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What is an English Literature Degree and What Can I Do With It?

An English literature degree enhances critical thinking and communication skills, preparing you for a variety of careers. This degree can be valued by employers due to the broad and versatile skills it offers.
A woman with an English literature degree reading a book in a library

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

Are you a lover of literature? Do you revel in the delicate dance of words across a page and feel an exhilarating thrill as you uncover hidden meaning within a text? If so, an English literature degree could be a great way to do something you love while advancing your education. But did you know that besides satisfying your literary cravings, this degree can open up an assortment of rewarding career opportunities across a variety of industries?

Envision this — as an English literature graduate, you possess a profound understanding of the human experience, shaped by immersing yourself in countless literary masterpieces and armed with highly versatile skills coveted by employers worldwide. Intriguing, right?

Delve deeper into the allure of an English literature degree and discover how this seemingly niche field of study could be your passport to a rich, diverse and successful career. Hear from Dr. Christopher Lee, an associate dean of liberal arts programs (English) at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), about this degree's untapped potential.

What is an English Literature Degree For?

An English literature degree offers more than the allure of delving into captivating narratives; it guides you toward enriched intellectual horizons and sharpened critical-thinking abilities. Imagine exploring the vast expanses of human thought and emotion, treading the intricate paths of various cultures and eras through the written word.

The primary objective of English literature, as Lee explains, is to immerse students in a wide variety of narratives from different periods and locations while also developing professional and life skills.

Studying literature can also enhance your research skills, reading comprehension and critical thinking, Lee said — essential tools for navigating today's workplace.

Many institutions, like SNHU, offer an English degree with a concentration in literature. This caters to students' specific interest in literature while equipping them with comprehensive English skills.

SNHU's online English degree offers students the choice of either a literature concentration or, for those more interested in developing specific career skills, a concentration in professional writing.

Why Should You Consider an English Literature Degree?

Earning an English literature degree is like unlocking a chest of invaluable treasures for those passionate about the written word. It allows you to dive into the depths of intricate narratives, unraveling the rich tapestry of thoughts, emotions and perspectives hidden within the literature.

But it's not just about intellectual joy. This degree can also be the key to a rewarding career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs requiring the skills taught in English Literature degree programs, such as public relations specialists or technical writers, had median annual wages of $62,800 and $78,060, respectively, in 2021.*

Dr Christopher Lee with the text Dr Christopher LeeLee describes the English literature degree as "one of the most versatile out there" and believes that "the broad skill set it develops can be used in multiple career paths." In his view, the degree's focus on cultivating transferable soft skills while engaging in the enjoyable process of reading great literature makes it a particularly appealing choice.

Beyond the intrinsic rewards, a degree in English literature can help you develop a versatile toolkit of skills. Your studies entail more than solitary reading; they can transform you into an exceptional communicator, able to articulate your thoughts and arguments cogently and convincingly — an attribute that shines in the professional world.

The program also hones practical skills such as conducting exhaustive research and managing copious amounts of information. In our data-dense world, being able to sift through and make sense of information effectively is an asset that can set you apart in various professions.

"The skills acquired in an English literature degree are transferable across industries," said Lee. "Employers recognize the value of individuals who can think critically, communicate effectively, analyze complex information and adapt to changing circumstances and desire these in employees."

So, whether you're a bookworm or a budding professional — or both, an English literature degree can offer a solid foundation for diverse career paths, from writing and journalism to business and technology. It can be more than just a degree; it can be a passport to a versatile future.

Careers to Consider with an English Literature Degree

English literature graduates have many career opportunities to explore — some traditional paths that Lee notes are teaching, writing-related jobs or roles in the publishing industry.

The career pathways after earning an English degree are far-reaching and diverse. "With the skills and knowledge developed through an English degree, you can also go into public relations and advertising, law, politics and a variety of researcher positions," Lee said.

Many have earned English literature degrees, including some notable figures in a variety of perhaps unexpected fields, such as broadcast journalist Barbara Walters, director and filmmaker Martin Scorsese and actor David Duchovny, according to a NoHo Arts District article.

Business Insider also noted that executive Andrea Jung, the former CEO of Avon Products, one of the world's largest door-to-door cosmetics sellers, also earned her English literature degree, as did renowned investigative journalist and best-selling author Bob Woodward.

With so many different career possibilities, here are five popular jobs that pair well with an English literature degree:

1. Journalist and Reporter

The heart of a journalist lies in storytelling. You've been trained to understand and construct compelling narratives as an English literature student. This industry necessitates researching, analyzing, interpreting and ultimately presenting information clearly and engagingly, according to BLS.

With your understanding of diverse perspectives, themes and storytelling techniques, you are well-prepared to uncover and present truths to the public.

Though the industry has seen some contraction in the digital age, opportunities are still plentiful across various media outlets. The median pay for journalists and reporters was $48,370 in 2021, according to BLS.*

2. Public Relations Specialist

In the realm of public relations, the ability to communicate effectively and craft compelling narratives is vital, according to BLS. As an English literature graduate, your proficiency in analyzing literature, understanding themes and creating persuasive arguments positions you well for this role.

PR specialists serve as the voice of businesses or agencies, which involves writing press releases, creating strategies to boost the organization's public image, and often serving as its spokesperson. Your training in understanding different audiences can aid in targeting PR strategies effectively.

The roles in PR are expected to increase by 8% through 2031, and the median salary for this role was $62,800 in 2021, according to BLS.*

3. Technical Writer

In a world increasingly driven by technology, the role of technical writers is growing in significance. The core skill required in this role is the ability to translate complex, technical information into language that can be easily understood by a general reader, according to BLS.

As an English literature graduate, your exposure to diverse writing styles and ability to analyze and condense complex ideas could serve you well in this field. You would use those skills to create comprehensive and clear instruction manuals, FAQ pages and other technical documentation.

The role of a technical writer is expected to grow by 6% through 2031, offering promising opportunities. The median salary for this role was $78,060 in 2021, according to BLS.*

4. Writer

If you've studied English literature, becoming a writer may be one of the first careers that comes to mind. Writers need a deep understanding of language, narrative structure, character development and various themes, according to BLS — all skills honed during an English literature degree.

Whether you weave fictional worlds as a novelist, create engaging content as a blogger or craft compelling copy as a copywriter, your literary background will be a firm foundation. Working as a writer can offer flexibility, with options to join an advertising agency, work in-house for various businesses or even freelance from home.

The writing industry is expected to see a 4% increase in jobs through 2031, with a median pay of $69,510 in 2021, according to BLS.*

5. Human Resources Specialist

As a human resources (HR) specialist, your role extends beyond routine administrative tasks. You would be responsible for nurturing the organization's culture and people. This involves interacting effectively with employees and communicating company policies, benefits and changes in a clear and impactful way.

An English literature degree equips you with excellent communication and interpersonal skills, which are fundamental to this role, according to BLS.

The HR specialist role is also becoming more sought after, with an 8% increase in jobs expected through 2031, according to BLS. The median salary for this field was $62,290 in 2021.*

Is It Worth Earning an English Literature Degree?

Wondering about the value of a literature degree? Consider the many career opportunities it unveils. English literature students don't just embark on a journey fueled by their passion for reading and literature; they also acquire a broad range of coveted skills.

From mastering reading comprehension and information synthesis to developing strong written and oral communication skills, an English literature degree polishes a set of abilities you can proudly display on your resume.

“Every professional career wants you to read something and have a comprehensive understanding of the material,” Lee said. “Those are all the things that are learned studying English.”

The tangible benefits of an English literature degree are evident, but its real value extends beyond these. Lee explains that reading literature can foster a deep understanding of cultures, people and their emotions.

“There’s a large amount of self-knowledge you also gain. You learn about yourself. You learn about humanity and history. I would say studying … English gives you life skills,” Lee said.

Think of an English literature degree as a vehicle driving you towards a fuller understanding of the human experience and equipping you with a toolset used beyond the classroom. The skills, knowledge and empathy you cultivate are intellectual and life assets, offering a nuanced understanding of the world and an edge in building your career.

Discover more about SNHU's online English degree: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you'll learn and how to request information about the program.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill. 

Nicholas Patterson '22 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.