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The basics
THE UK: Subject Guides

A degree in English Literature

An overview of one of the most popular and interesting degree subjects: English Literature.

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English Literature is a popular and worthwhile choice of degree subject. In addition to reading a wide variety of texts, English Literature students also learn to formulate a persuasive argument and are taught to think critically when delving into the social and historical context within which a book was produced. In this article, Lilya - our Russian student editor - expands on the subject.

English Literature is a suitable course for those who cannot imagine their lives without books and seek a university education that encourages creative thinking. The degree prepares you to construct an argument, both oral and written, and to understand how writers work within and against literary traditions.

However, those who are interested in enrolling in this course should not forget that studying English Literature is harder than it might seem at first sight. You will have to read an extensive list of literature in order to be prepared for you classes even when a particular book is not of your interest. This is the main difference between reading books for leisure and reading for academic purposes.

The course

Bachelor's programmes at British universities usually take 3-4 years, and 1 year (2 years part-time) for a Master’s degree. During the course you will become familiar with texts in English language from different time periods and different genres.

One of the best things about a degree in English Literature is that you are given a much deeper understanding (and therefore a greater enjoyment) of texts. Essays, seminars and lectures are presented by experts who are published writers in their own right and leaders of the current literary trends.

At the end of the course, students are required to write a dissertation – this is a great opportunity to specialise in an area of course content or on a specific writer that has been of interest in the preceding years.

 ‘Sometimes it is better to pick up a topic that you have discussed in class as it gives some clues for you dissertation. As for me, I picked up Virginia Woolf because I really adore her. However, this choice was quite challenging, because we did not do much discussion about her during the classes,’

- Sudarsana Sinha, MA English Literature student from Royal Holloway University.

The great thing about your dissertation is that you are allowed you to pick any area of special interest, and are then encouraged to work independently. Like the sciences, English literature allows you to delve deeply into a small area of expertise and tread new ground in terms of understanding and critical thought.  


Course Content

In the first year, undergraduates will take a set of compulsory modules, designed to provide a broad overview of different styles and eras of literary tradition. By the second year, you are able to choose your own modules, which allows you to really tailor your degree to suit your interests and tastes. See below for a few broad examples of course content areas:

  • Classical texts
  • Poetry
  • Social commentary
  • Creative writing workshops
  • Political comment and essays
  • Anthropology and Philosophy
  • Feminist literature


Postgraduate opportunities

Additionally, each university often has a specific specialisation; for example, Roehampton University is the home of the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature (NCRCL). If you want to choose a specific field within English literature, it is important you research for the course that best matches your expectations.

Find a list of specialisations and other related postgraduate courses by following the link.



The most widespread career pathways for English Literature graduates are publishing, journalism and teaching. The course graduates are respected in the job market for their independent thinking, their ability to present information in a comprehensive and logical way, and also for their strengths as writers of original material.  

For more information about career paths, read the article, ‘Ten things you can do with your English degree.'


Finding a course

To find a relevant English Literature programme you can use Hotcourses course finder .

Get familiar with the best universities in the arts and humanities fields by checking the university rankings tables.

To find out more about international students’ experiences, read our Student Spotlight section.

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