Online Master’s in English

A guide to earning your online master’s in English

By broadening one’s knowledge and understanding of the literary and rhetorical traditions of the English language, individuals develop a foundation of skills that could prove useful in just about any position. Some people enter the workforce with a bachelor’s degree in English and advance their career through experience and networking opportunities. Other people earn a master’s degree to acquire a deeper knowledge of English with the goal of increasing their income. This guide details the process followed by a student who wants to acquire an English graduate degree in a flexible online setting. Which schools offer online English master’s degrees? What program is the right fit? Could a master's degree potentially lead to more money? An analysis of available programs can help answer these questions and many more. Let’s take a close look at what to expect and hear from students who have already earned their degrees.

An In-Depth Look at the English Master’s Degree

Online English master’s degrees provide a convenient way for individuals to develop advanced writing and critical thinking skills. The two main types of online formats are asynchronous and synchronous. Asynchronous online programs allow students to set the pace. Although there are some deadlines to keep students on track, coursework and exams are generally completed at the learner’s discretion. On the other hand, synchronous programs resemble traditional programs more closely by combining virtual learning and regular online interaction with peers and instructors. Regardless of which format a student chooses, there are certain components necessary for an online program to be effective:

Customizable programs

Because people enter online master’s in English programs with a range of goals, an individualized approach is a plus. Most schools offer concentrations in literature, composition and teaching, however, other concentrations may be available to match specific interests. For example, there are schools that offer an emphasis in professional writing and rhetoric, film studies and cultural studies. In addition to the opportunities to specialize in a particular area, programs could prepare students to work in a variety of settings, such as community colleges, public school districts, marketing agencies, non-profit organizations and more.

Professional writing experience

English students should be exposed to quality writing, whether they plan on becoming educators, technical communicators or another related role. It’s wise to look for schools that have relationships with contemporary authors. Does a school stream regular author events and workshops? Do students have the chance to contribute to campus newspapers, literary magazines and other published content? Can students assist faculty who are planning national conferences or working on research projects?

Teaching and internship opportunities

Students who are using the master’s in English degree as a gateway to primary or secondary education or community college teaching need hands-on practice. Some online programs require students to teach core curriculum English courses under mentorship as graduate teaching assistants. Schools may have opportunities relevant to varying interests: providing writing instruction in a classroom setting, performing linguistics field work or acting as a teaching assistant in a multilingual classroom. Even those who aren’t planning on becoming educators can benefit from teaching and internship experience. Working as an online writing tutor under supervision could help students strengthen their own skills.

Published faculty

An acclaimed faculty with outstanding individual reputations is another important component to look for in an online master’s in English program. Does the school hire published book authors and award-winning scholars who publish regularly in leading academic journals? Do instructors have concrete experience in areas such as composition, writing across disciplines and literacy studies? With the many technological advances over the past decades, schools may feature experts in digital studies, visual literacy and multimedia design. Furthermore, faculty should have a background in online education and knowledge of current learner-centered teaching approaches.

These are four characteristics to keep in mind when researching different online master’s in English programs. However, before selecting a program, it’s vital to take a detailed look at each school’s courses and key milestones.

Concentrations & Coursework in English

The option to specialize in a particular area of interest is an essential component of an effective online English master’s program. No matter what plans for the future a student might have, it is helpful to follow an educational path that could lead to success in that area. For example, would-be writers and editors have different instructional needs than prospective foreign language teachers. Here are four of today’s most popular English concentrations and a few possible paths graduates can take after completing their degrees:

Composition

This concentration is devoted to the study of written communication and the teaching of writing across multiple contexts. It covers how written texts work rhetorically and stylistically, how historical and social conditions affect what we write and read, and how instructors can nurture effective writers. Classes are focused on the research and practice of composition, theoretical and practical writing tools, and the integration of reading and writing. Students typically incorporate knowledge and techniques learned in the program into a field study or research project.

Postsecondary Teacher

Teaches writing in a community college or university setting for students who have completed high school. Postsecondary teachers also administer writing programs, direct campus learning or writing centers and conduct research.

High School English Teacher

Plans lessons and presents information about writing techniques, language usage and literature in ways that engage students. Secondary school English teachers are also responsible for classroom monitoring and assessment.

Publisher

Prepares and issues books, journals and other works to make them available to the general public. Publishers oversee many stages from acquisition to sales, including editing, proofreading, designing and production management.

Technical Writer

Prepares instruction manuals, journal articles and other documents to communicate technical information effectively. These specialized writers also develop, gather and disseminate technical content among customers, designers and manufacturers.

Computational Linguist

Develops computer systems that deal with human language like speech recognition, speech synthesis and machine translation. Computational linguists must have a strong understanding of both linguistics and programming.

Curriculum Designer

Plans and implements coursework to help students achieve their English leaning objectives, in both private and public education settings. Tailors curriculum to various learning styles and skill levels.

Literature

The curriculum for this concentration offers students a broad background in critical theory and opportunities for in-depth literature study. Students become acquainted with a wide range of literary and cultural texts as they develop advanced reading, writing and critical thinking skills on a professional level. They also receive instruction in discipline-specific research methods. American literature, British literature and world literature are just three of the domains explored in this program.

Postsecondary Teacher

Teaches writing in a community college or university setting for students who have completed high school. Postsecondary teachers also administer writing programs, direct campus learning or writing centers and conduct research.

High School English Teacher

Plans lessons and presents information about writing techniques, language usage and literature in ways that engage students. Secondary school English teachers are also responsible for classroom monitoring and assessment.

Publisher

Prepares and issues books, journals and other works to make them available to the general public. Publishers oversee many stages from acquisition to sales, including editing, proofreading, designing and production management.

Education Policymaker

Sets policies and programs for a school district or higher education institution. Education policymakers use their knowledge and experience to propose and implement changes.

Editor

Plans and revises content published in magazines, books, newspapers, websites and other publications. Editors suggest ways to improve pieces based on readability and style as well as grammar, spelling and punctuation guidelines.

Creative Writer

Produces written copy in the form of books, articles, marketing materials and more. Creative writers work in many different fields such as public relations, corporate communications and academia.

Curriculum Designer

Plans and implements coursework to help students achieve their English leaning objectives, in both private and public education settings. Tailors curriculum to various learning styles and skill levels.

Linguistics

By covering contemporary linguistic theory over a broad spectrum of levels, programs provide students with a solid foundation in the tools of language analysis. Levels of linguistic structure include phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, discourse analysis, psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics. Teachers of English at the secondary and community levels and other education specialists can benefit from advanced studies in the structure of language.

Postsecondary Teacher

Teaches writing in a community college or university setting for students who have completed high school. Postsecondary teachers also administer writing programs, direct campus learning or writing centers and conduct research.

High School English Teacher

Plans lessons and presents information about writing techniques, language usage and literature in ways that engage students. Secondary school English teachers are also responsible for classroom monitoring and assessment.

Publisher

Prepares and issues books, journals and other works to make them available to the general public. Publishers oversee many stages from acquisition to sales, including editing, proofreading, designing and production management.

Technical Writer

Prepares instruction manuals, journal articles and other documents to communicate technical information effectively. These specialized writers also develop, gather and disseminate technical content among customers, designers and manufacturers.

Speech Pathologist

Assesses, diagnoses, treats and prevents speech-related disorders. Utilizing their specialized training, speech pathologists may help people who are unable to produce certain sounds, or who have speech rhythm or fluency problems.

Interpreter/Translator

Converts information from one language to another. Interpreters may work in spoken or sign language while translators work with written documents.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Instructor

Breaks down cultural barriers to teach non-native speakers social and academic language skills. ESL instructors work in public and private schools with students of all ages and also act as liaisons between institutions and families.

Computational Linguist

Develops computer systems that deal with human language like speech recognition, speech synthesis and machine translation. Computational linguists must have a strong understanding of both linguistics and programming.

Editor

Plans and revises content published in magazines, books, newspapers, websites and other publications. Editors suggest ways to improve pieces based on readability and style as well as grammar, spelling and punctuation guidelines.

Foreign Language Teacher

Teaches students how to speak, write and understand languages other than their first language, typically in a public or private school or postsecondary institution. Spanish is among the most common foreign languages taught.

Creative Writing

English programs with a creative writing concentration allow students to focus on the writing of fiction, poetry and other genres and to receive graduate-level training in literature and literary criticism. Workshop situations and one-on-one instruction allow students to work closely with practicing professionals to improve their writing. Coursework focuses on the components of the craft and the intricacies of the literary arts.

Postsecondary Teacher

Teaches writing in a community college or university setting for students who have completed high school. Postsecondary teachers also administer writing programs, direct campus learning or writing centers and conduct research.

High School English Teacher

Plans lessons and presents information about writing techniques, language usage and literature in ways that engage students. Secondary school English teachers are also responsible for classroom monitoring and assessment.

Publisher

Prepares and issues books, journals and other works to make them available to the general public. Publishers oversee many stages from acquisition to sales, including editing, proofreading, designing and production management.

Editor

Plans and revises content published in magazines, books, newspapers, websites and other publications. Editors suggest ways to improve pieces based on readability and style as well as grammar, spelling and punctuation guidelines.

Creative Writer

Produces written copy in the form of books, articles, marketing materials and more. Creative writers work in many different fields such as public relations, corporate communications and academia.

Postsecondary Teacher

Teaches writing in a community college or university setting for students who have completed high school. Postsecondary teachers also administer writing programs, direct campus learning or writing centers and conduct research.

High School English Teacher

Plans lessons and presents information about writing techniques, language usage and literature in ways that engage students. Secondary school English teachers are also responsible for classroom monitoring and assessment.

Publisher

Prepares and issues books, journals and other works to make them available to the general public. Publishers oversee many stages from acquisition to sales, including editing, proofreading, designing and production management.

Technical Writer

Prepares instruction manuals, journal articles and other documents to communicate technical information effectively. These specialized writers also develop, gather and disseminate technical content among customers, designers and manufacturers.

Speech Pathologist

Assesses, diagnoses, treats and prevents speech-related disorders. Utilizing their specialized training, speech pathologists may help people who are unable to produce certain sounds, or who have speech rhythm or fluency problems.

Interpreter/Translator

Converts information from one language to another. Interpreters may work in spoken or sign language while translators work with written documents.

Education Policymaker

Sets policies and programs for a school district or higher education institution. Education policymakers use their knowledge and experience to propose and implement changes.

Instructional Coordinator

Develops educational programs and materials for schools, companies and organizations. These specialists usually work year-round to assist teachers, principals and clients in the implementation and assessment of the curriculum.

English as a Second Language (ESL) Instructor

Breaks down cultural barriers to teach non-native speakers social and academic language skills. ESL instructors work in public and private schools with students of all ages and also act as liaisons between institutions and families.

Computational Linguist

Develops computer systems that deal with human language like speech recognition, speech synthesis and machine translation. Computational linguists must have a strong understanding of both linguistics and programming.

Editor

Plans and revises content published in magazines, books, newspapers, websites and other publications. Editors suggest ways to improve pieces based on readability and style as well as grammar, spelling and punctuation guidelines.

Creative Writer

Produces written copy in the form of books, articles, marketing materials and more. Creative writers work in many different fields such as public relations, corporate communications and academia.

Foreign Language Teacher

Teaches students how to speak, write and understand languages other than their first language, typically in a public or private school or postsecondary institution. Spanish is among the most common foreign languages taught.

Curriculum Designer

Plans and implements coursework to help students achieve their English leaning objectives, in both private and public education settings. Tailors curriculum to various learning styles and skill levels.

It is easier to narrow down the choices after a glimpse at a program’s curriculum. Potential applicants can also glean valuable insight by investigating an English department’s course list. This section of the guide explores real courses from English master’s programs across the U.S. to show the role they play in meeting graduation requirements:

The Structure of American English

This course focuses on the syntax of U.S. English, or the formation of sentences and phrases. Students also explore other aspects of linguistics, such as phonetics (speech sounds), phonology (the grammar of sounds) and morphology (word structure).

Fiction Fundamentals

Deepens writers’ understanding and mastery of elements of fiction, including voice, point-of-view, theme, characterization, structure, symbolism and more. Writers are given opportunities to practice a variety of fiction writing, reading and workshop skills. They also study major examples of the novel, novella, short story and representative critical texts.

Graduate Studies in Shakespeare

Exploration of a selection of Shakespearean plays from a cross-section of dramatic genres. Discussion focuses on features that made plays popular: open staging, playful language, or the exposure of a period’s familial, national, gender and racial tensions. Multiple interpretive frames such as close reading, informal staging, film analysis and critical approaches are used when looking at each play.

Composition Theory and Teaching of Writing

Students learn the major theories and research that underpin contemporary professional writing instruction and have the opportunity to develop theories of writing pedagogy. The course also asks students to consider the significance of the theories and research as applicable to their own writing practices.

Topics in British Literature 1900-Present

A survey of the aesthetic experiments of the 20th century as they intersect with shifting notions of British identity. Issues examined include cultural identity in relation to imperial conflicts with Africa, Asia and Ireland. Other topics of study span World War I poetry and modernism, the onset and aftermath of World War II, and changing attitudes toward gender in the contexts of these wars. Students also discuss methodologies of literary criticism.

Integrated Study in Linguistics

Learning to effectively communicate with both peers and clients, students of this course also gain knowledge useful in developing and writing papers, communicating with managers and preparing and presenting white papers. The course should also help to develop critical thinking and scholarly writing.

Theory and Practice of Editing

Editing is essential to quality writing. This course focuses on the revising, editing and copy editing processes. Students learn techniques and strategies for preparing prose for publication in a variety of contexts. They receive extensive instruction on methods of achieving clarity, accuracy and completeness, and they complete exercises in revision, layout and production.

Timeline for an Online Master’s in English

Students enter online programs for a wide variety of reasons: Some seek the ability to balance coursework with work and family schedules, while others appreciate the flexibility to study and learn when they find it easiest. Regardless of the reason, students benefit from knowing how to get started and what to expect in the process. This timeline looks at the essential steps to earning an online master’s in English, from preparing the application package to embarking on a career after graduation.

Year 0

Although applying to an online program may seem a challenge at first, there are ways to simplify the process. It is important to follow each step to ensure the packet is received on time. Colleges set their own enrollment deadlines, so prospective students should take careful notes when researching different programs. Generally, the graduate admissions process is more competitive than it is at the undergraduate level. Most programs ask for grades and test scores. English master’s programs may also require essays and letters of recommendation as well as an interview online or on Skype. The following list can help you keep track of the tasks related to the application process.

Explore whether an online master’s in English program is right for you, especially if you earned a bachelor’s degree in the field. Check with the schools you are interested in to see if they post assessment tools online.

Note all deadlines on the calendar, including testing dates and final dates for the submission of key items to the college.

Investigate financing options. Master’s in English programs carry different price tags. A financial advisor can assist in researching the funding options available. An employer could also be a good resource.

Have official transcripts from all colleges previously attended sent to the target schools.

Arrange for standardized test scores to be forwarded from the testing agency to the schools to which you apply.

Decide which professors, employers or other professionals to ask for a letter of recommendation. A glowing reference from someone with experience in the field can be helpful in gaining acceptance.

Make sure all essays are completed and submitted by the appropriate deadlines. This should be a top priority.

Year 1

During the first year of an online English master’s program, students are responsible for meeting basic program requirements. For example, the usual class schedule includes foundational courses in American literature, British literature and Composition. These courses generally apply to all concentrations and therefore take place early on. As the year progresses, however, students can start to think about an area of emphasis. Those with a particular specialization can begin to take courses in their concentration by the end of the first year. It always important to review the graduation requirements periodically to ensure they are met within the proper time period.

Year 2

Students who have reached the second year of an online English master’s program have chosen a concentration such as literature, linguistics, teaching or another area. The academic experience moves quickly toward graduation, so take the time to line up internships or student teaching experiences. Also complete any classes needed to do a graduate project or thesis so that you can present to a thesis committee or other panel of professionals. Although most English master’s programs run two years, it is not unusual to find a program that takes slightly longer. Some schools may have an accelerated track that is designed for completion in as little as one year.

From the Source: An Insider Advises English Grad Students

Joy Michaelson earned her online Master of Arts degree in teaching English K-12, and taught at the middle school level before going on to teach composition and literature at a career-focused post-secondary educational institution for 19 years. Michaelson encourages anyone who wants to earn a master’s degree in English to apply these three strategies for career success:

Have a passion for language and literature

Employ a finesse of expression to accurately reflect your feelings.

Write every day

Keep a journal and use it daily to enrich your relationship with language.

Read

Embrace and study a variety of different voices to gain a better understanding of opinion and analysis and to enhance critical thinking skills.

The Financial Side of an Online English Master’s Degree

The cost of attending college is in the forefront of concerns shared by prospective students. Common questions include: How much will this cost? How can I afford it? What kind of funding might I receive? Although these are normal questions, a glance at the numbers shows that online master’s degrees in English can in fact be quite affordable. Furthermore, they can provide a good return on investment (ROI) down the line. Let’s examine the relationship between the cost of college and future salary potential.

Factoring in the Costs

The largest piece of the master’s degree financial puzzle is tuition. Whether schools charge tuition by the quarter, semester or credit hour, the amount of tuition can vary depending on the type of institution. Private schools are generally at the top of the spectrum while public schools are at the lower end. But one important consideration is the long-term cost of an online English master’s program. For example, it is easy to multiply the cost of college credit hour times the number of credits required for graduation. But what about the other financial responsibilities involved in creating a budget, such as fees, room and board, and other living expenses. This applies to both campus-based and online students.

Earnings Picture for English Experts

Earning an online master’s in English doesn’t guarantee a higher wage, but it can make it easier for job seekers to find a position. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that some employers prefer to hire applicants with a master’s in English, because an advanced degree signals more extensive knowledge and skills. Here are salary figures for English language and literature teachers at the postsecondary level in 2013:

Top 10 % $116,460
Median (50%) $60,920
Bottom 10% $32,610

Here’s a look at how annual wages for technical writers stacked up in 2013:

Top 10 % $105,760
Median (50%) $67,900
Bottom 10% $40,270

Payscale.com ranks salaries for graduates with bachelor’s or master’s degrees in English Literature, English Language & Literature and English Language. According to these figures a master’s degree in English makes a difference in starting and mid-career salaries. The biggest jump was for early salaries for holders of English Language & Literature master’s degrees, as shown here:

Degree Early Salary Mid-Career Salary Early Salary Bachelor’s Early Salary Master’s
English Literature $44,700 $77,200 $40,600 $76,500
English Language & Literature $45,500 $72,000 $38,500 $69,500
English Language $43,00 $65,600 $39,300 $64,600

Growth Outlook for English-Related Professions

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that growth in English-related professions will vary according to industry from 2012 to 2022. The most growth is likely for interpreters and translators at 46 percent, based on an increasingly global economy. For speech pathologists, employment is projected to grow 19 percent because of an aging population and greater awareness of speech disorders. Employment for postsecondary teachers is expected to rise by 19 percent due to higher enrollment at colleges and universities. Graduates of online master’s degree programs in English may find these BLS projections helpful for career planning purposes:

Related Professions
Growth in Hiring, 2012-2022
Editors
-2%
High School Teachers
6%
Interpreters and Translators
46%
Instructional Coordinators
13%
Postsecondary Teachers
19%
Speech-Language Pathologists
19%

Alternative Paths for Grads with English Master’s Degrees

An online English master’s degree can be applied to a wide range of professions. The knowledge and skills acquired during the program can prepare students to be excellent writers and communicators. The options may seem unlimited, and many students may not be aware of some of the opportunities open to them. Here are three professional paths involving foundational English language and writing skills that graduates may not have considered:

  • Law

    An English master’s degree can serve as preparation for law school and a career in the law. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), there are seven core values for future attorneys: problem solving skills, critical reading ability, writing skills, oral communication/listening abilities, general research skills, task management and public service. Many of these skills can be developed and reinforced in an online English master’s degree program.

  • Business

    English majors share a strong understanding of audience and an ability to translate complex concepts for non-specialists. They can also collaborate with, understand and communicate with others, including members of project teams and stakeholders. These skills, along with the ability to think critically, make graduates of English degree master’s programs likely candidates for business and finance, where employees need to manage communication, build teams and solve problems.

  • Public Relations

    Public relations professionals communicate messages to different target audiences. They need exceptional writing skills to prepare press releases and articles. Strong verbal and interpersonal skills are also necessary to plan and initiate PR campaigns. Positions are found in marketing, advertising and other sectors, in a range of organizations and corporations.