What Is a Master’s in English?

You’ve earned your bachelor’s degree. What next? No matter what you studied during your undergraduate years, if you have a love for language and literature and can see yourself turning that passion into a career, advancing your education with a master of arts degree (MA) in English could be worth considering.

If you’re asking yourself, “What is a master’s in English, and what can I do with it?” read on to learn more about this versatile degree.

What Can You Do With an MA in English?

There’s a misconception that an English degree solely prepares students to get into writing or education. A bachelor’s degree in English is excellent preparation for a variety of career paths and various graduate and professional programs. The same can be said about a master of arts degree in English. Like many humanities degrees, English programs also provide some of those soft skills that many of today’s employers are seeking.

“An MA in English does prepare students with more than the ability to read and appreciate great literature,” explains Franz Potter, academic program director and professor at National University. “Some of the important skills students develop are the ability to research and present the information in an organized and concise manner.”

The master’s in English provides a foundation of skills and knowledge that could be useful in positions in marketing, communications, law, management, and research. Secondary English teachers often pursue an MA in English as part of their required professional development or simply to expand their expertise in a particular content area.

When it comes to studying English at the graduate level, though, the goal is often teaching at the college level or pursuing a Ph.D. and, later, research. During these advanced-level courses, students often find their niche within literature.

Potter’s specialty is Gothic studies.

“As a college student, I enjoyed the goth subculture, and in my research into the Gothic, I found these simply wonderful novels. The Gothic is simply wonderful,” he says. “Think of it as horror novels of the early 19th century.”

As students study popular classics, they can begin to see how literary influences of the past shape those of the future. He continues, “Between 1764 and 1825 the Gothic novel (and chapbook) appeared everywhere and influenced not the Romantic poets, but was the first female lead genre. We see the Gothic’s influence in Jane Austen, vampire novels, mysteries, thrillers, and modern horror novels.”

Talking about the variety of things you can do post-MA, is a good transition into taking a look at what the courses look like in an MA in English online degree program.

What Is a Master’s in English Curriculum Like?

Course requirements for an MA in English will vary between programs. At National University, you’d take 45 credits worth of graduate-level courses, which include a mix of core courses, electives, and classes related to your chosen concentration. Core classes likely would include literary theory and an introduction to graduate English studies.

Depending on your interests, you could then schedule additional core courses surrounding the themes that interest you the most. Theme courses at National revolve around:

  • Fiction.
  • Poetry.
  • Creative Nonfiction.
  • Film.
  • Pedagogy (teaching).
  • Rhetoric.

National also offers a revolving selection of classes based on specific authors, directors, literary periods, or literary movements.

MA in English students at National University can also choose to specialize in one of two tracks: Gothic studies or rhetoric. In the Gothic Studies program, the first of its kind in the U.S., students focus on works of literature and examines them through a historical, theoretical, and critical lens. The rhetoric track, which is ideal for future writing teachers, focuses on not just the stories told through books and film, but also on how they affect society.

Potter says that among the various course electives, some rise as favorites.

“Vampires is one of our most popular courses as we trace the rise of the vampire in the early 19th century to modern representations,” Potter explains. “We explore the rise (and fall?) of vampires, from Polidori to Stoker and Le Fanu to Stephen King.”

Another popular course, he says, is Modern Gothic. In this course, students explore links between gothic and horror novels by looking at authors such as Dan Simmons, Michael McDowell, and Stephen King.

What Is a Master’s in English Compared to an MFA in Creative Writing?

Potter explains the difference often lies in the end goal.

“This is a great question. I tend to think that an MA in English prepares students to teach not only college-level literature courses but composition courses as well. With an MA in English, our students go on to teach at both universities and community colleges,” he says.

Those pursuing an MFA in creative writing might also end up teaching. However, their studies focus on their own creative project, whether that’s a novel, screenplay, short story collection, or poetry chapbook.

(Potential MA in English students who prefer to learn on their own might find our previous blog post, “The Introverted Writer: Benefits of Online Writing Degrees,” helpful.)

If a graduate degree in English sounds like a good fit for your professional goals, visit our Master’s in English program page to learn more.

Learn More About Our University and Scholarships

Join our email list!

Recent Resources

Your passion. Our Programs.

Choose an Area of Study

Your passion. Our Programs.

Select a degree level

View Programs