, or senior grades, so start with the age group you like most and work from there. As an educator with an English major, you may be teaching younger kids how to read, or introducing older students to new novels and historical plays.

You may also choose to work as an ESL teacher, where you may teach newcomer or international students how to speak and communicate in English. This is an exciting career option that will enable you to work anywhere you want in the world!

In addition to the knowledge you have acquired as an English major, you will also need to obtain pedagogical skills to support your instruction. You will need to take an additional Bachelor of Education to obtain teaching skills, in addition to fulfilling a requirement that will enable you to receive your teaching license.

Being a teacher is one of the most rewarding careers you can have, as you will be compensated well, play a key role in shaping the next generation, and have an envious holiday schedule with summers off.

Research and Academia

Many students who study English in their undergraduate degrees may stay the course and apply for Masters and PhD programs in English. In these programs, you will take more coursework at an even higher level of learning and conduct deep research into the historical and theoretical contexts of literature.

Research is a career that is perfect for those who love scholarship and want to teach university or college level courses. In many cases, graduate students receive subsidies and grants to continue their studies, which can be incredibly helpful if you need to pay for living expenses or are starting a family.

English major
A Masters or PhD degree will lead you to a pathway of research and scholarship in English. Source: Unsplash.

Law

Many English students are drawn to law because they want to pursue a career as a lawyer or in a legal related field. Studies in a faculty of Law require students to be especially adept at reading and writing, making it a great fit for English majors.

To become a lawyer, English majors will have to take an LSAT exam and apply to a law school with their undergraduate transcripts. Some Law schools will enable you to start as your initial undergraduate degree. To become a lawyer, ultimately you will have to pass a bar exam in your province.

Business and Marketing

Perhaps surprisingly, English majors are well suited in careers in business and marketing. English majors tend to be excellent communicators, and will fit well into large companies where they can work in areas like sales, communications, or leadership. English majors also make great marketers, where creativity and writing skills are often sought after traits.

While you don’t have to complete an additional degree to work in business or marketing, it will certainly help you if you take additional coursework in either area in a school of continuing studies or a local college. Take note that your work experience will always serve you best in this field, so even getting into a company at the ground level is always a good place to start.

If starting your own business is what you want, you can certainly pursue entrepreneurship with an English major. Make sure you train yourself on how to balance your books, and enjoy using your creative and communication skills to make your business soar.

What kinds of skills do you learn while getting an English degree? You will be more prepared for the workplace than you think!

Journalism or Freelance Writing

One last popular career for English majors is to focus on becoming a professional writer. Journalism is an exciting career where you may work locally or travel the world to tell stories of newsworthy events. You may have the opportunity to interview interesting people, investigate intriguing stories, and share your retelling of events through newsmedia. To become a journalist, you may want to apply to postgraduate studies in journalism, or pursue a second major in the topic. Some schools will require you to apply to a journalism undergraduate program.

a journalist
One of the most exciting jobs for English majors is to be a journalist. Source: Unsplash.

Freelance writing is also a great option, particularly in the age of digital technology. Thanks to the internet, there is a great need for content, and English majors are well suited to take up the task as expert writers. To write freelance for the internet, you may want to take additional coursework in digital marketing and Search Engine Optimization.

There are so many amazing careers available to English majors. You can look forward to fantastic career with an English degree in in hand!

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Colleen

Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.