English Literature is a highly favoured subject in both schools and universities and often, students take their passion for literature to the next level and pursue a masters or PhD in the discipline, either after their undergraduate course or sometimes many years later. MAs allow you to get your teeth right into the subject, giving you the freedom to pursue a specific area in your thesis, or even a course focussed on a particular area of literature.
Furthering your knowledge at masters level not only opens doors in the world of academia, but improves your employent prospects in an increasingly competitive market, notably the career paths popular among English graduates. But for many, it is their sheer love of the subject and which drives them to attempt a Masters or PhD.
Courses are also available as Postgraduate Diplomas (PGDip) which means the course will be shortened to 9 months, instead of a year and will often be cheaper than an MA. However, most PGDips don’t include the dissertation or thesis part of the course.
There are a total of 214 English Literature MA courses in the UK, not including the 54 PGDips, some cover particular periods in literature, whilst others are more general, giving you the scope to specialise and find your own area. There are also courses available combining the disciplines of English Language and Literature.
Course fees range from £3,770 - £5,000, depending on the institution and most courses can be studied part-time, over a period of 2-5 years, again, depending on the institutions.
You can filter your search by study mode, geographical location and display courses in order of price here.
It’s important to think about whether you want to embark on a taught or research-based programme. As with most humanities MA courses, there is a heavy emphasis on independent study and academic research, on both taught and research, but more so for the latter.
Specialist courses mostly require an English undergrad either single or joint honours, the classification will depend on the institution’s particular entry requirements.
General ‘English’ programmes (in which you will specialise anyway – like most humanities masters courses) may admit those who studied just an ‘element’ of English in their undergrad, e.g. combined arts, or literature of another country as part of the subject.
What are the benefits of studying English at postgraduate level?
Not only will you further your knowledge and skills in a subject you are passionate about, but also a postgraduate qualification goes further with employers.
English demonstrates that candidates have good critical thinking, research and writing skills as well as a good level of intelligence and ability.
Popular career choices amongst English MA graduates are publishing, teaching, journalism and marketing/PR. However, most of these are competitive fields and require further training or a place on a good graduate scheme, so it’s important to be fairly open about your options and preferred areas. But a postgraduate course is certainly one way to stand out in the crowd.
Of course, it goes without saying that some MA graduates are keen for a career in academia and will pursue a PhD in order to do this.
Some MA courses combine English with Creative writing, so if you are undecided, or want to combine the study of other work with the creation and development of your own, then these are perfect for you.
Harriet Williamson has just finished studying for her MA English Literary Studies at the University of York and will soon be starting full-time work as an online content writer. She is also a freelance journalist and has written for the Huffington Post, The Guardian, the Independent and the Telegraph. She Tweets at @harriepw.
“I decided to do the MA because I wasn’t done with learning. I wanted to take my undergraduate degree further and I still hope to do the PhD later in life. I received four hours contact time a week, in the form of seminars and no lectures. It seems like a very small amount of contact time, but as long as I utilized my private study hours effectively, it was enough.
My dissertation title was ‘Thatcherism, Social Policy and the Body in Pain in Post-1980 Scottish Fiction’ – I loved dissertation term, it was my favourite part of the course! It is SO important that you choose something you love. You’ll be writing on it, with little supervision for four and half months solid (or thereabouts) and if you don’t feel strongly about it, you’ll find it much harder to motivate yourself.
The course didn’t help me prepare for a career particularly, but it has opened the door for the PhD at a later stage – I definitely don’t regret it. My advice for someone who’s thinking about doing an MA in English Lit would be to prepare for a lot of time, on your own, reading and researching. I can’t emphasise the importance of private study and being really interested in your topic. I’d also tell them to start saving because it’s sadly an expensive year.”
Funding your MA
If you study your MA at the same university where you studied your undergrad, you may be eligible for a discount in tuition fees. Similarly, those who studied their undergraduate degree a long time ago and wish to complete their masters via distance learning at the same institution may also be offered a discount. Universities and departments also offer scholarships and bursaries, some means tested, others not. The best thing to do is to contact the institution to find out if you are eligible to apply for any and keep an eye on any relevant deadlines.
Art and Humanities Research Council
The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) provide grants to a number of department and universities, who then fund a number of places on various programmes. To find out if AHRC funding is available for the course you are interested in, it’s best to contact the department or funding office at the University.
Career Development Loan
Career Development Loans (CDLs) provide up to £10,000 towards course fees and living expenses for MA students. The government pays the interest on the loan while you are studying and for up to two months afterwards. You can negotiate the repayment plan for the loan when you apply, with either the Co-Operative or Barclays, currently the only two banks to offer the scheme. Don’t be enticed by other offers of loans, as they won’t have the same terms. To find out more about CDLs read our Guide to Postgraduate Funding.
Many people choose to study part-time, in order to continue paid employment and support themselves, whilst others study full time, but find flexible work to help with the cost of living. Managing your time effectively is key and will not only benefit your well-being but demonstrate to prospective employers that you value work, study and have good time management and organisation skills. On programmes in the discipline of English Literature, you will have less contact time than other subject areas and therefore can be more flexible about the times your study timetable. Working can be a great escape from the world of academia and books, (as is a social life important too!) but be sure to strike the right balance. If you are worried about it having a negative effect on yours studies, speak to your tutor. You may find that certain times of the year are less busy than others, so agency work in hospitality or administrative areas might be ideal. A list of good websites for those searching for student jobs can be found in our funding guide.
Alternatively, people sometimes work and save for a year or more to fund their postgraduate course, to avoid taking a CDL, or at least a smaller amount of one. This increases the pressure financially, but not everybody is in the position to do this.