College English Course Types

When most of us think about taking an English course, we remember high school English, which focused exclusively on literature and grammar. At colleges and universities today, an English course can cover much more than just reading novels and diagramming sentences, however.

You do not have to be an English major to benefit from the plethora of college English courses available. Some types of college English courses include:

  • Composition Courses—Also called rhetoric and composition courses, these courses will teach you how to write for an academic environment. They may also cover the history of writing and theories of writing. Composition courses are often required for first-year university students, to ensure they can write well in all subjects, not just in English classes.
  • Specific Writing Courses—Unlike composition courses, which focus on teaching you to write well in an academic setting, other English courses will teach you to write within a professional field, such as medical writing, technical writing, journalism, or grant and proposal writing. There are also creative writing classes that focus on improving your writing for a specific genre, such as screenwriting and poetry.
  • English as a Foreign Language (EFL)/English as a Second Language (ESL) Courses—These courses teach English to people who did not grow up speaking English as their primary language. Some EFL/ESL courses teach basic English reading, writing, and speaking skills. Others help non-native speakers hone their English language skills to prepare for graduate school or a career in an English-speaking country.
  • Business English Courses—Business English courses will help you write and speak professionally in a business environment. They can range from basic classes that cover vocabulary and social situations to those that help you communicate better in specific fields such as human resources or real estate. Especially popular are courses designed to help you communicate well in the international business arena.
  • College English Course Types
  • Exam Preparation Courses—These courses prepare you to pass English language proficiency examinations such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). The TOEFL is considered an academic passport of sorts and will usually be required if you want to study or work abroad. The GRE is required by the admission departments of most graduate and business schools.
  • Comparative Literature Courses—Despite the name, comparative literature English courses cover more than just literature. These courses are designed to expose you to the art, history, and culture of other countries, and they will often include surveys of film, visual art, and music, in addition to the nation’s literature.
  • Literature Courses—Just as you did in high school, you will analyze plays, poems, and novels in a literature-based college English course. Unlike high school English courses, which were limited to broad subjects such as American or British literature, college English courses often focus on highly specific subjects, such as African-American literature, poetry of the Beat Generation, or modern drama.

The time you invest in a college English course will vary. Most courses last one semester, but you can find some courses that take just a few weeks to complete. Some, however, can take a full year to finish.

College English courses are no longer limited to reading Shakespeare or interpreting poetry. Today, these courses are designed to meet the needs of working adults, non-native speakers, and students who want to go on to graduate studies. With so many types of college English courses available, chances are there is one that can help you meet your goals, too.


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