English Literature

What and how you'll study

Degree combinations, teaching methods, and a year-by-year guide to your learning.

Degree combinations

You can take English Literature and Scottish Literature separately, as single honours degrees, or as a joint honours degree in English and Scottish Literature.

Currently, you can also take either English Literature or Scottish Literature jointly with any of the following subjects:

Celtic Scottish Ethnology French German
Italian Spanish Portuguese Russian Studies
Scandinavian Studies Classics History History of Art
Religious Studies Philosophy    

The following combinations are also available:

  • English Language and Literature
  • Scottish Literature and Scottish History
  • Persian and English Literature

One of the most attractive characteristics of the MA degree at the University of Edinburgh is its flexibility, not only in terms of degree combinations, but because - in the first two (pre-honours) years - you’ll likely get to choose other outside subjects drawn from a broad list of disciplines. This may enable you to change the focus of your degree, if you discover that your outside subject is one that you want to take on into the final two (honours) years.

Teaching and assessment

Across your courses, you’ll be taught by world-leading research academics through a combination of lectures, seminars, tutorials and workshops. English Literature is a popular subject, but we teach and learn in smaller groups, typically under ten students in a tutorial group (seminars range from 10-15).

You’ll read a lot each week in preparation for classes, discussing what you’ve read with your classmates in scheduled preparatory learning groups. Your progress will be assessed through close reading exercises, essays, assignments and exams, and you’ll receive prompt feedback on all your coursework to help you improve as you go on. Our Peer-Assisted Learning Scheme, LitPALS, is one of the School’s largest.

If you study abroad in your third year (which is compulsory for students on joint degrees with a European language, and typically Persian), you will be assessed by written work submitted to your host university and/or to us, depending on your placement.

We are constantly updating courses and teaching methods in line with the latest advances in the field, and there are lots of support systems to help you with your learning, from your Personal Tutor to our web-based hub, Support for Success in LLC.

I have learnt things I could never have imagined. I have read authors that have been life changing and that will stay with me long past my time of study.

Catriona MacDonaldMA (Hons) English Literature graduate


You’ll study English Literature and/or Scottish Literature for four years, taking courses worth 120 credits each year.

Years one and two

In these pre-honours years, you’ll be introduced to some of the major stylistic aspects of literary writing and will study modern literary and critical theory.

Whether you choose to focus on English Literature or Scottish Literature, you’ll study works from each of the national traditions.

Across the two years, you’ll look at works from the medieval period to the present, with a particular focus in year two on the changes in literature between 1750 and 1950, and the cultural and historical contexts in which the literature of this period was produced.

Each year, these courses count for 40 credits out of a total of 120 you must complete.

You’ll gain the rest of your credits from compulsory courses for your partner subject, if you are doing a joint degree, and outside courses.

Outside courses are chosen from a wide range offered by the University of Edinburgh (see Degree Programme Tables for details), and single honours students take more of them.

Each year, these courses count for 80 credits out of a total of 120 you must complete.

Years three and four

These will be your ‘honours’ years, where you’ll specialise in the subjects that interest you most by taking a range of option courses based on staff’s research expertise. 

If you’re doing single honours, or a joint honours degree with a subject other than a European language or Persian, you’ll typically spend your third year in Edinburgh. Single honours students will take Critical Practice courses on Criticism, Prose, Poetry and Performance; these are optional for joint honours students.

If you’re doing a joint degree with a European language or Persian, you will spend your third year abroad, either studying, teaching or working. If not, it’s still possible to study elsewhere through the Erasmus+ scheme, or the University’s international exchange programme.

In your fourth year, you’ll be expected to engage with research by writing either a dissertation or long essay, depending on your degree combination. A dissertation is your chance to focus on a subject that’s of particular interest to you and must involve independent research, but you’ll be supervised and directed by a member of staff.

Degree Programme Tables give you lots of detail about courses in all four years of study, allowing you to look in-depth at current courses. 


Find out more and apply

If you’d like to study on any of our undergraduate programmes, you must apply through UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. There’s lots of information about the application process on the University of Edinburgh website, including detailed entrance requirements and fees.

Go to the University of Edinburgh web page on how to apply for undergraduate study

Related links

Read our feature about Support for Success in LLC