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English Literature Professor: Salary and Career Facts

Explore a career as an English literature professor. Read about education requirements, work responsibilities, salary and job outlook to see if this is the right career for you.

What is an English Literature Professor?

English literature professors teach college, university and other post-secondary students how to understand and interpret English prose, poetry and drama. They design and develop curriculum, and guide students pursuing individual literary interests. They may play active roles in campus life and literary-based activities, such as the publication of student literary magazines, and many continue to research and publish articles and books in their area of expertise. The following chart is an overview of this career.

Degree Required Doctoral degree
Education Field of Study English literature
Key Skills Written and verbal communication, assessment skills, ability to foster expression
Job Growth (2018-2028) 4%*
Average Salary (2018) $78,150*

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Duties of an English Literature Professor?

As an English literature professor, you can shape how students read, view and appraise English literature in 2-year community colleges and 4-year universities. Depending on your background and experience level, you might teach undergraduate English majors, graduate students or adult learners. You'll primarily be responsible for assigning volumes of English literature for students to read and study.

Some specific tasks you might perform as a professor of English literature include teaching students how to dissect a particular novel to understand its themes, tones and style, while providing them with an historical context in which each book was written. You'll create exams based on curricular studies, grade literary critiques and assign writing projects. As an English literature professor, you might also act as a mentor or advisor for undergraduate and graduate students interested in furthering their study or embarking on careers related to literature and academia.

What Education Will I Need?

Most colleges and universities require that you earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree if you're interested in becoming a professor of English literature. This typically includes completing at least six years of study and a publishable dissertation. Admissions requirements vary among schools; some allow you to enroll after completing a bachelor's degree program, but you may need to earn a master's degree. While enrolled in a Ph.D. program in English literature, you'll analyze texts for their rhetorical, literary and linguistic structures. Other core courses might include literary criticism and cultural context.

What Will My Work Schedule Be Like?

One of the benefits of being an English literature professor is that you'll have a relatively flexible schedule. As a professor, you typically spend about 12-16 hours per week teaching students directly in a classroom environment. You might need to devote a few hours each week to student consultations and faculty meetings. Depending on your position and the school, you might work year-round or provide online instruction to distance learners.

What Salary Can I Expect to Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, English language and literature professors who taught at colleges and universities earned average annual incomes of $74,330, while those employed by junior colleges earned $84,760. New York was home to the highest number of employed English literature professors, and they earned an average of $92,170 a year. California ranked second in employment, and those teaching in that state earned 114,110, followed by Texas, where English professors were paid an average of $75,720.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Prospective English literature professors may also be interested in becoming writers or researchers in the field of English, depending on their interests. If they are interested in working with younger students, they could work at the elementary or secondary level teaching English, though they would have to work on simpler and broader material. State licensure, along with at least a bachelor's degree, is required to work in the public school system.