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Online Master's in English Degree Programs

Earning a master’s degree in English may encompass a range of different types of graduate studies that can lead to further academic work at the doctoral level, teaching English in secondary and post-secondary schools, professional writing and editing, and other careers that require advanced literary and written communication skills. A master’s level curriculum in English, English literature, English composition, or English studies may involve learning about literature and literary theory, writing and composition, linguistics and rhetoric, and/or research and criticism. Students in a master’s in English program typically take a selection of courses that cover literary research and analysis, close textual readings, composition theory, rhetorical traditions, pedagogy, and linguistics. Many schools offer master’s programs in English that can be completed entirely or mostly through online coursework.

What Is a Master’s in English Degree?

A master’s degree in English is a graduate degree conferred by a program that provides advanced training and instruction in the theories and methods of literary analysis and research, English composition techniques, linguistic theories, rhetoric, and/or the pedagogies and principles of teaching English. Some master’s in English programs have specialization tracks and/or electives that allow students to focus on a particular area of study, such as Comparative Literature, Creative Writing, English for Teachers, Writing and Rhetoric, American Literature, British Literature, and World Literary Traditions. There are also programs that provide general instruction in graduate level English studies through a selection of courses in various topics based on literary genre, historical period, cultural tradition, as well as core courses in literary theory, graduate research methods, and composition/rhetoric. Graduates from master’s in English programs are typically eligible to pursue a doctorate in English, teach college English at the associate and bachelor’s degree levels, and/or engage in literary research and criticism.

Online Master’s in English Programs

Online master’s in English programs offer what is often a more flexible and convenient pathway to earning a graduate degree in English by providing all or most of their coursework via distance learning platforms. These platforms, or learning management systems (LMSs), give students access to digital content such as lectures, readings, interactive discussion forums, and other instructional materials. Students can typically contact instructors through a program’s LMS and may also be able to access library materials and other academic resources. While many online master’s in English programs provide all of their instruction via distance-learning technologies, some online programs require a limited number (one or two per year) of campus visits.

How Identifies and Classifies Online Master’s in English Programs conducts independent research and classifies online master’s in English programs based on a number of relevant factors. Programs must be offered by accredited, non-profit schools and they must use online learning platforms that provide students will all or most of their required coursework and instruction. Programs that require students to attend more than two campus visits per year are not listed on the site. In addition, examines program curricula in order to identify and categorize online master’s in English programs. These programs have a number of formal designations, including: Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS) in English and English Literature.

What Students Learn in an Online Master’s in English Program

There are several general goals of a master’s-level curriculum in English or English literature. These goals include: preparing students for further graduate studies and research in the field; equipping students with the knowledge and skills to teach English composition and English literature; and providing students with a deeper understanding of literary theory, literary history, and the contemporary field of literary criticism. Students in an online master’s in English program typically take one or two core courses in graduate research methods and critical theory and may also be required to complete foundational courses in rhetorical traditions, composition theory, and linguistics.

Many master’s in English programs then allow students to tailor their degree through designated tracks and/or electives in various subject areas, including pedagogy, American or British literature from particular historical periods, modern or contemporary fiction and poetry, non-European literary traditions, linguistics, and pedagogy. Students may then be required to complete a master’s thesis or final research project in which they demonstrate their ability to apply what they have learned in the program to a particular topic or subject.

Note: Master’s in English curricula vary by program. Some programs focus on academic research and literary studies, while others are designed to prepare students to teach English to high school and college students. Potential applicants should research programs carefully to determine whether a prospective program offers training and instruction that aligns with their personal and professional goals.

Online Master’s in English Program Courses

The table below provides a representative overview of the types of courses that are typically part of an online master’s in English program curriculum. Course titles and descriptions are derived from research into online programs currently offered by accredited, non-profit colleges and universities. As noted above, curricula vary by program, as do course names and other details related to academic requirements. Therefore, these courses are included for example purposes only.

Course TitleCourse Description
Graduate Studies in EnglishIntroduction to English linguistics and the history of the language, including concepts in etymology, vocabulary morphology, phonology, syntax, semantics, dialects, discourse analysis, and child language acquisition.
Composition Theory and WritingA survey of writing and composition pedagogies, their history and theoretical grounding, with a focus on the impact of theoretical concepts on the teaching of writing.
Graduate Studies in Literary TheoryAn introduction to major schools of contemporary literary theory, including psychoanalytic criticism, Marxist and feminist criticism, structuralism, and post-structuralism.
Topics in American LiteratureThe development of American literature from the nation's founding to the late 20th Century, highlighting specific authors and their historical, cultural, philosophical, political, and literary contexts.
Topics in British LiteratureThe major prose and poetry of English writers from the Anglo-Saxon period to the late 20th Century, with a focus on various authors and their historical, cultural, philosophical, political, and literary contexts.
Graduate Studies in Global LiteratureAn examination and analysis of literary works from traditions outside of the British and American canon.
Literary GenresAn examination of genre literature and how literary works are classified by historical period, theme, and critical approach.
History and Theory of RhetoricA survey of the major theories of rhetoric from classical times through the modern period.
SociolinguisticsAn examination of human behavior and sociocultural interaction and their affect on language structure, use, learning, and language acquisition.
Theory and Practice of Teaching Reading and Writing in CollegeStudy of the objectives of college English courses, the methods and materials for teaching college-level English courses, and curriculum planning and administration for English programs.

Admissions to Online Master’s in English Programs

Admissions policies and requirements vary by program, but the general eligibility requirement for admission to an online master’s in English program is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. In addition, some programs have minimum undergraduate grade point average (GPA) requirements and programs may require the submission of one or more of the following: GRE or MAT test scores; a writing sample, essay, or personal goals statement; and two or three letters of recommendation. Finally, some programs may request in-person or video conference interviews with eligible applicants.

Online Master’s in English Program Formats

There are several important variations in the format and structure of online Master’s in English programs that potential applicants should be aware of and may want to weigh when exploring programs. For example, there are two different delivery modes for online courses: synchronous instruction and asynchronous instruction. There are also different enrollment structures. Some programs are designed for full-time enrollment while others have flexible and/or part-time enrollment plans. Finally, some programs require students to attend a limited number of campus-based sessions, while other do not have on-campus requirements. Each of these variables is addressed more fully in the sections below.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: These are the two primary modes of online instruction. Synchronous instruction is real-time instruction, and it requires students to be logged on to a program’s LMS at regularly scheduled times in order to views lectures and participate in instructional activities. Asynchronous instruction does not have a real-time component. Students in a program that utilizes asynchronous instruction can access lectures and other course materials at their convenience, 24-7. Asynchronous instruction requires a greater amount of self-discipline and self-motivation, as students are responsible for keeping up with lectures and turning in assignments on time. Conversely, synchronous instruction provides more structure but less flexibility, as students must log on to a program’s LMS at specific times for weekly or biweekly virtual class sessions. These sessions are commonly held in the evenings for master’s students.

Part-time vs. Full-time Enrollment: While most online master’s in English programs are designed to accommodate students who are working or have other significant commitments outside of school, some require students to carry a full-time course load, which can mean spending 20 to 40 or more hours per week on school when classes are in session. As an alternative, there are online programs that have flexible and part-time enrollment policies, allowing students to take just one or two courses per term. A common time to completion for full-time students in an online master’s in English program is roughly two years. Students who opt for part-time enrollment may take three or more years to fulfill a program’s graduation requirements.

Campus Visits: Many online master’s in English programs are 100% online and do not require any campus visits. However, some online programs hold campus-based sessions that students are required to attend. Campus visits are typically a week long but may be a short as a weekend or a long as two weeks. They provide students with opportunities to meet instructors in person and interact with classmates face-to-face and may include orientations, research seminars, workshops, lectures, and other instructional activities that benefit from having students on campus. While campus visits can be a valuable component of an online program, they require travel and may add to the overall cost of earning a degree online. Potential applicants to online master’s in English programs should research program requirements carefully and reach out to program administrator with specific questions regarding campus visit requirements. Programs that require more than two campus visits per years are not currently listed on this site.