What Will I Learn With an MA in English?
A master of arts degree in English is so much more than looking at classic and contemporary literature. Most graduate programs in this subject area also explore writing and storytelling techniques, teaching strategies, and how films and stories can impact our society.
One of the most compelling reasons to consider a master’s degree in English at National University is that you’ll have the ability to build a coursework plan based on your academic and career interests. We spoke with Franz Potter, professor, and MA in English academic program director, about his background and how his program helps students prepare for a variety of careers.
Who Should Earn an MA in English?
Before we cover what you’ll learn in a master of arts in English program, we’ll explore a few scenarios in which you might consider earning this degree.
Professional Development for Secondary English Teachers
Most public school districts require teachers to earn continuing education credits to stay current in their subject areas, as well as to move up the pay scale. A master’s degree in English is a good choice for secondary teachers. Not only will the degree fulfill employment conditions, but it allows teachers also to gain expertise in a genre, author, or literary movement. That means they could bring more to their classroom, and perhaps offer unique, niche electives.
Career Advancement for Secondary English Teachers
English teachers may wish to earn a master’s degree to keep up with professional development requirements, but they also might seek a graduate degree because they’d like to advance in their careers, such as to become a department chair or other academic-related administrator.
Career Advancement for Other Professionals
In a competitive market, where many job seekers have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s program can often help you stand out, start at a higher wage, or land a higher-level position. A master’s of English is ideal for professions outside of teaching, including for positions in publishing, journalism, communications, project management, technical writing, and marketing.
Prepare to Teach at the College Level
If you’re interested in teaching writing and composition courses, or introductory English and literature classes, an MA in English is often the minimum requirement to teach full-time at community colleges and trade schools or as a part-time, adjunct at a traditional, four-year school.
Additionally, some private secondary institutions hire teachers with a master’s degree. This is in comparison to public school systems that typically require an education degree or at least state licensure.
Doctoral Program Preparation
If you want to become a college professor or a subject matter expert in an area of literature or rhetoric, a Ph.D. is likely your end goal. A master’s in English is good preparation for that terminal degree.
Based on your professional goal, you can choose what you’d like to focus on in your master’s program. For example, Professor Franz fell in love with a genre of literature, and then he made a career out of it. We’ll look at his story first.
A Case Study: Customizing Your Studies in a Master of Arts in English Program
Potter, who has been at National University since 2005, was first drawn to Gothic Studies during his undergraduate days.
“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.
When asked to describe his area of interest, Potter explains: “Think of it as horror novels of the early 19th century.” He continues that, between 1764 and 1825, Gothic novels and chapbooks appeared everywhere and influenced not only the Romantic poets (such as William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Lord Byron), but it also was the first female-led genre.
“We see the Gothic’s influence in Jane Austen, vampire novels, mysteries, thrillers, and modern horror novels,” he says.
When Potter pursued his Ph.D. at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, he focused on Gothic Studies. More specifically, he studied Gothic chapbooks, which he describes as “short tales of terror and horror that were popular in the early 19th Century.”
Among his many publications you’ll find two books: The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800-1835 and The Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks and Shilling Shockers: 1797-1835.
As we look at what you’ll learn with an MA in English, you can see how you, too, could discover that niche area of literature you’re most passionate about.
MA in English Core Classes: Laying the Foundation
As with most academic programs at any level, a master’s in English will require a set of core courses. Course topics and titles will vary a bit between schools, and, in this post, we’ll look at National University’s curriculum.
In Seminar in Literary Theory, you will look at historical and contemporary issues in literary criticism. The idea behind this class is to provide a foundation of vocabulary and skills that will be useful throughout the rest of the graduate program.
In Introduction to Graduate English Studies, you’ll learn about advanced research methods. The skills gained from this class will not only help with school papers and projects but also when you want to submit your research work to peer-reviewed academic journals.
Required courses also include several classes that focus on a specific genre or literary period, which we’ll discuss in the next two sections. The variety of choices within “required” classes is one of the benefits of pursuing an English master’s online or on-campus: you can really personalize your studies.
MA in English Genre-Based Courses: Finding a Focus
When you browse a bookstore or library, you’ll find many categories and subcategories, from the overarching main genres to niche subgenres. The same could be said about the course catalog for an English program. While students are likely to learn about all forms — especially if they plan to teach — a master’s in English program will also allow you to select some of your required courses based on your genre of interest, such as:
- Creative Nonfiction.
In these individual courses, you’d explore aspects of the genre at a more advanced level. For example, in National’s seminar in Poetry, you’d participate in close readings of a major poet or school of poetry, and you explore poetic forms and practices at a higher level.
In addition to genres, you can also take courses focused on education (or, pedagogy) and rhetoric. In a pedagogy class, you’ll learn about the practical and theoretical aspects of teaching English composition and other writing courses. In rhetoric courses, you’d focus on the teachings of some of the major figures in ancient rhetoric, such as Plato and Aristotle.
MA in English Theme-Based Courses: Taking a Deeper Dive
National also offers a revolving selection of classes based on specific authors, directors, literary periods, or literary movements. A level I or level II class on a single author allows you to really dive into someone’s body of work. National has offered classes on authors such as:
- Jane Austen.
- James Baldwin.
- Charles Dickens.
- George Eliot.
- William Faulkner.
- Ernest Hemingway.
- Garcia Lorca.
- Jack London.
- William Shakespeare.
- Walt Whitman.
When it comes to courses that focus on a specific literary movement or period, National students have been able to choose from topics like:
- English Medieval literature.
- Romantic literature.
- Victorian literature.
- American Romanticism.
- American Modernism.
- The Harlem Renaissance.
- The Lost Generation.
- The Greatest Generation.
- The Beat Generation.
- Literary Realism.
Finally, National students can also take thematic courses. Past classes were based on areas such as:
- Dark Gothic.
- Meta Fiction.
- The Road.
- The Home.
- Gender in Literature.
- War in Literature.
Potter says, of these classes, a few typically stand out as student 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. “Another popular course is Modern Gothic, where we study the links between gothic and horror novels by looking at authors such as Dan Simmons, Michael McDowell, and Stephen King.”
As these lists show, there’s plenty of variety in what you can learn with a master’s in English.
Specializing in Gothic Studies in Your Master’s in English Program
We introduced Potter as a Gothic expert, and now it’s perhaps clearer why he’s fit to lead the MA in English program at National University. It’s not required, but MA in English students can choose to specialize in one of two tracks, one of which is Gothic Studies.
In National’s Gothic and horror specialization, the first of its kind in the U.S., students focus on classic and contemporary literature and film — from Gothic’s origins in the 18th Century to the present day. You’ll also examine the historical, theoretical, and critical reception of Gothic literature. This specialization is also good preparation for doctoral study in a similar area.
While some of the related electives are open to any student, Gothic studies students might particularly enjoy courses called Graveyard Poetry, Horror Films, Gothic Prisons, Edgar Allan Poe, and Female Gothic. (Not to mention that you can “sink your teeth” into a Vampire elective.)
Specializing in Rhetoric in Your Master’s in English Program
The second specialization available to National University MA in English students is the rhetoric track. Ideal for future composition teachers, the rhetoric curriculum focuses on more than the stories told through literature and movies; it also covers how language and film — words and pictures — have affected society through the years. For example, film criticism courses will introduce you to evaluating cinema art through concepts such as Marxism, existentialism, and phenomenology.
If you’re taking the rhetoric track, you’ll have access to many of the same courses and electives as well as required rhetoric-focused classes, such as:
- History of Rhetoric.
- Modern Rhetoric.
- Film Genre Studies (with a variety of genre choices).
- Pictures that Speak Topic (with a variety of topic choices).
The film genre courses vary from term to term, but in the past, faculty members have offered topics such as:
- The Western.
- Film Noir.
- Biblical Epic.
- The Crime Story.
- Science-Fiction Adventure.
- Agitprop (political or propaganda film).
Since the rhetoric program is geared to educators, you’ll also take courses in pedagogy, such as Composition Pedagogy.
The Online Degree Format in an MA in English Program
At National University, the MA in English is offered as a 100% online degree program, and individual courses last four weeks. (You can learn more about the benefits of online degrees in our previous blog post, “The Online Master’s Programs at National University.”)
Potter explains because the classes are small and interactive, students get to know each other and benefit from individual attention of professors. He says National’s English faculty engage students in a variety of ways, including weekly live lectures.
“Another way is through threaded discussions which are the heart of most of our classes,” he explains, adding that these online forums provide a space for students to interact with each other and their professor, reflect on course material, test and question ideas and, in general, build knowledge through collaboration.
Potter says National students also have the opportunity to gain real-world writing, editing, and publishing experience in a few ways, such as blogging about literary topics, volunteering with the school’s literary journal (GNU), or contributing to the department’s Writing Across the Curriculum’s newsletter.
Literature. Language. Learning. Cinema. Social movements. The MA in English is a versatile graduate-level degree that can help guide you toward a career involving literature and language or advance your current education position. Learn more about National University’s flexible online degree format at our Master of Arts in English program page.