Updated on Wednesday 27 February 2013
Throughout the United States, undergraduate programs in literature bear more similarities than differences. When a degree in literature is conferred, it is most frequently identified as a Bachelor's of Arts in English. This standard representation identifies English graduates as possessing an equal knowledge of American literature, British literature, literary criticism, advanced grammar, and classical literature.
International students can best choose programs by considering the concentrations offered at specific universities. When considering that all programs have closely paralleled major requirements, the concentrations and faculty should be used to determine the ideal program. For example, a student can major in English with a concentration in creative writing or a concentration in rhetoric. Other examples of concentrations are: advanced writing, cultural literature, British literature, American literature, feminism and gender studies, or literary theory.
With this in mind, an international student should have a general idea about a concentration when finalizing a choice school. This is essential because while all schools will offer similar major courses within a literature program, the offered electives and concentrations vary considerably. The electives are determined by the specializations of the faculty and what courses they are qualified to teach. The best ways for a student to become informed about concentrations of interests are by: emailing the professors who teach the courses (contact information is located on the schools' websites), reading the universities' course descriptions in the course catalogs, or conducting preliminary research specific to the universities' course offerings (such as children's literatures, romanticism, Slavic literature or African American literature).
In addition international students should use self-knowledge. Perhaps a student enjoys writing poetry, but not the rigidity of grammar; a concentration or emphasis in poetry would be appropriate! Maybe a student is intrigued with a specific literary era or genre; he or she could concentrate on literature from that period. Choosing a school should be heavily influenced by the strengths of the literature program which is evident by the faculty and major elective course offerings.
A concentration is a specific area of study within the major field study. If a student majors in English with a concentration in Post-Colonial literature, this means that the student took additional courses beyond the requirements in the area of Post-Colonial literature. This will not be indicated on the degree, but it will be evident on the official academic transcript. Though all students are required to meet the basic major requirements, they have the opportunity to use major electives to further develop their knowledge or interests in a specific area of the major.
Prospective students should view the offered elective literature courses to help determine the best school for them. For example, if a student has an interest in Asian studies and notices that one of their universities of choice offers elective courses in Asian American literature, that school should move to the top of the student's list! The electives and potential concentrations should be heavily factored in when comparing schools because these specializations are what make programs unique.
In addition to the course offerings, students must familiarize themselves with the areas of expertise of the faculty at all universities being considered for attendance. Future students must look for programs that mirror their interests. If a university hosts several professors with writing specialties, that university is likely able to boast of a strong writing curriculum; a student interested in a concentration in writing should pursue a school such as this. Look for diverse writing courses: creative writing, fiction writing, poetry, advanced writing, or rhetoric and composition. Also, keep in mind that a program's foundation is not built upon one professor; professors can retire or leave. Solid undergraduate programs in literature have esteemed professors that share some form of overlap in their specialties and new scholars are added who can contribute in a parallel way.
Students from majors outside of literature can also benefit from undergraduate programs in literature! A minor differs from a concentration because a student must first declare a major outside the English department. Students choose to minor in English to increase their ability to communicate, read, write, or utilize language skills. A minor is used to complement a major. Perhaps a business major wants to write more fluidly, or maybe a student simply enjoys the beauty of literature and would like to pursue a personal interest.
Many undergraduate programs in literature offer a minor in English; however, the usability of a minor differs starkly from a major. For example, a History major with an English minor may be appealing to an employer because he or she may exhibit strong writing skills in addition to historical knowledge; however, having a minor in English does not assure a student that he or she can receive equal consideration for prospective jobs as an English major. If an employer is seeking a person with an English degree, a person with an English minor is not likely to be chosen when in the presence of those who majored in English.
International students, like many American students are seeking a rewarding career in teaching English as a second language to other speakers with a TESOL. A student does not need to obtain a degree specifically in English to obtain this certificate; however, he or she will need to hold a Bachelor's degree. A TESOL or TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate does not focus on literature courses, but rather on the mechanics of language, grammar, and methods of instruction. A student who is interested in this certificate will need to view the program requirements for each school. Here are some key points to evaluate a program:
Another common certificate is in English education. Unlike the TESOL certificate, any student desiring to teach English in secondary school must first obtain a Bachelor's in English. Then, he or she is able to take courses through any university's School of Education. In these courses, the students will learn methods for instruction and receive a practicum teaching experience. This process usually culminates with a state test that will award the student with a license to teach in that state.
Certificates of any kind are usually completed within a year or less because they are complements to a degree. A student cannot pursue a certificate in any field of English without first obtaining a Bachelor's degree. One sure benefit of certificates is that it enhances credentialing and teaches specific skills that students can combine with their literary-content knowledge! Certificates are acknowledged with a printed certificate and they are reflected in academic transcripts.
Regardless of how a student intends to make an undergraduate degree in literature count, the base is a Bachelor's of Arts in English. Many of the areas that may draw students in are actually concentrations in literature or skill-based certificates, but the undergraduate degree itself is standard across most institutions. International students can allow these distinguishing details and differences to guide them to a tailor-made program!