What Can You Do With an English Literature Degree? | Top Universities

What Can You Do With an English Literature Degree?

User Image

Laura Tucker

Updated May 06, 2021



Table of contents

Table of contents

What Can You Do With an English Literature Degree? main image

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 what every English Literature student wants to know 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.

Careers in media can be very competitive. 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

Although often intersecting with the media world, publishing does in fact belong to 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.

To land a job in publishing you will need to have a passion for books, a good level of computer literacy and a strong knowledge of trends within the industry. Whilst it’s better to have work experience in the industry, be careful not to be taken advantage of by unpaid work experience – most publishers now at least offer minimum wage for work experience placements.

How to boost your graduate employability: Intern or undergo a placement 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, as 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

Roles in advertising, marketing, and public relations have become increasing popular and sought-after by English graduates.  Elements of marketing, advertising and PR are available across many different sectors and almost every business contains at least small elements of these.  

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 revenue-based mindset is also often paired with higher starting salaries compared to more purely artistic/creative media roles, and career progression possibilities are often more clearly defined. With technology becoming more involved in marketing, advertising and PR, it’s becoming more of a requirement for students to be technology savvy.

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 roles English graduates can handle with ease. 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. To work in the public sector, you will have to be highly organized, have exceptional leadership skills and an ability to effectively make decisions. You should also be able to think flexibly in order to solve problems in a creative way.   

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; a formal structured work placement (either over the summer or a year working in industry).

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 like 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.

Those wanting to enter the legal profession but don’t possess a law degree can also complete a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). This is a year-long full-time conversion course that brings non-law students up to date on the relevant knowledge needed to train as a barrister or a solicitor. To enter this, you will need a 2:2 grade or above in a recognized non law 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.. 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? 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 artbiologybusinesscommunicationscomputer scienceengineeringfashionhistorygeographylawmarketingmathematicsperforming artsphilosophypolitics, psychologysociologychemistryeconomics and physics.

This article was originally published in January 2015. It was last updated in October 2019.

Want more content like this? Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.

+ 44 others
saved this article

+ 45 others saved this article