Through rigorous readings of literature and exploratory writing assignments, English majors hone their skills in analysis, critical thinking, creativity and clear communication. Ivy league colleges, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, offer exemplary English and literature programs true to their respected academic standings; however, many less-prestigious schools offer equally exemplary English programs. Beyond rankings and reputations, English majors should look for academic programs that best fit their interests and career goals, such as an emphasis on creative writing, the classics and contemporary works, or schools where literary greats received their education.
The literary program at Columbia has an impressive history, with a legacy extending back to 1754 when the university was first founded as King’s College. Located in New York City, the university has the added benefit of its proximity to major book publishers, eclectic bookstores and the famed New York Public Library. Columbia has produced numerous respected literary figures, including Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award Winners and MacArthur Fellows who were poets, novelists and literary critics. The program’s philosophy aims to “represent newly emergent historical, cultural and psychological approaches to literary expression.” Columbia also fares well in college rankings, coming in at number 20 on Forbes' list and number 4 in U.S. News and World Report.
University of Oxford
Offering one of the broadest English and literature departments in the world, Oxford features multiple programs in the field, such as degrees that combine English studies with Modern Languages, Classics, History or Language and Literature. Located in Great Britain, the program emphasizes Medieval and Victorian literature as well as modern material and the study of Shakespeare’s works. A prestigious institution that has educated royalty and world leaders, Oxford has a storied literary past that includes educating the likes of Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Oxford ranks among the top five literary schools in the world, placing at number 2 according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and third on the Center for World University Rankings.
University of Iowa
As the home of the renowned Writers’ Workshop master's degree program, the University of Iowa is a good choice for English majors at the bachelor's degree level intent on pursuing creative writing at the graduate level. The undergraduate English program's study of literary history places a high emphasis global and cultural diversity by exploring the writings of Anglophone communities and diverse U.S. ethnicities. Beyond the study of traditional fiction, poetry, plays and nonfiction, English majors at Iowa explore films, graphic novels, new media and performance art. Iowa's English department ranks in at number 32 according to U.S. News and World Report. However, its post-graduate Iowa Writers' Workshop ranks at number 1, according to the Open Education Database. This makes Iowa a top choice for aspiring undergraduate writers looking to advance into the prestigious program.
Oberlin College and Conservatory
For potential English majors torn between a love of literature and a passion for creative writing, Oberlin College and Conservatory offers two distinguished programs to choose from. Their traditional English major explores both English and American literature, as well as contemporary works in African American studies, comparative literature, gender and feminist studies, Shakespeare and cinema. Oberlin also has the distinction of having one of the few creative writing programs in the U.S. available at the undergraduate level. While focusing on developing writing skills, the program requires considerable class hours devoted to the study of literature. According to Forbes, Oberlin ranks at number 43 out of all colleges in the U.S.
- Harvard University: What Can You Do with an English Major?
- Stanford University: Careers after an English Major
- Huffington Post: The 9 Best Universities in the World to Get an English Degree
- U.S. News and World Report: Best English Degree Grad Schools
- Columbia University: Department of English and Comparative Literature
- University of Oxford: Faculty of English: Course Summary
- Business Insider: The 30 Most Famous Oxford Students of All Time
- University of Iowa: The Department of English
- Oberlin College and Conservatory: English Department
- Oberlin College and Conservatory: Creative Writing Department
- Photo Credit peterspiro/iStock/Getty Images
- USA Today: The 10 Best American Colleges for Writers
- Huffington Post: 10 Best Colleges for Aspiring Writers
- College Board: Major: English
- Association of Writers and Writing Programs: Ranking the Writing Programs Best for You
- Flavor Wire: The 25 Most Literary Colleges in America
- CBS News: Best Colleges: The Real Rankings
- Forbes: America's Top Colleges
- University of Oxford: Oxford in the Rankings
- Open Education Database: The 10 Most Prominent Writers Workshops in America
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