Things To Know Before Becoming a Literature Major

The best part about being a literature major is finding other people your age who love books as much as you do.
The best part about being a literature major is finding other people your age who love books as much as you do. | Source

What You Should Know About Majoring in Literature

I am one of those lucky people who knew exactly what they were going to study in college before they even reached senior year in high school. While I was fortunate to have this decision ready to go come my first day at college, I was a little unfortunate not to have a plan of action once I got that snazzy piece of paper at graduation. Two years later, I'm working in a field I never heard of before applying for the job, making about as much money as I did during my job in retail that I held throughout those high school and college years.

Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of the fact I studied something that I was passionate about, rather than choosing something I hated for the sake of making more money (I'm actually much better at math and science than I ever was in my English courses). Still, for those considering becoming a literature major in college, there are a few things that you should know before making that decision.

What Can You do With a Literature Degree?

The one question I was always asked by those who inquired as to what I studied in college was, what can you do with a literature degree? The good and bad part about studying literature is that your career options are both too few and too many. You may be surprised to learn what kinds of fields many literature majors end up, which include sales, law, teaching, human resources, editing/publishing, and government.

One downside to know before becoming a literature major is that you can expect not to actually do anything that involves as much reading and writing as you might hope. At least you have extensive experience reading and writing though. Might not sound like much but, believe me, your ability to read and comprehend what you read at a fast pace as well as write a variety of documents in a short period of time are qualities that employers love. In addition, there are a lot of presentations that are required for many literature classes, yet another bit of experience to add to that good old resume.

For even more information on potential career options for literature majors, check out the link to the right.

It's important for literature majors to have a good sturdy bag to carry all that reading material around campus.
It's important for literature majors to have a good sturdy bag to carry all that reading material around campus. | Source

Why Major in Literature?

Yet another common question asked of students majoring in literature is, why literature? For many, the idea of sitting around reading is about as enticing as math is to most of us lit nerds. Why study reading when you can do something more important?

Well, for one thing, majoring in literature does not mean that all you do is sit around in a circle in a classroom taking turns reading out of a book, followed by quizzes on who wore the red shirt in chapter five. That was high school (although I'd like to think my high school classes were a little more in depth and engaging than that). That may be one important thing to know before becoming a literature major, if that's what you thought it was all about.

While there are many things you should know about becoming a literature major that concern your future after school, the one thing you should know while you are still in school is that studying literature does not mean you just read (don't even try to pretend to read) and then write about it. Studying literature means that you go beyond the novel, venturing past the black and white pages before you and delving into the history behind it, the person behind the words, and its meaning beyond the obvious, amongst other things.

One of my professors once described the study of literature as a conversation between the text, scholars, readers, students, and whoever else comes into contact with that same bit of writing. The study of literature means that you will not just read the books but you will also talk about them in class, write about them in essays, present arguments, and engage with scholarly texts and critics.

In an age where more people prefer to watch the movie rather than read the book, I think those who decide to take it on for study should get a pat on the back, not questioned. You can't cure cancer by studying literature, but, can you deny the power of some of the most influential writers of all time? Why wouldn't you want to study that?

How to Get Ahead in Reading for Class

If you're a slow reader, plan ahead and get in contact with professors before starting the class to find out what book you will be starting with. That way, you have a head start on that class reading list and you can continue to read at a comfortable pace. This not only means that you won't fall behind, but you also won't rush through the text and miss all those important details.

What do Literature Majors do?

Some of the basic everyday activities I remember as a literature major begin with some intense amounts of reading. Almost every week I was reading hundreds of pages per class, with some classes even expecting certain novels to be finished in a matter of days; not so easy when you've got four other classes to keep up with.

Beyond reading, literature majors also do a lot of writing. Whether is a daily journal of sorts, a list of questions or points to make during class, or a 20 page essay, as a literature major, you can definitely expect to learn to become a fast reader and an even faster writer. My typing speed improved dramatically, as well as my ability to type up a ten page for an essay within an hour.

Keep in mind, between reading the novel and writing about it, you will have to do a ton of researching. The best way to get a great head start in this area is just to ask your librarian for advice or tips on researching scholarly texts and articles so that you know how to get to them as fast as possible. The more efficient you become, the faster and easier it will be to write up those darn essays. Sticky notes, highlighters, multiple colored pens, and all sorts of other organizing tools will become your best friend.

While you may be able to read and write quick and efficiently, you have to also keep in mind that you will be expected to talk in class. A lot. As a shy person, this is where my grades took the biggest hit. Many classes may have participation count for the majority of your grade. Why? Not only does this ensure the professor you actually read the book, but it also helps you engage with the book and share ideas. This is one important thing to now before becoming a literature major, since you would expect the majority of your grade to center around writing.

Books also take up a lot of space so prepare to keep plenty of shelf space open for all that reading material.
Books also take up a lot of space so prepare to keep plenty of shelf space open for all that reading material. | Source

Tip to Save Money on Books

Many classic books are offered free on Amazon.com for their e-readers. This comes in handy for those literature classes in Shakespeare or 17th century literature, for example.

College Costs for Literature Majors

Yet another thing to consider when becoming a literature major is the costs for college. I'm not talking tuition, which, of course, varies from school to school. Here, I mean the daily costs and/or costs per class that don't always get covered by loans or Mom and Dad.

The biggest costs, by far, for my own studies as a literature major were in books, printer ink, and paper. My school gave us a minuscule allowance to start with on our school card that had to be used when printing of anything at the library, which sounds great but usually barely lasted through the first month.

To save on the cost of books, I used a variety of options. The very first thing to take note of is the fact that the extensive book list on the syllabus might not all be covered by the end of the semester. It's important, therefore, not to buy the books until you actually need them. This way, you don't end up with five books that you didn't actually use in class.

The next thing to know to save on costs as a literature major is to always to check out the book at the school library or local public library. This way, it's the cheapest you can get: free. Borrowing from a friend can also help but isn't always a guarantee. I learned this late in my college career, when I began to realize that all of the more experienced literature majors were getting their copies checked out at the library, sometimes before class even started. If you have to buy a copy (or just prefer to do so), always get the book used whenever possible. I always avoided the school store because, even used, they tended to be priced higher than the local bookstore.

Overall, even without trying to save where you can, literature majors can be a lot cheaper than most other majors out there. I only had to buy two, maybe three, textbooks for classes throughout my studies, which I was able to find used. Others I knew who studied nursing, for example, had to buy brand new textbooks for every class. Yet another perk for studying literature that is one major thing to consider when deciding on whether or not to study it.

Should I Become a Literature Major?

Now that you've looked at a few things to consider, would you become a literature major?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Still not sure
See results without voting

© 2013 LisaKoski

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5 comments

Ericajean profile image

Ericajean 3 years ago

Voted up and useful! Thanks!


NancySnyder profile image

NancySnyder 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

Hi Lisa, thanks for another interesting article. This one might have been more useful to me several years ago though, ha, ha. I have recently acquired my degree in English literature. Although I am thrilled to have finally completed that goal, I find myself still having difficulty gaining employment. I have always loved learning so I am pursuing a teaching certificate and a masters degree in education.

One thing that I found that could be useful information to those graduating with a degree in English lit is that I had absolutely no problem passing the English Praxis II exam to be considered qualified to teach secondary English classes (with the exception of state certification, of course). For those graduates trying to find their place in the workforce teaching is a viable option.

So besides the obvious difficulty finding work, I loved my time studying English lit. I was sorry it came to an end, ha, ha. But I can now spend time reading some works that I did not have time to finish during college. Good luck to everyone, prospective students and graduates alike!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

I was a lit major many many years ago and I agree with your advice and suggestions. It is definitely a large reading and writing load. I became a teacher with my lit major and I loved teaching lit to students and introducing them to my favorite authors. Great hub and I enjoyed reading this.


Nadine May profile image

Nadine May 2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Wow I'm so impressed. The two words English literature has always scared me, and still do somehow. For a start English is my second language and I'm also dyslexic. To study for a degree in English, you must have been good at it right from the start. I'm very proud to be writing for this forum and have writers like you as members. Great advice for youngsters who still have to choose what to study.


Ally Lewis profile image

Ally Lewis 2 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

I just graduated with an English degree, so I know exactly what you're talking about! So accurate. The reading and writing that goes into being an English major is more than anyone would even think!

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