Professor of Literature: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for literature professors. Get the facts about academic duties, educational requirements, doctoral courses, salary potential and which states are the highest-paying to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering English Language & Literature degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Professor of Literature Do?

Literature professors teach college-level courses in literature, either as large lecture classes or small seminars. At schools with graduate literature programs, they may also serve as research mentors for master's and PhD students. In addition to developing syllabi for the classes they teach, literature professors also work with other members of the institution's English/literature department to develop the curriculum for students who choose a major of minor in the field. They are also expected to conduct research and get published in academic journals, or they can write their own literary works for professional publication.

The following chart gives an overview of a career as a literature professor.

Degree Required Ph.D.
Education Field of Study Literature
Key Responsibilities Teaching, preparing assignments, grading papers
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (faster than average)*
Median Salary (May 2015) $61,990*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Is a Professor of Literature?

As a professor of literature, you'll most likely work in the English department of a 4-year university or college. You could be responsible for selecting pieces of literature for students to read and analyze; you'll provide students with the analytical tools needed to identify themes and styles in literature.

What Job Duties Might I Have?

The role of a professor extends beyond teaching in the classroom; you'll prepare assignments and grade tests outside of the classroom. You could be required to hold office hours each week for students who have questions or need help understanding material discussed in class.

Many universities expect full-time professors to serve on administrative committees; you might work with other professors and university administrators to sort out budgetary issues, staffing issues and curricula. Full-time professors may become eligible for tenure after working at an institution for roughly seven years; tenured teachers are protected from job termination. Part-time or adjunct professors often have more flexible work schedules than full-time professors.

What Education Could I Need?

If you're interested in becoming a full-time professor of literature, you'll most likely need to earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Literature; you might select a degree specialization like English, European, Spanish or comparative literature. In rare cases, some universities hire doctoral candidates or master's degree holders for adjunct faculty positions.

Most Ph.D. programs take about six years to complete; admission prerequisites usually include completion of a bachelor's program, demonstrated fluency in 1-2 foreign languages and submission of a writing sample. As a doctoral-level student, you might take classes on the theories of literary criticism, textual analysis and periodization. You'll be expected to complete a dissertation on a unique literary topic of your choosing.

What Salary Can I Expect to Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 75,700 English language and literature professors were employed in the United States in 2015 (www.bls.gov). During that year, the median annual salary for literature professors was $61,990. The highest-paying states for literature professors in 2015 were New York, Alaska, California, Illinois and New Hampshire, as reported by the BLS.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Another career option for individuals who want to share their love of literature with students is a job as a high school English or literature teacher. It is important to note that, although high school teachers only need a bachelor's degree, they must also be licensed before they can work in public schools. Lovers of literature may also pursue careers as professional writers or authors. They may write novels, short stories, magazine articles, TV/movie scripts or even Internet blogs.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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