To become an English literature professor, you need to be educated to at least the master's degree level. If you want to be a full-time, tenure-track university English professor, you usually need to have a doctoral degree. From high school through graduate school, you need to take certain courses in order to have a career as an English professor, but at all educational stages, you can choose to focus on areas in which you are particularly interested.
Working as an English Professor and Salary
English professors teach students English, literature and writing at a wide range of educational institutions, including community colleges, junior colleges and universities. Some professors also research and write academic articles or books and may be asked to speak at conferences.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median English professor salary was $63,730 in 2016. English professors at junior colleges have the highest earning potential, with a mean annual wage of $82,630 in 2016.
High School Subjects
Most colleges and universities have their own specific undergraduate admission requirements and take into account course grades, grade trends and class rank during the application process.
For example, the minimum subject-matter requirements for University of Massachusetts Amherst include four English units, two social science units and two foreign language units. This is for admission to the freshman class of whatever major you wish to pursue, but if you demonstrate high grades in English courses, you have the best chance of acceptance into the College of Arts and Humanities.
Bachelor's Degree in Literature
A bachelor's degree in English or American literature hones the skills in critical thinking and writing that are necessary for a career as an English professor. Students interpret and analyze many different works of literature and develop communication and research skills. Specific courses vary by school, but literature students typically study creative writing, critical writing, critical theories, composition and rhetoric.
Some courses allow students to select from a range of courses. For example, for the Literatures of Cultural Diversity course at California State University Northridge, options include African-American writing, North American Indian literature, gay male writers, lesbian writers and images of women in literature. Options in the British Literature course include Chaucer, English dramas to 1642, Milton and 17th century literature.
Master's Degree Programs in Literature
If you want to teach at a community college, English professor requirements include a master's degree. A typical master's program includes courses on critical theory, literature, linguistics, creative writing and mythology. Some programs also have a teaching component.
The Master of Arts program in English and American Literature at Boston University can be completed in two full-time semesters and requires four courses per semester, including one course in literary theory or history and demonstration of a reading knowledge of one foreign language. For the Boston program, no comprehensive exam or thesis is required for graduation, but this is a requirement at many other graduate schools.
Ph.D. Programs in Literature
A doctoral degree, leading to a Ph.D. qualification, is a further requirement if you want to teach English at the university level. Ph.D. students usually must be proficient in at least one foreign language. During the research process, which typically takes at least three years, students work on an original thesis based on their area of interest, offering a significant new contribution to knowledge in their subject. A doctoral degree is designed to build on the communication, critical thinking and writing skills students have acquired during their undergraduate and master's degrees.
Most doctoral students work as teaching assistants, which gives them useful practical experience for their future career and the chance to build relationships with English professors, which may lead to job opportunities.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: English Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary
- University of Massachusetts Amherst: Freshman Admissions Requirements
- University of Massachusetts Amherst: English Major Requirements
- California State University Northridge: Major in English
- Boston University: English MA Program
- Yale University: Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Programs and Policies 2018–2019
Claire Gillespie has been writing and editing for 18 years. She has written about high school and higher education for private clients and various websites, including SheKnows and Reader's Digest.