Is it still worth studying Literature?

Does it still make sense to study literature?

Is it still worth studying Literature? This is a question that poses itself to many students who love reading but may question the long-term worth of actually studying it full time. In certain regards, it may seem somewhat dated as a field. While new online mediums emphasise ease of consumption and brevity, Literature courses generally involve analysing and understanding a series of long, old novels. Despite this, it remains a relatively popular option. In the Global Degree and Career Survey (GDCS), a study undertaken by MastersAvenue involving extensive analysis of career paths from the world’s Top 100 universities, Literature proved to be the eleventh most popular study field, making up 4.3% of respondents. So why study something which doesn’t lead directly into a job?


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What does it mean to study literature?

A common stereotype is that people who read Literature at university want to become novelists themselves. The portion who actually do is relatively small, not least because as any student who studies Literature at degree level will say, the skills they develop there are actually quite different from those one would need to sit down and write a piece of literary fiction. In general, they tend to focus more on analysing previous works than creating new ones. Historically, studying literary works in Europe was predominantly confined to reading the Classical languages of Greek and Latin. Reading and analysing texts written in modern languages began to emerge in universities as a discipline in the 19th century, although it  continued to be held as inferior when compared to the more traditional, esteemed study of Classics or Liberal Arts until the early twentieth century. 


It now forms a vibrant field at most major universities. It generally centres upon reading and responding to a number of texts over the course of the year with a series of assessments to ensure the student is developing their critical faculties. How the teaching is formatted varies significantly between universities, with the University of Bristol adopting a lecture-lead system while Oxford and Cambridge tend to use a smaller, tutorial based method. However, there are a number of common threads that make the study of Literature highly popular with both students and employers.


Studying books requires the assimilation of large quantities of information and the development of reasoned, original responses. Any degree in literary studies will accordingly develop a high standard of writing and a clarity of communication that is widely transferable to other interests. 


Compared to other degrees, studying Literature involves a high proportion of human interaction. Debate and discussion are essential to the development of intellectual discourse around books. For this reason, Literature degrees are frequently highly social as they mix seminars with lectures, allowing students to talk issues through and get to know each other.


There are also frequently far fewer contact hours than would be expected in science and applied degrees. For independent workers this is excellent as it lets you develop your own interests and plan how you can spend you days most productively.


Studying literature is not just old books

One of the first institutional uses of English Literature as a discipline was in the British Colonies as a way of instilling respect for colonial values among a small selection of the local community. However, while it began as a process of indoctrinating particular values, it has more recently become renowned for inspiring critical thinking. Since the 1980s most courses have increasingly included a significant amount of political and theoretical material alongside more traditional literary criticism. This ensures that those who read Literature develop a far wider skill-set than they may associate with studying English at school, delving into history and philosophy to develop rounded, original responses to work. 



Further, the skills developed through engaging analytically with texts develops a wider understanding of how meaning is created through words. Courses such as those at the Universities of Nottingham make this explicit with the degree title ‘English Language and Literature’, underlining their exploration of distinct linguistic and literary fields. Such courses frequently emphasise that understanding how language is manipulated is far more broadly applicable than when engaging simply with what we might think of as the traditionally ‘literary’ forms of novels, poems and plays. Close textual analysis of political speeches, journalistic articles and even legal documents frequently reveal latent meanings that the untrained reader would otherwise skip over. Choosing to focus on these particular areas offers one way of demonstrating to future employers your ability to apply your degree in a practical way. One which note:


A degree in literature can open many unexpected doors

Clearly studying Literature it is not as applied as vocational courses such as Law or Business studies. Given that degrees are usually a large financial investment, studying something without a clearly defined career path may seem like a dangerous risk. However, this alone should not put you off as the vast majority of employers look at grades as well as subject. If Literature is something you’ve loved throughout school, it makes sense to stick with it as enjoying what you study is an essential ingredient to a successful degree. Any subject you choose will require extensive work and a large amount of self-motivation, two things that are far easier to manage if you have a natural affinity to the material you are studying. 


The openness of studying Literature can also be regarded as a huge positive. Rather than restricting you to a particular path, it allows you several more years to decide precisely what you want to do while developing a variety of transferable skills. While it is probably to be expected that creatives such as Stephen Spielberg Majored in Literary Studies, that financial experts such as Hank Paulson and Mitt Romney began their journeys in the same subject may come as more of a surprise. As the GDCS indicates, the most common routes for Literature students to follow are into Media, Communications and the educational sector. These career progressions come naturally as they draw on the communicative, persuasive discursive skills that form an essential part of any degree studying Literature. Journalism, Public Relations and Copywriting are three particularly frequent employers as they require the writing skills which literary students spend several years honing. 


However, the GDCS popularity map indicates people who study Literature also go on to wide variety of fields we might not necessarily associate with reading books, with previous Literature students finding employment in fields as diverse as IT, Business Development and Community Services. This alone indicates that it is important to recognise that a degree in English does not limit you to particular areas as it develops a wide array of transferable skills. 


If you’re still undecided and would like to learn more about different degrees, visit, a free, objective tool which provides unbiased information about over 40,000 courses around the world.

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