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Best English Language and Literature Degree Colleges in the U.S. 2017

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." ― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read with My Eyes Shut!

About 40,000 years ago, the first human wrote down a story — albeit it was a simple depiction on a cave wall, but an idea and message was delivered to other humans even centuries later all the same. Since then, throngs of talented writers have put ink to paper, fingers to typewriter, and hands to keyboard to fill our libraries with works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essays, and prose, both long and short. Authors filled pages upon pages with writings that captured moments in history, truths of human nature, ideas of what the future held. Those insights, those tastes of cultures and classes and past zeitgeists are waiting to be remembered and experienced. And you can discover them and live vicariously through the words of our Western world’s greatest authors — as an English language and literature major.

The Best English Language and Literature Colleges of 2019

Rank School Name Location Description
1 Yale University New Haven, CT

English Language and Literature Degree Program

Five thousand of America’s finest students fill their need for higher education at Yale University. Tucked outside of New Haven, Yale’s campus sprawls across 343 acres and brings together a diverse student body, of whom you’ll spend hours debating, learning from, and making friends. The university even has cultural houses to help foster a sense of community and identity for its diverse student population. The English language and literature program at Yale University “allows students to address fundamental questions about the nature, function, and value of literature in a broadly comparative context.” Students have the freedom to craft their major to fit with their interests. For example, you could pick African American courses or film and media courses or a variety of all the above. Yale’s literature program doesn’t solely limit readings to English language, though you can choose to limit yourself if English is your native tongue. Instead, they encourage bilinguals to read texts in other languages. The program states, “The experience of reading a foreign literature in the original language enables us to understand the nature of both language and literature more fully.”

When you study in these ivy-covered buildings, you’ll get to enjoy world-renowned drama and musical performances since the university is well known for its fine arts programs. You’ll also most likely discuss the Yale Record at least once in one of your literature courses, as it is the oldest college humor magazine in the nation. And if you’re looking for an extracurricular, join one of Yale’s coveted societies, like Skull and Bone — but don’t plan on putting it on your resume; they’re kind of a secret.

2 University of California-Berkeley Berkeley, CA
UC Berkeley

Degree Programs: English, Comparative Literature

Berkeley, also known as “Cal,” is recognized for its laboratories, research, notable faculty, publications, and — get excited now — libraries. This public university boasts a student population of more than 27,000 with over a thousand student organizations (weekly reading group anyone?). And it is situated in the San Francisco Bay area, so you’ll have plenty to points of inspiration around the city. The English major sits at the top of Berkeley’s most popular majors, but the university also offers comparative literature. “Our courses in literature have many different focuses: major authors, historical periods, genres, critical theories and methods, as well as cultural and multicultural studies.” The comparative literature major requires courses in Shakespeare, literature before 1800, and literature from Chaucer through the 20th century that includes British, American, and Anglophone writing. As an English major studying literature, you can tuck yourself away in one of the large libraries that together take up 12 acres of campus — like Doe Memorial Library or Bancroft Library — and stay there for the next four years. If you do find yourself outside of the aisles of books, you may come across student activism about the latest hot social topic or a Greek organization event.

3 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI

English Language and Literature Degree Program

Thirty minutes from Detroit you’ll find the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor itself is a cultural hub of breweries, local shops like Nicola’s Books, and galleries. Within the city, the university educates about 28,000 students over 3,000 acres of campus. The University of Michigan’s Greek community offers more than 60 different sorority and fraternity houses, and nearly 20% of students take part. If Greek life doesn’t work out, there are about a thousand other student organizations to sift through until you find your fit. Plus, you’ll probably be pretty busy earning your English language and literature degree anyways.

The program directors focus on three areas of academic achievement: breadth of knowledge, depth of knowledge, and heightened awareness of language as a medium. As such, you’ll work toward a broad critical understanding of literary culture and critical histories of literature in English, learn the history and theory of language and of genres, be introduced to modes of production, and find a connection between literary culture and historical contexts. You’ll also work on your skills needed to “recognize, analyze, and appreciate rhetorical, poetic, and other uses and functions of language; to produce close and critical readings of a wide variety of texts; to write clearly and effectively in a variety of modes; to develop and articulate a persuasive argument in speech and in writing; and, for some, to write creatively in various genres.”

4 Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN

English Degree Program with an English Language and Literature Discipline

Want to study in an inspired setting? Check out Vanderbilt University. Just a mile and a half southwest of downtown Nashville, you’ll be surrounded by creatives, poets, and musicians — as well as a short way away from off-campus dining, shopping, and entertainment. On the 333-acre campus, filled with shrubs and trees, 6,883 students study at this top research institute. The Greek life brings together about 40% of the students, and there are more than 500 clubs and organizations to keep others busy. All undergraduates are required to live on campus, with freshmen living together in housing called “The Commons,” which boasts six LEED certified green dorms. The Vanderbilt English major with a discipline in English language and literature major allows students to personalize their studies while still gaining a wide range of knowledge and skills traditional to the major. Courses cover the history of British and American literature, Anglophone literature from other countries, literary theory, and expository and creative writing. The program hosts an annual visiting writers’ series and sponsors public lectures, readings, and other events where majors can hear and meet celebrated poets, novelists, and critics. At Vanderbilt, you also have plenty of opportunities to get involved on editorial boards, including the Vanderbilt Hustler and the Vanderbilt Review. Plus, you’ll have one of the nation’s top library systems in your reach — the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. This is home to more than 8 million items, 4.5 million volumes, 1 million electronic books, and 94,000 e-journals and databases. The oldest manuscript in the collection dates from the 1300s.

5 Stanford University Stanford, CA

English Degree Program

Between San Francisco and San Jose you’ll find 8,000 acres dedicated to a university known for the entrepreneurial nature of its students and the research they output. Study here, and you’ll be among some of the world’s top intellectuals. Stanford’s English department features a well-rounded curriculum that explores the big picture of literature’s development from the Middle Ages to the present day. Classes feature lively exploration and discussion of key literary themes, movements, and innovations. Your courses will also teach you and test your abilities for critical thinking, analyzing literature in poetry, narrative, and methodology. Courses offered include a historical sequence and a pre-1800 course. The department’s website says students will explore things like “How has the idea of theater changed from the York Corpus Christi play (15th c.) to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949).” Once you’ve finished the core classes in an English major, which introduce students to a large body of knowledge and fundamental skills, you can continue on to a concentration in literature. The literature concentration bestows a wide range of knowledge to its students: historical development of British, American, and Anglophone literatures, and a variety of critical methods to interpret texts. The concentration emphasizes the study of literary forms, genres, and textual analysis theories.

6 University of Chicago Chicago, IL

English Language and Literature Degree Program

Discover a world of education, culture, and pioneers in scholarship in one of the Midwest’s largest cities. The University of Chicago’s mission says, “In all we do, we are driven to dig deeper, push further, and ask bigger questions — and to leverage our knowledge to enrich all human life.” The English department nurtures the love students and faculty share for novels, poems, plays, paintings, films, comics, video games, and other art forms. The department also guides students in asking theoretical and philosophical questions related to literature and culture, as well as fosters critical thinking and research skills to find possible answers. In this major, you’ll learn a wide variety of literary-critical approaches that will guide you in your personal and professional life. You’ll attend a large university and reap the benefits of world-class research and diversity. But at the same time, you’ll feel like you’re at a small liberal arts college in the English department, with small courses led by discussions and professors who will know your name and care about your progress through freshman year to graduation and beyond. The department refers to itself as an “intellectual melting pot,” with classes from Medieval Epic to Shakespeare to Radical Documentary to the literature of 9/11.

7 Duke University Durham, NC

English Degree Program

Study among 15,000 others at Duke University. Natural beauty surrounds the university, like the Duke Forest that covers 7,000 acres or the Sarah P. Duke Gardens where you can stroll with a good book in your hand — or one of your book assignments. At one of the top English departments in the country, you’ll learn to read, think, and write, and the interconnectivity of those activities. The department’s website states, “To explore these literatures in this department then is to pay the most precise and rigorous attention to forms of address: who is saying what to whom? Why just this word, right there, right now?” The program includes critical reading, inquiry, thought, and debate. According to the website, “English ‘labs’ are libraries, museums, classrooms, conference rooms, even hallways, cafes, and campus quads — any place where thinking or conversation occurs.” They emphasize conferences, working groups, seminars, speaker series, and literary readings. In the program, you’ll practice your judgment, because responses to literature is personal, and you’ll explore aesthetic and ethical judgments. When you’re finished, you’ll be more articulate and more self-aware.

8 Middlebury College Middlebury, VT

English and American Literatures Degree Program

Lose yourself in a good book — and in the nature of Vermont’s Champlain Valley at Middlebury College. With the Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondacks to the west, the mountains provide inspiration for all 2,500 students. As an English and American literatures major at Middlebury, you’ll learn empathy, sympathy, critical thinking, rigorous analysis, responsible research, and clear writing. With twelve required courses, including English and British literature before 1800, Shakespeare, and the diversity of English literature, you’ll gain a broad training in the subject matter. Beyond that, there are many paths you can choose to take. And all seniors must complete an independent writing and research project, which you’ll be plenty ready to undertake. At this small liberal arts school, you’ll have plenty of chances to get out of your chair to rest your eyes and enjoy the outdoors. The school even hosts a Winter carnival every year, where three days in the dead of winter students trek outdoors to enjoy a bonfire and fireworks, build snow sculptures, and visit the mountain to cheer on Midd’s skiers.

9 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC

English and Comparative Literature Degree Program

The University of North Carolina was the first educational institution in the nation to open its doors as a public university. You can join 29,000 other “Tar Heels” by walking through its doors, and leave with a world-class education. The university has a great study abroad program, a rich history, and deep southern roots. The university’s literary influences started with drama professor Frederick Koch (known for folk plays), novelist Thomas Wolfe, and English professor Louis Rubin. Today, the English and comparative literature major (or minor) trains students in reading, writing, and critical thinking while exploring texts “ranging from Beowulf to Bon Iver.” The program also hosts an annual People, Ideas, and Things conference in the spring where you and your fellow book-loving peers can showcase your scholarship and view others’. In that same vain, the college is publishing a new People, Ideas, and Things (PIT) Journal. Who says you couldn’t be the next editor? There are many things to do at the University of North Carolina. You can join a top student-run organization, like the newspaper or radio station. Or you can get off campus for a while and explore Chapel Hill, considered one of the top college cities in the U.S. The city keeps the population entertained with music, restaurants, and shopping.

10 Georgetown University Washington, DC

English and Comparative Literature Degree Program

This private Catholic university is known for its prominent faculty, its culturally rich location, and its curriculum. You’ll find yourself among 7,500 other students within the bustle of the city overlooking the Potomac River. The Department of English is one of the largest humanities faculties and majors in the College, and many students flock to Georgetown for its comparative literature program. The program allows students to examine literature and its interaction with other cultural traditions of the United States and Great Britain, as well as other English-speaking societies around the world like Ireland, India, some African countries, and the Caribbean. Beyond a bachelor’s degree, Georgetown English department offers one of the few standalone English master’s degree programs at a nationally ranked university. Your faculty at Georgetown has a variety of research interests that drive the topics of the courses, including women’s studies, video and film, British, American, and Anglophone literature and culture and more. The department also offers poetry, creative writing, and journalism courses for students who want to develop their writing skills. Situated right in the nation’s capital, the university is close to many internship and job placement opportunities after graduation. Outside of major work, students can enjoy cheering on the Georgetown Hoyas. And literature majors can take heart in the popular chant “hoya saxa,” which comprises an amalgamation of ancient Greek and Latin and translates to “what rocks.” Or students can seek out the famous “Exorcist steps” just below Georgetown’s campus that starred in the 1973 horror film “The Exorcist.”

List of English Language and Literature Schools in the U.S.

Degree Levels
  • Associate's
  • Bachelor's
  • Certificates
  • Doctoral
  • Master's
Program Length
  • Less than 2 years (below associate)
  • At least 2 but less than 4 years
  • Four or more years
Control Type
  • Private for-profit
  • Private not-for-profit
  • Public
School Logo School Name Average tuition Student Teacher Ratio Enrolled Students
Yale University Yale University New Haven, CT
5 : 1 12,385
University of California-Berkeley University of California-Berkeley Berkeley, CA
21 : 1 38,189
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI
7 : 1 43,651
Vanderbilt University Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN
4 : 1 12,567
Stanford University Stanford University Stanford, CA
6 : 1 16,980
University of Chicago University of Chicago Chicago, IL
7 : 1 15,391
Duke University Duke University Durham, NC
5 : 1 15,984
Middlebury College Middlebury College Middlebury, VT
9 : 1 2,558
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC
17 : 1 29,084
Georgetown University Georgetown University Washington, DC
13 : 1 18,459
Florida State University Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
25 : 1 40,830
University of California-Los Angeles University of California-Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
12 : 1 41,908
Columbia University in the City of New York Columbia University in the City of New York New York, NY
7 : 1 28,086
University of Virginia-Main Campus University of Virginia-Main Campus Charlottesville, VA
11 : 1 23,883
University of Pennsylvania University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
12 : 1 24,876
Boston College Boston College Chestnut Hill, MA
15 : 1 14,354
Harvard University Harvard University Cambridge, MA
14 : 1 29,652
The University of Texas at Austin The University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX
18 : 1 50,950
Ohio State University-Main Campus Ohio State University-Main Campus Columbus, OH
15 : 1 58,663
Princeton University Princeton University Princeton, NJ
9 : 1 8,138
University of Wisconsin-Madison University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI
12 : 1 42,716
University of California-Davis University of California-Davis Davis, CA
15 : 1 35,186
University of California-Santa Barbara University of California-Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, CA
24 : 1 23,497
Northwestern University Northwestern University Evanston, IL
10 : 1 21,655
CUNY Hunter College CUNY Hunter College New York, NY
19 : 1 22,918

Getting an English Language and Literature Degree Online

The nature of English language and literature classes fits perfectly with online study. Reading is a solitary activity. Writing is also done on your own, typically from your computer. Reflections, essays, and critical analyses are easily sharable online — with the ability to discuss and debate different interpretations and ideas in forums.

Online courses also provide the added benefit of enhanced communication skills. You aren’t fostering back and forth conversation during an in-person discussion group. Instead, when you post to online discussions, you must be clear, thorough, thoughtful, persuasive, and appropriate. These additional skills you’ll practice in your online degree program will prepare you for the modern workplace, which involves more e-mail and less face to face interaction every day.

Many universities offer an English language and literature degree online. You’ll still have the chance to learn about “Chaucer and His Era,” or the usual “Renaissance Literature” or “American Literature” course. Northeastern University’s program, for example, states their program: “…explores the history of English and American literature through six major courses. Other required courses cover world literature, expository writing, and Shakespeare. All courses feature lectures, assignments, tests, and other materials delivered through an online learning format…” Most programs require about 120 to 160 credit hours to graduate. Online credit hour costs vary — some from as low as $150/credit hour or as high as $450/credit hour.

English Language and Literature Degree Overview

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