Master's in English Program Overview
Master's programs in English typically entail substantial amounts of reading and writing, with coursework often being devoted to discussions of the assigned material rather than traditional classroom instruction. Programs that offer concentration options in fields like English education and linguistics may also feature some lecture-style courses.
Although curriculum tends to vary by concentration, here are a few of the courses you might find on your schedule during a graduate English program:
- Critical reading and analysis
- Introduction to linguistics
- Research methods
- American literary periods
- British literary periods
- Survey of literary and cultural theory
- History of the English language
In addition to taking all required courses for their program, students pursuing a master's degree in English must also participate in a thesis or capstone project. M.A. students typically write an extensive research paper on a proposed topic, and Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) students — typically those with creative writing concentrations — put together collections of fiction, poetry, drama or other original written work to present to the faculty committee.
Earning an online master's degree in English
How long does an online master's in English program take?
The exact length of time you'll spend earning your master's degree in English is determined by the curriculum offered at your chosen school, but most programs fall within a fairly standard range of required credits. Most graduate-level English programs require 30-36 credits, which are commonly broken out into six- or nine-credit semesters.
English graduate students typically spend 2-3 years in school en route to their degrees, although intensive or accelerated plans may also be available for students looking to shorten the calendar length of their programs.
What are the requirements to start an online master's degree in English?
Before applying to an online master's in English program, students should plan on earning an accredited bachelor's degree. Some institutions may prefer or require an undergraduate degree in English or a related field, but others can look to your application essay, writing portfolio and other admissions materials as the primary decision-makers of your quest for enrollment.
Many colleges and universities also have a basic GPA requirement for admission, with 2.5-3 being a common range. You'll also likely be asked to submit up to three letters of recommendation from colleagues or former professors.
Why earn a master's in English online?
If you're looking to advance in your existing career, chances are you won't want to leave your job for 2-3 years to earn your master's degree. Earning a master's in English online can allow you to participate in discussions and submit writing assignments without the need to show up at a physical campus, taking some of the stress out of balancing your work and school responsibilities.
Programs that don't involve much discussion or group analysis may also be offered asynchronously, allowing you to view classroom lectures and complete coursework at any time of day that's convenient for you.
The first year of an English master's program usually includes introductory courses in your chosen specialty and a primer seminar course that prepares you for the rigors of graduate study.
Seminar courses and workshops make up much of your second year, as well as the early stages of planning and outlining for your graduate thesis project.
The last two or three semesters of English master's programs are often reserved for intensive focus on your thesis, working with your chosen thesis advisor to help you stay on track and put together a high-quality project.
Master's in English concentrations
While nearly all English programs work to improve students' professional writing, oral communication and textual analysis skills, many also offer concentrations in specific subdisciplines that can allow you to specialize your study plan.
The following topics may be offered as degrees unto themselves or as program concentrations within a general master's degree in English:
- Applied linguistics. If you're interested in the way that English and other languages are learned and used across cultures, as well as in understanding the mechanical components and grammatical patterns of language in general, this concentration can help you learn more.
- Creative writing. Master's degrees in creative writing may be offered as an M.A. or an M.F.A. in English and typically focus on studying the semantic and structural features of fictional and expressive text. Sub-concentrations in creative writing include, fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and scriptwriting.
- Literature. In contrast to a creative writing degree, in which students endeavor to create new literary work, an M.A. in literature concentrates on analyzing the great books, poems and plays of the past and learning ways to effectively teach them to future students.
- Professional writing. The ways in which language is used in business, industry and government tend to differ quite a bit from the evocative descriptions and emotional content of literature and drama. A concentration in professional writing can help you master English as it's used in workplace settings.