Five Good Reasons to Earn a Master’s Degree in English

And now for the counterpart to my last post, Five Bad Reasons to Earn a Master’s Degree in English.

It’s not all bad. Some people have perfectly good reasons for pursuing a master’s degree in English. As long as you know why you’re doing it, graduate school can be an incredibly rewarding and lucrative experience. Here are five good reasons to go for a master’s degree in English:

Master's Degree in English as Stepping Stone

1. You Already Have a Career And You Are Gaining A New Credential

Examples of these types might be high school teachers, government employees, or business professionals. People who fit into this category are already employed and will gain responsibility or will be given a raise by returning to graduate school. Often, the company or organization will pay for the individual’s continued studies. This is an example of a graduate degree having an immediate and obvious return on investment.

2. You Will Use the Master’s Degree in English as a Stepping Stone For Even Further Studies

This means you are planning to go to law school or you are absolutely certain that a PhD is in your future. The MA in English might even work as a companion master’s to a degree like an MPA (public administration) or another field that requires both an advanced degree and also excellent writing and communication skills.
I need to qualify this reason by reminding you that neither a JD or a PhD are particularly attractive titles in the job market right now. Both are degrees which could still easily leave you unemployed.

3. Your Program Offers a Focused Internship or Apprenticeship

Editors, journalists, copywriters, marketers—these are the kinds of people who benefit from this category. If this applies to you, make sure you choose a graduate program that encourages you to make connections outside of the academy. Not many English master’s programs offer internships, but I hope to see that change soon. I’ll even go a step further and say it has to change or the degree will become obsolete. A quick Google search turns up a few departments who have already embraced this perspective. The first three hits I got were Boise State, California State, and Westfield State in Massachusetts. Obviously, there are many more; do your research and find one that’s right for you.
This is especially useful for those of us who had no clear focus as an undergrad and now need to make up for lost time by getting some targeted and hands on experience.

4. You Are a Creative Writer And You Need a Workshopping Environment

First, let me just say that this is certainly not a plan that will get you a job, but getting a job is not the only reason we go to graduate school. After all, trying to reduce the humanities to a logical and rational statistic kind of defeats the whole purpose. Sometimes, we pursue further education for reasons other than facts and figures can explain.
Creative writing is one of those reasons. I doubt many creative writers would tell you they are in graduate school to get a job. Most are there for the craft. An English MA or MFA program provides a writing environment that really cannot be recreated outside of the university. Intense workshopping and feedback are valuable to aspiring writers and graduate school is one of the few places this exists. Beyond that, sometimes people need to be forced to write regularly in order to do it, and grad school will do this.

5. You Absolutely Do Not Care Whatsoever About Gaining Any Kind of Career or Financial Advancement From Your Degree

Please please please do not use this as a justification for graduate study if you really do expect to get something out of it. You would only be lying to yourself and setting yourself up for disappointment. This reason is reserved only for people who are either rich or have another source of income (full-time job, spouse, etc.), or who truly do not care at all whether they live in poverty. If you are not one of these types, you can’t use this as a reason for earning a master’s degree in English. And another thing: people in this category have to be absolutely in love with learning, intense scholarly dialogue, and communing with other academics. If you meet all of these requirements, you can use this reason. Like I said in #4, we can’t always reduce the humanities to logic.

So, there you have it. Five good reasons to earn a master’s degree in English. Before entering a graduate program, read both of these companion posts and decide whether your primary reason is a good one or a bad one. Use the comments to add to the discussion or to ask questions. I’ve been there and I’m glad to help however I can.

See Also: Five Bad Reasons to Earn a Master’s Degree in English

Why Did I Get a Master’s Degree in English?

  • http://blogueriadevanessa.wordpress.com VanessaVaile

    Not sure I fit in either set, maybe straddle. When education is more end game than opening gambit, rules and playing field shift

  • http://notyournanswriting.wordpress.com Nanna Freeman

    Like Vanessa, I think I straddle both sets. I am currently finishing up my (research) MA in English because I want to get a PhD, but by happy circumstance this degree will also allow me to keep my job teaching EFL at a university for applied sciences (which I wouldn’t be able to do with just my BA in English due to new regulations).
    I’m not part of the US academic system. I often see recommendations for American students of English to teach English abroad for a while; though I believe that’s a pretty good career decision, I’d also recommend those students start studying the language of wherever they’d like to teach (Germany, Japan, China, France, The Netherlands) while still in undergrad. I know that many American English BA’s/MA’s would be able to apply for teaching positions like my own if only they had a working understanding of Dutch. If anything, another language gives you an edge in the application process when you’re competing with hundreds of other students who are trying to make some money and gain valuable experience overseas.

  • http://mamanervosa.wordpress.com Lauren

    I think writers who need a workshop model can find a lot of alternatives to a degree program. Community college courses, informal groups, online groups, online workshops (there are some great ones at literarykitchen.com), etc — they cost money, but less than an MFA. You don’t, after all, need an MFA to get published.

    • http://orderofeducation.com Josh Boldt

      That’s a good point. A couple of semester-long workshops at a local college would be thousands less than a full MFA program. And they might even be more beneficial because one could focus on the writing itself, rather than all the hassles of completing the degree.

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  • Rachel P.

    I know you posted this a few months ago, but I thought I’d add my situation into the loop, and I’d love to hear what you think. I’ll be finishing up my bachelor’s degree in English within this year, and am trying to decide what to do next.

    Thankfully, I have some semblance of marketable skill (lots of editing, graphic design, and professional office experience). I realize that I have a few different options. One option would be to enter the workforce, seeking employment via my editing and communication background.

    Another option is going to graduate school for a master’s in English. I wasn’t really considering this route until I discovered that there’s a program in my area that combines their master’s program with teaching licensure. I’ve always had an interest in teaching, especially English, and this program seems like a great way to launch a career in education. Other benefits of this option include that I would graduate with a clear career path ahead of me (while still leaving plenty of options open), and I would be able to graduate free of debt.

    What do you think? Any and all thoughts appreciated.

    • Josh Boldt

      Hi Rachel,

      One of my favorite things about this post is the way it’s allowed me to continue hearing new stories.

      Despite some of the cautions I’ve given about pursuing graduate studies in English, I believe that your number one priority should be finding a career path that you enjoy doing. It doesn’t make sense to train for something we know we won’t be happy with, even if the pay is better and there’s better job security. That being said, I wish I had weighed those tangible factors a little bit more when I was deciding on a graduate program. Ideally, you can find some kind of balance between doing what you like and actually getting a reasonable paycheck in return. Not always easy for us creative types.

      I think a big part of your decision comes down to your future career aspirations. In the education field, you really won’t have many opportunities to advance. You’ll get your classroom and, after a couple years, you’ll be left alone for the most part to teach and run your classes. In editing/communications/graphic design on the other hand, you’ll have lots of opportunities to grow and advance and shift jobs. You will also have a lot more earning potential if you choose to accept more responsibility. Plus, a good editor or communications coordinator can find work in almost any field so you will have a good bit of mobility, whereas an education degree more or less limits you to being a teacher (unless you reinvent yourself at some point down the road). There are really pros and cons to both paths.

      As a teacher, you’ll deal with a bit of bureaucracy at first, but then you will gain a relative amount of autonomy for the rest of your career. You will earn less and have less mobility, but you will have the bonus of directly helping people, which can be incredibly rewarding and satisfying.

      With the editing/design/communications route, you will probably start at a lower salary, but it will grow faster. You will have lots more opportunities to advance and shift jobs (even industries), but you will likely have to put up with more BS because you’ll be dealing more directly with supervisors, bosses, and the general public.

      Here’s my advice: Think hard about whether you want to be a teacher. With that education degree, it’s hard to shift careers. You kind of limit your future to the realm of education. Of course, if you do want to teach, it can be the most rewarding and exciting job possible. Have you taught before? I was a substitute teacher for a year while finishing my master’s degree and I learned very quickly that I had absolutely no interest in working with teenage kids–it is truly exhausting. It might be worth it to try and get into a classroom as a sub before going down that path. Maybe try and put one foot in each direction on a part time basis for awhile before committing. Part time editing and sub one or two days a week. Then you can decide which you like better and go for it.

      I hope this helps a little. I’d be curious to know what you decide and how it works out. Feel free to ask more questions if you have them. You can also contact me directly from my bio page if you want.

  • Maja

    What about using the English degree to teach English abroad? I think that’s a pretty good reason to obtain one.

    • Josh Boldt

      That’s true. Keep in mind, though, that most of those programs only require a bachelor’s degree and many of them don’t even stipulate that the bachelor’s degree must be in English.

  • Seachai

    Hey Josh,

    I liked your articles based on the five reasons to get and not to get an English degree. This has been confusing me with whether I should go for Journalism or Communications also. I am currently a business major in the bachelor’s program and I do not enjoy my classes that much.

    However, I have taken English Composition in the sophomore year of my college and I got an A- in that course. My professor asked us to publish our 15-30 page memories into a book and when mine got published, she liked it a lot. At the end of the semester, I also made a good portfolio for the overall class. I just want to say that I like and am good in writing essays, and I also want to help other people proofread and edit papers as well.

    I also took two public speaking classes in freshmen year, and ended up getting As in both terms. I also enjoy comparing things in the real world with literary devices, and I also like writing poems too that express emotions and drama to the readers.

    My question at this point is still whether or not I should go for a masters in English or Journalism after I am done with college? I heard that English majors with a masters degree can do the work in both Journalism and Communications. It’s a quite dilemma for me.

    • Josh Boldt

      Hi Seachai,

      Thanks for writing. The fact that you’re getting a bachelor’s degree in business significantly opens up your options. Since you enjoy writing and reading, you might consider picking up a minor in English (or even a double major). If you graduate with a business degree and the ability to write and communicate well, you’ll be set for life. You will be able to get a job and also appreciate the arts–a perfect combination. Furthermore, with a minor in English, you will have the option to continue on to a master’s program in English, as well.

      If you think you might do this, be sure to develop a couple of close relationships with your English professors because they will be the ones who write recommendation letters for graduate school. I can’t stress this enough. Make sure you have two or three professors who know your work and like you. This will be crucial for your future studies.

      As far as journalism school goes, I really don’t recommend it. The journalism career track is shrinking quickly as print news dies. It’s very hard to make a living as a journalist these days, unless you can land a job at a major news outlet. Beyond that, a master’s degree in English could get you into the field of journalism without pigeonholing you. Same thing here, though–make sure you cultivate connections in journalism if that’s what you want to do. Apply for internships and/or volunteer at the local newspaper.

      I’m excited for your opportunities. The power you’ll have with both a business degree and an English degree will open a lot of doors. Just make sure you develop strong connections along the way, whichever path you take. These connections will help you far more than your degree. Good luck!

      • Seachai

        I like Writing and Public speaking, but I am not really a big fan of reading. Is English the only liberal arts major that falls into this category? What about Public Relations or any other majors that could be available other than English?

        • Josh Boldt

          Hmmm…if you aren’t a big fan of reading, I definitely wouldn’t recommend a graduate English program. In grad school, you’ll be required to read thousands of pages every single week. The reading load in grad school is absolutely crushing.

          Public Relations or Communications would both be good routes to go. You will still get to write and give speeches, but those fields also have lots of jobs and good pay. And your business background would fit nicely.

          Those who decide to earn a master’s in English must LOVE reading and literary study. That’s pretty much what the entire program is based on.

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  • Prabhu Kiran Dondapati

    Hi,
    I am studying batchelours in Electronics and Computer engineering. Can i get an M.A degree in English? Bcause its my passion to become an English teacher. Is it possible to do that? I am from India. please kindly let me know. Thanks

  • Pickwick_Next

    Pretty much all of these except #3 apply to me. :) I feel like the added credentials might be of use in my freelancing career, but I don’t strictly speaking care if it helps or not; I’m really getting my MA because a) I may want to go on to get my PhD someday (again, primarily for the pleasure of it) and b) I want a workshopping environment that’s a little more than random people I don’t know online.

  • Sunil Kumar

    I am doing M.A in english. What is the futhure in it?

    • shimmy

      future*

  • Faye Belleza

    Hello,
    I have a college degree in Development Communication, and I’m planning to take a masters degree in English Education; having Literature as my major for the masters degree okay right? Thanks :)

  • faradiclaro

    Well, I’m quite happy to see that my reason to get an MA in English is at least on this list (#5!). I am definitely not rich (the very opposite in fact. haha) but I do have full-time job. I’m enrolling for the sheer joy of gaining more knowledge on a field I absolutely love. I’m a fool. But I’m one happy fool.

  • Joe G.

    I totally agree with both articles of why you shouldn’t get an M.A. with English, and I have a definite love for creative writing.

    I’ve had a friend openly encourage me because he liked what I wrote, and even told me I almost didn’t even need editing for my story.

    I am still very wary though because I know it is a one in a million shot to be a writer or even an editor for a publisher of any kind, and in fact I don’t expect to make anything out of writing which is why I will probably do a double major.

    I just want to write for myself and expand on it. If I get an internship or job out of it, that would be amazing, but I am also realistic. The only sad thing is being told not to do it because I won’t make any kind of money or will have a future.. that’s a thing that gets me down and makes me question if I should really do something I love.