What Can You Do With an English Literature Degree?
While there’s more to an English literature degree than reading hefty tomes until your eyes go square, it’s fair to say that reading and analyzing written works is likely to be pretty central to your studies. During an English literature degree, students scrutinize and debate a variety of texts, as well as acquiring knowledge of literary movements, periods and critical approaches that have shaped the way we view literature today.
If you choose to study English literature at university, you’ll develop comprehensive written and spoken communication skills, becoming adept at arguing a point, framing a narrative and analyzing various levels of meaning.
But perhaps the question on every English literature student’s lips is: ‘what can you do with an English degree once you graduate?’ The answer to this question is more longwinded than you might expect, as English degree graduates can be found in more or less every industry, filling a variety of roles – from editor to academic, and legal advisor to manager.
Read on to explore the many answers to the question ‘what can you do with an English degree?’ – plus get tips on how to boost your employability within each area.
Typical careers with an English degree
Although there’s no one industry which takes precedence, English degree graduates are often found where strong communication and written English skills are top priorities; for example, within the worlds of media and publishing.
On the one hand, the widespread demand for good communication skills means English literature degrees offer lots of potential career paths. But, since this is a non-vocational subject, students may want to consider gaining work experience during their studies – a good way to get a feel for different options, and often an essential asset when it comes to applying for graduate jobs.
For instance, students who know they want to go into magazine publishing upon graduation will likely need experience in a similar environment, either from an internship undertaken during their studies or involvement with a student publication, such as a university newsletter, magazine or website. Some more ideas on how to boost graduate employability within each industry are listed below.
Media and journalism careers with an English degree
Encompassing a whole bunch of smaller industries, the media sector covers everything from film to television, newspapers to news blogs, advertising to PR and gaming to game reviewing. Depending on your area of interest, there’s a niche for just about any English graduate, whether you want to produce, write, edit, review, schedule, promote, manage or run.
Students should be aware that careers in media can be very competitive, and unless you’re dedicated to the industry and have the work experience record to show it (see below), strong starting salaries for careers in media are hard to guarantee. In addition, those wishing to pursue journalism as a profession may benefit from a specialized graduate degree in this field.
How to boost your graduate employability: Internships and/or placements; a media blog; an active presence on social media; personal portfolio of work (e.g. a compilation of reviews, scripts, photography, film projects etc.); proven interest in current media landscape (in film, television, journalism, digital media etc.).
Publishing careers with an English degree
Often intersecting with the media world, publishing nonetheless constitutes a distinct sector. In recent years, the publishing industry has seen much disruption, thanks in large part to the digital revolution. Although this means many traditional print publishing companies are becoming smaller or struggling to survive, those that have adapted to the world of digital publishing are continuing to thrive – and in need of graduates with the skills to help them keep evolving. Digital publishing encompasses areas such as e-books and electronic journals (e.g. scientific periodicals), as well as online magazines and news sites. English graduates entering publishing careers may be involved in a variety of areas, including administration, production, editorial, marketing, public relations and sales.
How to boost your graduate employability: Internship at a publishing house; self-published blog; creative portfolio; knowledge of the contemporary world of print and digital publishing.
Teaching and academic careers with an English degree
Although careers in teaching often require additional qualifications and/or experience, an English literature degree can be a great way to develop the academic knowledge and communication skills needed.
To teach at primary or secondary level, you’ll usually need to complete a professional teaching qualification and gain some experience working with children and/or young adults. For university-level teaching, you’ll be required to gain at least a master’s degree (in the field you wish to teach) and often also a PhD; many universities combine teaching and research roles.
Careers in teaching and academia can also tie in with careers in media. For instance, university tutors often submit papers to journals, contribute to or author entire books, and comment on contemporary issues in the mass media.
How to boost your graduate employability: Previous teaching experience (e.g. tutoring, mentoring, teaching English abroad); work with children and young adults (e.g. mentoring, child-minding, youth project volunteering); contributions to research projects (e.g. research assistant work).
Advertising, marketing and PR careers with an English degree
Another set of career paths with close ties to the media industry, roles in advertising, marketing and public relations are all popular options for English degree graduates. While still involving high levels of creativity and excellent communication skills, these roles all demand more of an explicit focus on generating profit and expanding business or brand reach. This more revenue-based mindset is also often paired with higher starting salaries compared to more purely artistic/creative media roles, and career progression possibilities may also be more clearly defined.
Read more about careers in marketing here.
How to boost your graduate employability: Experience in sales and marketing roles; knowledge of how to promote yourself (or a product/service) using social media; a creative portfolio of ideas.
Other common careers with an English degree
As well as the industries listed above, there are many other answers to the question ‘what can you do with an English degree’. Other common careers with an English degree include librarianship, archiving, bookselling, information and research, tourism, events management, social work, youth work, probation work, human resources, retail management and sales.
Less typical careers with an English degree
Careers in the public sector
An umbrella term for state-funded roles within the public domain, the public sector is responsible for hiring large numbers of administrators, civil service workers, health service workers, government workers and police/armed forces personnel every year. Depending on the country you wish to work in, this can give you a huge number of options in terms of travel, personal growth and career progression. English degree graduates are likely to be well suited to public sector roles in English-speaking countries, thanks to highly developed spoken and written communication skills, the ability to research and analyze complex written information, and the ability to contextualize issues based on historical, political, cultural and social contexts.
How to boost your graduate employability: Demonstrable interest in the field (e.g. volunteering experience in a government agency); awareness of current affairs; work experience requiring strong organizational skills.
Careers in law
Those who study English at university are also likely to develop many of the skills required for careers in law and the legal sector, although a graduate-level degree will be needed for many legal roles – including becoming a barrister or solicitor. Despite this restriction, there are many careers in law available with just an undergraduate-level degree. These include administrative, organizational and research-based roles, within local and national courts (both civil and criminal), as well as government agencies and independent legal firms. A paralegal or legal secretary, for example, will often hold just an undergraduate degree.
Find out more about careers in law here.
How to boost your graduate employability: Demonstrable interest in the legal system (e.g. a law or political affairs blog);strong organizational skills and attention to detail; some understanding of legal jargon.
Careers in business, accounting and finance
If you’re that rare breed of student who can manipulate both words and numbers with equal dexterity, then you may want to put your broad skillset to use within the business world. For highly numerate graduates, careers in accounting and finance are a very real prospect; even as an arts graduate you shouldn’t be treated any differently when applying for these roles, so long as you can prove your mathematical skills. You’ll need good grades in mathematics at secondary education level, and may need to pass a numeracy test conducted as part of the job assessment process.
Not all roles in business are based entirely on numbers, of course. Entry-level administrative roles can provide opportunities to develop skills in leadership and strategy, building on the communication skills you augmented during your degree. Here, hard work, initiative and collaboration will determine your chances of progression, with the possibility of gaining on-the-job training and further qualifications depending on the employer.
How to boost your graduate employability: High levels of numeracy; experience in leading a team (e.g. a university project); experience working within a team; understanding of some elements of the business world (e.g. sales/administrative experience); interest in current economic climate and business markets.
And finally… what can you do with an English degree if you don’t want to go into any of the areas above? Yet more career possibilities include banking, freelance writing, lexicography, interpretation/translation (for bilingual graduates), therapy and psychology (with additional studies).
‘What Can You Do With an English Literature Degree?’ is part of our ‘What Can You Do With…’ series. We have also covered art, biology, business, communications, computer science, engineering, fashion, history, geography, law, marketing, mathematics, performing arts, philosophy, politics, psychology, sociology, chemistry, economics and physics.
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This article was originally published in January 2015 . It was last updated in September 2021