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 take 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 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 and completing group tasks with classmates in self-directed 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.

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.

There are lots of support systems to help you with your learning, from our Peer-Assisted Learning Scheme LitPALS, 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 will read works of literature written in English (and, depending on your programme, Scots) from around the world, and encounter a range of ideas about the nature and purpose of literary study.

In Year 1, you will take two ‘Literary Studies’ courses which will introduce you to the essential skills needed for the critical close reading of the core literary genres of poetry, drama and prose.

In Year 2, you will be introduced to the study of English and/or Scottish literature in their cultural and historical contexts, focusing on a selection of major periods. These courses will explore the relationship between literary texts and the construction of national, international and imperial cultures.

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 topics, periods or genres 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 one or more members 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

There’s lots of information about our undergraduate English and Scottish Literature programmes on the University of Edinburgh website. For example, you can find out about entrance requirements, English language requirements, fees, and funding opportunities.

Take me to the University of Edinburgh web page on undergraduate programmes in English and Scottish Literature.

If you’d like to study on any of our undergraduate programmes, you must apply through UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

Take me to the University of Edinburgh web page on making a UCAS application

Related links

Read our feature about Support for Success in LLC