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What Courses Do You Need to Become a Professor of English Literature?

by Kate Beck, studioD

English literature majors may plan to teach at the college level. Most universities require English professors to have, at the minimum, a master’s degree in literature. With a master’s, you can teach students pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree, but you will need a Ph.D. in literature to teach graduate level students. If you hope to enter a career as a professor of English literature, knowing the general courses you need will help guide your studies.


To teach literature courses, you do not need to begin your college education with a bachelor’s in English and literature. Most graduate programs will accept you with any undergraduate major. However, some students may want to major in English literature for their undergraduate education. You may take courses such as literary theory, modern literature and classic literature. Some colleges may also offer studies in medieval literature and post-modernist studies. Many programs offer coursework in a variety of genres, such as poetry, short fiction and creative nonfiction, or you may have the opportunity to take courses that focus on the writings of one particular author during a semester.


Although you may choose to go directly into a Ph.D. program after you complete your bachelor’s degree, you may decide to pursue a master’s degree instead. Many master’s programs take two years to complete with full-time study, but each program may vary slightly. During your English literature studies will have an in-depth study of literary theory and research. Your program may require you to focus your studies on one particular author or period during your program, but other programs may require you to take a variety of courses. Options may include the study of Victorian literature, American literature or British literature.


Ph.D. programs can take between six and eight years to complete, depending on the credits and degrees you have when you enter a program. When earning your Ph.D., you will have the opportunity to focus your studies on a particular area of literature. You will take critical reading courses, writing courses and advanced courses in literary theory. To start working on building your dissertation, you will also take courses to help you explore topic ideas, form a thesis and begin the research process. Until you complete your dissertation, you will work closely with English department faculty and take courses devised to help you with this process.

Teaching Experience

During your time earning a master’s, Ph.D. or both degrees, you will also spend time gaining valuable teaching experience. You may need to take coursework in pedagogy to give you tools for teaching, or your program will simply give you guidelines and ask you to take over a course. Some programs may require a certain number of credits teaching undergraduate coursework, and a professor or other university representative will evaluate your teaching skills.

About the Author

Kate Beck started writing for online publications in 2005. She worked as a certified ophthalmic technician for 10 years before returning to school to earn a Masters of Fine Arts degree in writing. Beck is currently putting the finishing touches on a novel.

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